Column: Why Steelers Are Contenders, Chiefs Are Not

From Arrowhead Stadium

I don’t know if the Pittsburgh Steelers are a good team, one playing well enough to advance to the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year.

The team that wears black and gold rolled into Kansas City for Sunday night’s game against the Chiefs with a hitch in their get along. They were without Pro Bowl OLB LaMarr Woodley, the guy who lines up on the opposite side of the defense from All-World OLB James Harrison. His presence makes Harrison a better player. But Woodley has been out for the last three games with a hamstring problem.

In the first quarter, the Pro Bowl safety and the guy from those Head & Shoulders commercials Troy Polamalu went low for a tackle and his head banged off the knee of Chiefs OT/TE Steve Maneri. The Steelers wouldn’t call it a concussion, but said he was suffering from “concussion like symptom.” He was done for the day. Later in the first half, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey became ill and had to leave the game. Doug Legursky, who actually started for the first time at left guard, had to move over to center. And when CB William Gay suffered a bit of head trauma, he had to leave the field and was replaced by third-year CB Keenan Lewis.

Even with bodies dropping left and right, there was never a doubt that the Steelers were going to win this game. They struggled at times, especially against a Chiefs defense that really played well and saw its effort wasted. But they did what winners do – they found ways to win. They reach for other bodies on the roster to step in and carry forward the cause. They don’t worry about what they are missing, but look instead to what new faces might provide them.

And because their personnel department under GM Kevin Colbert is so outstanding at finding players, especially in the NFL Draft, there are bodies ready to step in. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says he has “starters and starters in waiting.” He expects them to not just fill a hole on the field, but to perform at the level of a starter. “Our expectations of them for an execution standpoint are the same,” Tomlin said.

All of that was enough to beat the Chiefs, a team that can’t seem to re-ignite the pilot light on its 2011 season. They’ve now lost four games in a row and quite frankly, their confidence level is dropping on a weekly basis, just as their place in the standings sinks out of sight. They are not going to repeat as AFC West champions and they are not going to go to the playoffs. They have five games to play before the season ends.

They have proven they do not have enough of those “starters in waiting” to come off the bench when needed and keep the performance level where games can continue to be won.

Look no further than QB Tyler Palko. What a great young man he is. A guy you root for, a guy that does all the right things from Monday through Saturday. Nobody studies harder than Tyler. He knows this offense forward and backward, even when head coach Todd Haley gets in there and starts tinkering and making changes with offensive coordinator Bill Muir.

But Palko is not ready to step in and be a productive and successful quarterback in the NFL. Generally when a guy has banged around the NFL, UFL and CFL for five years, there’s a reason. With him, all the great traits he has get wiped out by his six interceptions and one fumbled snap in two games. He threw several passes that he just can’t throw in the NFL and expect to keep his job. Likely, he won’t. Kyle Orton is waiting for his chance, not that there’s anything real exciting about a guy that was found wanting by the Bears and Broncos.

There is no question that GM Scott Pioli and Haley should be second-guessed on their decision to not sign a veteran quarterback back in August. We’ve touched on this before, and we won’t flail away any more on the subject, but when the story of the 2011 season is written, the lack of experienced depth on this team will go down as one of the shots that killed their chances of repeating as AFC West champions.

It’s unfair to compare the Chiefs to the Steelers, because they are competing at different levels of the NFL. Over the last four weeks, we’ve seen just how far away the Chiefs are from being a real factor in the NFL. Each game that slides away makes one think that last year was simply a mirage and a combination of good health and less that tough schedule.

Well the good health is gone and this year’s schedule has been a killer, and will continue to be in the final five games. Every one of their opponents is a contender – the Bears, Jets, Packers, Raiders and Broncos. Combined they are now 37-18, and all having winning records and all are competing for the playoffs.

It can’t get any worse I heard a fan say after Sunday night’s outcome. Let me assure you, it can get worse. The Chiefs are heading backwards and that’s momentum is tough to stop once it gets rolling.

“We have to stop the bleeding,” LB Derrick Johnson said.

They had better hurry up, because they are about empty.

