Whether or not the Tyler Palko era will span much more than sixty minutes is unclear as of right now, but what was evident after Monday night was that if the Chiefs are going to climb back into the AFC West race, it isn’t going to happen with Palko under center. Palko had a sufficient first quarter against the Patriots, but a downward slide ensued shortly thereafter as Palko ended up with three interceptions on the evening, and the Chiefs went down 34-3.
Rarely does an opportunity present itself to acquire a starting caliber quarterback at this juncture of the season, but the Chiefs pounced on the chance to land Kyle Orton, the former Bronco quarterback who was waived Tuesday afternoon.
In Orton, the Chiefs bring a strong-armed, capable player due somewhere in the vicinity of $2.5 million for the duration of the 2011 season, be it over six weeks or more (should he lead the team to the playoffs). Orton is well-known to Chiefs’ fans from his time in Denver, and many will remember the terrific start he had under Josh McDaniels early on in his time in the Mile High City. For some, that may be a distant memory, as Orton struggled early in 2011 and was eventually benched in favor of Tim Tebow, who although has won four of five starts, has also forced the Broncos to completely re-design their offense mid-season to cater to his skill set.
The immediate question asked after the Orton claim was when exactly will this guy take the field as the starter? Due to an unlikely trade earlier this year between the Bengals and Raiders, we actually have a frame of reference on the time table for how long a quarterback needs to assimilate himself into a new offense.
Carson Palmer was picked up on a Tuesday afternoon, and although early indications were that he would start that Sunday, Raiders head coach Hue Jackson decided to start the incumbent Kyle Boller. Boller’s leash was apparently short, as Palmer sat for only 30 minutes before taking over in the second half and starting ever since.
So is the answer to our question that Tyler Palko is the starter this week until he messes up? Or might the Chiefs have a different plan in place?
My guess? Had Orton made it to Kansas City in time for Thursday’s practice, I think he would have started. A late arrival leaves Orton even another day behind and thus the chances he even plays seem slimmer by the hour. Orton certainly has enough veteran savvy and natural skills to pick up and execute a sliver of the playbook within a couple days of his arrival, but Palko will once again start as the Chiefs play on prime time versus Pittsburgh.
But beyond the question of just when Orton will take over as the starter, the Chiefs have a full plate of preparation in store as they take on a very good Steelers team.
Here are Five Keys for a Kansas City Chiefs’ victory:
- 1. Eat the clock: Here’s a statical nugget relating to the Steelers in wins versus losses n 2011: the Steelers are 7-0 when winning the time of possession battle, and 0-3 when losing it. The Chiefs offensive style caters to chewing up the clock when operating efficiently, but that’s easier said than done versus any good defense. The Chiefs love to run the ball on first down, and they need to do an excellent job of that Sunday night. Be it Jackie Battle, Dexter McCluster or Thomas Jones -- who looked as spry Monday night as he has all year, the Chiefs need to set up second and manageable and convert on reasonable third downs. The Chiefs receivers also need to avoid costly drops, which hurt them versus New England. Anything that the Chiefs can do to extend drives and keep Pittsburgh off the field is a win.
- 2. Tighten up on the perimeter: Mike Wallace is an outstanding wide receiver and arguably Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target, but he doesn’t run a particularly diverse set of routes from his outside receiver alignment. Wallace loves to get vertical and can kill you on the deep ball, but he isn’t a major threat to attack the post or run underneath safeties on digs and inside breaking routes. Accordingly, it takes a good effort from a corner to neutralize Wallace on the perimeter as he attempts to beat you with comebacks, question mark routes, and of course go routes. Big Ben and Wallace have impressive chemistry and are also very good together during up tempo situations, so it’s important to keep an eye on Wallace at the end of either half. As a DB, it’s upon Brandon Flowers or Carr or whomever is covering Wallace to stay on top of Wallace and focus on his hips. If Wallace sinks his weight, be ready for both double moves and broken off routes. The point is, it’s a tough task to contain Wallace for any corner, but using leverage to your advantage is a good start. Aligning with outside leverage at the snap should afford the DB a bit of a cushion.
- 3. Involve Jonathan Baldwin: The primary focus of the Chiefs on offense remains maintaining possession, and playing a clock-killing mentality is one way to set a defense up for a big shot play. Baldwin is the Chiefs’ best (and really only) deep threat, and I’d love to see them dial up a jump-ball or two for the talented rookie from Pitt. You’ve seen his catch against Denver time and time again, so you have a feel for what he can do in competitive catch situations, but we’ve yet to see the Chiefs truly feature Baldwin as anything more than a third option. He isn’t as refined as Dwayne Bowe or Steve Breaston, but the element of explosiveness that Baldwin brings is something the Chiefs need desperately. Against a tough defense that likes to bring pressure, Baldwin may have a chance to beat man coverage and provide the Chiefs with a big play.
- 4. Wrap-up on Roethlisberger: Every team that plays Pittsburgh puts a premium on bringing down Ben Roethlisberger, and that’s no different for the Chiefs this Sunday. Roethlisberger isn’t the league’s most mobile quarterback, but is certainly the toughest to bring down. The last time the Chiefs played the Steelers (a memorable 2009 overtime victory), they were able to sack Big Ben three times and he was forced to leave the game in overtime. An identical effort this Sunday would be a major boost for Kansas City, and its imperative their defenders wrap Roethlisberger up and finish their tackles. Roethlisberger will break through arms and until the whistle blows, you cannot let up on him; but it’s also paramount that the Chiefs defenders don’t play foolishly and hit Roethlisberger too low or in the head. A tough task, but the Chiefs have shown before they’re fit to handle it.
- 5. Win the hidden yardage battle: Hidden yardage is a stat you’re hearing pop up more and more these days, and it’s a relevant one. Hidden yardage is the sum of kick returns, turnover returns, penalties, and other non-offensive or defensive yards accumulated throughout the game. Some people like to suggest that you can assign a certain number of hidden yards to a corresponding number of points, but most importantly the Chiefs simply must out-hidden yardage the Steelers. If they force a turnover, they must set their offense up in quality field position, they must cover kicks well and return them better, they must not commit silly penalties, especially spot foul penalties like defensive pass interference. Generating hidden yardage of their own and impeding Pittsburgh from gaining any is a major key for the Chiefs on Sunday night.