By Christina Rivers
The Kansas City Chiefs could have entered Heinz Field on Sunday as the spoilers. Instead, with the 20-12 win, the Pittsburgh Steelers secured themselves a spot in the 2014 NFL playoffs with one week left in the regular season. With a full-team effort, the Steelers played methodical football that proved that their resiliency this season is legitimate.
The Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff had plenty to be upset with in the week 16 match with the Chiefs, beginning with the officiating. Nearly the entire game, the officials on the field chose where to place the ball poorly, including a down that would have been the last on a Chiefs drive that instead became a new set of downs. After a taunting call against what appeared to be a non-guilty William Gay, the game could have gotten uglier than the one scrum that erupted. Instead, the coaching staff pulled the team together and refocused them on the goal; winning the ball game and dictating their own fate.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the recipient of a leg-whip/trip that hobbled him and forced him to leave the field temporarily as the Steelers defense took the field to make a stand. Although backup Bruce Gradkowski wasn’t required to enter the game, the defense made a tough stand that allowed Roethlisberger to get back into the game and orchestrate another win. Roethlisberger was on target, completing 18 of 25 attempts for 220 yards and a touchdown. Behind an offensive line that only allowed a single sack, Roethlisberger kept the offense balanced between the run and pass. At times, Roethlisberger moved to the hurry-up, then returned to a spread offense to keep the Chiefs defense from being able to stop offensive drives. Give Roethlisberger the award this week for taking one on the chin and proving he is durable enough to come back into the game and complete it.
The offensive line of the Steelers hasn’t gotten much love this year, but after three weeks of efficient and effective play, they deserve to be called the comeback unit of the team. Battles in the trenches were won and Justin Houston was unable to be as disruptive to Roethlisberger as Kansas City would have liked with the single sack of the game and only four tackles. Due to the play of the line, the Steelers were able to make 19 first downs (11 passing, six rushing) and a 50 percent efficiency at converting third downs.
Everyone expected that Kansas City would zero in on running back Le’Veon Bell and be tough defensively, but the Steelers were able to capitalize on mixing up their playbook. Bell didn’t have a huge game, but on 20 carries he was still able to rush for 63 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller were the top receivers for the Steelers with seven apiece for 72 and 67 yards respectively. Brown had one touchdown reception. Roethlisberger hit five different targets and Martavis Bryant had a game-high 44-yard reception and added nine yards on the ground. Because the offense played a complete game, the Steelers were able to trust their defense to get them back on the field and allow them to put points on the scoreboard.
Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison could easily both be the players of the game for Pittsburgh this week. Timmons led the Steelers defense with 13 tackles (9 solo) and Harrison was constantly putting the pressure on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith from the outside. Harrison finished the game with 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss. It shows, once again, that veteran leadership gives a boost to teams. The Steelers may have finally graduated from their team being referred to as a “youth movement” and a big part of that is due to the level veterans have played the past few weeks.
This was a Steelers defense that played without Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor in their defensive secondary. William Gay and Antwon Blake both had moments where they played too soft in coverage, but neither was openly burned by any deep passes. In fact, Smith threw very few long passes, opting for the underneath routes. The defense ended the day with six sacks and allowed only 317 yards through the air. They shutout the Kansas City offense, forcing the Chiefs to score using the leg of Cairo Santos.
Credit Wing for not getting up after being hit after a Shaun Suisham field goal went through the uprights and starting a scrum. Offensive lineman Ramon Foster did instead, begging the question that if officiating hadn’t been so poor whether either team would have been forced to defend their teammates from extra-curricular activities after the whistle was blown. Foster will likely draw a fine from the league for his actions. Suisham was solid, as usual, and the Steelers still have very little to offer in the return game. The coverage team was okay, holding the Chiefs to just 113 total return yards and no touchdowns. Will Johnson made an excellent decision on the onside kick to field it instead of allowing it to get a second hop and force Brown or Bell to try to corral it. With good field position, the Steelers were able to secure the win.
Pittsburgh did what was necessary to earn a win. They didn’t allow the Chiefs defense to dictate the pace of the game or stall drives. The Steelers didn’t give up big plays to the Kansas City offense. Overall, the team played 60 minutes of solid football. Locking up an entrance into the playoffs for the first time in three years has to feel good, but the Steelers would love to finish the regular season with a win against the Cincinnati Bengals at home in week 17.
Overall grade: B.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on