Sunday night’s nationally televised game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers from Heinz Field couldn’t have gone better for the black and gold coming off the worst loss in the Mike Tomlin era just one week before.
The high-powered offense fired on all cylinder’s in Le’Veon Bell’s return from a three-game suspension, while the defense turned up the heat, cleaned up the tackling and force two early turnovers that led directly to a 43-14 win to move to 3-1 on the season.
Like I do every week, I’ll take a shot at grading the performances of each position group of the Steelers.
QB — A
Ben Roethlisberger bounced back from two down weeks to turn in a near perfect performance against the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, throwing just five incompletions in 27 attempts while passing for 300 yards and an impressive five touchdowns on the night.
Sure, Roethlisberger threw behind Bell twice early in the game, missed Antonio Brown across the middle on the first drive and underthrewSammie Coates to start the game on the deep ball, but overall he was spectacular in dissecting a Kansas City defense coming off of a 6-interception performance a week ago against the New York Jets.
Roethlisberger averaged 11.1 yards per throw and finished with a near perfect quarterback rating of 152.2.
RB — A
Welcome back, Mr. Bell! What a performance from a guy who last saw game action against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 1, 2015.
Bell looked like he never missed any time as he rushed for 144 yards on just 18 carries, capped off with a brilliant 44-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter to leave no doubt about who the best running back in football is when healthy.
Along with his trademark patience and explosive cuts out of the backfield, Bell hauled in five passes for 34 yards in the win, often lining up as a receiver while sharing the field with DeAngelo Williams.
Williams, who now takes a back seat role with Bell back, saw 17 snaps in the win and carried the ball just four times for seven yards, but did find the end zone. Now that the offense appears healthy with its skill players, look out NFL.
WR — B+
It’s hard to give the Steelers’ receiving corps anything less than an A- after Sunday night’s performance, but outside of Brown and Coates (who combined for 10 catches, 143 yards and two touchdowns), guys like Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey were mostly quiet despite having two long touchdown catches where they found themselves wide open.
I don’t know if it had to do with the game plan or what, but Wheaton was mostly a non-factor and DHB only saw one target in the game before leaving with a shoulder injury.
I’m sure the loss of Eli Rogers hurts here as there’s really nobody to work in the middle of the field unless Bell is getting looks there, but AB was bottled up in the second half before coming off the field, and Coates did most of his damage on one catch – a 47-yarder over Marcus Peters to start the game.
TE — B+
Jesse James hauled in another touchdown to start the year on a beautiful flag route to the back corner for the score, catching the ball over a defender before getting his feet down in bounds, while David Johnson saw his first serious action of the season out of the backfield, hauling in his only target for a 26-yard catch-and-run down the middle of the field in the first half.
Johnson did most of his damage as a blocker, helping open up big lanes for Bell to run through.
Xavier Grimble added one catch for 19 yards in the second half and has really come on strong as a move tight end weapon for the Steelers to compliment James.
OL — B-
Overall, I felt that the offensive line was solid despite missing Ramon Foster at left guard and then losing both Marcus Gilbert (foot) and Ryan Harris (hematoma) to injuries.
Alejandro Villanueva did very well handling Frank Zombo and Dee Ford off the edge and really seemed to find his stride in the running game, while BJ Finney — making his first career NFL start — was very good in place of Foster. I liked the way he was able to bury people in the running game while showing good lateral movement in pass protection to pick up blitzes.
Maurkice Pouncey drew the tough task of trying to block Dontari Poe, and I think Pouncey answered the challenge well, especially in the running game where he was able to get to the second level and really do work on some Kansas City defenders.
Gilbert had his hands full at times with both Ford and Tamba Hali off the edge, but was rather stout in the running game before leaving the game with what is a concerning foot injury. Keep an eye on that.
Harris wasn’t really noticeable, so that can be a good thing for the most part.
The guy who really brought this grade down to a B- was David DeCastro, who has really struggled to start the year and has put together two poor games in back-to-back weeks. He’s making pre-snap errors that he didn’t really make last season and he’s getting overpowered at times and pushed into the backfield. That’s a lot of money to be paying a guy who’s getting manhandled in the trenches right now.
