The Kansas City Chiefs face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. To prepare for the game, I talked with Neal Coolong of SB Nation's Behind The Steel Curtain. Here is our Q&A ahead of Monday night's game:
1. Tell me something about the Steelers offense I don't know.
You shouldn't listen to hack evaluators like Pro Football Focus when it comes to the ability of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. They recently called him "an average player who's been hyped by the media." Pouncey is incredibly athletic and easily one of the strongest centers in the game. The combination of Pouncey right guard Ramon Foster and left guard Willie Colon (Run PFC) has suddenly turned into one of the most formidable run blocking trios in the game.
2. Tell me something about the Steelers defense I don't know.
The sum of its whole is far more than the sum of its parts. Most analysts will break defenses down player by player, and I don't think you can do that on the defensive side of the ball. They're playing great team defense even without an abundance of splash plays (sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions).
Most of what you'll hear is in regards to the lack of those splash stats or their age, but you don't hear about how they held the Giants (an outstanding offensive team) to 182 yards. The Steelers defense is tackling well, playing in an outstanding zone coverage scheme and they're not allowing big plays or runs after the catch.
3. So, whaddya think of Todd Haley after eight games?
If Haley and previous offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (who's currently leading the Colts to a surprising playoff spot in wake of Chuck Pagano's illness), went together to a Chinese buffet, Haley would sample a bit of everything offered, and Arians would load up on chicken wings and fried rice.
Sure, chicken wings and fried rice are great options, and you'll enjoy them quite a bit at a good Chinese buffet. But Haley will know far better, upon that ever-important second trip, what the best food there is. If someone asked Arians later if that buffet was good, he'd say, "yeah, good wings, good rice," but couldn't tell you a thing about the egg foo young. Haley would not only know the answer to that question, he'd be able to compare it to other buffets, and ultimately, know where to go for the best buffet in town.
Haley's offense is more dynamic, and he's getting similar contributions from far more players. That is, in turn, making it harder to game-plan for them, and Haley continues to build on that momentum each week. And he's doing all of this with a very Steelers-like sense of control and balance.
If he isn't the Coordinator of the Year, I don't know who is.
4. Is there anyway the Steelers lose this game?
The Chiefs are 1-1 against Pittsburgh the last two years, and the Chiefs weren't any good going into either of those games. This is also a Chiefs team that beat the mighty Packers last season. I don't believe any team in the NFL is "that" much better than another.
Plus, when you have a running back like Jamal Charles, your team can break a big play at any time. The NFL is all about big plays today. The Steelers tend to have success against one-dimensional teams (i.e. you can run but you can't throw), but it wasn't long ago something called Tyler Palko had the ball at the end of the game with the chance to tie. That was on prime time in Pittsburgh, too, so yeah, I think there are lots of ways the Steelers can lose this game.
5. Why are you so good every year?
I think a story I heard explains it best. After the Steelers defeated Baltimore in the AFC Championship game of the 2008 season, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome flew to Pittsburgh and met with Steelers GM Kevin Colbert while the Steelers were practicing in preparation for Super Bowl XLIII. Newsome asked Colbert, "what makes you guys so good year in and year out?" Colbert said, "It's about smart players, Ozzie. Simple as that." Colbert motioned Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to come over to him. He asked Roethlisberger, "Hey, Ben, who's your father's brother's nephew?"
Roethlisberger looked at Colbert oddly, and said "that's easy, sir, that's me." Colbert looked back at Newsome and said, "See? Smart players, Ozzie."
Newsome went back to Baltimore, and when minicamp started in the spring of 2009, he decided to quiz his own quarterback.
He motioned to Joe Flacco, "hey Joe, can you come here a quick second?" Flacco trotted over, "yes, sir?"
"Who's your father's brother's nephew, Joe?" Flacco looked at him confused, and said, "Gee, uh, I'm not sure, hang on a sec."
Flacco ran back to the field and saw Ray Lewis. "Hey Ray, who's your father's brother's nephew?"
Lewis looked at him, and said, "That's me, Joe."
"Ohh! I get it!" Flacco ran back to Newsome, "Hey Mr. Newsome, I got it! My father's brother's nephew is Ray Lewis!"
"No, you bleeping moron! Your father's brother's nephew is Ben Roethlisberger!"
Classic joke that works for any team...Joking aside, and simply put, the Steelers are competitive every year because they stick to one plan, don't panic and have an excellent quarterback. The defensive scheme works well over time, and they were able to identify and develop players who fit that scheme. They value chemistry and understanding more than flashy free agents and rookies, and stay true to what they do.
It's a business model that's proven itself time and time again. This year is another example of it.