Yes, it was an awful performance Sunday by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, the entire team seemed to find new ways to be terrible with every new snap. Yes, the offense and defense seemed equally inept.
And, yes, there were injuries. In particular, both inside linebackers found themselves out of the game for stretches, with Lawrence Timmons ultimately ending up at a local hospital for evaluation after a shin injury bled profusely.
The good news, though, and cause for hope? Their backups actually played quiet well, and rotational outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo had himself a decent game, too.
In fact, let's start with him.
Chickillo, a former defensive end at the University of Miami, has plenty of experience stopping the run. It has been evident on several occasions Sunday, but perhaps none more so than on a first-and-ten situation early in the second quarter.
On this play, Philadelphia is using a tactic the Steelers have employed well in recent years by using a backup offensive lineman as an extra blocking tight end. In this case, it's guard Matt Tobin, who comes in motion across the formation in an effort to get a body on Chickillo.
It failed, and it was spectacular.
Chickillo executes a perfect stack-and-shed of Tobin, stonewalling him at the line and then, quite literally, just tossing him aside. At this point, the runner has already built himself a nice head of steam, but is headed directly for the space occupied by the much larger, and entirely unencumbered, Chickillo. The second-year linebacker wraps him up with a perfect-form tackle.
It was, however, the backup inside linebackers who shined the brightest. We'll save the best for last, though, and take a moment to highlight the play made by one of my favorites, rookie Tyler Matakevich.
Now, I admit I haven't exactly hidden how much I like this kid. But for a guy who got just a single defensive snap on Sunday, he did well with it. One of the things you notice quickly about this play is the way he flows down the line. He shows excellent vision and reaction on this play, too, when Cameron Heyward's man ends up on the ground at Matakevich's feet. He uses a quick stutter-step to keep from getting tripped up, and then uses his quickness to get back in the play. Heyward may have made the tackle, but he only had a handful of jersey. It was the quickness and vision of "Dirty Red" that allowed him to get in position to provide insurance on the tackle. Even if Heyward had not managed to maintain his grasp on the runner, there is little chance he was getting into the end zone on this play.
It was all for naught, of course, as the Eagles scored one play later.
The backup performance of the night for the Steelers, though, was easily Vince Williams, subbing for Timmons. He was good in coverage aside from not getting enough depth on one play,and was the team's best run defender through most of the second half. His best play, ironically, was the Steelers' last defensive snap of the game. It stands out for two reasons. First, that he was playing this hard when the game was long since over, and the players just had to wait for the clock to catch up with reality. And, second...well...just watch.
Much like strong safety Robert Golden a week before, Williams shows both patience and aggression on this play. He moves laterally along with the line, but the instant the hole begins to open, he attacks it. In fact, he gets there so quickly, tight end Brent Celek is left wondering what it was that just flew by him. Then, when the runner attempts to bounce back even further to the left, Williams adjusts and makes the tackle. Again, like Golden, that adjustment happens because of of attention to detail: Williams has his hips square to the play, so he has the strength and balance at that point to make the adjustment necessary. Had he attacked more aggressively downhill and been in mid stride at that point, he would never have been able to get the angle needed to wrap up the ball carrier.
The entire defense has a lot to clean up from Sunday's debacle -- as does the offense -- and it's going to be that much harder due to injuries that will undoubtedly keep multiple starters out of the lineup. But, when head coach Mike Tomlin calls "next man up" on the linebackers, at least, there is some comfort knowing these guys will be the ones answering the call against the Chiefs.