The Steelers got put in their place in Week 16, and they sent a message how they aren’t going to hang with the top teams in 2021. Not that we really needed to be shown that, we already knew.
But in a roller-coaster season, this game is being taken as a serious indictment of the entire team by many, from coaching to everyone but the backup punter.
After several weeks of stability on the offensive line, this game saw both Kendrick Green and Trai Turner leave the game early. Those two left before other players sat out the final drive, and Coach Mike Tomlin said it was for injury and not performance. But it stands out that the Steelers’ only touchdown drive was after they both left the game. Of course Kansas City letting the Steelers run down the field with little resistance helped as well. The Steelers used almost 7 of the last 9 minutes of the game to get that touchdown, and never looked to be in a hurry.
Which, for this writer, seriously calls into question why they would run Najee Harris 5 times in a drive when they were no longer trying to win the game. Putting more wear and injury risk on Harris when you are clearly surrendering makes no sense. I can understand wanting to keep the defense off the field to protect some of those players, but you have backup running backs for a reason, and yet Kalen Ballage played all of 8 special teams snaps, and never saw the field on offense. Benny Snell ran for 19 yards on 4 carries at the end of the game, but the Chiefs weren’t trying very hard at that point.
Chase Claypool worked his way out of Mike Tomlin’s dog house, playing only 6 fewer snaps than Diontae Johnson, and he paid the Steelers back with some ridiculous catches. He looked like the Chase Claypool Steelers fans love to see, and not the whining and entitled diva he looked like just a few weeks ago.
Lastly, Zach Gentry took over the No. 1 tight end spot with both Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron out. He played well, catching all 4 of his targets for 31 yards, the most efficient receiving day on the team. That said, the lack of a real receiving threat from the tight end position allowed the Chiefs to largely ignore the tight ends and focus more attention on other players. When your defense can say “go ahead, beat us with Zach Gentry, Ray-Ray McCloud and one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL”, it’s not going to be a good day.
Only Terrell Edmunds played the entire game for the Steelers defense this time, with Minkah Fitzpatrick leaving for three snaps, the final drive for the Chiefs when they ran three times and punted. Cameron Sutton left for one snap, replaced by Miles Killebrew to face a jumbo package, and in this game Joe Haden and Akhello Witherspoon had a real rotation. Until I get All-22 film I can’t break down exactly what they were doing in the secondary, but the snaps tell us that the Steelers ran the vast majority of plays out of nickel; however, Arthur Maulet wasn’t the nickel back for a good number of those plays. Whether they were reacting to personnel packages, rotating defensive backs or if it was an injury/benching situation, I don’t know.
Robert Spillane played the most snaps as any inside linebacker, and Ulysees Gilbert III saw some time rotating in for Joe Schobert. The linebackers weren’t good in this game, the 95 receiving yards the running backs for Kansas City recorded is the most the Steelers have given up since the New England Patriots went after Vince Williams and rookie Devin Bush in his first game in the NFL back in 2019. With Travis Kelce out and Tyreek Hill getting shut down, the Chiefs ran their offense through the coverage mismatches their backs created against the Steelers’ inside linebackers.
On the defensive line the Steelers had 4 lineman rotating in with Chris Wormley injured, and showed that quantity is no match for quality. Henry Mondeaux in particular had an awful game, getting driven back in run defense far too often.
Go take a look at those snap counts. T.J. Watt wasn’t himself as he played through cracked ribs, and outside of him the Steelers had one defensive lineman, a free safety, a cornerback being rotated out as he recovers from injury, and a Hall of Fame quarterback at the end of his career.
That isn’t enough.