The Pittsburgh Steelers were defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs 23-13 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 7. The loss dropped the Steelers record to 4-3 overall, while the Chiefs improved to 2-5 on the season.
Let's take a closer look at what went right and what went wrong for the Steelers on Sunday, and what it means for the team moving forward.
Sunday's loss to the Chiefs was another learning experience for third-string quarterback Landry Jones. The third-year pro completed 16 of 29 passes for 209 yards to go along with a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Jones' performance was inconsistent, but that's expected from a third-string quarterback making his first career start on the road and in a hostile environment. His 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant near the end of the third quarter was a thing of beauty and kept the Steelers in the game heading down the stretch.
The offense looked much better than it had in previous weeks without Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup. Pittsburgh moved the ball up and down the field, and got playmakers Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Bryant more involved in the offense. Bell finished the game with 121 yards on 17 carries (7.1 AVG), Brown hauled in six receptions for 124 yards, and Bryant caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line opened up big running lanes for Bell throughout the game. Bell averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry, and did most of his damage running to the left behind tackle Alejandro Villanueva and guard Ramon Foster. Fullback Roosevelt Nix and H-back Will Johnson also helped pave the way for Bell on several long runs against Kansas City's stout front seven.
The offense struggled in the red-zone against one of the league's worst red-zone defenses. The Steelers' offense ranked first in red-zone efficiency heading into the game, but struggled to score touchdowns against Kansas City's 30th-ranked red-zone defense. Pittsburgh finished with 339 yards of offense but had just 13 points to show for it. During the Steelers' second drive of the game, running back DeAngelo Williams dropped a short pass from Jones on 3rd-and-2 from the Chief's 6-yard line. A completion would likely have resulted in 1st-and-goal or a touchdown to put the Steelers ahead 7-3. Later, trailing 16-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers marched 54 yards to the Chiefs' 10-yard line, but were forced to kick yet another field goal following an incompletion to Bryant on second down and a sack on third down.
The Steelers lost the turnover battle 3-0 and failed to convert on 4th-and-1 from the Chiefs 32-yard line late in the second quarter. Jones threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a strip-sack by outside linebacker Tamba Hali. Fortunately, the Chiefs failed to convert the first interception made by inside linebacker Derrick Johnson into points. Jones' second interception was the result of a tipped pass by Johnson, which was deflected again by the intended receiver Brown and landed in outstretched arms of safety Eric Berry. Kansas City converted the second interception into a touchdown on its ensuing drive to extend the lead to 16-3 late in the third quarter.
Tomlin's decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Chiefs 32-yard line late in the second quarter will be second guessed by many, but I think it was the right call at that point in the game. I did, however, have an issue with the play call. The Steelers had used Williams to convert two short-yardage downs earlier in the game, so bringing him out a third time in the same situation was too predictable for my taste. The safety Berry and linebacker Dee Ford saw the run by Williams coming, crept toward the line of scrimmage at the snap, and stuffed him in the backfield for no gain.
The Steelers red-zone defense was excellent yet again, especially in the first half. The Chiefs' offense entered the red zone three times in the first half and came away with just nine points. Pittsburgh's ability to keep opposing offenses out of the end zone has been crucial with Roethlisberger sidelined.
The perfectly executed fire-zone blitz on the last play of the third quarter by inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier should have resulted in a turnover, but Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith did a great job of holding onto the ball while being sacked near his own goal line.
The run-defense took a step backwards without Stephon Tuitt, surrendering 110 yards to Charcandrick West. West averaged 5.0 yards per carry on the day and kept the Steelers' defense off balance. He broke a 36-yard run with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter that set the Chiefs up with a 1st-and-10 at the Steelers 16-yard line. Kansas City would punch the ball in for a touchdown three plays later, putting the game out of reach.
The secondary gave up big chunks of yardage on first and second down. In the first half alone, Kansas City converted a 2nd-and-14 and a 2nd-and-18. This kept the Chiefs offense out of third-and-long situations, and helped prevent the Steelers' defense from creating turnovers and dialing up more blitzes. Tight end Travis Kelce had several big receptions in the middle of the field, including a 26-yard catch on 3rd-and-4 during Kansas City's final touchdown drive. He finished the game with five catches for 73 yards.
Kicker Chris Boswell continued his perfect streak, making field goals of 24 and 36 yards. He also converted on his lone extra-point attempt.
Dri Archer continues to look better than he did last year returning kicks. He averaged 29.0 yards on four kickoff returns on Sunday. He's currently averaging 26.6 yards per return on the season after averaging 17.8 yards in 2014.
One thing that's been overlooked from Sunday's loss was the ability of Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt to flip the field position for his team. Colquitt averaged 54.7 yards per punt in the game and prevented the Steelers' offense from starting with better field position on several crucial drives. Colquitt's dad, Craig, punted for the Steelers in the late 1970's and early 1980's. His brother, Britton Colquitt, currently punts for the Denver Broncos.
The Big Picture
While Sunday's loss stings, the Steelers were able to tread water, finishing 2-2 in four weeks without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Roethlisberger is set to return next week for a crucial division battle against the undefeated Bengals. The team also hopes to get defensive end Stephon Tuitt back for Week 8.
At 4-3 overall, the Steelers are in a great position to capture one of two Wild Card spots in the American Football Conference. If the season were to end today, Pittsburgh would be the No. 6 seed and travel to No. 3 Denver for an opening-round playoff game.