8:30 PM ET, November 12, 2012
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
The Pittsburgh Steelers played well in a pair of wins to finish October but seemed to genuinely announce their arrival as contenders with a victory on the Super Bowl champions' home turf.
All it seems they need to do in the first of back-to-back primetime games at Heinz Field is avoid a letdown.
The Steelers haven't lost a home Monday night game in more than two decades, a streak that seems unlikely to end against a floundering Kansas City Chiefs team that's yet to hold a regulation lead this season.
Pittsburgh (5-3) stumbled to a 2/3 start, blowing fourth-quarter leads in its three road losses, before ending October by beating Cincinnati and Washington. That brief run of success looked like it might end last Sunday against the Giants, but this time it was the Steelers who rallied, coming from 10 down in the fourth to win 24-20.
"We're finishing the game now," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said after the NFL's No. 1 defense (262.6 yards per game) allowed negative-9 yards in the final 15 minutes. "I mean, that's the biggest thing ... we went to Oakland, we didn't finish and when we went to Tennessee, we didn't finish, but (Sunday) we finished."
The Steelers have allowed 15 points after halftime during their winning streak after surrendering 68 in their first five contests. They're right behind Baltimore in the AFC North and host the Ravens for a Sunday night showdown in Week 11.
"The only person that can beat the Steelers is the Steelers," running back Isaac Redman said.
If Pittsburgh can keep running the ball like it has the past three weeks, Redman may be right. The Steelers were 31st in the NFL in rushing (74.8 ypg) through Week 6, an average they've more than doubled (155.0) during their winning streak despite a revolving backfield of Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.
Dwyer missed the win over the Giants with a strained right quad, but both he and starter Rashard Mendenhall could play Monday night -- leaving coach Mike Tomlin with a good problem to have. Dwyer (3.0) and Redman (2.43) are in the league's top 10 in yards after contact.
"Whoever's being productive when healthy is going to get the totes," Tomlin said. "I really think it's that simple. I'm not going to make it any more complex than it has to be. At times this season we've had a running-back-by-committee approach because none of them had been overly effective at that time.
"When someone's effective, they'll get the ball."
The Steelers have been quite effective on Monday nights at home in a streak that dates to Bill Cowher's first season on the sidelines. They've won 14 in a row in such situations by an average of more than two touchdowns, though this will be their first since September 2008.
It's difficult to imagine that run ending this week. Already the first team since 1929 to fail to lead at any point in regulation through seven games, the Chiefs (1-7) again never led in falling 31-13 at San Diego on Nov. 1.
Coach Romeo Crennel had apparently seen enough after the team's fifth straight loss, so he decided to fire himself. Crennel removed himself as defensive coordinator, leaving Gary Gibbs to take over a unit that's allowing 30.0 points per game and a staggering 8.90 yards per pass attempt -- worst in the NFL.
"Romeo has to do what he has to do to save the team, and if somehow that's a spark for us, we don't know. We won't know until Monday night," linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
Kansas City's current struggles make its 2011 season seem like a grand success, but a 5-8 start one year after a 10-6 wild-card season still got Todd Haley fired and gave Crennel the chance to earn the full-time job. Haley is now the Steelers' offensive coordinator, guiding a unit that's the NFL's best converting third downs (51.3 percent).
Haley's offense isn't throwing downfield as much as predecessor Bruce Arians', but it may take some shots Monday. The Chiefs showed Stanford Routt the door this week, ending the cornerback's career in Kansas City just eight games after signing him to a three-year, $18 million deal.
It appears Kansas City's secondary will catch a break with Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown doubtful after spraining his ankle against the Giants. Emmanuel Sanders will start if Brown can't go, and he'll also likely be returning punts -- normally Brown's job -- and kicks if Chris Rainey (ribs) is out.
Matt Cassel will start under center for the Chiefs with Brady Quinn out with a concussion, and Cassel likely needs to cut down on the turnovers to give Kansas City a chance. He's thrown 11 interceptions and fumbled eight times, losing seven.
The Chiefs have 29 turnovers -- 21 more than the Steelers and 10 more than anyone else in the league.
Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 193 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Steelers' 13-9 win at Arrowhead Stadium last season, has 31 TDs, six INTs and a 104.6 passer rating in his last 16 regular-season home games.
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• Pittsburgh can control things on the ground: In this pass-happy era, a lot of people think that running the football doesn't matter, but the Steelers are proving that adage wrong. They have had a lot of injuries at RB, but over the past few weeks, they have made a commitment to offensive balance. Against the Giants in Week 9, Pittsburgh got 147 yards from third-team RB Isaac Redman. Kansas City has given up a lot of yards on the ground and its gap integrity is not consistent. Pittsburgh's O-line seems to be getting better every week, and it has an underrated lead blocker in FB Will Johnson. Look for the Steelers to attack the Chiefs between the tackles, and that will set up good third-down situations and good play-action opportunities.
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|Avg Points Allowed||28.4||19.7|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||KC|
|Rush Yds Allowed||KC|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 4-2|
|Nov 27, 2011||KC 9, PIT 13|
|Nov 22, 2009||KC 27, PIT 24|
|Oct 15, 2006||KC 7, @PIT 45|
|Sep 14, 2003||KC 41, PIT 20|
|Oct 14, 2001||KC 17, PIT 20|
NEXT LEVEL: The Steelers averaged the fewest yards per rush in the league over their first 5 games but they average over 2 yards more per rush since then. Thanks to stronger run blocking lately, they are averaging more yards before contact per rush and getting contacted in the backfield less often in their last 3 games than they were before that.[+]
OPENING UP HOLES - STEELERS THIS SEASON
Ben Roethlisberger has 10 touchdowns and three interceptions against four or fewer pass rushers this season, and has thrown a pick once every 68.7 attempts against such pressure. Last season, Roethlisberger threw 10 interceptions against four or fewer rushers, or once every 32.5 attempts.[+]
Ben Roethlisberger Facing 4 or Fewer Pass Rushers - This Season
Only Christian Ponder has a shorter average throw distance this season than Ben Roethlisberger, whose passes are traveling an average of 7.0 yards downfield. From 2008 to 2011, Roethlisberger's passes traveled an average of 8.5 yards downfield.[+]
Ben Roethlisberger Average Throw Distance - Last 5 Seasons
Matt Cassel has the most pass attempts (66) without a touchdown pass against five or more rushers this season. The Steelers have used such pressure 41.7 percent of the time this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL.[+]
Matt Cassel Facing 5+ Pass Rushers - Last 3 Seasons
ESPN Stats & Information