21 Responses to “Column: Why Steelers Are Contenders, Chiefs Are Not”

  • November 28, 2011  - Nick says:

    Wow Bob this had to be a very enjoyable article for you to write. You simultaneously get to praise the Steelers while at the same time bashing the Chiefs. I just don’t get the constant venom you have toward the Chiefs organization. Yeah they’re having a tough year, that much is clear. But the constant criticism such as calling last year a “mirage” is sometimes over the top. Maybe you have forgotten what it’s like to be a fan but it’s just not very enjoyable to come on this site and have salt thrown on a wound.

  • November 28, 2011  - johnfromfairfax says:

    I’m not sure if others have noticed but Bob’s not the only one pointing these things out. He happens to be one of the most informed since he is and has covered the Chiefs on a full-time basis for a long time. The local paper’s writers have been saying many of the same things in a less informed way. I’m sure they all have the same axe to grind with the approach that’s taken toward the press by the organization. But to quote the overused phrase “We are what our record says we are. The inadequacies of our backups versus the Steelers and others’ “starters in waiting” is painfully obvious. The players we have don’t quit and the defense played well enough to win but we still didn’t. Whether the blame falls evenly on Hunt, Pioli and Haley is debatable, the evidence is not. I wish I could say he’s wrong but I can’t. We simply can’t compete with “popgun Palko” and some of the others we now have to rely on as starters. As Jon Gruden astutely pointed out last week when Jaws loyally defended the Chiefs by pointing out the injuries we’ve had and Gruden pointed out other teams have the same issues. Their rosters just have more talent than ours. Who’s responsible for that? It may take longer to build a franchise than the time we’ve had, particularly with the injuries to critical players on our team but for those who’ve been around long enough to remember (including those who perpetually called for them to be gone) how long did it take Marty and Carl Peterson to start winning and continue to consistently be a contender. I’m not advocating throwing anybody off the bus at this point because that comes with a price and lengthens the time frame and I’m not getting younger. Having said that however, perhaps more effort should be spent on acquiring genuine talent and less on letting moths live in the organizational wallet while picking up the pens when the meeting’s done.

  • November 28, 2011  - Chuck says:

    Bob; On a much brighter note, can you do a story on how the pecking order in the draft is decided should say 4 or 5 teams finish with identical records???? Lets say the Chiefs finish 4-12 which is what Iam expecting. But lets say there are a total of 5 teams all at 4-12. Then lets complicate it a little by saying of those 5 teams the Chiefs didn’t even play 4 of them. How do 4 teams decide who goes first, second, etc etc??????

  • November 28, 2011  - el cid says:

    My gosh Nick, what are you talking about? Is your memory so bad that you forgot what we, fans, were told when Pioli got here? They had the answers. Well it is their third year, bad things happened but were they prepared for one piece of it? Depth at QB – Palko, S – McGraw or Sabby, TE – Pope, OConnel, or Becht? How about stars of the future? Three drafts with about 7 picks each, 21 college elites and how many stars, hell how about starters? Free Agency, Pioli does not get into that.

    Yeah I can see “fans” need to be so positive, the team is not doing a lot to “make” us feel very positive. Maybe if we cheer harder and don’t sell out tickets to Pitt fans.

  • November 28, 2011  - Tim says:

    Good article Bob. This is my problem w/ the regime this year: we had many obvious holes & good opportunities to fill some of them with clearly upgraded talent. We have far too many “pets”, Palkos, or whatever you want to call them. We have too many good guys “you root for”. We don’t need those guys. We need football players.

  • November 28, 2011  - Petey says:

    I for one (and I’m sure there are many others) that are very glad that this site doesn’t have Chief-colored glasses on. If I want to read about how good we are, or how close we are, or how nothing is broken, I’ll read This is exactly why I’ve invested in this site for 2 years and will hopefully continue to do so…Bob tells it like HE sees it, not how the fans see it and not how the organization sees it. The day he stops doing that is the day I stop subscribing.

  • November 28, 2011  - chewbone says:

    I agree with Chuck lets start looking at where we might draft because we will be lucky to win one more game. When you think back to earlier in the season we really should have only won 3 so far. The Rivers fumble was a “gift” from the “football gods”! Our last gift it seems.

