This weekend, the Stillers lock up against the Chiefs who are 1-3, 0-2 at home. Trent Green has thrown more INTs than TDs (4 TDs vs. 6 INTs). They have several offensive injuries including 2001 KC MVP WR Derrick Alexander, 2000 first round pick WR Sylvester Morris, FB Tony Richardson and WR Dante Hall. With Vermeil bringing the spread offense to KC, losing receivers is a big minus. Add to this the fact that KC's "strength" is offense while the Stillers is obviously defense -- the matchup seems to favor Pittsburgh.
Despite all of this, what might look like a lock this weekend against the Chiefs is not necessarily so. The Chiefs still have home field advantage. They still have Tony Gonzalez (3rd in NFL with 341 rec. yards, tied for 8th in NFL with 23 receptions) and Priest Holmes (tied for 4th in AFC with 4.4 yds/rush and a pint-sized Stiller killer). Given the hostile environment at Arrowhead and the fact that their offense is more than capable of scoring points, the Stillers will have their hands full.
When looking at their offense, don't read too much into Trent Green's 6 INTs. Last week, he threw 4 of those in a flukish game. KC is still learning the Vermeil offense which is causing apparent growing pains. Nonetheless, Green is still putting up a solid 249 yards/game and 7.27 yards/attempt.
You also shouldn't read much into the 1-3 record. The losses have come against the Broncos (L 6-20), Giants (L 3-13) and Raiders (L 24-27) who aren't exactly slouches.
What to Watch
The matchups to watch this weekend are the KC passing game vs. PIT secondary and PIT running attack vs. KC run defense. After the Stillers' rushing dominance at Heinz Field, you can bet KC will focus on stuffing the run. Cinci did not really dare Stewart to throw the ball. They often played a straight up defense which resulted in infrequent pocket pressure and abominable gap control against the run. KC will have no problem noting this and modifying their defense accordingly. They will definitely crowd the line of scrimmage. The question is whether KC's run defense, giving up more than 125 yards/game, will be able to step up against the NFL's #1 rushing offense.
To exploit the KC run defense, Mularkey needs to continue to expand Zereoue's role. In addition, Kordell needs to throw more balls downfield. On Sunday he threw 7 balls 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage and completed 4 -- by building on this effort (baby steps, baby steps), the passing game can help keep KC's defense honest which will help sustain a successful ground game.
On another Stewart note, he MUST find a way to hit Plex in the endzone. In the past 2 games, Plex has been denied 3 TDs by poor passes. Plex needs to tally his first TD for him to take another step forward as a WR. Could this be the week?
Defensively, the Stillers need to bring a physical game to the Chiefs. Green cannot be given all day in the pocket or he'll do damage, so pressure is key. Against the run the team needs to continue their swarming ways, but they must also maintain their lanes or Priest Holmes will exploit over pursuit with cut back runs for big yardage. Against the pass, the secondary needs to avoid critical mental mistakes -- especially against a depleted receiving corps. The Chiefs will collect passing yards, but the secondary needs to stick their tackles and avoid unnecessary extra yardage.
Given the nature of Arrowhead, special teams could play a key role. Stillers' success could help quiet the crowd while KC success would obviously raise the noise levels in the Chiefs' favor. With a low power offense, Poteat's success does not always translate to points, but it always aids the field position battle. Favorable field position may be the deciding factor on Sunday.
Look for the defense to continue its dominance and the offense to struggle early. Sustained pressure on Green will subdue the KC offense and the crowd. The result: Pittsburgh squeaks out a 14-13 win.