Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and the Kansas City Chiefs will get a second shot at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Kansas City hosts Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs will not only be looking for their first home playoff win in over 20 years but also to avenge a lopsided 43-14 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 2 at Heinz Field.
“When we first heard we were going to play the Steelers I think everybody was kind of happy because nobody likes to get beat the way we got beat,” Duvernay-Tardif said during a conference call. “I think it’s our chance, our opportunity, to show we’re a really good football team and that we’re not the same team we were during our first go-around with them.
“I think it’s going to be in the back of our minds but in a positive way. Personally and collectively as a team everybody is really looking forward to that game.”
The six-foot-five, 321-pound Duvernay-Tardif is completing his third season with Kansas City and second as its starting right guard. That’s quite an accomplishment for the 25-year-old Montreal native who was selected in the sixth round, 200th overall, in the 2014 NFL draft out of McGill.
Duvernay-Tardif, who continues to study to become a doctor while playing football, hadn’t yet celebrated his second birthday the last time Kansas City won a home playoff game. On Jan. 8, 1994 the legendary Joe Montana led the Chiefs to a 27-24 overtime win over Pittsburgh.
Since then, Kansas City is 0-4 at home in the playoffs and 1-8 overall in the post-season.
Sunday’s game will be Duvernay-Tardif’s first NFL post-season contest at home. He feels a fast start versus the Steelers would not only give the Chiefs early momentum but get their rabid fans into the game.
“I think it will be important for us to make a statement right away and start the game fast like we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks whether it’s against San Diego (37-27 win Jan 1) or Denver (33-10 win Dec. 25),” he said. “For us this week, the points of emphasis are to reduce turnovers and score when we have the opportunity because we know how the Steelers’ offence can be explosive.”
Kansas City’s raucous supporters make Arrowhead one of the toughest places for an opposing team to play. In turn, they give the Chiefs a decided home-field advantage.
“From an offensive standpoint the whole crowd is quiet when you’re on the field,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “So you can use verbal cadence, you can use different signals and talk on the field which is a huge advantage as an offence.
“The energy in the stadium and noise I think are a nightmare for every quarterback visiting Arrowhead because it’s just hard to get the play out. For us it creates a rhythm and kind of motivates everybody.”
Kansas City comes into the contest well rested after a bye last week. Pittsburgh advanced with a 30-12 wild-card win last weekend over Miami.
The Chiefs’ offence faces a stiff challenge. Pittsburgh’s defence was ranked 12th in yards allowed (342.6 per game), 16th against the pass (242.6 yards) and tied for ninth in sacks (39) and fewest TDs allowed (36).
Kansas City was 20th in total yards (343 per game), 15th in rushing (109.2 yards) and 11th in fewest sacks (32).
But Pittsburgh favours more of a zone defence, which should allow quarterback Alex Smith to throw underneath to tight end Travis Kelce and rookie receiver Tyreek Hill. Kelce was third overall and tops among tight ends in yards after the catch (653) while Hill has the speed and elusiveness to turn a short reception into a big play.
Hill is also a threat on special teams.
“Pittsburgh creates a lot of turnovers so we’ve got to make sure we protect the ball well,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “Strategy-wise they do a lot to create pressure but at the same time I think when you’re able to stop that pressure it creates some huge lanes.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press