Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered another blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s likely final game and eliminated from the playoffs in a 42-21 loss. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
In another poor offensive game, PFF only graded two players above 70, wide receivers James Washington (77.2) and Ray-Ray McCloud (75.5) on their lower snaps! The below 50 grades were running back Najee Harris (49.7), guard John Leglue (47.1), tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (46.8), and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with the lowest 35.8 for the game!
Pittsburgh’s offense came out first to start the game, beginning with a handoff to Harris, who bounced outside with little room on the interior with Leglue getting pushed back and tackled by the safety soundly for a two-yard gain. On second and eight Leglue was beat off the snap, forcing another bounce out on this Harris run with a free linebacker and Okorafor losing his block allowing the stop for a loss of two. Third and ten now, and Roethlisberger went for wide receiver Diontae Johnson down the sideline despite guard Trai Turner getting pushed back, and the defensive back slipped with contact on the route but no call and incomplete, Steelers start with a three and out.
The offense returned with 11:57 and came out with a condensed look then changed to an empty set, passing to fullback Derek Watt who was in the slot running an out route that was undercut by the outside cornerback and nearly picked on the incompletion. On second and ten Harris got the shotgun handoff, making the defender that got between Leglue and center J.C. Hassenauer miss but only gaining two yards. On third and eight, former Steeler Melvin Ingram pancaked Okorafor to the ground on his pass rush and Roethlisberger targeted tight end Pat Freiermuth on a miscommunicated route for the third incompletion on three passes. Another three and out, still no score.
Running back Kalen Ballage took the handoff on first down, getting a crease from a good seal block from tackle Dan Moore and good blocks from Hassenauer and Leglue on the gain of five. On second and five ran a short stop route for the catch but tackled immediately for three yards. Third and two now, neither guard Trai Turner or Hassenauer picked up the defensive lineman, allowing a free path to Roethlisberger for the sack! Third straight three and out on another slow start for this offense, no score.
With 6:22 and off the defense’s interception, the offense started from their own 30-yard line with Roethlisberger rolling, looking right, then coming back to Johnson on the left on the catch but slipped limiting the gain to four yards. On second and six wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster got his first catch on the out route, and reminding us what we’ve been missing in his long absence due to injury with great fight and extension for the first first down of the game! Harris got the carry here, but Ingram pushed Freiermuth back to wrap him up on the gain of only two. On second and eight, Roethlisberger triggered quick with the blitz coming but Johnson dropped it off his hands incomplete. Another poor play from Johnson, a false start for Pittsburgh’s first team penalty setting them back further on third down. Third and 13 to be exact, and the pass was to Smith-Schuster but just out of reach and incomplete. Five incompletions and rough offensive start and can’t capitalize on interception, field position, or scoreless Chiefs, still tied up.
To start the second quarter, Harris got the carry with good collective blocks, especially Hassenauer for the four-yard gain. On second and six, another run from Harris with Hassenauer being pushed back this time on the gain of three. Third and three now, and Roethlisberger found Johnson on the drag route with a step on the defensive back to gain five yards and the first down. The following first down was another Harris run, lacking a hole but churning behind Leglue and Moore on the four-yard gain. On second and six, Harris got his fourth carry of the drive and got around tight end Zach Gentry’s block, diving forward off an ankle tackle to gain four yards again. Third and two now, and Roethlisberger made a poor decision to throw deep in double coverage to Johnson, who also stopped on the route on the incompletion. Fifth straight punt, no score.
The offense returned at 5:40 tied at seven following Watt’s defensive touchdown and K.C. answering, beginning with a pass where Harris was pushed back on his pass block into Roethlisberger’s face, affecting the deep target to wide receiver Chase Claypool that was underthrown and broken up incomplete. On second and ten, Harris got the carry with good blocks from Turner, Gentry, and Freiermuth and good churn for eight yards! Third and two now, and Smith-Schuster cleared space for Johnson on the quick slant but dropped his second pass on a would-be conversion! Fourth three and out, 7-7.
