Two years ago it was against Kansas City that the Steelers late-season meltdown became official. If you’ve blotted it out of your memory, here’s a refresher:
- Give up the opening kickoff for a TD,
- Sacrifice scoring opportunities with turnovers that KC turns into points,
- Squander numerous chances to put the game away
Ultimately the Steelers committed the cardinal sin of a would-be contender giving an inferior team a Reason the Believe and allowing them to transform that into an upset.
Fortunately, this time the outcome was different, but if this latest trip to Arrowhead didn’t signal another melt down, if this is any indication of how the Steelers play on the road, Steelers Nation had better double down on the Rosary Beads praying for Baltimore to slip.
Hail to Haley and Yes, Tyler Plako
Saying that “aside from four turnovers, the quarterback played really well” is kind of like saying “aside from everything else, Mrs. Lincoln enjoyed the play.” Plako did play poorly.
But in spite of that Plako maintained his poise, and watching him in the huddle at barking out orders at the line of scrimmage, he gave every impression of a quarterback who was still leading his team.
Todd Haley also deserves cudos. Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain is right to call out Haley (and Plako) for their poor clock management at the end, but that error aside, Haley coached a good game.
From the very outset, the Chiefs looked like a team that it believed in itself, and played as if it had a chance to win. 4-6 teams don’t do that too often, and Haley gets the credit.
But Haley’s cudos go beyond the old “well, they played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm” hat on the head.
The Chiefs played aggressive, opportunistic defense. They dominated on third downs, making the Steelers offense look amateur. Say what you want, but the Kansas City Chiefs were in the game until the final gun, and they can thank their defense for that.
An Offensive Pittsburgh Performance
What was that? The Steelers offense is supposed to be developing into an elite NFL unit, won with an All Pro Quarterback with an arsenal that he couldn’t have dream of even a few short years ago.
Instead, the offense Steelers looked as lost and baffled as they have since the days of Joe Walton. That may sound harsh, but the Steelers converted all of 3 of 11 third downs. Worse the offense turned the ball over twice in scoring situations.
ESPN’s stat sheet says that the Steelers only committed 6 penalties between the offense and defense. Numbers don’t lie nor does that obscure the fact that holding and false start calls either nullified important gains or regularly put the Steelers offense in the hole.
Sloppy does not even begin to define the Steelers performance when the had the ball against Kansas City – offensive is the only apt term.
Strutting Instead of Sputtering
Two years ago the “shaky” was the word to describe the Steelers secondary that walked into Arrowhead Stadium.
The unit had had its ups and downs, but clearly wasn’t the same without Troy Polamalu, whom they’d lost the week before in a home loss to Cincinnati. A shell-shocked Steelers secondary left Arrowhead that afternoon, a shadow of its former self.
My what a difference two years makes.
The Steelers defense wasn’t flawless in Kansas City. The Chiefs converted a few too many third downs for my tastes, and they failed to get consistent pressure on Plako.
But those were minor blemishes on an otherwise outstanding, mostly Polamaluless, performance.
Everyone knew the Chiefs were going to run the ball. The only question was, would the Steelers be able to stop them?
Kansas City did have some success on the ground with their top three rushers ripping off 9 and 8 yard runs. But the Chiefs pounded it 34 times yet could not break the century mark. Those long runs were off set by the sight of Casey Hampton and company pancaking numerous rushes at the line of scrimmage.
The real stars of the game were of course the Steelers secondary. Yes, the Chiefs receivers made some nice catches, Yes, this was Tyler Plako throwing the ball and not Joe Flacco let alone Tom Brady.
But the once-turnover starved Steelers secondary came away with three picks. In short, Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, and Ryan Mundy did what they were supposed to do – come up with big plays against an inferior opponent.
And ultimately that was the difference in this ball game.
Steelers Must Bring Their ‘A’ Game Every Week Now
Five games await the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are capable of beating everyone of these opponents. By the same token, if the Steelers come out with a performance like they did vs. the Chiefs, everyone of these opponents is capable of beating them.
The AFC North crown is probably out of reach for the Steelers, but with the Bengals breathing down their neck, a Wild Card is no certainty.
The lesson from Kansas City is clear: The Steelers must bring their ‘A’ Game every week, against every opponent.