Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is not going to tolerate turnovers any longer.
The Chiefs’ 29 turnovers (14 interceptions, 15 fumbles) are 10 more than any other team in the league, and Crennel said the first player to turn it over on Monday night at Pittsburgh likely will get a seat on the bench.
Call it the Romeo Rule.
“I have to impart on them the importance of protecting the ball for this team,” Crennel said, “and sometimes to get that done, you basically have to threaten them. If you fumble it, I’m going to take you out of the game. And they will get the message.”
Does that include benching quarterback Matt Cassel, who has thrown 11 interceptions, third most in the NFL?
“Yes, you can make a change there,” Crennel said, “but the thing is, you always have to know exactly what happened on the play and why it happened. If a receiver tips the ball up in the air, is that on the receiver or is that on the quarterback? I have to make that determination, so I’ll make the call.
“I’ll sit the receiver or I’ll sit the quarterback.”
That doesn’t mean the player won’t return to the game at some point.
“Look, Jamaal Charles has fumbled the ball,” Crennel said of the Chiefs’ starting running back. “So if he fumbles, and he stands over there with me for a little bit, then I put him back in, because he’s the guy who runs for a touchdown.
“But I have to try to put an emphasis on it, so I’m going to try to emphasize it and get them to understand the importance.”
Crennel’s decree has grabbed the attention of his players.
“People better hold onto the football,” said running back Peyton Hillis. “He has every right to feel that way as much as we’ve turned the ball over this year. It’s been ridiculous. He’s always been a rational man, he’s been good to us, so he’s not doing this for no other purpose but to make us better.”
Cassel said he won’t let the specter of being pulled affect his approach in the game.
“When you’re out there playing, you try to make the right decision,” Cassel said, “but you can’t go out there and play tentative or scared because then you’re not going to be doing your job either. You compete, and in this game, there are going to be mistakes that are made.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had quite a few more than we wanted this year, but it doesn’t change your approach or how you go about it. You are conscious of it, especially during practice. You work hard at it, you try to be diligent about your reads, but when you get out there and play, you go out there and play and let the preparation take care of itself.”
Crennel cited a fumble by wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in last week’s loss at San Diego as an example of what will land a player on the bench. The Chiefs, trailing 7-0, had driven 16 plays on their first possession when Bowe caught a short pass from Cassel and gained 10 yards to the Chargers 23, and while he was fighting for extra yards, the ball was poked from his grasp and recovered by the Chargers.
“I emphasized a lot that week about protecting the football,” Crennel said. “That let me know that he’s trying to fight for yards, he’s trying to do too much rather than protect the ball.
“There’s a thin line you have to walk as a player extra effort trying to get as much yards as you can, but protecting the football. When I tell them to protect the football at all costs, that means get both hands on it, and if I’ve caught the ball and gained yards, get down if I have to if I fight for extra yards and lose the football, that doesn’t do much good.”
Though Pittsburgh leads the NFL in total defense and pass defense, the Steelers have created just eight turnovers, which is the second fewest in the league, including just four interceptions. Part of that is due to the absence of ball-hawking strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has missed six of eight games, including the last four due to a calf injury.
“I hope he continues to miss games, particularly this one on Monday night,” said Crennel, who was 0-8 in his four years as Cleveland head coach against the Steelers. “He’s a very good player, he lifts those guys up. Probably they’ve missed him a little bit, but when I say little bit, I mean really little, because they’re first defensively in a lot of categories. They’re pretty good.”
Gary Gibbs’ defense
Linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who will make his debut as Chiefs defensive coordinator on Monday night, deflected any attention on him and said he’s not making any major changes in the defense which ranks 17th in the NFL.
“This isn’t about me, this isn’t about the position I’m holding right now or somebody trying to put a stamp on anything,” Gibbs said. “It’s about our guys going out there and playing well and us trying to coach ‘em well.”
Gibbs has put an emphasis on creating turnovers.
“Those who create turnovers have an advantage in terms of having an opportunity to win,” Gibbs said. “We need to get our hands on the ball, we need to try to strip the ball, we need to try to create positive opportunities for the offense.”
Monday night magic
The Steelers haven’t lost a Monday night home game since 1991, a streak of 14 straight wins dating to a 20-13 loss to the New York Giants. That was Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll’s final season that ended with a 7-9 record.
Crennel said defensive end Glenn Dorsey (calf) will miss Monday night’s game, along with quarterback Brady Quinn (concussion). Dorsey had missed four games with a calf injury before returning to the starting lineup in the last game at San Diego, only to reinjure the other calf. The Steelers said Polamalu (calf), wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) and tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) did not practice. Running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) was limited.