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David Todd: Quick Thoughts On Steelers Versus Chiefs

On Sunday the Pittsburgh Steelers, again without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, lost 23-13 to the one-win Kansas City Chiefs. After surviving the last two weeks largely on the back of a 5-0 turnover differential, the Steelers turned it over three times in this one, doubling their season total, while the defense didn’t come up with any big plays and couldn’t get off the field when it mattered most.

Landry Jones made his first career start in place of Roethlisberger and after a quick start was unable to rekindle the success of last week. Antonio Brown reemerged as an offensive force and Le’Veon Bell was excellent again, but after converting two third downs and a fourth down on their second series of the game, the offense went a combined 0-for-6 on third and fourth downs and turned it over three times the rest of the way.

The good news is the 4-3 Steelers expect Roethlisberger back this week. The bad news is the 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals come to town. A loss would put the Steelers 3.5 games back of the division leaders and virtually ensure a wild card berth as their only path to the playoffs.

Injuries:

*Antwon Blake left the game to go through concussion protocol but did return. William Gay suffered a shoulder injury that was not believed to be serious.
Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Vick, Stephon Tuitt, Will Allen and Terence Garvin were all inactive due to injury. Cortez Allen was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday when Tyler Murphy was activated to the 53-man roster.

Offense:

The Good:

*Le’Veon Bell carried 17 times for 121 yards, 7.1 yds/att. Early in the fourth quarter, down 16-10, the offense had a first down at their own 45. Bell took the handoff on a play with right guard David DeCastro and H-back Roosevelt Nix, who lined up behind right tackle, pulling left. Bell cut inside Nix’s block then made the corner miss with another deft inside cut and sprinted down the sideline for a 42-yard gain. Another spectacular run. He’s now fourth in the league in rushing despite missing the first two games, second in yards/game at 102.2, leads the league in carries of 20+ yards with 8 and, as usual, hasn’t put the ball on the ground all year. Teams continue to take away Bell in the passing game as he again had only four catches for 16 yards, identical to his line vs. SD after having no catches last week, but that should change with Roethlisberger coming back.

*Antonio Brown, stymied by Mike Vick more than opposing defenses the past three weeks, had 6 catches for 124 yards. Having a quarterback who understands the offense and is willing to throw the ball before he comes out of his break is the difference here. Brown consistently got open and Jones was able to find him. He and Bell combined for 78.8% of the Steelers offense.

The Bad:

*Had Landry Jones not done as well as he did last week, I think his performance on Sunday would have been evaluated as surprisingly good based on what we have seen to this point in his career. Obviously turnovers were the key to the outcome and Jones was credited with all three, but that is a bit misleading. One was a result of Brown batting the ball into the air and into the hands of safety Eric Berry and on the fumble Tamba Hali came in untouched from the blind side. Jones obviously wasn’t great and even good is a stretch, however, Mike Vick’s job was essentially not to turn the ball over and as bad as he was, he didn’t do that. Jones did.

*On the second drive of the game the Steelers had a 3rd-and-2 from the Chiefs 6. Landry Jones rolled right and hit DeAngelo Williams right in the hands for an easy first down. Williams dropped it and the Steelers settled for 3.

*The Steelers offensive line gave up two sacks and they both killed drives in the fourth quarter. With about 11 minutes left in the game the offense had a 3rd-and-7 on the Chiefs 10. The Chiefs ran a tackle-end stunt with “end” Tamba Hali coming inside from the right edge. Right tackle Alejandro Villanueva has no chance on this play. The best he can do is look to help block the tackle. It is the responsibility of right guard Ramon Foster and center Cody Wallace to pick up Hali. It didn’t happen. The tackle did an excellent job of engaging Foster and Wallace shifted his attention right to help DeCastro rather than left. Hali had a free shot up the middle and sacked Jones for a 8-yard loss, forcing the Steelers to settle for a FG and a 16-13 deficit.

The second sack occurred on the Steelers last offensive play. This time Villanueva was 100% responsible. Hali came with a speed move off the right edge. Villanueva, making his first career start, set poorly then whiffed lunging at Hali who got to Jones, stripped him off the ball, sealing the Chiefs victory. It was the Steelers first lost fumble of the season.