Pittsburgh returned with 1:51 in the half at the 14-yard line, starting with a Harris delay where Moore and Turner were beat for no gain. On second and 10, Roethlisberger threw to Freiermuth in the flat quickly at the line and YAC for five yards. Third and five now, Roethlisberger throws deep but underthrown and inside to Claypool in single coverage, falling incomplete and shaken up on the catch attempt. Fifth three and out and the offense just can’t get it going, punting every drive, amazingly only down seven.
With 13 seconds, Roethlisberger kneels following the K.C. touchdown down by 17. 24 pass yards for Roethlisberger, 44 total yards, no offensive points and only two first downs! Down 21-7.
At 10:07 in the third quarter, the offense really needs to step up now down 21, can they have their first drive without a punt? The simple answer: Nope. On the first play Harris got the catch in the flat but as he fought for yards the ball was ripped out for his first fumble of the season! All drives punts and now a turnover, and the injured elbow may have been a factor.
The offense returned quickly down by 28 now, beginning with another Harris run with a defensive tackle getting by Turner unblocked and Moore getting beat allowing the tackle for a loss of one. On second and 12, Roethlisberger found Claypool in single coverage on the slant, playing physical and making the catch for 16 yards and the first 10+ play of the game! The following first down was a late pass to Harris in the flat for no gain, with Leglue allowing pressure. On second and 10, Smith-Schuster got his second catch on an in route but tackled immediately for six yards. Third and four now, Freiermuth got the catch in the flat and made a guy miss to get the first down on his YAC and eight yards!
The offense is finally moving, and on the following first down Claypool caught another slant, forcing a miss and getting six yards. On second and four Ballage got the carry for two yards, spinning around Turner and Freiermuth who both got pushed back, with the latter allowing the tackle. Third and two now, and we got to see a familiar early season sighting with Smith-Schuster converting a third and short, this one for five yards! The following first down was a refreshing deep ball connection to Washington on a great throw allowing a chance on the impressive hands catch for 22 yards and only explosive play of the game! On the first trip of the game to the red zone, Johnson showed quick feet at the line and got past the defender on his route to make the touchdown grab in the back of the end zone! Good bounce back from Johnson, 8/8 drive for Roethlisberger, first scoring drive/life for offense, likely too little too late down 21.
Pittsburgh returned with 14:13 down by 28 now and begun with a four-yard run by Harris, with the Chiefs playing off in the situation allowing good collective blocks. On second and six Smith-Schuster caught the pivot route but tackled quickly for only one yard. Third and five now, and Claypool catches the pivot route this time and fights for yards, but a swarm of defenders stands him up just short on the four-yard gain. Going for it on fourth and one, running back Benny Snell makes a good cut past a defender and good blocks from Okorafor, Turner, and Hassenauer for the eight-yard gain! Moore was beat here on first down, then penalized for a hold, and if you’re going to do that don’t allow the hit on Roethlisberger! Roethlisberger chunked it to Washington on first and 20 but he stopped running, incomplete. K.C. was then penalized for roughing the passer as Okorafor was beat negating the interception, as Roethlisberger takes another low hit that you hate to see as you’re already losing and want to send your Hall of Fame quarterback out well.
This set up first down where Snell got the carry for seven yards behind Gentry and around Okorafor’s blocks. On second and three Smith-Schuster got his fourth catch for seven yards on an out route and first down. The following first down Freiermuth caught a short middle pass and fights through contact for nine yards. On second and one, Moore was beat again cuing Roethlisberger to step up and was nearly picked by the dropping offensive lineman. Third and one now, Ballage gets the conversion for two yards with good effort and churn.
The following first down Johnson won inside on his route, but Roethlisberger’s throw was a lob, underthrow, and outside falling incomplete. On second and 10, McCloud got the target short middle then eluding one tackle for YAC and eight yards. Third and two now, Roethlisberger targeted Claypool toward the end zone who was unable to make the grab through his outstretched hands incomplete. Fourth down again, this time two yards to gain and they convert with Smith-Schuster’s route creating space for Johnson’s quick slant on the five-yard gain! First and ten from the red zone, and Washington put on a good double move and great catch over the defender, getting both feet in for the late touchdown! More grateful to see this for Roethlisberger than the game outcome, considering the deficit is now 21.