I have no doubt he’ll bounce back and be that All-Pro caliber guard that he was last season, but right now something just doesn’t seem right.
DL — A-
What a dominant performance from Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward in a game that they absolutely had to step up and set the tone early.
Tuitt forced the fumble by Spencer Ware that Ross Cockrell recovered and Heyward got a hand on Alex Smith’s attempted screen pass that fell into the waiting hands of Jarvis Jones for the interception.
Outside of the direct hands in turnovers, Tuitt and Heyward really controlled the line of scrimmage all night long and helped shut down a tough Chiefs rushing attack while applying tons of pressure on Smith when he dropped back to pass.
In fact, Heyward got the party started early by getting to Smith for the sack on just the fourth play of the game for Kansas City. He was really the star of the defense, finishing with three sacks, three tackles for loss, three QB hits and one pass deflection.
Javon Hargrave was tough to block inside as the rookie made some nice plays pushing the pocket up the middle, forcing Smith to stay in the danger zone, allowing his fellow defenders to get to the QB.
LB — A-
Vince. Williams. Whew.
How about that performance from a guy many last week said was downright awful in place of Ryan Shazier. How does 16 tackles (14 solo), one sack, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hit sound from a backup inside linebacker?
Along with Heyward, Williams was arguably the best player on the defensive side of the ball for Pittsburgh in a game in which they needed a bounce back performance from a defense that was embarrassed the week before.
Next to Williams, Lawrence Timmons had a strong game as well, registering eight tackles and one tackle for a loss, including a monster hit onKnile Davis that unfortunately put Davis in the concussion protocol.
With the inside group stepping up in a big way for the defense, so too did the outside linebackers as James Harrison finally got more playing time, which played a large part in the Steelers applying much more pressure on the quarterback than they had in the previous three weeks combined.
Harrison gave Eric Fisher everything he could handle and then some, while Jones hauled in an interception in the first quarter to send the Steelers off to the races.
Arthur Moats added a quarterback hit off the edge as well, but Anthony Chickillo was a bit of a disappointment before leaving the game with a knee injury. I just didn’t really see the burst or power off the edge from Chickillo that we’ve seen flashes of so far this season.
DB — A
How about Artie Burns and Justin Gilbert? If that was a glimpse into the future, it certainly looks bright for a much-maligned Pittsburgh secondary.
Burns was all over the place for the Steelers, finishing with two pass breakups, including a beautiful play on a deep ball to Tyreek Hill in the second half, while Gilbert did the overlooked job of jamming Travis Kelce at times, not allowing him to get a clean, free release off the line.
Gilbert didn’t record a tackle or pass breakup, but when the All-22 film comes out you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Along with the two young cornerbacks, William Gay and Cockrell continue to be simply solid for the defense as Cockrell recovered Ware’s fumble while Gay recorded five tackles and one tackle for loss.
At safety, despite being undermanned the duo of Mike Mitchell and Jordan Dangerfield brought a physical element to the defense that often had Kansas City receivers worried about going across the middle.
Making his first career start, Dangerfield finished with five tackles (three solo), while Mitchell added six total tackles in the win.
Special Teams — A+
The special teams units for the Steelers on Sunday were about as perfect as you could get. Sure, Hill busted a long punt return for what looked to be a touchdown, but not without the help of a few holding penalties and a block in the back on one return.
On kickoffs, the kick coverage team was outstanding as Tyler Matakevich, Steven Johnson and Heyward-Bey came up with big tackles to pin the Chiefs deep multiple times.
Chris Boswell drilled all five extra points without a problem, while Jordan Berry continues to be a major weapon in the kicking game for the Steelers. Berry punted five times for an average of 42.4 yards in the win, including a long of 52 yards and one punt downed inside the 20-yard line.
As you can see from the grades above, this was an almost flawless game from the Steelers in all phases of the game. The only concern coming out of this game was the injuries to Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Harris, Jarvis Jones, Anthony Chickillo and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Steelers are already banged up as it is, so if nobody can really come close to returning this week against the Jets, expect a few roster moves from the Steelers.