  • November 28, 2011  - Petey says:

    Chuck…not to play ‘Bob’, but if teams are tied when it comes to the draft, I believe the first thing they look at is winning % of teams played and the lowest % drafts higher. If the winning % of teams played is tied, I am pretty sure they go to a coin flip.

    Tied teams will then rotate thru the rest of the rounds (example if KC, Ten and Jax are tied with 5 wins, they look at winning % of the teams played. Let’s say Ten played teams with the lowest winning %, so they would draft first, followed by the next two. Round 2, Ten would slide to the back and the second worst team would pick the highest). I’m doing this from memory, so please excuse any mistakes.

  • November 28, 2011  - el cid says:

    Wow, Petey, thanks but that is so far over my head. If that was memory,you need to post more often. thanks again.

  • November 28, 2011  - Nick says:

    El Cid not really sure why you’re attacking me but what I’m saying is I feel it’s gotten to the point where Bob is enjoying pointing out the inadequacies of the organization. I’ve been coming to this site since he started the blog and I feel that the tone of his articles have changed. He seems to have gone from being a non-biased writer covering the Chiefs to now rooting against the Chiefs. Oh and my memory is just find thanks

  • November 28, 2011  - el cid says:

    Nick did not mean to offend. Besides Bob can take care of himself without me.

    There is nothing good happening with this season with the Hunt Chiefs. Add the air of secrecy that they operate under, we seldom get a peek inside as to the why behing things. Some of us have been saying that since they drafted jackson, leonard – whiners, other – haters. But like it or not the team has issues, what else can writers say. “Just wait til may older brother gets out of the hospital and he will beat you up”?

    No the Chiefs are getting what they ask/buit the team for. 3 wasted years, Herm got to the playoffs on another guys team, Haley got there on Herms guys. Stedman survived with Lamar, specializing on the business side (money) Pioli is banking millions for Clark. Just a narrow view but history is repeating itself, the bad way.

  • November 28, 2011  - Niblick says:

    Chuck-If several teams are tied with identical records, the draft order is determined by the winning percentage of all thieir opponents. Lets says say the Chiefs were tied with the Vikings, Redskins, Arizona and Chargers all with 4 and 12 records. If the Chiefs opponents are .520, Vikings .510, Arizona .500, and the Chargers .490. The Chargers would draft 1st, Arizona 2nd, Vikins 3rd and Chiefs 4th. If their opponents percentage is the same they coin flip, and alternate rounds. I think this happened in 2oo9 where the Chiefs were tied with a couple of teams.

  • November 28, 2011  - Nick says:

    El Cid I think you need to reread my original reply. At no point did I defend the Chiefs. Most people hear what they wanna hear and read what they wanna read. It appears that’s what you did here. I’ll try to sum it up as succinctly as I can so you will understand. What I don’t appreciate from Bob is when he comes off as gloating over the Chiefs inability to win. He regularly takes shots at the team when it just doesn’t seem necessary. Hopefully that is simple enough for you and you can’t twist my words.

  • November 28, 2011  - napahank says:

    I often see where people dump on the Chiefs for not “upgrading” during the off season and I agree to some extent; however, what I wish I heard from the Chiefs organization is WHO is considered an upgrade over who, did the Chiefs try to sign or trade for them and why did we not get them (too cheap, player refused to sign with us or team refused to trade with us).

    I heard it said a long time ago that good teams can keep good players yet there are times when a good player can be signed (Breaston)but it usually takes more leverage than just money.

    On another note, over Thanksgiving week I went back to every game Cassell played last year and watched just the passing plays. I saw a QB that can lead us. With no Breaston or Baldwin, double teams on Bowe and even Moeaki, Cassell made accurate throws much, much more than I remembered.

    This time next year with Bowe, Breaston, Baldwin, Moeaki, Charles and McCluster to throw to and Charles & Battle keeping the LB’s and Safeties honest and Hudson allowing Cassell to step up in the pocket we will know one way or another whether we have our man (barring injuries).

  • November 28, 2011  - Petey says:

    Thanks Cid…unfortunately the draft is what I have been most interested in and looked most forward to over the last couple of years :) .

