STEELERS HOST THE CHIEFS

With the Chiefs at 2-6, the Steelers game against Kansas could be considered an easy one, but Coach Noll wasn’t as certain as the fans were. “Their defense is playing very well,” observed Noll. “Last week we played the second best defense in the AFC and this week we are playing the third.”

“They’ve given up a lot of points,” Coach Noll added, “but not many yards. People who have done things on them have done them on big plays. Maybe it’s because they are not used to seeing wide open plays.”

The Chiefs Winged-T offense is almost exclusively a power running offense with an extra back in the backfield whose primary purpose is to throw a block. The Chiefs philosophy is to keep the defense on the bench watching the offense run play after running play.

“We’ll try to hold the ball offensively,” said Noll before adding, “Somebody said a long time ago that is the best defense, but our main objective is scoring points. That’s the biggest stat you can have going for you.”

The Steelers defense will probably be missing Mel Blount, who is suffering from a shoulder injury. His replacement is rookie Larry Anderson who had been mainly seen on kickoff returns.

1978 Game 9: The (7-1) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (2-6) Kansas City Chiefs

Terry Bradshaw threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Chiefs a short field of eleven yards, but the Steelers defense held them to a 25-yard field goal.

After a holding penalty, the Steelers began their drive from their 13 and Bradshaw moved the chains 27 yards with a pass to Lynn Swann and then used Rocky Belier and Franco Harris on the ground before Harris punched it over from the one. Jack Ham's interception on the Steelers one stopped the Chiefs from adding to their score.

In the second quarter, the Steelers extended their lead with another touchdown run from Harris, this one from 11 yards and then a 23-yard touchdown catch from John Stallworth gave Pittsburgh a 20-3 advantage at the half after Roy Gerela’s point after attempt hit the right upright. Bradshaw took a lick on the last touchdown drive that rendered his right arm useless.

Apart, from Bradshaw’s injury, the Steelers were coasting and looking good to overcome the 14 points Las Vegas spotted them, the Chiefs struck back quickly and twice at the beginning of the second half. Kansas changed their tactics to attack the left side where rookie Larry Anderson was standing in for Mel Blount and it worked.

Bradshaw came onto the field for the third quarter, but when he underthrew a pass to an open Swann that was intercepted, Mike Kruczek replaced him. With the pendulum swinging towards the Chiefs, Noll made another change bringing on Mel Blount.

The Steelers defense stiffened and Ron Johnson pulled in an interception before Donnie Shell scooped up a fumble and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter.

One play after the two minute warning, the Chiefs moved to within three points and went for an onside kick aimed at Jack Ham. “You see eleven guys coming at you and it’s no fun being on the onside kick team,” ventured Ham. The ball bounced off his leg before Ham gathered it in and the Steelers edged a 27-24 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 27 vs the Kansas City Chiefs 24
Three Rivers Stadium October 29 1978; 48,185


Albert M. Herrmann captures Jack Ham's first quarter interception

Passing: Bradshaw 7-13-1TD-2INT-109, Kruczek 1-2-0-0-10
Livingston 15-28-2INT-148

Rushing: Harris 25-90-2TD, Thornton 4-9, Bleier 9-23, Bradshaw 1-6

Receiving: Swann 5-80, Stallworth 1-23-1TD, Grossman 1-10, Bleier 1-6

“Good football teams win games like this,” commented Joe Greene. “It was a tough one, but I never doubted we’d win it.”

“We were mentally and physically tired,” Terry Bradshaw said referring to the short week after playing on Monday.

“Larry (Anderson) played a good game,” complimented Mel Blount. “But, he’s young and he was in a lot of traffic out there. I know what it mean to be a young cornerback in this business. I know how tough it is. I thought I could make some contribution to the game.”

“We were fortunate to get out of that game alive,” offered Coach Noll. “They are a young football team that I think has a good future in front of it. We were fortunate enough to come up with some big plays to win the game.”

COACH NOLL'S STATE OF THE UNION MESSAGE

At his weekly press conference, Chuck Noll admitted, “You’re not going to be on top every time you go out there. If you could always go out and give a peak performance, nobody could beat most of the tennis players in this room.” When the tennis players amongst the reporters stopped giggling, Coach Noll spent some time giving a State of the (8-1) Steelers report, which proved to be encouraging for the fans.

“As long as we’re winning, we’re not much concerned,” the coach observed when questioned about the ability of the previous opponents, Houston and Kansas, to run the ball against the Steelers.

The Steelers defense had not allowed 300 yards of offense to any of their first six opponents but had not improved over the last three games although previous stats would indicate an improvement as the season progressed.

