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Steelers offense plays it close to the vest while defense puts Chiefs in a straitjacket

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Once again, defense carries the Steelers to a huge win at Arrowhead Stadium in a game where the 19-13 final score scarcely reflects the degree of Pittsburgh’s dominance.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

To no one’s surprise, the Steelers’ Week-6 victory over the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs was sealed when Antonio Brown grabbed a deflected pass from Ben Roethlisberger and raced down the sideline for a 51-yard TD with 3:24 remaining on the game clock. Brown, of course, is one of very few players in the NFL blessed with that incredible combination of sheer athleticism and laser-like concentration necessary to turn a pass which just as easily might have been intercepted into a decisive, fourth-quarter score.

But perhaps to the surprise of many, it was the Steelers’ defense which completely throttled the high-flying Chiefs throughout most of the game, while Pittsburgh’s offense was putting on a throwback show worthy of the 1970s Steelers in the heyday of Franco Harris. For more than three quarters, the Steelers’ defense mimicked the vaunted Steel Curtain as the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell were busy pushing the Chiefs’ defense all over the gridiron at Arrowhead Stadium.

Big numbers from a sputtering offense

Despite compiling impressive numbers and scoring two TDs between them, neither Le’Veon Bell (32 carries for 179 yards) nor Antonio Brown (8 receptions for 155 yards) could prevent the Steelers’ offense from resuming its frustrating habit of stalling, both at midfield and in the red-zone. Other than Brown’s fourth-quarter heroics--plus an impressive drive culminating early in the second quarter when Bell bulled his way into the end zone from 3 yards out—Pittsburgh’s offense generated only three additional points on a 24-yard Chris Boswell field goal.

The Chiefs previously had handed Pittsburgh their first two points of the game on a first-quarter safety when backup center Zach Fulton snapped the ball wildly beyond the reach of Alex Smith and over the back line of the end zone.

But although there were missed opportunities for Ben and company to make this a more convincing win on the scoreboard, Pittsburgh implemented a wise, conservative game-plan that minimized the higher-risk plays and turnovers. In adopting this close-to-the-vest approach, Pittsburgh might have given a preview of the kind of punishing offense they believe can carry them through the remainder of the 2017 season.

Throwback defense

Without an outstanding performance by the Steelers’ defense—which held budding superstar Kareem Hunt to a mere 21 yards on 9 carries—Pittsburgh’s offense likely wouldn’t have scored enough points to defeat Kansas City on Sunday. The fact that Hunt finished the game as the Chiefs top receiver with five catches for 89 yards speaks to the dominance of a Pittsburgh secondary that didn’t surrender big chunks of passing yardage until late in the game when they were lined up in a prevent-scheme. The Steelers’ success in defending the pass also was the product of an aggressive pass rush that sacked the elusive Smith three times, including two by Vince Williams before he left the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a hip injury. James Harrison added a crucial sack late in the game to cripple the Chiefs’ comeback hopes.

The silver lining and a missing piece

Overall, and despite the offense’s continuing failure to cash-in its scoring opportunities, Pittsburgh’s gritty effort in a hostile environment was quite impressive and it certainly represents a solid rebound from last Sunday’s dismal result at Heinz Field. Offensively—and especially defensively—the Black-and-gold took some huge strides forward in Kansas City, extending their season record to 4-2 while raising hopes among fans that this merger of stout defense and a punishing ground game—similar to that adored by Steel City fans during the ‘70s—might likewise win the day four decades later against top AFC rivals such as the Chiefs.

Apparently, the only piece still missing from Pittsburgh’s puzzle is the quarterback formerly known as “Big Ben.” While Roethlisberger clearly played better in Kansas City than he’d done in losses to the Bears and Jaguars (his lone interception was due to Antonio Brown pulling up short on a pass route), he hasn’t yet come close to the field-stretching gunslinger Steelers Nation has known in years past.

But given the Steelers’ young and improving defense—along with the anticipated, clutch contributions from Brown and Bell—perhaps it’s okay now for the beloved character of yesteryear to depart the stage. Only time will tell, but maybe Ben can take a page from the Book of Bradshaw by utilizing a potent ground game to set up the big fireworks—rather than vice versa.