One last opportunity for Roethlisberger in his likely final game, fumbling the wobbly first down snap that Snell picks up and gets around the edge with space created by tackle Joe Haeg (in for Okorafor) for a nice nine-yard run. On second and one Snell caught the pass behind the line and picks up five yards. The following first down Moore was beat again allowing the hit on Roethlisberger’s throw that was nearly picked ahead of Smith-Schuster incomplete. On second and 10, Gentry caught the quick pass for five yards. Third and five now, Johnson got separation on his route and YAC for seven and the conversion! The following first down, Gentry got another catch over the middle for seven yards.
On second and three at the two-minute warning, Smith-Schuster got open on the out route but dropped the pass. Third and three now, Ballage got the carry and found some space between Haeg and Turner for four yards. The following first down Roethlisberger surveys seemingly downfield (Johnson open short) but the sack is allowed by Moore. On second and 13 gets it to Gentry again quick with Leglue beat for nine yards. Third and three now, and Roethlisberger leaves us with his famous pump fake, then making a nice throw to McCloud who does a great job hanging on after a hard hit. The following first down was another pump, aiding in space for Snell on the catch and YAC for the first down and calling their final timeout. This got Roethlisberger and the Steelers to the red zone for one more play, but unfortunately we did not get another Big Ben touchdown (how cool would that have been?), instead an 11 yard Gentry reception that couldn’t quite get there with four defenders ready on the tackle.
Too bad it ended this way with a poor first half that could not be overcome again, and as I’m tearing up writing this article, just wanted to give Roethlisberger a thanks for all he’s done over the years as a Steeler!
Now for the defense:
The defense came out strong but struggled to stop the Chiefs offense when they got in rhythm in the second quarter never looking back. Linebacker Taco Charlton was the highest graded Steeler defender (79.1) on his limited snaps along with 70+ grades from linebackers T.J. Watt (76.5), Joe Schobert (73.8), and defensive tackle Chris Wormley (73.2). There were seven players below 50 grades, way more than anyone should have to stomach in an embarrassing game allowing 42 points!
Pittsburgh’s defense came on at 13:17 following a quick offensive three and out to a run by Jerick McKinnon for six yards, getting through a hole between Wormley and Cameron Heyward with linebacker Devin Bush overrunning. On second and four cornerback Cameron Sutton had a great read and tackle on wide receiver Mecole Hardman, getting around wide receiver Byron Pringle’s block attempt on the screen pass for a loss of four! Third and eight now, and cornerback Tre Norwood had a great pass breakup on tight end Travis Kelce, undercutting the route to force a three and out of their own!
The defense returned with 10:51 to a play-action screen pass to McKinnon with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Sutton blocked on the explosive play for 20 yards then safety Terrell Edmunds finally making the tackle. The following first down was an up the middle run to McKinnon with Heyward and Wormley there then the latter making the tackle on the gain of four. On second and six, Wormley got the hit on quarterback Patrick Mahomes along with Bush in the backfield affecting the underthrow and incompletion to Kelce with cornerback Joe Haden in coverage. Third and six now, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made a great read and tackle on Pringle’s catch to stop him a yard short on the third down stop! Two short drives for the defense, still no score.
Right back on another offensive three and out, Mahomes play-actions then targets Kelce short, but he didn’t see Watt who was able to bat the pass in the air and Bush gets the interception! Great early takeaway for the defense and keeping the Chiefs off the scoreboard!
With 3:58 in the first quarter and nothing to show for the defensive takeaway, Mahomes threw the stop route with Haden coming up quickly to tackle the five-yard gain. On second and five defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk got pushed back but worked off his block on the run to combine for the tackle with Haden on the four-yard gain. Third and one now, Hardman went in motion with Sutton running with him, then Mahomes targeted him quickly in the flat where Watt nearly got another deflection, but instead has space off the design and picks up four yards and the conversion.