DONNIE SHELL

The Steelers next opponents, the New Orleans Saints, would most likely pick up where Houston and Kansas left off, and direct their offense against Pittsburgh on the ground. In week 7 against San Francisco, New Orleans attempted only four passes but ran the ball 55 times as they rolled over the 49ers.

The Saints quarterback Archie Manning is the number one passer in the NFC so if their ground game falters, they can easily turn to the air and Donnie Shell will have a busy day. Shell and fellow safety Mike Wagner were having solid seasons. Wagner is second in Steelers tackles with Shell fourth. Shell had recovered a fumble in the team’s last three games and his six points in the Kansas game was the difference between winning and losing.

The Steelers secondary coach Woody Widenhofer acknowledged, “Donnie has been playing exceptionally well. He always was excellent supporting the run and now he’s adapting to the man-to-man techniques. He has the ability to become an All-Pro. I wouldn’t trade him for any defensive back in the league. All season he’s been very consistent.”

Praise indeed. Shell admitted the All-Pro talk was flattering before saying, “I don’t have my sights set on that.  I only want to keep winning, to help the team in whatever way.”

Born in South Carolina, Shell received a scholarship to South Carolina State, half for football and half for baseball. Shell was the center-fielder on a successful baseball team that sent two players to the majors. “There are times I think I should have stayed in baseball,” he admitted before adding, “I think I could have made it in the majors.”

Shell was overlooked in the 1974 draft, but the Steelers scout Bill Nunn signed him as a free agent. When the player strike kept the rookies in camp longer than usual, Coach Noll had more time to evaluate Shell’s ability and he made the roster. After three years on special teams, he found himself playing strong safety last season after Wagner suffered a neck injury and finished as the defensive backs leading tackler.

STEELERS ENJOYING THEIR WINNING STATUS

The last time the Steelers went 8-1 was 1975 when they were tied with the Cincinnati Bengals while Houston were just a game behind at 7-2. That season the Steelers won the division after the penultimate game when they beat the Bengals. That season and the previous one were the only times the Steelers have not had to wait until the final game to clinch the division.

This season is something else. With seven games remaining, the Steelers are cruising and the concern is complacency although Coach Noll will ensure the team stay focused. “Relax?” the Coach asks. “In this league? This year?”

Noll suggested the close game with the Chiefs gave the team something to work on. “It was a warner,” he said before adding, “I hope we learned that you don’t relax with any kind of lead, in a game or in a season.
You have to be able to meet all obstacles if you are going to be a champion. We met it and overcame it. Whoever it was that said, ‘Don’t relax’ was giving a pretty good message.”

Joe Greene is certain the team will stay the course.  “We do have it rather nice in the sense we’re not playing with someone breathing down our necks,” Greene said. “We played well to get it like this. We’ll have to continue to play well to keep it that way.”

Acknowledging the Steelers had played good football when they had their backs against the wall, he didn’t seem to think that their current success would bother them. “It’s a good position to be in,” he said. “It’ll test the quality and the character of the people on this team.”           

With only one 100-yard game on the season, Franco Harris was third in the AFC rushing standings behind Delvin Williams and Earl Campbell while needing just 30 yards to become the seventh player to rush for 7,000 yards. Harris will join Jimmy Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only players to do it in seven years.

MEL BLOUNT EXPECTING TO START AGAINST THE SAINTS

Mel Blount media photo“If we play New Orleans the way we played Kansas City, we’re going to have a lot of embarrassed ball players around here,” offered Mel Blount on the Steelers prospects when they host the Saints in their next game. “I think any time a team comes back and holds your offense the way the Chiefs did, it’s time to look at yourselves, including the coaches.”

Pittsburgh’s veteran cornerback was suffering from a partially separated right shoulder that limited his availability in the Chiefs game and was conscious the team had to get their act together. “We were lucky in a lot of ways, but I think it is a situation we learn from.”

Blount was expected to be back at right corner, where Larry Anderson had his problems defending the run against the Saints, but Blunt was keen not to criticise the rookie. “I think Larry did a real good job. Larry was playing on all the special teams and running back kicks. There was a lot of pressure on him. I think there was just too much for him to do.”

The week leading up to the Houston game when the Steelers suffered their first loss on the season, Blunt’s arm had been a sling, but he played in severe pain. “I’m not really sure if I helped the team or hurt them in the Houston game,” before admitting, “If anything, I probably hurt them.”

Although officially listed as probable to play, Blount was expecting to start. “It’s playable. It’s a lot better. I’d say it’s about 85 percent healed.”

1978 Game 10: The (8-1) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (5-4) New Orleans Saints

Both defenses were on top in the first half. The Steelers took a three-point lead in the first quarter with Roy Gerela’s 27-yard field goal while their defense excelled. Jack Lambert intercepted a pass on the Steelers 16 and Joe Greene recovered an Archie Manning fumble caused by a hit by Loren Toews. Those two turnovers prevented the Steelers from falling further behind after a touchdown run of five yards from Saints Tony Galbreath that put the Saints 7-3 in front.

