No one will say this was the prettiest Steelers win of the season. Some problems arose with their run defense, the angles taken by linebacker Larry Foote in particular, but they weren't fatal flaws.
My initial thought going into the review of this game was that Kansas City ran to the right more out of a lack of desire to challenge James Harrison on the left edge. I was wrong. It's obvious in the first four plays of the game left guard Jeff Allen has absolutely no chance of containing Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. That's why they ran to the right, not some preconceived notion that Ziggy Hood and/or LaMarr Woodley were targeted.
Keisel beats Allen on three of the Chiefs' first four plays - the only time they stopped him was a stretch run to the right where left tackle Branden Albert got ahead of him and helped with a double-team.
After that, Keisel pushed him back into quarterback Matt Cassel as he made a short completion to Jonathan Baldwin, moved him back two yards, and shed him to make a tackle on Jamaal Charles for a short gain, moved him again, tackling Peyton Hillis for no gain and blew past him for a sack.
That's as dominating a possession as it gets.
Steelers offense on its first drive yields one completion - to tight end Heath Miller - in three attempts (including a drop by Emmanuel Sanders and a poorly thrown ball to Jerricho Cotchery). It's a combination of the Chiefs' impressively athletic front seven and the Steelers not firing off the ball with any quickness. Maybe the former makes the latter seem more than it really is.
Everyone gets after the notion of "predictability" in an offense. The Chiefs ran three of their first four runs (and three of their first six plays) off the right side. That sets up a nice play fake bootleg, which suckers in cornerback Keenan Lewis. To Lewis's credit, he looks like he's in perfect position to defend the corner if Cassel is on a naked boot. Unfortunately, he is not, and hits Lewis's man, TE Tony Moeaki for a 38 yard gain.
Chiefs boot the other direction, Cassel hits a wide open Dexter McCluster for another big gain.
That sets up a touchdown run by Charles. At the snap, the Steelers show an exchange between Hood and LB Lawrence Timmons. Hood shoots the inside gap (where Timmons normally would fill) while Timmons crashes the tackle (where Hood would be). Hood gets great penetration, forcing Charles to cut back, but It appears linebacker Larry Foote takes a really flat angle (something he was guilty of often in this game) toward the runner, meaning, his shoulders are pretty much square with the sideline. He doesn't advance on Charles at all, and lets the center, Ryan Lilja, get on top of him, leaving safety Will Allen in a one-on-one situation with Charles. Allen misses the tackle, as does Lewis at the goal line.
Because Foote didn't fill the backside, no one but Casey Hampton even close to Charles around the line of scrimmage. Asking Hampton to cover a speed back three gaps from where he started is not likely the intention of the play. Touchdown Chiefs.
This was more or less the theme for most of the night. The Chiefs' offensive line did an outstanding job of winning the initial battle on the line of scrimmage, and releasing at the perfect time to get the linebacker on the second level. They often went 4-on-2 on the edge (Hood and Woodley), but most importantly, they sealed off the backside.
Not to bring up a tired point, but this is where having Troy Polamalu would be incredibly helpful. People will say what they want about his deep coverage, his value against zone running is enormous. He can track down the ball carrier from either side, and turn a seven yard gain into two.
Beating zone running is as much getting that one stop for minimal yards, and setting up long downs as it is anything else. The Chiefs did not break a whole lot of long carries, but the Steelers couldn't force those six and seven yard gains into one and two yard gains frequently enough.
They did get to them overall, considering the amount of third and longs Cassel faced (as a team they were only 2-for-13 in this game on third down), but they were gashed a bit too often for comfort.
Expect the Ravens to heavily utilize this philosophy (more coming in video breakdown).
Offensively, the Steelers just never got into any sense of rhythm. I think the decision to throw the ball early in the game affected a lot of it. They missed completions for various reasons - poor throws, dropped passes, bad routes - and allowed the Chiefs to get comfortable rushing the passer aggressively.
Two big things happened after the initial drive. A screen for Wallace was tipped at the line of scrimmage - a great heads-up play by Hali - and a Redman fumble. Obviously losing a possession doesn't help your rhythm, but you can almost see the deflation on the Steelers' offensive linemen's faces as that pass was tipped. The Chiefs were well-prepared for this game (perhaps there is something to going against your former coach). It forced the Steelers into playing uphill for much of the first half.
Maybe that knowledge of Haley affects plays like the first and 29 after Willie Colon's temper tantrum that the official took personally. The Steelers are in a bunch formation, and the Chiefs have nine guys in the box.
On a first and 29.
The Steelers run power to the left, with right guard Ramon Foster out in front. Redman gets spooked by FS Eric Berry who came on a delayed run blitz. That forced Redman upright right in the hole, and he gets stripped from a lineman at the bottom of a growing pile.
Poor technique by Redman, yet another sloppy play in a bad first half offensively. Outstanding discipline by the Chiefs, though. LB Derrick Johnson moves the end and tackle to outside shades, and Hali rushes a step into the backfield, and holds up, waiting for Foster's block. Because he does that, he opens a lane for Johnson.
Basically, the Chiefs picked off each of the Steelers blockers one by one (Berry crashed into Miller, Hali took on Foster), leaving Redman alone in the middle of the hole. That's great team football, and a smart move by Johnson - who was probably the best player in this game.
It leads to a Chiefs field goal, and the meltdown begins. Ryan Succop kicks out of bounds, they can't get to a David Paulson fumble, Berry lets a pick go through his hands, field goal Steelers, fumble on the kickoff gives them horrible field position, false start on third down, timeout after that penalty, incomplete pass and punt.
It's a wonder why this team was 1-7 going into the game if you only watched its defense.
Not that the Steelers helped much. Mike Wallace beats Kendrick Lewis on a deep slantyish post. Roethlisberger threw it more down the seam than the corner - where Wallace was running - and they miss on a deep play they should have had.
Same drive, a well-executed power trap with a well-hidden hold by center Maurkice Pouncey (pulled the defender to the ground) springs Jonathan Dwyer for 16 yards - the longest Steelers run of the game by a wide margin. Great blocks by Colon pulling left to right and Mike Adams in seek-and-destroy finding Johnson and moving him out of the way. Pouncey struggled in this game, which was a big part of why the Steelers couldn't run effectively.
Roethlisberger's touchdown pass to Wallace came amid outstanding coverage by cornerback Brandon Flowers. Both the Chiefs corners - Flowers and Javier Arenas - played outstanding throughout this game, and Flowers really couldn't have done anything more to prevent this touchdown. Roethisberger threw a pump-and-go pass to Wallace, who ran a quick out and up. Flowers didn't buy any of it, and was beaten by a perfect pass and a fluke catch that stuck between Wallace's legs.
Not to discredit Wallace, outstanding effort and concentration, never giving up on the play, but that's an incomplete pass because of outstanding coverage 99 times out of 100.
Score the half Chiefs Defense 1, Steelers Defense 1/2, Chiefs Offense 1/2, Steelers Offense 0.
Stay tuned for the second half write-up