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My Thoughts Following Pittsburgh's Late Meltdown Against Kansas City

Many thanks to Frank for his post-game thoughts following the Steelers 24-27 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday afternoon. The loss drops Pittsburgh to 6-4 and marks the second time this season they've lost consecutive games. The good news -  as we'll get to later - is that the Steelers lost no ground in the AFC North. Baltimore threw away a win at home against the undefeated Colts, while the front-running Bengals had a legitimate meltdown late against Oakland. Pittsburgh's loss was bad and perhaps an indicator that this year's team may just not have 'it', whatever that may be. Cincy's loss though was outrageous. Watch the highlights if you haven't already seen what happened. 

So anyway, at the end of the day, it wasn't all that bad a day for the 6-time champs. But the loss sure was a tough one to swallow - a defeat that never should have happened judging by the game statistics. Numbers only tell part of the story though sometimes. We all know that. Today was one of those days where Pittsburgh squandered plenty of positive plays on both offense and defense with a handful of critical mistakes.

Total Plays: Pittsburgh 78, Kansas City 55

Total Yards:  Pittsburgh 515, Kansas City 282

Yards/Play: Pittsburgh 6.6, Kansas City 5.5

Time of Possession: Pittsburgh 39:47, Kansas City 20:13

Turnovers: Pittsburgh 3, Kasnas City 1

Final Score: Pittsburgh 24, Kansas City 27

Thoughts about the game and the immediate future for this team after the jump...

* I'm not sure what the prognosis is for right guard Chris Kemoeatu, but the mauler left the contest in the 3rd quarter with a sprained right MCL. As a point of reference, that's the same injury Troy Polamalu suffered in the opener against Tennessee. Polamalu missed about a month. We'll have to wait until later in the week to see how much time K will miss, but it's safe to assume that it will be at least two games. When he went out, rookie Ramon Foster was asked to step up on short notice. The undrafted free agent out of Tennessee didn't look awful, but it was late in the game when the Chiefs really started collapsing the interior of the Steelers offensive line. I have not re-watched the game, but my guess is that a sizable amount of responsibility falls at his feet. Foster has impressed coaches all training camp and season with his understanding of his assignments, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he plays a bit better next week against Baltimore than he did. Sound unrealistic considering the Ravens have given the Steelers interior offensive linemen fits recently? Maybe. We'll see.

* Wow, the Chiefs have a special young talent in Jamaal Charles. The 2nd year back out of the University of Texas showed the world what top shelf track star speed looks like when he took the opening kickoff 97 yards to the house. With Stefan Logan in pursuit, Charles was able to basically coast in to the endzone for the final 10 yards. Charles also displayed toughness in the running game, an adept set of hands in the passing game, toughness fighting for yards after first contact, and an impressive sixth sense about how to pick up maximum yardage while protecting both his body and the football. The Chiefs will be a much more dangerous offense moving forward with him back there instead of Larry Johnson.

* If you think the Steelers don't have a total star in Santonio Holmes than you're really underappreciating just how good he's been for almost all of this year. Holmes had 7 more catches for 86 yards. Five of Holme's seven catches went for first down yardage; all five of those went for 12+ yards. Holmes has been so money in traffic, hasn't turned the ball over, continues to block down the field in both the passing and running game, and generally seems to be doing a great job assuming more of a leadership role this year. Remember when some folks were concerned about whether the Super Bowl MVP would start acting like a WR diva  in his fourth year as he tried to establish himself on the national picture outside of the 'Burgh? Well, it hasn't happened. 

* Perhaps Bruce Arians just isn't utilizing Holmes as well as he could be. That's debatable. I wouldn't say that Holmes hasn't been incorporated in to this offense to a considerable extent. But I do wonder why the Steelers wouldn't keep going back to those quick bubble screens out to Holmes time and time again until teams prove they can stop it. One of the things I've been most impressed by is Holmes' ability to get an angle on the cornerback when running after the catch. Often times he's the one delivering a stiff arm or dragging down defenders with him rather than other way around. Remember when the Patriots smoked the Steelers in 2007 - Tom Brady kept going to Wes Welker over and over again in the 2nd half on those quick hitting passes. Why not? We couldn't stop it. I wonder sometimes why teams in sports - and not just the Steelers - go away from what's working for no apparent reason. 

