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Analyzing the Steelers Wild Card loss to the Chiefs, by the numbers

The Steelers were in the game for 25 minutes before everything went wrong.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers made it into the postseason, but didn’t put up much of a fight beyond the middle of the second quarter. After the defense continued to get stops and even put the first points on the board for either team, the offense did so little the Chiefs kept getting too many chances. Eventually, the two-time running AFC Conference champions were able to get their offense going and put things out of reach for the second half.

So without further ado, here are some of the numbers involved in the Steelers’ Wild Card loss to the Chiefs.


For only the second time in the 2021 season, Pittsburgh Steelers had a positive turnover differential and lost the game. With an interception and a fumble recovery, the Steelers had two takeaways while having one turnover of their own on Najee Harris’ first NFL fumble. The other loss where the Stbeelers had a +1 turnover differential came in Week 14 in their Thursday night matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.


The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first team to get on the scoreboard in Sunday night’s game. Just over four minutes into the second quarter, Cam Heyward stripped Darrel Williams of the football after a fumble recovery of a botched handoff out of the wildcat formation. T.J. Watt was able to scoop up the ball and return it 26 yards for the Steelers first defensive touchdown of the season, and their first non-offensive touchdown since the block punt in Week 1. It was also T.J. Watt’s first NFL touchdown.


The Steelers defense was taking care of business to begin this game and should have been able to last through the first half. In fact, the Steelers stopped the Kansas City Chiefs on their first five offensive possessions to start the game. The Steelers forced 3 punts and had two takeaways and gave up no points to the Chiefs on their first five possessions. Unfortunately, the offense held the ball so infrequently that the Chiefs had a total of eight positions in the first half.


After the aforementioned five possessions in which the Steelers held the Chiefs to start the game, they then went on a stretch of where they scored six straight touchdowns. At one point, the Chiefs scored three touchdowns only separated by two plays by the Steelers, one of which was a kneel down and the other was a fumble.


The Steelers total ineptitude on offense in the first half was obvious in the fact that they had 7 punts. Pressley Harvin had a good night punting the ball with a gross average of 49.7 yards per punt, and even after a 48-yard punt return set the Chiefs up just outside the red zone the Steelers came through with a takeaway. The problem was the Steelers having seven drives in the first half in which they could not engineer enough offense to put any points on the board and simply gave the ball back to the high-powered Chiefs offense.


Punting the ball so much in the first half was a result of no offensive production. The Steelers only had 44 total yards in the first half against the Chiefs and only two first downs. The Steelers managed only 31 rushing yards and 13 net passing yards by halftime. In their eight first half drives, the Steelers only managed to cross their own 40-yard line one time.


Despite only surrendering 45 yards through the air in the first quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately gave up 406 yards passing. On the night, Patrick Mahomes was 30 of 39 for 404 yards and five touchdowns along with Travis Kelce being one for one for 2 yards and a touchdown. It was the most passing yards the Steelers had surrendered all season and the first time they had surrendered 400 passing yards since 2017 against the Detroit Lions. The last time the Steelers surrendered more than 400 passing yards in a postseason game was in a victory over the Cleveland Browns in 2002.


An interesting number which came about was the Chiefs passing success in the second half. Only attempting 12 passes, the Chiefs completed all 12 for a total of 165 yards and three touchdowns. The only time a pass play was not successful for the Chiefs in the second half was on two sacks.


Even though it seems like the focus on passing yards is a bit much, it just made such a difference to the game. In the second quarter, where the Chiefs put up 21 points following T.J. Watt’s fumble recovery for a touchdown, the Chiefs passed for 196 yards. It was the most passing yards Patrick Mahomes has had an any quarter of a postseason game.


In what is believed to be the final game of his career, Ben Roethlisberger finished the night with 29 completions on 44 temps for 215 yards and two touchdowns. The yardage total of 215 was the first time in Ben Roethlisberger‘s career in which he threw for under 225 yards in the playoffs in a loss. Before 2021, Rothlisberger was 8–0 when passing for 225 yards or less in the postseason.


Since the Steelers were not victorious, it is now time for the long offseason. Of course, there will be plenty of news dealing with the Steelers as they prepare for 2022 free agency as well as the NFL draft. By my calculations, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in line for the 20th overall pick in April.

So there are some numbers to try to help put the Steelers Wild Card loss to the Chiefs in perspective. The Steelers offense did nothing worthy of winning a football game until it was so far out of reach it didn’t matter. Now it’s time to head into the long offseason and building the team for the 2022 season.

So what numbers from Sunday’s game stand out to you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.