On the Steelers: Chiefs also finding ways to drop the ball
LaMarr Woodley is part of the Steelers defense that ranks No. 1 overall in fewest yards allowed per game allowed in the NFL.
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Two unique forces will collide Monday night when the Steelers play Kansas City. The game will pit a Chiefs offense that cannot hold onto the football against a Steelers defense that refuses to accept it.
Things could look like a badminton match at Heinz Field. The Chiefs have lost 29 turnovers, on pace for third most in NFL history. The Steelers have four interceptions, on pace to tie their 80-year-old franchise's record set in the nine-game season of 1940. They also have only four fumble recoveries, one of them on a punt.
What happens when an offense tries to give the ball away and the defense refuses to accept it?
"Hopefully," defensive end Brett Keisel said, "we'll get a few on Monday."
Ike Taylor became the first Steelers cornerback with an interception this season when he picked off a Eli Manning pass Sunday, and then earned AFC defensive player of the week. He also dropped one in the end zone, although Ryan Clark was penalized on that play so it may not have counted anyway.
"I'm being consistent," Taylor joked later. "If you know me and been following me, you know my hands are suspect. That is just how it is. You have to be honest with yourself first, and I'm an honest guy and I like to keep it real, so there you go."
While it has not produced much in the turnover department, the Steelers defense, and in particular its secondary, improved its play over the past several games. The defense ranks No. 1 overall in fewest yards allowed per game in the NFL and also is No. 1 in fewest passing yards.
Steelers coaches list first-year starter Keenan Lewis with 15 pass breakups, seven more than anyone else on the team, five fewer than Taylor's team-leading 20 last season.
"We just have to make those interceptions, start turning those pass breakups into interceptions and get our offense the ball in return," Lewis said. "I think it's going to come in time. One step at a time."
Lewis has come on strong, and Taylor attributes that to gaining confidence by playing all the time.
• Game: Steelers vs. Chiefs.
• When: 8:30 p.m. Monday.
• Where: Heinz Field.
• TV: ESPN.
"He has all the physical attributes, it was just being consistent, having the mindset," Taylor said. "He has 15 pass deflections, and nobody's throwing his way."
After the Steelers managed a modern-day low 11 interceptions last season, coordinator Dick LeBeau tried to hammer home the importance of turnovers, something the former cornerback knew all too well when he intercepted 62 passes in his Hall of Fame career, a total still tied for seventh in the NFL.
"We like to take it away, we're just not getting enough of them," LeBeau said. "We need to do better there. We have gotten a couple turnovers the last couple games. We need to do more, that's for sure."
The Chiefs seem to provide an opportunity for that.
"You ask why they are 1-7?" Mike Tomlin asked himself this week. "Quite honestly, it's because they have turned the ball over and have significantly lost the turnover battle. They are minus-21 on the season, which puts them last in the NFL."
They have lost 15 fumbles and 14 interceptions. Matt Cassel has six touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. He was benched in favor of Brady Quinn, who has three interceptions and no touchdowns. Quinn won't play because of the effects of a concussion.
"I'd like to think that is something comforting for us," Tomlin said of those Chiefs turnovers. "But it's not like we've been a juggernaut when it comes to getting turnovers. We've done a better job getting off the field but we haven't done a great job getting turnovers. We are probably one of the worst in the league in that area."
They can become the worst in their history if they keep whiffing on footballs.
The Chiefs, with 29 turnovers, are chasing the NFL record. The 1961 Denver Broncos of the AFL hold it with 65 turnovers, San Francisco had 63 in '78 and three teams are tied at 58 -- the '47 Bears, the '50 Steelers and the '83 Giants.
Lewis isn't the only difference in the Steelers secondary. Cortez Allen is playing the nickel for the first time and Will Allen will start his fifth game for injured Troy Polamalu at strong safety.
"We're starting to put the pieces to where we needed to be from the beginning," Lewis said. "Our D-line are getting to the quarterback much faster, our linebackers are playing out of control, and it's helping us in the back end, having those guys just scared to get hit and the quarterback and just throwing the ball.
"So, when it's like that there's always an opportunity to make a play back there in the secondary."
They've made plays, just not interceptions.
"That's why you catch a lot of DBs out there on the Jugs machine after practice," Lewis said. "We have to fix those problems. It's a joking matter, but it's serious as well. We know we can't keep letting opportunities slip like that. "
Rookie halfback Chris Rainey returned to a full-time practice, boosting his chances of playing Monday night vs. Kansas City.
Rainey left the game Sunday against the New York Giants with a rib injury.
Marcus Gilbert worked some in practice for the first time since a tendon was torn in his ankle Oct. 11 vs. Tennessee. He was limited as was halfback Rashard Mendenhall, whose Achilles injury has caused him to miss the past three games and likely a fourth Monday.
As expected, Polamalu and Antonio Brown did not practice and likely will not play, and Stevenson Sylvester did not practice, either.
Ryan Clark said he was not fined for the phantom "hit-to-the-head" penalty he received in the Giants end zone on wide receiver Victor Cruz, who left the game with a rib injury. It's the NFL's way of admitting it was a wrong call because, if it had been an illegal hit to the head, Clark would have been fined.
First Published November 9, 2012 12:00 am