The following first down was a run where linebacker Alex Highsmith seemed to be held in the backfield, but good job by defensive lineman Montravius Adams working down the line for the tackle on the four-yard gain. On the second and six pass, Wormley got Mahomes on the move and Highsmith got in his face late to force the throwaway, luckily he didn’t see Kelce open on the incompletion. Kansas City then had a false start, their first penalty of the game setting up third and 11. Unfortunately Mahomes was able to find the receiver in between Sutton and Fitzpatrick in zone coverage with linebacker Marcus Allen and Norwood combining for the tackle but 15 yards!
The drive continued was an incompletion with good coverage from Schobert who was right on the tight end. On second and ten, Mahomes dropped back but couldn’t find a target, then scrambled for two yards with linebacker Taco Charlton working off his block for the tackle. Third and eight now, Watt and Highsmith made Mahomes roll right, then decides to throw across the field but Norwood is there for his second third down stop in coverage! Still 0-0.
With 11:13 in the second quarter, the defense returned to a fasemask penalty on Watt where he was debatably held himself but goes down for the teams second penalty and automatic first down. Kansas City went wildcat here with Hardman taking the snap and the handoff was fumbled, recovered by the back, then a solid hit from Heyward to force a second fumble with Watt recovering and returning it for the touchdown! Great job by the defense getting their second turnover already, picking up slack for the stagnant offense, Steelers up seven!
The defense came right back following the kickoff to Mahomes play-actioning and Charlton getting the quarterback hit on the throw but goes complete to wide receiver Tyreek Hill finding an open spot for the explosive 20-yard gain with Sutton pushing him out. Right back to Hill on the next first down, this time on a quick out where cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon pushed him out for only two yards. On second and eight, McKinnon got the screen once Charlton spun inside with a big lane where Schobert was blocked out and Witherspoon missed an opportunity, but Heyward chasing the play down with a hard tackle but a 14-yard gain.
The following first down, the Chiefs got their second penalty on a false start setting up first and 15. Pittsburgh ran a twist with Watt rushing inside and Mahomes got him in the air with a fake allowing the scramble lane up the middle for the second explosive play of the drive for 23 yards where Edmunds finally pushed him out. This first down was a run where Watt came free off the edge and Heyward threw his blocker off, combining for the tackle for a loss of two! On second and 12 Mahomes faked the forward pitch, which seemed to pull Sutton up allowing Kelce to cross his face for the completion for 16 yards but did make the tackle. This set K.C. up in the red zone, with a rollout and despite Watt bumping McKinnon, was able to catch the pass in the flat for five yards where linebacker Robert Spillane made the tackle. On second and goal from the four-yard line, Mahomes play-actioned, pumped and pulled the pass rush toward him, then did his patented underhand flip to McKinnon between Watt and Wormley for the easy four-yard score! Four plays of 10+ allowed, Chiefs on the board at 7-7.
4:38 in the second quarter, Watt and Highsmith both got close to affect Mahomes’ pass thrown short and incomplete. On second and 10, Kelce beat Spillane on the in route and Sutton missed a tackle opportunity short of the sticks allowing big YAC with Haden finally tackling the 31-yard explosive play! The following first down was a big run of 15 yards through a hole between Wormley and Heyward with the latter diving but couldn’t make a play and Fitzpatrick cleaning it up with the tackle. McKinnon got another big run of 13 here for the third straight 10+ yard play, initially wanting to run between Wormley and Heyward again, but the latter closing, then he bounced outside with room and juked Witherspoon forcing a miss, and finally Highsmith working off his block after being pushed back for the tackle.