  • November 28, 2011  - el cid says:

    Petey, based on what the Chiefs have done during the season and if they get a pick somewhere between 6-10, Pioli will still be here (Haley may not), who will they pick?

    I am leaning toward the T, Kalil from USC (hope that is him, a really big guy) or the top RB available, maybe Richardson, Ala?

  • November 28, 2011  - cychief24 says:

    napahank- I agree with most of what you say. However, we need more than just Hudson on the O-line. Albert would be better at RT; Asamoah is solid at RG; Hudson is solid but we need a C or RG depending on where he lands; I’d like to see what Gaither has; Lilja nad richardson are below average back ups at this point. AND we need a pass rusher to help Tamba and an ILB.

    Palko and Stanzi can pick up pens so Piloi can spend more time scouring for real NFL talent.

  • November 28, 2011  - Michael says:

    I think Haley has done a good enough job with what he has had to keep his job. To me, all the fault is with Hunt, with an unknown amount for Pioli because I don’t know what Hunt has told Pioli he can or can’t do. Given free reign, I think Pioli can build a winner. His drafting is ok and will improve over time, I think, but staying out of free agency has been a killer. Does that come from Hunt or Pioli? Obviously, the Chiefs lack depth all over the team, and that’s a big reason for it.

    Now is the time to start seeing what a lot of players can do, but I’m not sure how many we will see becasue Haley is playing for now and probably thinks moving guys in and out of the lineup diminishes his chances too much. I actually think the team might improve with some replacements, but…Orton might be as far as he will go.

    For me, must see: Gaither. At right tackle or left; the team needs to see what he has. Gaither to left tackle, Albert to guard, and Hudson to center. Maybe bring up Harris at guard, with Gaither at LT, Albert at RT, Hudson at C. Richarson has regressed horribly, but I don’t know if Maneri is worth a look. Must see: Powe, even if just in rotation with Gregg. And Bair, at least a little bit. What about Toribio at NT? Will he be back next year? Maybe even Cory Greenwood rotating some with Belcher (who needs to be replaced). And might as well give the young DB, Brown, some time at corner and safety.

    There will be a lot of holes to fill next year, either with some of these guys or form somewhere else,and it can’t all come from the draft in one year. Free agency and trades have to be a part of it.

    PS-the Chiefs D looked great last night, and it truly could be great with a few more additions. Berry will be back, and I think Houston is going to be pretty good. Even Jackson has been looking much better.

  • November 29, 2011  - Michael says:

    So much for seeing what Gaither has; the Chiefs waived him today in yet another wierd personnel move. They really couldn’t get him to play any better than Richardson? Oh well, another roster spot wasted for most of the year.

  • November 29, 2011  - Petey says:

    Cid…I have no idea or no handle on how this team is going to draft. Last year, I thought it was a no brainer to go with O-line in the first round, but looking back after the Baltimore playoff debacle, WR was the bigger no brainer. Here’s what I think I know…I don’t think we will draft d-line early as we have so much money tied up in Dorsey/Jackson, so no NT. We are now set at WR, assume we resign Carr, so no DB; saftey is good w/ Berry back. RB is interesting, but I think we either pickup a FA backup or draft one later (to much of an investment for the first round considering lifespan). I think that Pioli will stick with the winner of Cassel/Orton, so no QB. To me, that leaves MLB or OL, however, will we be that willing to draft a RT or Guard (face it, Albert is our LT) that early? I don’t think so. So I think we will trade back, which we should be able to do now with the new rookie cap rules. So right now, not knowing if there is an interior LB worth taking that high, that would be my guess. What this means is we will probably draft another WR in the first round :) .

  • November 29, 2011  - Petey says:

    PS, I do think Haley is going to be with us for a while. I was really impressed with how hard he had his team playing on Sunday night. Besides, all we keep hearing is that we want to emulate the Pats/Steelers and the one thing they have in common is consistancy at the top. If we change coaches now, we are setting the organization back another couple of years. And let’s face it, we ain’t getting Cowher.

Get the Flash Player to see the slideshow.


Other News