The Chiefs’ praise of their next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, would seem to be classic coach- and player-speak, false admiration for team coming off a three-touchdown loss and quarterback who tossed a career-high five interceptions.
But the Chiefs have bruises, to ego and otherwise, to prove they’re not blowing smoke.
Including playoffs, the Chiefs are 28-6 since the second month of the 2015 season and the only team to beat them twice is the Steelers, who visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Kickoff is 3:25 p.m.
So, while Roethlisberger was firing back at critics in Pittsburgh this week — “They can question me, I don’t question myself … no offense to any of you guys, but it doesn’t matter to me how you guys question me” — the Chiefs were wondering how to stop the team and quarterback that handed them their two lowest moments last season.
“The last two times they beat us pretty good,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
The Chiefs’ last regular-season loss to the Steelers, 43-14 at Pittsburgh last year, was the most lopsided of the Andy Reid era in Kansas City.
The postseason defeat hurt even more. In their first home playoff game under Reid, the Chiefs fell to the Steelers 18-16 in the divisional round.
If anybody isn’t buying the Steelers as a vulnerable team …
“They’ll be riled up, ready to go,” Johnson said.
Maybe because of last week’s debacle. Two of Roethlisberger’s interceptions were returned for touchdowns in a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville that dropped the Steelers to 3-2.
“He’s got to roll up his sleeves and get back to work,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “You get to do what he’s done for the length of time he’s done it because you’re capable of bouncing back from negative performances.”
Take 2016 for instance. The Steelers had just been crushed by the Eagles and faced the Chiefs the following week. Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, matching the most ever against the Chiefs, in a blowout.
The Chiefs always seem to bring out the best in the Steelers and Roethlisberger. No AFC opponent owns a better all-time winning percentage (.677) against the Chiefs than Pittsburgh.
And Roethlisberger’s 5-1 record as a starter vs. KC is tied for the second best career winning percentage against the Chiefs, behind only Peyton Manning.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been has been scheming defenses against Roethlisberger for more than a decade, and the challenges haven’t changed.
“He can do things very few other quarterbacks can do,” Sutton said. “His ability to extend the play … he has great vision down field, when he’s moving and scrambling. He’s very difficult to get on the ground. It puts tremendous stress on the defense.”
In last season’s playoff loss, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was the Chiefs’ biggest issue, controlling the game by rushing 30 times for 170 yards as the Steelers booted six field goals. Wide receiver Antonio Brown tops the NFL in receiving yards and has surpassed 100 yards in receptions in two of his last three games against the Chiefs.
Against those historical trends, the Chiefs enter Sunday’s game as the NFL’s lone undefeated team, and are coming off a 42-34 victory at Houston. They have the NFL’s top-rated passer in Alex Smith and leading rusher in Kareem Hunt.
“They’re a group that’s rolling right now,” Tomlin said. “There’s a lot of positive things going on for them.”
No coach-speak there, either.