The Steelers, with the Ravens’ looking like they will lose today, should that hold up, are guaranteed to retain possession of their lead in the AFC North, given that the Bengals are on a bye week, sitting at 2-3. With a win, they could move to 4-2 as the only team in the division with a winning record.
The Steelers have continually been tantalizingly close to full health all season, but once again have fallen short, as Ramon Foster has been declared out for today’s game, the only injury scratch of the day.
Notable inactives are Justin Hunter, Arthur Moats, and Xavier Grimble. Hunter was active over Eli Rogers at wide receiver for the past two weeks, but that has now been reversed. Moats loses a special teams helmet in favor of getting James Harrison on defense and on the field. Grimble as the third tight end is evidently less valuable than Chris Hubbard now that Marcus Gilbert is back.
Grimble’s inactive status helps get rookie cornerback Brian Allen a helmet. This is pure speculation on my part, but the team did use Justin Gilbert to cover Travis Kelce last year for a few snaps, and when he was out, they used Al-Hajj Shabazz to cover tight end. They like the option of a big body in the slot, and they have only been using Mike Hilton and William Gay there.
In the meantime, the Bears managed to allow the Ravens to tie the game from eight points down on a punt return. They already had a fluky kick return for a touchdown when the returner was knocked down by his own teammate and everybody assumed the play was dead.
And thank you Jordan Howard. The Bears running back, who walked off a win in overtime against the Steelers, set the Bears up for a win over the Ravens in overtime with a 53-yard run. So as the Steelers head onto the field to receive the opening kickoff, they are set up to be guaranteed retention of their division lead.
Speaking of which, the kickoff went deep and was fielded by JuJu Smith-Schuster for a touchback. On first down, out of a 12 set, Le’Veon Bell kicked things off with a four-yard run up the middle. A quick bubble screen to Smith-Schuster went for five. On third and one, they burned a timeout, already. The Steelers plugged in Terrell Watson, who got the conversion.
Off a slant-flat combo, Roethlisberger found Brown on the slant for 12 to the 49. Bell added three yards on the following play across midfield. Staying on the ground, he was able to slip through for seven yards and the first down.
A safety run blitz blew up the next carry for a loss of three yards. This time James Conner checked in and they stayed on the ground, hitting the counter trey for 10 to make it third and three. Roethlisberger was unable to free himself out of a sack on third down, dropped by Dee Ford as he got inside of Alejandro Villanueva off a chip from Bell. That is at least the second sack allowed this year off a Bell chip for Villanueva.
Jordan Berry punted to the 11, but Tyreek Hill returned it to the 16 for a net of about 25 yards. On first down, Kareem Hunt was stopped for no gain. Gaining penetration, Stephon Tuitt drew a hold on second down. The following play led to a bad snap that went out of the end zone for a safety. The Chiefs are starting a backup center.
Unbelievably, the Steelers failed to recover the free kick, allowing the Chiefs to fall on it at the 31-yard line, demonstrating astounding individual incompetence, with Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster in position to field the ball. After a three-yard run on first down, T.J. Watt ran Hunt out of bounds after a yard off a pass. Artie Burns was able to break up the pass on third down to force the Chiefs to settle for a field goal, giving them a 3-2 lead.
Off the touchback, Bell was able to pick up about 15 up the right sideline, aided by the window dressing of a possible reverse to Martavis Bryant. Off a quick five-yarder to Brown, Roethlisberger pumped, looking for Jesse James vertically, but he couldn’t bring it in. A defensive hold gave them a first down.
On the following play, Roethlisberger’s long ball was just a foot too deep for an outstretched Vance McDonald. Shows how close this offense has been all year long. A completely ineffective draw gained one yard. On third and nine at midfield, they stayed on the ground, however, pulling Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro to find the right edge, Bell showing patience for 10 yards.
At the 40, he got free again for about 13, Roosevelt Nix leading the way, DeCastro also having pulled left. Trying to get Bryant in space on a bubble screen, the wide receiver was able to partially shake Marcus Peters for seven yards. Another naked screen to Brown picked up six and a new set up downs, but Smith-Schuster was flagged for a hold, his fifth penalty of the year.
A spot foul, that made it second and nine, going back to Bell on the ground picking up nine yards up the middle, now for a new set of downs.
Bell again spun forward for a six-yard gain, 10th carry for 63 yards. From the 11, he squeaked forward for the first down and more, getting about nine or 10 to set up first and goal at the top of the second quarter. From the three, Bell punched it in for his fourth rushing touchdown of the season…and then drew a flag for his celebration. Still, 9-3 one play into the second quarter.
The kickoff coming from the 20 because of the penalty, the Chiefs were able to return the kick out to about the 34. James Harrison checked into the game…and dropped into coverage…and made the tackle on Tyreek Hill after a five-yard gain. On second down, Mike Hilton completely blew up a wide pitch to Hill for a loss of nine yards. Exceptional play and effort from the first-year player. Now third and 19, following a false start, Hilton helped to funnel in a screen for just a five-yard gain, forcing a third consecutive three-and-out–well, two three-and-outs and a three-and-kick-a-field-goal.
From the 32, Roethlisberger hit Bryant in stride on a deep slant for a catch and run down to the Chiefs’ 47 for 20. Back to the ground, Bell got tripped up for just a short gain. With Conner checking in, he lowered the shoulder off the right end, but was run out of bounds after about three yards. Now third and five, Conner still in, Roethlisberger threw an interception to Peters looking for Brown. Looked like miscommunication, the receiver stopping his route.
Alex Smith nearly gave it back on a deep shot too long for Travis Kelce, Joe Haden coming up over the top to try to make a play on the ball. After a four-yard gain from Hill, Smith went empty on third and six, a deep ball falling harmlessly deep into the end zone not near anybody. Another three-and-out for the 32-points-per-game Chiefs offense.
After downing a punt at the one, naturally, the only thing to do is throw deep to McDonald, who made his first catch as a Steeler for 26 yards. A short pass to Bell went for six. On second and four, with James in the backfield, an inside screen to Bell surrounded by red herrings was blown up for a loss. On third and seven, out of four wide, it was Smith-Schuster making the touch catch for 15.
Bell spun forward for about four yards a yard shy of midfield on the following play. He showed excellent patience waiting for the play to develop in front of him around the pulls of DeCastro and James for six yards to the Chiefs’ 45 and a first down.
Under five minutes to play in the first half, Roethlisberger dropped back and hit Brown open down the field, slipping through two defenders for extra yardage and a 26-yard gain to the 19.
Inside the red zone for the second time, the handoff went to Bell around the left end for 16, setting up another first and goal, putting the back over 100 yards on the day. From the two, looking to throw, Roethlisberger had no play, so threw the ball away. Staying on the ground, the Chiefs were able to penetrate and got to Bell for a loss of four. Now third and goal from the six, Bell split out wide. Looking for him, Roethlisberger’s pass was incomplete. Boswell did finish off the drive to give the Steelers a 12-3 lead.
After Hunt was stopped for no gain, Smith checked down to Chardandrick West, the defense swarming to stop him after nine on the other side of the two-minute warning. Hunt finally got the Chiefs’ first new set of downs of the game, at the 37 with 1:23 to play. Vince Williams was able to sack Smith on the following play, and then there was a false start. He had nobody to throw to on the following play, but there were offsetting penalties on the play, roughing the passer on Dupree and intentional grounding. Replay second and 21. Williams got him again as the half ended.