This set K.C. up in the red zone, and on first and 10 Hill got the screen where Edmunds got in front, then he ran to the sideline where Haden pushed him out for no gain. On second and 10 it was another screen, this time to a tight end for three yards where linebacker Derrek Tuszka missed a tackle then Spillane tackled the gain of three. Third and seven at the two-minute warning, Mahomes pumps then throws to the corner of the end zone to Pringle, which sold the double move that Haden was beat on for the touchdown! Plus, Highsmith was penalized for roughing Mahomes for the third team penalty. What a quick turnaround in the second quarter, starting to feel like the last matchup, now down by seven.
With 52 seconds left the defense provided good coverage and Mahomes throws it away. On second and 10, McKinnon went in motion then took the pass in the backfield with space off the Steelers blitz, and Witherspoon finally tackling him out of bounds on a big 15-yard gain. Another big play on first down, this one for the fifth explosive play allowed with Haden beat in coverage for a 30-yard gain and Fitzpatrick hitting him out of bounds!
The following first down was a big sack by Highsmith for a loss of 10, which put them back out of field goal range. On second and 20, Mahomes eludes Highsmith and throws off-platform nearly completed but hit the ground incomplete. Third and 20 with 22 seconds left, and Kelce got free beating Norwood across the field on the catch and run for a 48-yard explosive touchdown! Unbelievable, allowing a 21-point second quarter, six explosive plays (this one in the end zone), 302 yards, after shutting them out with two takeaways in the first quarter! Down 21-7.
The defense came on to begin the second half to another big McKinnon run of 12 yards with Kelce pulling in front to block Sutton, gaining the edge with Bush finally pushing him out of bounds. The following first down was a good stop by Edmunds running up to the line late on the edge and tackling his next run for only one yard. On second and nine though, the explosive plays continued with a 29-yard pass on a blown coverage where Bush and Sutton both went with McKinnon leaving the receiver wide open, and Fitzpatrick finally making the tackle.
Adams provided a great move and hand use to get the sack here, and finally a hold called against Watt (declined). On second and 20 Kelce got the screen where Witherspoon set the edge, Norwood overran, and Highsmith spun him to combine with Heyward who chased and finished the tackle on the gain of eight. Third and 12 now, and another screen to McKinnon this time, but infuriatingly gets 23 yards (explosive #8) with three blockers in front washing out linebacker Marcus Allen, Fitzpatrick, and Haden with Edmunds finally making the tackle! This set up first and goal where defensive tackles Henry Mondeaux and Loudermilk shed their blocks to make the tackle one the run for no gain! On second and goal, Mahomes eyed another receiver in the flat, then threw back to Hill on a no look type pass to Hill who motioned and coming back across the formation two more times and appeared to score but was overturned on review just short of the goal line! Third and goal from the one now, all for naught on the following play where Kelce leaked to the corner drawing Edmunds and Fitzpatrick, then the eligible offensive lineman threw Watt to the ground for the wide-open target and touchdown. The defense can’t stop the bleeding, deficit 21.
The defense can’t catch a breather off the Harris first play fumble, but start well with a run stuff by Schobert who shot up the middle untouched for the loss of two! Unfortunately, the next pass play was a dagger, with Hill beating Sutton downfield in single coverage for the walk-in touchdown. Ninth explosive play, second for a touchdown, down 35-7 now. Unbearable.
With 4:10 left in the third quarter off the offense’s touchdown, Tuszka made a great play getting inside Kelce untouched to drop the run for a loss of four! On second and 14, Kelce ran an out route with Edmunds playing off but making the tackle on the gain of six. Third and eight now, Mahomes found Pringle who beat Norwood on the pivot route for a 15-yard gain but combined with Haden to push him out. The following first down was a quick screen to Pringle and good reaction by Haden in coverage to make the one-on-one tackle for three yards. On second and seven, Pittsburgh had little pressure allowing Mahomes time to find Hardman on the sideline, making Fitzpatrick miss for YAC and a shoestring tackle by Spillane but the 10th explosive play for the Chiefs of 41 yards! Painful to watch.
