If there ever were a game to break down in this fashion, the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night would have to rank right up there. Identifying the 'good' might be a challenge for some of the more cynical diehards in Steeler Nation, but make no mistake about it, despite the myriad miscues and utter inability to build a comfortable lead over a Chiefs team that hadn't scored but one TD in its last 45 offensive possessions, the Steelers did some nice things collectively and on an individual basis in their Week 12 win. It goes without saying that there was plenty of 'bad' and 'ugly' sprinkled in as well. Let's get to it
- Four turnovers forced by Dick LeBeau's defense. That's one half of their season total through 10 games. The Steelers actually could have had one more pick, but that's perhaps being greedy. What's important though is the Steelers capitalized on all four of the 'gimme' turnover opportunities handed to them by Tyler Palko -- all three picks were catches even high school cornerbacks would make nine times out ten; and the botched snap fumble recovered by Keisel was exactly the type of fortuitous bounce that we hadn't seen much of all season. These things always revert back to the median over time, and thankfully it looks like we're making up for a head-scratching dearth of takeaways early on with some opportunistic football now that the pressure has mounted a bit.
Shaun Suisham's 49-yard field goal as time expired in the first half was huge. Beautiful kick that would have been good from at least 54. Suisham may not be the long term answer the Steelers want or need at kicker beyond 2011, but that one kick was critical in that it should be more than enough evidence for Mike Tomlin to trot him out there from that distance in tight spots moving forward this season.
Jeremy Kapinos had a nice night against the Chiefs. He punted the ball five times for an average of 42.2 yards per boot, with a long of 52 and two downed inside the 20. Outside of his one punt from the Chiefs 39 that tumbled into the endzone (he should have never been asked to punt it there in the first place), Kapinos more than earned his paycheck in Week 12.
34 rushes, 90 yards, 2.6 yards per carry. That's all the Steelers defense allowed on the ground despite not having Troy Polamalu and his sound tackling at its disposal for the better part of the game. I'll need to re-watch the game to get a better sense of who really played well in the trenches, but I know for sure that Casey Hampton, Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel, James Harrison and Steve McClendon all made plays in the trenches. After a slow start to the year, Dick LeBeau's unit has creeped back into familiar territory in rushing defense -- into the top six at 96.3 yards allowed per game vis a vis the run. They're now just a mere five yards per game shy of Baltimore for third place in the NFL, so expect the Steelers to contend for yet another top five showing in that department here down the stretch.
Awesome catch by Antonio Brown on a 3rd-and-5 late in the game with the Steelers leading by four trying to ice the game with a handful of first downs. As it turned out, the Steelers would be forced to punt three plays later, but Brown's first down snag on the initial third down attempt of the series was ridiculous. Amazing concentration and footwork there by Brown. Despite registering what I believe was his first drop of the season, Brown once again led the team in receiving with 81 yards on four catches.
- As I discussed when handing out a fictitious game ball for Week 12, I thought Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Mundy were both great on Sunday night.
Weslye Saunders' first career touchdown was sure a beauty. As Neal Coolong surmised might happen prior to the game, the Steelers called on Saunders to try to help alleviate the team's red zone woes in recent weeks. Great work by Saunders making himself available to Big Ben in the back of the end zone, and then snagging the ball, getting both feet down, and securing the ball (with one hand, no less) as he hit the ground.
- While we're on that play, Roethlisberger's matador-like side-step to avoid a pass rusher before lobbing the ball adeptly to Saunders was sick. Only a handful of quarterbacks in the history of the game make that type of play look so easy. Thank God we've got one of them leading our team.
3-of-11 on third down and just 10 points in three red zone trips. Not very encouraging considering two of those drives started at the Chiefs 7 and 24 yard line respectively. Really though the problems occurred between mid-field and just outside Shaun Suisham's field goal range. The Steelers moved the ball fairly efficiently until the later parts of the game, but for this and that reason, they bogged down and failed to put points on the board after stringing together some nice plays to begin a series.
- Dang, just when we thought Ike Taylor had proved his naysayers wrong with a commendable display of hands on his first half interception of Tyler Palko, Swaggin' dropped what should have been his second interception of the game in the second half. Granted, it was a harder play to make than the first drastically underthrown lame duck from Palko, but still, got to make that play! All in all though, a very nice game from Taylor. Not sure this qualifies as 'bad' so much as it does a reality check, but I suppose it's one way to both commend Taylor for his one pick while also still noting that those types of drops are why he's not going to be remembered as one of the greats of this past decade when he probably deserves to be in that type of discussion.
- I absolutely love Mike Tomlin as head coach of the Steelers, and no one decision or situation is going to make me change my mind after four-plus years of conclusive evidence that the man is a great fit for the job and not a coach who will ever lose control of his locker room. However, I hated the decision to punt the ball on 4th-and-4 from the Chiefs 39 yard line. The Steelers were leading, 13-6, and were right on the cusp of breaking through offensively. On the first series of the second half, Roethlisberger was picked off after leading the offense quickly past mid-field thanks to a 14-yard first down connection with Hines Ward on a 3rd and 2 from their own 34. After forcing a quick 3-and-out following the pick, the Steelers quickly got the ball back inside KC territory with two sizable Rashard Mendenhall runs, with an 8-yard completion to Mike Wallace squeezed in between. Things were going smoothly, so must be time to self-destruct. A holding penalty and a five yard loss set up 2nd-and-25. Isaac Redman picked up 14 of those yards, and Ben Roethlisberger made it 4th-and-4 with a seven-yard scramble on third down. Why punt it? The Chiefs had gained 48 yards and turned the ball over twice in their previous five possessions. What's so scary about giving the ball to Palko at the 40 yard line instead of, say, the 10? Nothing. At least not compared to the upside of potentially making it a two-score game and forcing Palko and the Chiefs to feel that much more pressed with their offensive play-calling.
