By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they would need a complete team effort as well as several outstanding individual performances just to have chance to beat the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. And that is exactly what they got.
The Steelers (4-2) knocked off the Chiefs (5-1) in a hard-fought 19-13 victory on the road Sunday afternoon. Leading the way for the Steelers were their three B’s—Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown—all of whom had a major role in the team accumulating a season-high 439 yards.
While Pittsburgh had to hang on for the victory, the reality is that the Steelers dominated the game for three quarters. Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead at the 7:49 mark in the first quarter and held a lead for a total of 46:24. They outgained the NFL’s highest-scoring team and second-highest offensive team overall by nearly 200 yards.
With the win, the Steelers avoided losing back-to-back games for the second time this year. They have now defeated the Chiefs three straight games and eight of their 10 meetings this decade. Overall, the Steelers leads the all-time series 23-11.
It definitely wasn’t a flawless performance, but the Steelers produced their best game this season on the offensive side by far. They were nearly perfect in the first half, totaling 16 of their season-best 23 first downs. The Steelers also racked up 237 yards of offense while controlling the ball for 21 minutes and 49 seconds of the half. They were 2-for-2 in redzone opportunities, though they only came away with one touchdown in the first 30 minutes of play.
On the negative side, the offense managed just two touchdowns, and they reached the end zone once in five second half drives. Plus, Roethlisberger threw his seventh interception in the last three games.
That said, Roethlisberger looked the best he has all season. The 35-year-old quarterback was on-target on most of his throws, however, he did get help along the way from Chiefs defenders (Phillip Gaines) on Brown’s fourth quarter touchdown reception. Roethlisberger completed 17-of-25 passes (68.0 percent, a season-high) for 252 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, he averaged over 10 yards per attempt as he completed 4-of-6 passes over 15 yards.
Brown’s 51-yard one-handed touchdown catch and run was definitely the highlight of the 29-year old’s day. The touchdown came at an important time for the Steelers as it gave them a nine-point lead late in the game. Brown finished with eight receptions for 155 yards.
Bell was the star of the game and finally looked like his old self. He danced and slashed his way to 179 yards on 32 carries, with 98 of those yards coming following initial contact. He had six carries of 10-yards or longer. Bell also had three receptions for 12 yards.
Is there any other grade that can be given? The Steelers held the Chiefs to 19 points below their league-leading season average (32.9) and to just 251 yards of total offense. They held K.C. to a total of six first half yards as well as one first down in their first six possessions. The Steelers limited the Chiefs to 3-of-11 on third down and only 12 first downs overall.
The defense did a fantastic job harassing Alex Smith as well as keeping rookie running back Kareem Hunt and versatile wide receiver Tyreek Hill in check. The Steelers’ pressure got to Smith even when they didn’t physically get to him, and you could tell he was uncomfortable.
Pittsburgh finished with three sacks and nine quarterback hits. They also had five pass defensed with cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis coming up with big plays by ripping the ball out of receivers hands. Davis probably came up with the play of the game, separating backup tight end Demetrius Harris from the ball early in the fourth quarter on fourth down.
That doesn’t mean the Steelers didn’t have breakdowns in pass coverage. They certainly did, particularly in the fourth quarter. Burns was looking into the backfield when De’Anthony Thomas burned him for a 57-yard touchdown. Smith also picked the Steelers’ zone apart late in the game.
Special Teams: D
It wasn’t a great day for the Steelers special teams. Kicker Chris Boswell contributed five points as he connected on his lone field goal attempt from 24 yards out. Punter Jordan Berry had two punts downed inside the 20 and booted a season-high 62-yarder though that punt wound up in the end zone.
The Steelers gave up 85 return yards total (39 punt return yards, 46 kickoff yards) and inexplicably didn’t recover the Chiefs’ free kick following the safety, which set up their first quarter field goal. Brown fumbled a fourth quarter punt but recovered it himself.
The Steelers coaching staff must have learned a lesson last week against Jacksonville: you can’t move away from what you do the best and expect to win. The Steelers, who ran the ball 20 times against the Jaguars, fed Bell the ball often and he rewarded them well. Bell had 17 carries in the team’s first 36 plays. The coaching staff also allowed Roethlisberger to work the ball down the field despite his previous struggles.
The defensive game plan was superb. Allowing a total of six yards of offense in the first half is almost unheard off. As has been the case, what the Steelers do the best is get to the quarterback. Veteran linebacker James Harrison made a huge impact in his season debut, racking up three tackles to go along with a huge sack on third down on the Chiefs’ final offensive possession. Harrison registered two quarterback hits.
The Steelers return home next week with a very important AFC North contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. A win over the Bengals will give the Steelers a 3-0 record within the division, including a win against every division opponent. The Steelers have a one-game lead over Baltimore (3-3) atop of the division following the Ravens 27-24 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday. The Bengals (2-3) are coming off their bye week.