On the Steelers first possession of the second half, Terry Bradshaw led his team on a drive of 77 yards that included a 22-yard leaping catch by Lynn Swann on a fourth down and four yards play. Swann followed up with a touchdown pass of 6 yards.

The Steelers extended their lead with a 21-yard field goal after the Saints had missed one from 51 yards, but New Orleans were never out of it and took a 14-13 advantage at the beginning of the final period.

Larry Anderson return the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to set the Steelers up for a 31-yard field goal attempt that hit the right upright. The Saints followed up with a field goal miss from 50 yards that gave the Steelers a series that began on their own 34. Rocky Bleier finished the drive with a 24-yard touchdown completion that gave Pittsburgh the 20-14 victory moving them to 9-1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 20 vs the New Orleans Saints 14
Three Rivers Stadium November 5 1978; 48,525

Passing: Bradshaw 16-23-2TD-1INT-200
Manning 22-32-1TD-1INT-344

Rushing: Bleier 17-84, Harris 15-57, Bradshaw 2-4

Receiving: Grossman 3-44, Swann 3-40-1TD, Stallworth 3-33, Bleier 3-46-1TD, Harris 4-37

Franco Harris surpassed 7,000 rushing yards joining Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only NFL players to rush for over 7,000 in their first seven season.

At 32 years young, Rocky Bleier put in a good day at the office with 84 yards for an average of 4.9 with Joe Greene acknowledging, “Rocky had a tremendous game before he made the game winning touchdown.”

Bleier’s touchdown catch was the first of his career. “I can’t remember when I had so much fun out there,” he told reporters. “It was a good, hard-running offense. It was something we needed to pick ourselves up after the last two weeks.”

AFC Central
Houston Oilers 14 Cleveland 10
San Diego 22 Cincinnati 13

Pittsburgh 9-1
Houston 6-4
Cleveland 5-5
Cincinnati 1-9

Pittsburgh press photo of Rocky Bleier
Donald A. Stetzer's photo of Rocky Bleier on his way to 84 yards rushing

LOS ANGELES RAMS NEXT FOR THE STEELERS

“It’ll be a great test for us,” admitted the Los Angeles Rams’ general manager Don Klosterman as he looked ahead to the visit of the Steelers to the Rams.  “They are the best team in football,” he added. “There’s no doubt about it. The Steelers are a very productive team. They are very well coached. They have a lot of talent and they have a lot of ways to score.”

Klosterman refused to admit the Steelers had declined from their Super Bowl winning years. “Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know the personnel of the Steelers.”

The forthcoming game was a 71,414 sell out and Klosterman said, “It’s a chance to show people we can play against the best. When we’re confronted we a fine team, we usually play well. We play a little better when we are challenged.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted the Steelers were underdogs and the game should pit strength against strength before the newspaper highlighted both the Steelers offense and the Rams defense have been superb while the Rams offense and the Steelers defense have had problems.

TOP RANKED TERRY BRADSHAW

Terry Bradshaw media photoSteelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was leading the NFL with a rating of 96.2 and 18 touchdown passes and was also instrumental in making Lynn Swann the league’s most productive receiver with 46 catches. Bradshaw has passed more than 2,000 yards with nine interceptions, half the total he had this time last year.

“I don’t know what being the league’s top-rated quarterback is going to prove,” he told the Pittsburgh Press, “but I happy just as long as I’ve got the TD passes going and the average-per-attempt is up there pretty high (it leads the NFL at 8.52).”

Having thrown for over 200 yards in seven of the Steelers ten games Bradshaw admitted, “I feel like I’m more aggressive out there now. I’m really not throwing the ball deep at all. Most of them have been relatively short. I think going to the tight end has helped. Our tight ends have caught 34 passes this year which is a lot for us.”

Under the Steelers former defensive coordinator Bud Carson, the Rams are yielding just 110 yards passing and 107 yards rushing per game. “I know Bud Carson and I know his strategy,” said Bradshaw. “Plus, we have so many different passing formations now that it’s going to be hard for anybody to put the finger on it.”

Bradshaw noted that despite the team’s record, Steelers fans are not entirely happy. “They expect us to shut everybody out and score 40 points a game,” he said before adding, “I wish out fans would be more vocal. Take for instance the Colts fans. When you play in Baltimore, you can’t even hear yourself think.”

“Everyone I meet on the street, they ask me, 'What is the spread this week?' Or 'why didn’t we beat the spread?' I guess the old cliché about ‘winning is everything’ isn’t true here.”

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