By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have played the Kansas City Chiefs 27 times since 1970, including 12 times at home, but the 16th meeting at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday night at 8:20 will be the club’s ninth on the road in the past 10 meetings.
The only recent home game for the Steelers came in 2006 at Heinz Field where the Steelers won 45-7. In 2009, the Steelers’ last trip to Kansas City, the Chiefs returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and eventually won, 27-24, in overtime.
That was the second straight loss for the Steelers in a five-game slide that ultimately defined that season and left the club one game short of the playoffs. Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) and Charlie Batch (hand) both got hurt in that game.
“I heard all the stories about how loud it was, and … it didn’t seem to be as loud as I thought it would be when we came out,” Roethlisberger said. “But then they took the opening kickoff back, and it got really loud.
“So, it was a neat place to play. We expect it to be an electric environment Sunday night, and we have to go in there and play our game.”
Roethlisberger, who still has a sore foot to go with a fractured right thumb from the club’s last game played, said he has difficulty bending the thumb and gripping a football. Other than that, he’s ready to go to face the Chiefs.
“We’re tweaking (the splint) almost every day,” Roethlisberger said. “And we’re very close to getting it right. … So, we’ve done a good job getting to a point where we’re happy with it, but now we have to get ready for the game. I don’t want to think about it too much at this point.
“I’ve been told that it’s the exact same injury (as six years ago), so I guess there’s a piece of mind for me that at least I’ve done this before. That doesn’t mean I feel better physically, but at least I feel better mentally about it. I know I’ve been able to play with this injury, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey hasn’t noticed a difference in Roethlisberger’s play, let alone a drop-off, so the Steelers’ offensive should continue to make strides.
“He’s been great, the same old Ben,” Pouncey said. “I think he’s played even better, at times, since he’s been banged up because he’s very focused. As an O-line, we just need to keep him upright as much as possible, and I think our offense can be as potent as any in the league.”
Roethlisberger, however, doesn’t want to be the best right now.
“I’d like to see us continue to improve every day,” Roethlisberger said. “You don’t want to get perfect and do everything right, because then there’s no place to go but down from there. So, we want to keep getting better every week, and I think we’ve done that to this point.”
And with six games remaining, there’s still time for Roethlisberger and the Steelers to make their ascent to the top in the NFL.
Wednesday’s Insider Notebook
Even though LaMarr Woodley has practiced two days this week on a limited basis, make that extremely limited, second-year player Jason Worilds is expected to start at left outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Woodley has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury that he hurt during the third quarter Oct. 30 against the New England Patriots. Worilds missed some time himself with a right quad injury, but he’s stepped up in Woodley’s absence.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that Worilds’ play has been above the line, while Woodley believed he has played pretty well and even gotten some pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
“I think I’ve played pretty well, and I’ve gotten better each week,” Worilds said. “So, I’m pretty happy with my play, and if I can continue to do that I think I’ll be fine. (And) we’re doing pretty good overall on defense right now. We’re 7-3, and we’re still in the hunt for everything that we wanted to accomplish at the beginning of this season.”
The Steelers had three sacks against the Ravens, but none against the Bengals in the two games that Worilds started. Still, he believed it was only a matter of time before he gets there now that he’s healthy.
“Yeah, I think I’m getting closer and closer, and if I keep it up I’ll get one,” Worilds said. “Hopefully, it’ll happen this week. … Nobody likes to get hurt, but I worked my way through it and kept rehabbing and kept doing mental reps on the sideline and in the classroom to prepare myself for when I came back.
“Now that I’m healthy, I needed to be ready to step in there for LaMarr. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far. So, I wouldn’t say it was any kind of redemption for me, because injuries do happen. But I’m healthy now, and I’m ready to contribute to this team in any way that I can.”
Woodley’s rehabilitation appears to be more off-field than on right now, but he should be ready to go against Cincinnati next week at home.
Offensive Line Juggling
After missing the past four games with a fractured big toe, third-year pro Doug Legursky worked primarily with the first team at left offensive guard. He played there against Tennessee and Jacksonville, while Chris Kemoeatu was hurt, but it appears that Legursky has secured the starting spot now.
“I got a lot of time with the ones, so we’ll see,” Legursky said. “But I guess it looks good. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the week, but it feels good right now and I’m looking forward to getting back in there. We’ve had two good practices to get some of the rust off since I missed the past four games.
“It was fractured, not broken, but it didn’t need surgery. I guess that’s a good thing, but it was still a serious injury. So, I’ve come a long way the past month, and I feel like I’m ready to go. I probably could have played (at Cincy), but with the bye week I was able to ease back into it and get more time to get ready.”
Kemoeatu was always considered a quality lineman for the Steelers, but he’s committed some seriously stupid penalties in recent years. And that’s not just false starts and holding calls. His various personal foul penalties have really hurt the Steelers’ offense at that time.
Speed To Burn
When this season began, the Steelers appeared to have among the deepest receiving corps in the league, and while that can be debated a bit there’s no question the group has to be the fastest.
With Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and now Emmanuel Sanders back in the fold, the Steelers can torch opposing secondaries. Sanders missed the previous two games with a knee injury, but he went through a full practice Wednesday and should be ready to play against the Chiefs.
“The mind is a powerful thing, and I’m trying to get back into the flow by getting my mind right as well as my body,” Sanders said. “I’m healthy now, so it’s only a matter of time. I guess I just need to go out and put some WD-40 (lubrication) on my game.
“I’ve been out for two weeks, so I’m going to try to pick up where I left off. (But) I’m just happy to be back out there after a few weeks. We just tested it out today, but things are looking pretty good. We’ll see how I feel (Thursday), but I think I’ll be all right to play this week.”
Wideout Arnaz Battle (hamstring), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (right thumb) and Woodley (hamstring) were limited Wednesday, while strong safety Troy Polamalu (ribs) and Sanders (knee) participated in a full practice.