* Sorry Mr. Arians, can't let the 3rd and 2 call in overtime go without mentioning just how atrocious that call was.  First of all, it's pretty much totally futile to run sideline to sideline in the National Football League. Sweeps just get gobbled up in this league of insanely fast and sure tackling linebackers. Then, to call Mewelde Moore's number in that situation? Maybe Willie Parker in his prime; maybe Rashard Mendenhall on a day where he's displayed good balance and ball control. Sure, Charlie Batch had just been inserted in to the game so perhaps Arians didn't want to put too much on his shoulders in that situation. But that call makes no sense. Maybe just maybe Batch audibled out of something more reasonable to that call. If so, shame on Charlie. If not, we're left with one more piece of evidence that there's probably a better man for the job out there than Mr. Arians.

Let me ask you this though - why not call a timeout there? It's 3rd and 2 from the Kansas City 35 yard line on the opening drive of overtime. I'm actually not sure how many timeouts the Steelers had at that moment. In fact, I'm not sure if timeouts carry over from regulation or not, but it really doesn't matter. There's no more important moment in the game than that play. A first down and the Steelers are just about in Jeff Reed field goal range. You have your backup quarterback in there. It's the perfect time to talk things over and come up with a safe but well reasoned play call. The Steelers instead rushed things and lost 2 yards. Tomlin opted to punt the ball away on 4th and 4 from the 38 rather than to try a 55 yard field goal or to go for it. 

* Some folks are probably up in arms about the decision to punt it there following the head scratching call on 3rd and 2. I don't know. I don't think there's anything wrong with the logic to punt it away there. The Steelers defense had still limited the Chiefs offense to just a shade over 200 yards of offense through 4 quarters of football. Nothing faulty about the logic to try to pin them deep and make them earn a trip in to Steelers territory for a potential game winning field goal. Last year, this defense makes that stop and gets the offense the back somewhere near mid field. Not this year. We all know what happened on the Chiefs final drive. It's worth nothing though that Daniel Sepulveda totally whiffed on his effort to pin KC deep. Once more, special teams rears its ugly head at the wrong time. 

* I love Ryan Clark for a lot of reasons. I'll always remember his time in Pittsburgh fondly and admire him for how good a teammate he was, the heavy hits he delivered over the middle, and how he persevered and fought back from a near death experience to continue playing like a warrior for the organization each Sunday. It's tough watching him miss interception opportunities with such regularity though. I'll just leave it at that. 

* Deshea Townsend continues to exhibit a substantial dropoff in his play compared to last year when he was an integral part of our top ranked defense. Re-watch the play that set up the Chiefs game winning field goal in overtime. It was a well designed and executed play by the Chiefs; and there was more than one Steeler who was out of position or taken out of the play by nice blocks. But sheesh, Townsend just got annihilated on the play which was partially why the race down the sideline was so wide open. Not sure there's much of a solution for the immediate future. This may just be a transition year of sorts for parts of this team.

* Back to the good news - the Steelers pass rush is heating up. Granted, the Chiefs don't sport one of the better offensive lines in the league. In fact, they're one of the worst. But 5 sacks today by the Steelers was still excellent to see. LaMarr Woodley had two, James Harrison one, and Lawrence Timmons and Casey Hampton had one a piece. Timmons played much better than he did last week, which is certainly something to feel good about moving forward. 

* I loved that Charlie Batch came in and delivered a strike on his first pass of the game - a huge 17 yard completion to Santonio Holmes on a 2nd and 14 play early in overtime. It doesn't appear as if Ben Roethlisberger will miss any time due to the injury he sustained to his head. That's great news I suppose (though I hope he doesn't rush back just because of the enormity of next week's game). Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope he stays upright and doesn't sustain any more potential concussions, BUT, if for whatever reason he needed to sit down for a game or however long, I hope the team goes to Dennis Dixon rather than Charlie Batch. I'm not going to really flesh out why because I'm just going to hope and assume our franchise quarterback is okay and stays that way. I will say this though - I think Dennis Dixon might be able to more effectively light light a spark under this team than would. And on a non-esoteric level - we saw the limits of Batch's arm strength when he almost had his pass outside to Mendenhall intercepted due to a startling lack of velocity on the throw. 

* This one stung. That's enough from me for now. Next week's game is going to be awfully emotional for both teams. The Ravens and the Steelers are down on the mat heading in to the final 6 weeks of the season. But the winner next Sunday night will still be in plenty good shape in the standings and will have plenty of reason to believe they've got what it takes to make a push towards the playoffs and maybe even beyond.