Even Cinderella had to be home by midnight. The clock struck twelve yesterday for the Pittsburgh Steelers, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-13 in quarterback Landry Jones first NFL start. Some of you might think this metaphor is directed at Jones who a week after playing nearly flawlessly committed three costly turnovers. It isn’t.
Nope, the coach that turned back into the pumpkin yesterday was the Steelers defense. Going into the year, nobody wondered how good they could be but rather if they could not be bad enough for the offense to overcome. Through the first six weeks they were a pleasant surprise, if not winning games then certainly being more of a help than a hindrance. Yesterday, that all went bye-bye.
Which isn’t to excuse Jones. The results of his first start were decidedly mixed. The Ghost of Michael Vick gave us very little although credit him for taking care of the football. You can make excuses for Jones miscues – the first INT, a terrible throw into triple coverage, led to a missed field goal while his second pick was juggled by Antonio “Gimme The Ball” Brown – but the bottom line is those throws had to be better. And in the post-game young Landry looked like he had just watched someone kick his dog so he clearly took this loss to heart.
Meanwhile, the team around him didn’t exactly put him in position to succeed. Let’s start with Todd Haley, whose playcalling was somewhat mystifying. Vick didn’t know the playbook and couldn’t throw yet they open the offense up with him. Jones comes in, shows he can make plays, so Haley responds by turning the clock back to 1995. Jones went over an entire quarter between pass attempts yesterday which doesn’t do much for your confidence or rhythm.
At times the offense showed signs of life with Le’Veon Bell finally getting loose for 121 yards on the afternoon. One might even argue the turning point of the game came when he busted off a 42 yard run but couldn’t quite kick it to second gear before getting tackled short of the goal line. Two plays and a sack later, the Steelers were settling for another Chris Boswell field goal. I’m not faulting Bell for not doing more, I am saying when you’re playing with your third QB, stars need to be stars.
Antonio Brown probably slept well last night since all his whining led to him getting fed the ball on a consistent basis. He did respond by snagging 6 receptions for 124 yards. A couple of his catches, particularly the 41 yard bomb which set up an eventual TD pass to a wide open Martavis Bryant, were pretty spectacular in nature. However, I wonder how much his complaining affected the game plan as the first INT was Jones trying to force the ball to him and the lack of production from secondary options was surprising. Most notable was Heath Miller, who did not register a single catch for the first time in 110 consecutive games.
Funny how we never heard about that streak, huh? It’s almost like Heath cares more about winning than his stats. Weird, right AB?
Offensive issues aside, this game was definitely on the defense. They hung tough in the first half, giving up long drives but holding the Chiefs to four field goals. However, after the Steelers finally came to life and put up 10 straight points to cut the lead to three, the D proceeded to completely fold like a cheap lawn chair. Faced with a third down deep in their own end, Alex Smith hit TE Travis Kelce for a 26 yard dagger over the middle. On the very next play, back-up RB Charcandrick West ripped off a 36 yard run of his own to go over 100 for the first time in his career. Smith eventually found Chris Conley in the end zone and it was all over.
The Steelers D had been giving up a lot of yardage but finding ways to limit the damage. Yesterday, not so much. What’s worse, the yards they gave up came at the hands of pretty explosive San Diego and Arizona offenses. The Chiefs were playing without Jamaal Charles and without Jeremy Maclin yet they let game manager Smith and a bunch of back-ups go up and down the field on them. Particularly galling was the 100 yard rushing performance from a guy who had never topped 50 in his career. There were so many missed tackles yesterday where a third and long became either third and short or a first down simply because somebody couldn’t wrap up. After seemingly turning a corner, the Steelers D is once again a big question mark.
Anyway, there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. The Black and Gold sit at 4-3 after going 2-2 in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence. If I had a nickel for every person who said “I’ll take 2-2 without Ben” the past two weeks, I’d be able to afford one of those cool-ass Teslas. I suppose it’s true but the fact the two losses were both games the team very easily could have won – or, in the case of the Baltimore game, should definitely have won – make it seem disappointing. And when you’re chasing an undefeated juggernaut every game matters. The Steelers face that undefeated juggernaut next Sunday. Let’s hope they bring their A game (and maybe that guy who wears #7).