*Heath Miller who had a catch in 110 straight games was not even targeted in this one after having only one catch late in the game last week. The Steelers QBs inability or unwillingness to use the middle of the field has made Miller the forgotten man in this offense for now. We’ll see if that changes with Roethlisberger back.

*Again the Steelers had trouble converting third downs. After going 3-12 last week, the Steelers were 2-10 on third down and 1-2 on fourth down and failed to convert any after the first quarter.

*The Steelers burned two of the three timeouts early in the second half, one on their second offensive play of the half. Not good.

Defense:

The Good:

*The defense wasn’t terrible, but there was little that stood out positively. After having great success again getting stops in the red zone on all three Chiefs drives in the first half, they gave up two red zone TDs in the second. Cameron Heyward continues to be a dominating presence on the defensive line, getting another sack that forced a long missed-FG, but few other individuals stood out. Ryan Shazier returned, registered a half-sack and showed some of the explosiveness we saw before he missed four games with injury.

The Bad:

*Giving up 23 points on the road is generally considered a success, but this is not an explosive Chiefs offense. The Steelers were killed by poor tackling and an inability to get off the field on third down. The Chiefs converted 9-16, none bigger than a 3rd-and-4 from their own 22 with 8:39 left, leading just 16-13. TE Travis Kielce got a free release off the line of scrimmage and beat Lawrence Timmons down the middle of the field. Alex Smith made a very nice throw for a 26-yard gain. C. West went up the middle for 36-yards on the next play and just like that the Chiefs were on the Steelers 16. 62 yards in 2 plays and eventually a touchdown to complete the scoring.

*After holding teams to fewer than 3.0 yards a carry the past two weeks, the Steelers gave up 138 yards on the ground, 4.8 yards/att.

*The Steelers had trouble generating a consistent pass rush against Alex Smith. Missing Stephon Tuitt was part of it, but the OLBs did not have much of an impact. Consistent quarterback pressure has been one of the keys to the new found success generating turnovers and it was one of the reasons the Steelers were unsuccessful in that area Sunday.

Special Teams:

The Good:

*Chris Boswell converted both FG attempts and is now 7-7 in his brief Steelers career. 33-year old Shaun Suisham is under contract thru 2018 with a $3.5 million cap hit in each of the next three seasons with a $1.7 million dead money hit if they were to release him next year. Chris Boswell is under contract for $600,000 in 2016. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

*Dri Archer averaged 29.0 yards on four kick returns and for the second week in a row posted a career long, this time 38 yards.

*After a bad game against the Ravens, punter Jordan Berry has bounced back nicely. He averaged 45.5 yards on two punts with one downed at the Chiefs 3-yard line.

The Bad:

*The Steelers did a poor job of blocking the Chiefs gunners. On one specific return Brandon Boykin got beat by his man and Antonio Brown was forced to make a fair catch when it looked as if he would have had tons of room to run if Boykin makes his block. It was suggested that Brown also stared Boykin down after the play.

*I believe the 25-yard return yard punt return by DeAnthony Thomas after the Steelers opening drive was the longest they have given up this season.

Coaching:

The Good:

*The Steelers committed only one penalty. They continue to be one of the least penalized teams in the league. Their 111 yards in positive net penalty yardage differential is 6th best in the NFL and only one team that has played seven games has been penalized fewer times.

*Twice in the first half Mike Tomlin decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 in Kansas City territory. I applauded both decisions. Each time DeAngelo Williams got the handoff. He was successful the first time and got stuffed the second. While I love the aggressive mentality, isn’t that a spot for Le’Veon Bell?

The Bad:

*The Steelers came out with an aggressive mindset in their opening drive and let Landry Jones throw the ball down the field, but as the game moved on in the first half, they seemed to get much more conservative with the play-calling and went into halftime having only put up three points for the second week in a row.

*Last week I was criticized by a member of the Steelers organization for continually questioning Mike Tomlin’s clock management, on my station no less. Amongst other criticisms from this individual, he said he wanted to sit with me during games to see what I would do in the moment. As most of you know I actually tweet during games exactly what I would do in each situation before the play is called, he just happens to be too arrogant or lazy to follow me. On Sunday, as pointed out above, I said I would go for it on fourth down on both occasions. That I liked, the things below I didn’t.

