The emotional roller coaster that comes with being a fan of the Steelers is rounding the bend of the first quarter season at high speed, wheels firmly on the tracks after last night’s epic performance against the Kansas City Chiefs. If the season was a boxing match, last week against the Eagles the Steelers were gassed and hanging on the ropes after a series of body blows took the fight out of them. One week later, another round and the Steelers were throwing haymakers, body blows, uppercuts and jabs in rapid succession, keeping the opponent phased, gassed and hanging onto the ropes early.
Okay, enough rhetorical symbolism. Time to breakdown what went well and what didn’t for the Steelers on prime time.
What worked: Just about everything the Steelers wanted to do. They won the turnover battle, they won the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, there was zero rust on that shiny sports car also known as L. Bell. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown made a rookie defensive back (and the rest of the KC secondary) look like a practice squad player, the defense produced not one, not two, not three, but FOUR sacks—three of which came from Cam Heyward. The offensive line, playing without one starter (and finishing without two) opened nice holes for the running game and large men were were even seen throwing blocks 20 yards downfield, a step ahead of the most dynamic running back in the NFL. They also did a good job keeping a clean pocket for Ben Roethlisberger to work from, allowing him to have a 300 yard game with as many touchdown tosses as incompletions-FIVE! Ben was accurate and focused the entire game. Heck, even Markus Wheaton caught a touchdown. Coach Tomlin even got D-Will involved at the goal line for a walk-in touchdown. The next men up played well in starting roles. Mike Mitchell was his usual assassin-like self, all over the field laying the lumber on anyone who wore red and white and touched a ball. There’s a lot more that worked, but I need to address what didn’t.
What didn’t work: The Steelers’ ability to leave a game without a MASH unit on the sidelines. The Steelers injury report this week will resemble a short novel. Hopefully some of the week four walking wounded can be ready for week five against the Jets.
Special Teams coverage was suspect. I know, I know, penalties on the long return saved points that probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway and the returner was the “fastest man in the NFL”. BUT, the coverage needs to be better. The Steelers will not blow out every team they face and a blown coverage on a kickoff or punt could mean the difference between a win and a loss.
The officials’ idea of excessive celebration/unsportsmanlike conduct. It seems that AB is going to need the extra cash from his contract being reworked this year as he is getting flagged for every celebration after getting a touchdown. The fifteen yards assessed on kickoffs don’t seem to be a huge factor as Boswell can kick it deep regardless, but c’mon man, Emmanuel Sanders was not penalized last week for the exact same twerking that got Brown a penalty two weeks ago. Supposedly Sanders only gave two pelvic thrusts to Browns three. Really? That’s the cut off point for twerking flags?
Fourth quarter coaching decisions. By the fourth quarter this game was well in hand, and even though the defense gave up two late touchdowns, the decision not to rest Roethlisberger and some other starters is a bit of a head scratcher. Ben did not get hurt, but on a slippery day against a cornered, feral dog, he should’ve been on the sideline watching Landry Jones or Zach Mettenberger handing off three times in a row every possession until time expired.
Don’t let it be said I can’t find some negative on an otherwise fantastic evening. Most of those negatives are not concerns. The injuries are something to keep an eye on, but if Mike Tomlin can keep these men focused and the next man up continues the same type of solid play they displayed last night, this Steelers team will have a lot more games like they did against the Chiefs on Sunday night.