By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs on Sunday:
STEELERS RB RASHARD MENDENHALL VS. CHIEFS LILB DEMORRIO WILLIAMS: A segment of Steelers fans aren't really happy unless their favorite team is running the football, and the game against the Chiefs could end up providing them with a happy Sunday. In the two games prior to the loss to the Bengals, Rashard Mendenhall had 224 yards and a per carry average of almost 7 yards, but then against Cincinnati the Steelers used three tailbacks and they combined for only 18 attempts. The Chiefs would seem to be the perfect props for the resurrection of the Steelers running attack, because Kansas City has allowed an average of 140 yards rushing per game; by comparison the Steelers defense is allowing less than half that. Smarting from a loss to the Bengals in which the Cincinnati defense had a good day at Heinz Field, the Steelers figure to take the field on Sunday with a purpose. Part of that purpose could be establishing their running attack.
STEELERS LT MAX STARKS VS. CHIEFS ROLB TAMBA HALI: If there is a star on the Chiefs defense, it would be Tamba Hali, a fourth-year pro from Penn State. "Tamba Hali is really a high-motor productive guy, an impressive guy," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We have to account for him. They rush him from a variety of locations. He's an outside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense, but when they go to sub-package rushes, he can come of the right edge or left edge and operate as a defensive end. He's a really talented football player." It's fair to refer to Hali as the Chiefs top playmaker on defense, because even though he's tied for the team lead in sacks with DE Wallace Gilberry (both have 3.5), Hali leads the team with seven pressures and two forced fumbles. Whatever havoc the Chiefs wreak on Sunday figures to start with Tamba Hali.
STEELERS CB IKE TAYLOR VS. CHIEFS WR CHRIS CHAMBERS: It's rare for a team to see a non-division opponent twice in the same season, but that's what will be happening here with the Steelers and Chambers, who was in Pittsburgh for the game vs. the Chargers on Oct. 4. At one point, Chambers was a seen as a significant addition to the Chargers, but he apparently became dispensable to the team at a time when it said it was looking to add special teams help. Chambers had 31 balls thrown to him this season with the Chargers, and he had nine catches for 122 yards and had lost his starting job before being cut. Since being picked up by the Chiefs, Chambers has six catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, with three of those receptions and both scores coming against the Jaguars in a 24-21 loss. With RB Larry Johnson having been released and WR Dwayne Bowe beginning his four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, Chambers has vaulted to the top of the list of the Chiefs' offensive weapons in the passing game.
STEELERS KICKOFF COVERAGE VS. CHIEFS KOR JAMAAL CHARLES: At this point, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if it's Joshua Cribbs or Percy Harvin or Bernard Scott. Until the Steelers kickoff coverage proves it can go an entire game, maybe a couple of entire games, without allowing one to be brought back for a touchdown, every return guy they face is dangerous. "I think when you're experiencing the kind of difficulty we are in that area, you better turn over every stone," said Tomlin. "We're looking at schematics and potentially making some changes in that area to increase our chances of performing above the line in that area, but we're also looking at moving some people around, putting some new people in position to play. We brought Donovan Woods up and he's going to have an opportunity to run down the middle of that unit and see if he can bring some energy to the group. It's not just about the addition of Donovan Woods. Donovan Woods is not all of a sudden going to make us the most dynamic kickoff coverage team in the NFL. It's detail, it's about shedding blocks and making tackles and being schematically sound. We're in the process of looking at all elements in that unit." The Steelers have allowed three kickoff returns for touchdown in the last four games, and if opponents bring one more back it will set a franchise record.