For the second week in a row, the Kansas City Chiefs will try to pull an upset on national TV. After last week’s 34-3 loss to the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, the Chiefs will welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
While the Chiefs are 4-6 and in the middle of the three game losing streak, the Steelers have won five of six and are looking to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC North.
With six games remaining, including three difficult ones on deck and two behind the first place Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs will need to pick up a win over the Steelers if they have any hope of defending their division title.
If they do manage to take out the Steelers, the Chiefs will likely do it without the services of recently acquired QB Kyle Orton. After starter Matt Cassel was injured in a loss to the Denver Broncos two weeks ago, backup Tyler Palko stepped in against the Patriots. Orton was claimed off waivers this week but was unable to practice with the Chiefs until Friday and even if he is active, there’s little chance he will be able to play meaningful snaps.
The Steelers are having quarterback problems of their own, as Ben Roethlisberger will be playing with a cracked thumb. The team is confident their star will be able to operate without hurting the offense, but it’s more likely that the Kansas City defense should benefit from injury to Roethlisberger.
Will the Chiefs have enough to keep a national audience on NBC tuned in past halftime? Here are a look at the three players from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Tyler Palko
For the second week in a row, the Chiefs will go as far as their quarterback takes them. Against the Patriots, Kansas City hung on for as long as they offense was able to stay on the field and avoid turning the ball over. once Palko started throwing the ball to the other team, New England’s offense started to click and the rest is history.
On top of Palko trying to help his team snap a three game losing streak, he will also do whatever he can to hold off Orton. The recently acquired signal caller is expected to take over as the Chiefs starting quarterback shortly after Sunday night’s game, but Palko has a chance to make it a tough decision for Todd Haley and the Kansas City coaching staff.
If Palko and the Chiefs offense can keep the football away from the Steelers, we could see a big time upset at Arrowhead.
Defense: Wallace Gilberry
Could the Chiefs second-leading pass rusher a year ago finally be ready to break out in 2011? After sleep walking through most of the season, Gilberry had two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble last week against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
It’s a common theme with the Kansas City defense, but if they can find another consistent pass rusher, there’s no telling how dangerous Tamba Hali can be. Even with little to no help when it comes to getting to the quarterback, Hali has racked up seven sacks, a number that should jump if Gilberry can build on his solid effort against New England.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
After surrendering his first touchdown return since 2007 last week — and just the second of his career — Colquitt will need a bounce back game for the Chiefs special teams.
His game wasn’t completely a wash against the Patriots — he was able to put three of his five punts inside the 20 — it’s hard to give him much credit for any of that when you watch the other team put up seven points on one bad punt.
Colquitt has looked elite at times in 2011 and he’ll need to flash more of that Sunday night.
Offense: Heath Miller
There is no shortage of weapons on the Pittsburgh offense, most notably WR Mike Wallace, owner of a 17.4 yard average and six touchdowns. But as we saw last week with the near shut out of the NFL’s leading receiver, Wes Welker, the Chiefs defense can put together a game plan to clamp down on an explosive receiver.
What the Kansas City defense hasn’t been able to do this season is slow down many tight ends. Last week tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for eight catches, 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Miller might not have the young legs of those two kids, but he clearly will be a primary option for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense.
Defense: James Harrison
The Steelers are likely to be without their sack leader, LaMarr Woodley, but that doesn’t mean the beleaguered Chiefs offensive line will get any time to rest on Sunday. Pittsburgh’s defense can still throw plenty of different looks at an offense and leading that charge will be Harrison.
The veteran has dealt with multiple injuries this season that have cost him four games and currently is listed as “probable’ for the Chiefs game, but should be good to go. It was just three weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens that Harrison was good for three sacks and was likely salivating while watching film of Kansas City’s porous line.
Special Teams: Antonio Brown
The Chiefs will get a chance to see plenty of Brown when the Steelers have the ball, as the young receiver has become a favorite target of Roethlisberger. But he is also going to try and repeat the damage Julian Edelman was able to do last week against the Kansas City special teams.
Though the Steelers punt and kick returns have sagged slightly the last two games, Brown still presents a difficult option for the Chiefs to contain on both kick and punt returns.