- No thanks on Emmanuel Sanders returning kickoffs. Not sure what the possible explanation is for having him back there in place of Antonio Brown, who prior to this week had established himself as a very good, if not great, return man in the AFC. Sanders showed nothing on his four returns, averaging fewer than 20 yards per pop. I heard a few speculate in the game threads that perhaps Brown was being relieved of those duties because of his emergence as one of the most important receiving threats for the offense. I'm not sure I'm buying that. Brown has shown an incredible ability to avoid big hits whether he's returning the ball or catching it in traffic. He's just got great instincts like that. So I can't see how Mike Tomlin or Al Everest think they need to protect him. Hell, what if he did go down? Aww shucks, we just have to rely on Mike Wallace, Sanders, Hines Ward, Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller. Anyway, I think the decision had more to do with trying to get Sanders a few extra touches in his first game back from injury. It was also clear that the Steelers were going to get Hines Ward a few looks this game to end all the 'he's done chatter'. Some of those plays might have otherwise gone to Sanders, so I'm more inclined to think Tomlin and his staff opted to get Sanders' hands on the ball another way, in the return game. But let's hope that experiment is over effective immediately.
- Pretty hard to rag on Mewelde Moore for his costly fumble on the Chiefs' two-yard line. The reliable veteran just hasn't done things like that in his tenure with the black-and-gold. So what can you say? Nothing really, because if you caught the camera flash over to Moore on the bench after his costly gaffe, you saw that no one was more disappointed by the result than Moore himself. Do realize though that it was that mistake and a few others that kept Pittsburgh from making this one a snoozer in the game's first 40 minutes.
- I hate to be that guy, but I'm going to say it -- it's 'bad' seeing a gifted tackler like Troy Polamalu constantly go down low to try to undercut guys. It's typically quite effective, and often it's highlight worthy. But even when trying to take down a 290 pound tackle who was eligible to receive the ball as a tight end, it's not worth the risk of injury to throw your body head-first into a collision so often. Just wrap up, go for the leg, whatever. Polamalu sustained what appears to have been a mild concussion in his tackle of Steve Maneri in the first quarter.
- Perhaps it should go in the 'bad' rather than 'ugly' category, but for the first time since rejoining the team, Max Starks got his ass handed to him. Give most of the credit to Tamba Hali though. He was a man possessed and simply too much for Starks most of the night. It was not all that dissimilar to what happened to the Steelers' tackles when pitted against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis earlier in the season. Max will be just fine though. He actually had a few nice plays that allowed for successful plays to materialize. And like I said, this was the first week that he had played anything less than a stellar game. Get out of jail free card as far as I'm concerned.
- I'm so enormously proud of Ben Roethlisberger for the way he's developed as a quarterback, as well for the way he's kept his head up in the wake of having his name tarnished in the court of public opinion this last few calendar years. He's a once-in-a-generation quarterback for sure. That touchdown throw to Saunders is proof positive. All that said, he's still got to cut down on some of the inexcusable miscues. His interception early in the second half was just awful, a truly Tyler Palko-esque decision and throw. He'll always be on the fringe of discussions about the truly great quarterbacks so long as he makes those mistakes. Cut those down by 50 percent and he's waltzing into Canton. As for the pick, blah, what's there to say. Forced it into way too tight a spot, and even worse, he threw the ball with no conviction, instead short-arming it indecisively.
- Not sure where the blame lies, but it was frustrating to see the Steelers take that many shots down the field. They simply weren't working. (Though one long ball to Wallace hit his hands and should have been caught). Don't complain about the lack of balance though. The Steelers threw the ball 31 times compared to 28 rushes. Too many passes were forced down the field vertically though in my opinion. Again, not sure if that's Big Ben letting his receivers get in his ear and taking unnecessary shots when there were underneath options at his disposal, or if Bruce Arians was deadset on stretching the field. But the recipe for success can be found in the win over New England; not what we saw tonight.
- I'll save one for you Coach Haley. Your clock and timeout management on the game's final drive was revolting. I was literally cringing in disbelief by what I was seeing, even though I of course was thrilled that such incompetence was aiding tremendously the Steelers' chances at holding on for the win. Look for yourself, but here's just a few examples of where the egregious errors took place. After picking up a first down on a 3rd-and-4 from their 36-yard line, KC elected to not take their first time out at around the 3:00 minute mark. Instead, they let a ton of time run off the clock before running for four yards with Thomas Jones on the last play before the two-minute warning. Let that sink in real quick: the Chiefs managed to run one play for four yards in one minute before the two-minute warning despite still having three timeouts to burn and still needing to traverse over 50 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Disgusting.
That's a wrap for now. What would you guys and gals add? Disagree with? Plenty of time later in the week for a look ahead to Week 13, but needless to say the Steelers' Week 13 home tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals is an enormous one. More so for the Bengals than for the Steelers, but a win next Sunday all but ices the top wild card spot while keeping alive the very real possibility that they run the table, finish 13-3, and surpass Baltimore for the AFC's No. 1 overall seed. Yeah I said it, and no I'm not concerned by what I saw Sunday night. There was some good, some bad, and some ugly in the win over the Chiefs. But that's par for the course most weeks, is it not?