On Second Thought: Steelers @ Chiefs

ADF16C1C-D644-44AA-A82F-8E129B64D3C6Photo via Steelers.com

Usually after a win like Sunday’s beatdown of the Chiefs everybody is lined up with game recaps, grades, and so on . But Ivan Cole is a DNP for the last two weeks with carpal tunnel and Homer is off gadding about, so you’re just going to have to put up with me this week.

In my first effusions over the game I pretty much skipped over the less perfect aspects of it, and honestly I think this is appropriate in many ways. Part of the excitement of a live performance, whether given by a rock band, a professional chamber choir such as I conducted for many years, a symphony orchestra, a production of Hamlet, or, yes, a football game, is that anything can happen at any given moment, and a great many of the things which can happen are, shall we say, less than optimal.

This is actually the point of going to a live performance, as opposed to listening over and over to the same CD of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony or watching your old BetaMax tapes  of Super Bowl Whatever. You already know what is going to happen. In some ways, especially when you are considering the Steelers, it can be nice to know the outcome already, assuming it is the desired one. (I’ll bet not too many Steelers fans watch the 2011 Super Bowl over and over…)

Skipping over these annoying details is not, of course, the appropriate response of, say, the director of the Hamlet, or me when I directed my chamber choir. While it is a good thing, and encouraging to your cast, to talk about what went well, you learn the most from what didn’t. As fans we have the luxury of not worrying about that. But we generally do anyhow, as we apparently really dislike being lulled into a false sense of security.

So let’s take another look at the game, considering what happened in terms of whether it was just one of those things, like your drummer spontaneously combusting, or whether it indicates something that needs to be fixed. Then I’ll have a go at some grades.

First Half

I know everyone is tired of hearing how loud it is in Kansas City, but the crowd was so loud at the beginning of the game that I had to turn the volume way down on my computer, to a point where I could barely hear the commentary at times. Strangely, this was a disappointment, because it was my first chance to hear (and occasionally see) the supposedly prescient Tony Romo in action.

And the noise level wasn’t just ramped up for the broadcast, because on the third snap of the game the Steelers had to call a time out because Ben couldn’t hear the play call in his helmet. Fortunately the Steelers managed to shut the crowd up as the game progressed.

I have to say I thought this was curious, as both Ben and Todd Haley have noted on occasion that the Steelers tend to script the first 10 plays of a game. If this is so, surely it is on Ben’s little wristband thingy. Or at least he could look over at Haley to get a thumbs up or down to stick with the plan. And surely there isn’t that much point in scripting the first ten plays if you’re not going to stay with the plan. But it was admittedly 3rd and 1 from the PIT 34, and you don’t want to energize the crowd even more (if such is possible) by hastening into the wrong play and not getting the first down. Furthermore, the “1” in question was more like four inches, and Terrell Watson, who apparently has a superhuman ability to convert short yardage, was in the backfield, so surely there aren’t many plays out of that configuration.

In fact, the more I thought about it the odder it seemed, so I went back and looked at the tape, as we coaches say: ) In the original lineup Bell was in the backfield, and after the timeout Watson trotted out. So it still isn’t clear what happened, exactly, but as it turned out the time out was surplus to requirements anyhow. It just seemed odd at the time, given both the scripting thing and the fact that Ben has a great deal of freedom, apparently, to change calls as he sees fit.

But better safe than sorry. Or perhaps the tomahawk thingy they do in Arrowhead Stadium was giving them all a headache. It certainly is annoying. Renegade is way classier and more tuneful, and the fact that Terrell Suggs hates it makes it even better. Furthermore, the Steelers don’t play it for the ENTIRE GAME…

So my first grade for the day is:
Steelers Stadium Stuff—1; Arrowhead Stadium Stuff—0.

You’ll be happy to hear that I won’t be subjecting the entire game to this level of scrutiny—only the things that caught my attention. And the next thing that caught my attention was the snap that resulted in a safety! Oh frabjous day! But it wasn’t long before the Fickle Finger of Fate smacked the Steelers right where it hurts, as Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster were unable, between the two of them, to corral the half-pooch-punt half-kick sent their way by Kansas City. One of the local reporters said AB lost the ball in the sun, and that would account for the incredible lack of competence displayed by either. Unfortunately, the player who did display competence was the Kansas City rookie who pulled it in, thus allowing Kansas City to score without ever managing a first down.

That hurt, but I’m not sure there’s anything to fix, other than to make sure the sun is shut off before the game starts, so we will just pass it off as One of Those Things.

On the next Steelers’ series I was struck by Tony Romo’s comments about the effect on a quarterback of having a horrible game. He claimed it was actually quite freeing, because you realize the chances of you having a statistically impressive season are pretty much down the toilet, and you just go out and play. It’s a bit like making your first mistake in an organ recital—it sort of gets it out of the way and you don’t have to think about it anymore. Makes sense to me.

