If you looked at the box score for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Sunday night tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs, but you weren't allowed to view any of the scoring plays, you might think that the Steelers won by 10 points or more. After all, backup quarterback Tyler Palko threw three interceptions—more on those later—while Ben Roethlisberger completed 68 percent of his passes. Pittsburgh out-gained Kansas City on the ground and through the air and bested the Chiefs in time of possession, too.
But the truth is, the Steelers played just well enough to win in what turned out to be a surprisingly competitive game. Let's look at some key observations from the 13-9 victory:
- We'll never know how much the injuries to Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry, and (later) Matt Cassel have really hurt the Chiefs, but one position Kansas City appears to be set at is cornerback. Brandon Flowers and company were all over Pittsburgh's shifty wideouts, as Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace were both held to just two catches each. (It didn't help that the latter had a pair of drops, but I suppose even superstars get a mulligan every now and then.) In particular, Kansas City enjoyed a ton of success in their substitution packages, especially zone coverage: they held Roethlisberger to a paltry 3-of-11 on third down.
- That said, Pittsburgh's offensive line played very well in pass protection. Left tackle Max Starks did just a good enough job against Tamba Hali off the edge (although he probably got away with a few holds) and the rest of the line was solid, despite an early injury to center Maurkice Pouncey and the game of musical chairs in the lineup that precipitated. It helped that Roethlisberger's pocket presence and ability to go through his progressions were both outrageously good. Even though his wideouts were locked up all night, the quarterback found running backs in the flats on one third of his completions, which is really indicative of his patience and ability to avoid pressure. And let's just talk about the game's only touchdown, a two-yard pass (video) to rookie tight end Weslye Saunders. This is one of the best plays we've seen from Roethlisberger all season. His quick sidestep to avoid the pass rush bought him the extra half-second necessary to find Saunders, who displayed beautiful footwork in the back of the end zone. Roethlisberger's lone interception of the evening, however, was a real head-scratcher. Chiefs safety Travis Daniels came over to help on an outside route and picked the ball off, but Roethlisberger's decision would've been dubious even without safety help, as his receiver was a step behind man coverage against the cornerback.
- Here's a hilarious sequence you won't see very often. Left tackle Brandon Albert gets dinged on a play in the fourth quarter, Jared Gaither arrives in relief, gets penalized for a false start on the next play, then goes back to the bench as Albert returns. I'm trying to think of an equivalent scenario in my own workplace, but it's tough. Maybe showing up for a meeting ten minutes late, farting audibly, then leaving?
- There's all kinds of sample size issues with what I'm about to say, but it really seems like Isaac Redman is a better back than Rashard Mendenhall. Sure, Redman doesn't have the first-round pedigree and Mendenhall's under contract for another year anyway—but in just about every phase of the game, the understudy crushes the starter in "the eye test."
- You can't really get on Roethlisberger for his one interception when you look at the junk his counterpart, Palko, was chucking all night. The first Palko pick of the evening was just inexplicably bad—a complete gift to Steelers corner Ike Talyor, who had time to plant his feet and wait for the ball to get there. (Pretty nifty run-back by Taylor to close out the first quarter, too.) Ryan Mundy's interception a few players later was equally atrocious, as Palko rolled left, then flung a wounded duck in the safety's direction. After watching that play five or six times, I still have no idea what Palko saw in the coverage. On Kansas City's final drive, Pittsburgh threw Palko a curve ball by showing blitz, then dropping everyone into zone coverage. There seemed to be a miscommunication between Palko and his leading receiver, Dwayne Bowe, who called for the ball in a way that suggested he might go deep. Nonetheless, Palko still threw into quintuple coverage —most NFL coaches agree this is a bad thing—so I'm not really sure what kind of option route his receiver could even run to justify Palko's decision. Palko could've scrambled upfield for 10-15 yards, spiked it, and used the remaining 20 seconds to try to find the end zone. After all, the Chiefs still had a timeout, and it was first down. No need to wax Favrean in that situation.
That's all for now. A win is a win is a win. Stay tuned this week as we cover the Steelers' impending divisional matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.