This week, like last week, the Steelers again showed some questionable judgment at the end of the first half. Last week the Steelers got the ball on their own 14-yard line with about 40 seconds to go in the half. I tweeted that they should take a knee and run out the clock, go into the half down 10-3 knowing they were getting the ball to open the second half. Despite having thrown for negative yards in the half and Mike Vick not having completed a pass beyond the line of scrimmage they elected to throw three times and punted the ball back to Arizona with time still on the clock. A great punt by Jordan Berry bailed them out and the Cards ran out the clock. To me it seemed like an unnecessary risk.

This week the Steelers were confronted by a similar situation. After a Chiefs FG put them up 9-3, they kicked off and Archer returned it to the 24. 53 seconds remained on the clock. I tweeted the following before any play was run:

Four plays later Landry Jones threw and interception that was returned to the Steelers 40. There seems to be a complete lack of consistency with the Steelers philosophy. They want to be conservative with their backup QBs. That’s understandable. Well then don’t ask them to be heroic in the last minute of the half when the opponent is protecting against exactly that.

A Cam Hayward sack on 2nd down turned out to be a key defensive play and the Chiefs missed a 54-yard FG. Saved again, but poor decision-making.

*For whatever reason the Steelers don’t play fast when they need to. Maybe in this case it can be blamed on Landry Jones making his first start, but he’s been around three years, this should be something he is capable of doing. Down 23-13 with only one timeout left, the offense took over on their 16 with 5:04 left. Here is the ensuing play-by-play with my commentary in bold:

1st and 10 at PIT 16

(5:04 – 4th) (Shotgun) L.Jones pass short middle to L.Bell to PIT 21 for 5 yards (D.Johnson; E.Berry)

After a 5-yard gain they needed 31 seconds to get off the next play. As you will see this is a consistent issue.

2nd and 5 at PIT 21

(4:33 – 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) L.Jones pass short right to M.Bryant to PIT 28 for 7 yards (D.Johnson)

A 7-yard gain on this play, 38 seconds to get off the next snap. Remember, down two scores and only one timeout left.

1st and 10 at PIT 28

(3:55 – 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) L.Jones pass short left to M.Wheaton pushed ob at PIT 39 for 11 yards (S.Nelson)

Clock stops, out-of-bounds.

1st and 10 at PIT 39

(3:49 – 4th) (Shotgun) L.Jones pass short left to L.Bell to PIT 38 for -1 yards (J.Houston; A.Bailey)

2nd and 11 at PIT 38

This is terrible. After huddling up, the Steelers run a pass play that loses a yard and it still takes them 38 seconds to get off the next snap. How is that possible? There have to be multiple plays called in the huddle.

(3:11 – 4th) (No Huddle, Shotgun) L.Jones pass incomplete short right to H.Miller

3rd and 11 at PIT 38

Clock stops, incomplete pass.

(3:07 – 4th) (Shotgun) L.Jones pass short left to L.Bell to PIT 43 for 5 yards (H.Abdullah)

Another 5-yard gain. And this time an almost incomprehensible 50 seconds off the clock snap-to-snap. The Steelers are on their own 43. They have burned almost three full minutes to go 27 yards. It’s just terrible play-calling and clock management. There is no other way to describe it. The Steelers would turn the ball over the next play and the Chiefs would run out the clock.

4th and 6 at PIT 43

(2:17 – 4th) (Shotgun) L.Jones pass incomplete deep left to A.Brown. PENALTY on KC-S.Smith, Defensive Pass Interference, 18 yards, enforced at PIT 43 – No Play

Big Officiating Calls:

*The officials clearly missed Eric Berry’s unsportsmanlike act after his interception. While Berry’s comeback is a great story, he used the ball as a prop in his celebration and should have been flagged 15 yards. The Chiefs started from their own 47 and promptly went 9 plays, 53 yards for a TD. It was a extended celebration, not sure how they missed it.

Up Next: The Steelers take on the undefeated 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals, coming off a bye, at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 pm EST.

Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE before every Steelers game and on weekdays on ESPN Pittsburgh 970 AM and 106.3 FM from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.

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