I have no quibbles with that series, which burned up a lot of clock by featuring seven runs by Le’Veon Bell en route to punching it into the end zone. The passes? AB for 5 yards, overthrow to JJSS, wiped out by defensive holding penalty, long bomb to Vance McDonald, just barely overthrown (Rob Gronkowski would have gotten that, just saying…) screen to Bryant for 7, in which Bryant broke a tackle for the first time this season, and toss to AB for 6, wiped out by a holding penalty on JJSS. Sure seems like better things happen when you run the ball.

And of course Bell had to provide fresh fuel for the “get off my lawn” crowd by drawing an unsportmanlike conduct penalty for sparring with the goal post. Not sure why that is unsportsmanlike, unless the idea is that the entire Kansas City Metropolitan Area was being taunted by Bell’s actions. But whatever. It did, however, put the Kansas City offense in better field position (their own 33.) But the Steelers defense made this moot, as follows:

    • 1/10: Pass to Tyreek Hill, +5
    • 2/5: Run, -9 (!) Thank you, Mike Hilton.
    • 3/14: flag, false start
    • 3/19: Pass, +5 (Hilton)
    • PUNT

Which leads to my second grade of the day:
Mike Hilton—Total Stud

In the next Pittsburgh series, James Conner had a carry, for a 3-yard run. (He had a 10-yard run in the first series.) I would be remiss not to mention him, as he seems to make the most of his few appearances. Perhaps Martavis Bryant could watch and learn. Unfortunately this 3-yard run was just prior to an interception by Marcus Peters of a Ben Roethlisberger pass to AB. I’m happy to say the defense came through again, forcing a three-and-out. I’m also happy to say that AB rightfully took the blame for the interception, publically and visibly. Ben manfully handled this without resorting to the destruction of inanimate objects.

So my next game grade is:

Ben Roethlisberger’s Apparent Maturity: The Arrow is Pointing Up

On the next Pittsburgh series several things happened.

  1. Marcus Gilbert left the game, having re-injured his hamstring, which meant that two-fifths of the offensive line was manned by back-ups. And yet the Steelers continued to run the ball effectively. Who knew?
  2. Vance McDonald caught his first pass as a Steeler, thus moving the chains from the PIT 1 yard line to the PIT 27. Who knew?
  3. On 1/Goal from the KC 2, the Steelers stopped running the ball. Result: Field Goal. Hmm. Here’s a thought. Although your Jumbo Package guys are busy manning the positions vacated by the wounded, you have two more running backs, one of which seems to be a genius at getting a couple of yards, and a fullback. How about putting them all in and just handing it to them in turn until somebody gets in? Just a thought.

After this the Chiefs had the ball for the last two minutes of the first half. They had, up until that point, only held it for 6 minutes. They had no first downs, although they would get one in this series. It would end on a false start call, and thus they limped into the locker room to nurse their six total yards of offense in the first half. Which leads to my next grade:

Steelers Defense—Men of Steel

Now we come to the dreaded second half, in which The Steelers Have Taken Their Foot Off the Gas, and Not Put An Opponent Away, and the Opposing Coaches Will Make Genius Second-Half Adjustments, and the Steelers’ Coaches Will Just Continue to Make the Same Mistakes. Did I get all that right? So what amazing adjustments did Andy Reid make?

Well, admittedly the Chiefs offense did hold the ball for a larger portion of the half—exactly half of it, in fact. In their second series they managed their second first down of the game, and in their third series they actually moved the ball almost the entire length of the field, with the aide of some blind officials who ignored a blatant hold, and then a very (!) stupid Roughing the Passer penalty on Mike Mitchell for a late hit on Smith. However, despite all this, and making it all the way to the PIT 5-yard line, the Steelers held them without a score, thanks to an alert Sean Davis removing the ball from the guy who caught it in the end zone. Davis may have removed some other bits of the player in question as well. Vince Williams had to leave the game with a hip injury, after having the game of his life. I have a couple more grades at this point:

Mike Mitchell: It May Not Be Dirty But the Yards Hurt Just The Same.
The “Lawrence Who?” Award goes to Vince Williams

There wasn’t anything else particularly notable until the Steelers got the ball back at 6:13 in the fourth quarter. I was hoping for a nice long drive to eat up the clock, but an Antonio Brown touchdown on one of the most amazing plays you will see in a while, one in which he atoned for the poorly-run route earlier in the game, is pretty sweet too. And so here is my next grade:

The “Diva Is As Diva Does” Award goes to Antonio Brown

You know the rest—KC kicks a field goal, so the score is now 19-13. The Steelers needed another long drive, and instead go three-and-out. The punt was returned to the 44. Kansas City had one more time out and most of two minutes. Mike Tomlin makes what was perhaps the best decision of the whole game and puts James Harrison in. He has his way with Eric Reid, forcing a desperation pass on 4th and 18. Ryan Shazier bats it down. Game over. Kansas City no longer undefeated. Steelers no longer goats, for a week at least.

I have already commended the defensive line, Le’Veon Bell, and so on in my previous post. I will add to that the sterling work of David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey in particular on the O-line, and the corner tandem of Haden and Burns, who are doing a (mostly) very fine job.

And while I’m sure there are many other grades I could give, I’m spent for the moment. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.

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