Steelers Defeat Chiefs 20-12, Defense Dominates as Pittsburgh Earn Playoff Berth

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 20-12 to improve to 10-6, seize a playoff spot and earn a shot at the AFC North Championship. These accomplishments seemed neither likely nor even possible a few short weeks ago.

  • The Steelers 10-6 record and playoff spot reveal the exceptional job Mike Tomlin is doing.

While that might surprise some, it shouldn’t. Tomlin has proven himself as a coach. Period. But what is eye opening about the Chiefs game is the way in which the Steelers secured victory – they did it with their defense.

Chiefs Plan – Stop Bell, Control Clock

Super Bowl losing teams who failed to rebound to win it in the next year are, by definition, in decline. In previewing the Steelers-Chiefs game, Steel Curtain Rising observed that the Steelers matchups vs. the Chiefs in 2011, 2012, and 2013 served as milestones in their decent into mediocrity.

  • If any one player has exemplified the Steelers break out from, it is Le’Veon Bell.

The Chiefs understood that and focused their game plan on him. On defense they aimed to limit his effectiveness both on the ground and through the air. On offense, Kansas City strived for ball control, limiting the Steelers opportunities to rely on its running game. The plan worked, to an extent.

  • On the ground Bell only gained 63 yards on 20 carries
  • Through the air, Bell had 1 catch for 9 yards

For many, but not all intents and purposes, the Chiefs neutralized Bell. The other half of Kansas City’s game plan worked, on paper at least. The Chiefs won the time of possession battle. While the final differential was only 31:07 to 28:53, Kansas City held a much larger edge in heading into the 4th quarter.

  • Kansas City’s 17 first downs to Pittsburgh’s 11 also indicate just how much they controlled the game’s tempo.

But that’s the problem with trying to reduce football to a game of facts, figures and statistics – it only works when you elevate your execution on the fundamental aspects of the game…

Roethlisberger, Brown & Miller Pick Up Slack for Steelers Offense

…And one of those other fundamentals would be, that against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you mustn’t stop Bell at the expense of all else. But that’s what Kansas City did. The clearest example of this is how badly Heath Miller burned the Chiefs.

  • Heath Miller simply came up with a catch when the Steelers needed him to.

Miller’s been doing that for 10 years of course, but the Chiefs made it easy by assigning a safety to cover Bell. Roethlisberger looked to 83 instead, and found pay dirt 7 of the 8 times. And when he wasn’t hitting pay dirt with Miller, he was hitting it with Antonio Brown, who connected with Roethlisberger on 7 of 9 targets.

  • That’s 14 completions on 17 targets to the tandem.

Martavis Bryant also chipped in with a long gain, and Markus Wheaton converted 1 third down and earned another 1st down on two catches.

Also, one crucial aspect of Kansas City’s plan to stop fell short – keeping him out of the end zone. Note to future opponents defending the Steelers from their own 1 –that’s where you have to stop Bell.

The Steelers offense today was “efficient” against Kansas City. Scoring 20 points in today’s NFL is low, the Steelers didn’t pile up yards. But they did what they needed to do. The real difference makers for Pittsburgh lie on the other side of the ball….

Steelers Defense Dominates Chiefs Inside the Red Zone

Kansas City got more yards and ran more plays in 1 fewer drive than Pittsburgh. Alex Smith out threw Ben Roethlisberger. Kansas City even enjoyed short fields. Their offense functioned well, especially early in the game, everywhere except in the Red Zone.

The Chiefs advanced to the Pittsburgh 10 on their first drive, when Cameron Heyward sacked Smith for a 7 yard loss on third down. Kansas City kicked a field goal. Their next drive stalled at the Steelers 12, when Andy Reid called a fake field goal which the Chiefs converted. 1st and goal at Pittsburgh’s six.

The Steelers defense didn’t blink:

  • James Harrison stopped Jammal Charles for a 2 yard gain
  • Antwon Blake broke up a sure touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe
  • Jason Worild and James Harrison ran Smith out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage

Again, the Chiefs settled for 3. That was just the warm up. Kansas City answered the Steelers first touchdown with a precision drive that took them to the Pittsburgh 12. On third down Michael Mitchell shoved De’Anthony Thomas out of bounds just short of a first down. Andy Reid had a sure field goal and a chance to make it a one point game.

  • Instead he tried to go for it.

Jamaal Charles never had a chance. Lawrence Timmons smashed him before he even reached the line of scrimmage. James Harrison got a piece. So did Will Allen. So did Mike Mitchell. It was a gang tackle that sent Charles reeling and set the tone for the rest of the game.

Twice more in the 2nd half Kansas City would reach scoring position, first from the Steelers 25 and then from the Steelers 5. Each time the drive ended with Cairo Santos kicking a field goal. Time and time again, the Steelers defense found someone to step up and make a plays in critical situations:

  • James Harrison had 1.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, and 2 QB hits
  • Lawrence Timmons was simply all over the field, making play after play, with 13 tackles
  • Cameron Heyward had a sack and a half, a tackle for a loss and 3 hits on Smith
  • Stephon Tuitt had his first NFL sack, and forced a key fumble that sparked the Steelers second touchdown
  • Vince Williams and 10 total tackles and a fumble recovery
  • Jason Worilds had 2 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, and hit Smith twice

Kansas City came to Pittsburgh with the NFL’s second best Red Zone defense – the Steelers defense held them to 12 points in 4 tries. Jamaal Charles arrived at Heinz Field as the AFC’s 4th leading rusher and averaging 5.2 yards per carry – Dick LeBeau’s defenders held him to 20 yards and 3.2 yards per carry.

Lesson for Steelers Defense to Last Beyond 2014?

The Steelers defense has struggled, mightily at times, this year. But Mike Tomlin has refused to give up, and continued to stoke his team’s competitive fire with internal competition. It’s working. The defense is kicking into high gear at just the right time.

  • But today’s victory carries and importance that has the potential to reach beyond 2014.

The Steelers accomplished this feat with Brett Keisel on IR and Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor out of the lineup. James Harrison clearly made his presence felt. But the biggest argument for keeping around this aging quartet of veterans was that they could help teach younger players how to win games.

The efforts of the Vince Williamses, Stephon Tuitts, and Cameron Heywards in this game reveal that the youngsters are learning their lesson.

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