This set K.C. up in the red zone, running for five yards where Loudermilk moved his blocker and made the tackle. The final play of the quarter was a second and six where Watt, Adams, and Highsmith collapsed the pocket, but Mahomes escaped for the scramble and sliding with Spillane approaching who wisely eases up to get the touch down tackle. The drive continued to begin the third quarter, a run to the fullback up the middle stopped close to the sticks initially but fought through Schobert’s tackle to gain three yards where Killebrew and Fitzpatrick made the tackle but first and goal. Crazy formation here with Mahomes as the tailback, then goes out in motion, Kelce takes the snap, play-actions, then fakes the run himself, and passes to Pringle who beat Sutton on the in route in the end zone for the touchdown! If I’m K.C., why not save that play for later in the playoffs? Either way, deficit seems insurmountable at 28 in the fourth quarter.
Pittsburgh returned one more time with 7:35 left, a screen pass to Hardman for six yards with Edmunds in front but YAC for six yards. On second and four, McKinnon runs free on the edge with Wormley, Schobert, and Bush blocked, then Fitzpatrick tackled the 11-yard gain. The following run, McKinnon wants the middle but bounces outside where Edmunds hit him, but Wormley finishes with the solid tackle for a loss of one. On second and 11 Hardman got another screen pass where Haden, Bush, and Wormley missed tackle opportunities and Watt finally tackling the two-yard gain. Third and nine now, Mahomes wants to throw the screen to McKinnon, but Spillane has it covered well, forcing him to hold the ball allowing Watt to get the playoff sack! This gets the ball back to Roethlisberger one more time, unfortunate last three quarters for the defense after a good start, tough 42-21 loss.
Last let’s look at special teams:
Tuszka highlights the PFF special teams grades at 89.9 along with the most snaps as well! Other plus 70 grades include Killebrew, Rader, and Ballage. The below 50 grades where Snell, Layne, and Spillane. Thought puneter Pressley Harvin had an impressive day and deserved a much higher grade.
Harvin had a busy day and started with a nice 54 yarder that went to the 21-yard line, with Watt and Maulet missing tackle opportunities allowing extra yards on the 21-yard return where Killebrew and Allen combined for the tackle. McCloud’s first punt return came at 12:07 in the first quarter, fielded at the 15-yard line for an eight-yard return with Allen getting a pancake block early but a lack of blocks elsewhere. Harvin’s second punt was another strong 56 yarder, going to the 19-yard line with great coverage and combined tackle from Tuszka and Maulet on the one-yard return! Third punt already at 6:46, this one by Harvin was another great 55 yarder to the 30-yard line, but long snapper Christian Kuntz and Snell took poor angles allowing the 48-yard return where Watt got off the block to make the touchdown saving tackle. Back out for the fourth time, Harvin’s 42-yard punt went to the 20-yard line bouncing backward before it could be downed by Kuntz. With 11:22 in the second quarter, Harvin’s fifth punt was a 47-yarder bouncing out of bounds at the 14-yard line. The kickoff following the defensive touchdown from Chris Boswell went to the one-yard line with a 23-yard return where Layne made the tackle. With 5:45 in the second quarter, McCloud returned the kickoff from the two-yard line for a 23-yard return. Harvin’s sixth punt came at 4:46 in the second quarter, a short 41 yarder fair caught at the 26-yard line. McCloud’s took his second kickoff return from the end zone for a short 14 yards. With 1:06 in the half, Harvin punted for the seventh time (every offensive possession), another great 53 yarder to the 28-yard line with Hill returning and trying to reverse field, but great play by Killebrew on the tackle for a loss of eight!
Boswell kicked off to start the second half to the five-yard line, returned for 27 yards where Gilbert missed an opportunity and Watt made the tackle. McCloud returned his next kickoff with 10:13 in the third quarter from the one-yard line for 29 yards, getting a good block from Snell before going out of bounds. With 7:36 left, Boswell attempted an onside kick but good recovery by K.C. off a high bounce and full extension grab. McCloud’s last punt return came with 4:35 left, fielding at the 14-yard line eluding one tackle but only gaining five yards.
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!