The opinions will vary greatly on this, but the Steelers second round playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs was a beautifully played football game. For reasons that might not be readily apparent, this might have been the most complete game the Steelers have played all season, so let’s ignore the fact that the Steelers were kept out of the endzone and focus on what allowed them to win inspite of it. To go into such a hostile environment as Kansas City, play disciplined football and come out with a win, especially in the playoffs, is no small feat and that’s exactly what the Steelers did. In all three phases of the game, they were able to execute their game plan with efficiency and discipline in what just might be the loudest venue in the NFL.
Steelers move the ball on offense:
Even with the Chiefs missing several starters on defense, they still possessed a potent pass rush, and players capable of making splash plays. To offset that pass rush, the Steelers attacked early and often, with LeVeon Bell, who finished the game with 170 yards on 3o carries. To mix things up a little, Ben Roethlisberger mixed in 6 passes to Antonio Brown for 108 yards, including a 52 yard ball that he dropped in over linebacker Justin Houston who unfortunately found himself coveraging the league’s best receiver. While Bell was the story on offense with his second straight record breaking performance, it was 2nd year tight end Jesse James who may have stepped up the most.
The Outlaw’s 5 catch 83 yard performance played an instrumental role in the Steelers 18-16 win, and represents his tremendous growth throughout the season. While the offense may have never found the endzone, they nevertheless possessed the ball for 34:13 and rolled up 389 yards in total offense. It’s not very often that the Steelers offense is held without a touchdown, but that is not an indictment against the Steelers so much as it is a credit to the Chiefs defense. The offense did what they had to do to win which is all that really matters at the end of the day.
Defense stifles Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill:
In the midst of the Steelers four game losing streak, the defense was saddled with inexperience and injuries. They looked almost helpless just making a simple tackle, and could barely mount a pass rush or defend against the average tight end. Fast forward to Sunday and you saw a unit that that looks to have mastered all the issues that had nearly sunk the Steelers season by the middle of November. Since the end of week 9, the Steelers have fielded one of the best defenses in the league, and it would serve them well one of the NFL’s most hostile environments.
Facing a significant test in the form of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and versatile RB/WR/KR Tyreek Hill, the Steelers defense stood tall, holding two of the Chiefs most valuable weapons to 125 yards on 12 touches. Ross Cockrell did a nice job on Kelce, evidently getting into his head as well. Late in the game, being unable to escape Cockrell’s tight coverage on a crossing route, Kelce came back and shoved him to the ground, drawing a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Mike Mitchell’s reputation for being a big hitter more than likely played a role in Travis Kelce dropping a big pass down near the goal line early in the third quarter.
Leading the NFL in sacks since week 9, the Steelers may have only sacked Alex Smith once, but they harassed him plenty nonetheless. James Harrison recorded the Steelers lone sack, but the most important pressure he got resulted in a holding call against the Chiefs left tackle that took the game tying 2 point conversion off the board. The second two point conversion attempt from the 12 yard line failed, and preserved the Steelers win. Had Harrison not been held, he would have gotten to Smith and snuffed out the first attempt himself. What makes this win so satisfying, is that it was the defense that stepped up and preserved the win in a game that the offense couldn’t quite put away.
Chris Boswell and special teams were front and center:
What else can be said about the Wizard of Boz that hasn’t already been said? How about this? Offenses may win games, but Chris Boswell gets you to AFC Championship games. Boswell set an NFL postseason record in KC with six field goals, the only points the Steelers would score, which also has to be some sort of record. With his performance, Boswell has earned the right to be named as an official member of the Killer B’s.
One of the biggest challenges that the Steelers faced heading into the game was if the kick coverage teams could contain Tyreek Hill. This much maligned phase of the teams special teams unit took offense to the doubters and shut Hill down, holding him to 72 yards on 4 returns. In the biggest game of the year to date, the kick coverage team came up with their best performance of the year.
Yeah, the Steelers may not have breached the goal line in this game, but it is everything else they were able to accomplish that made this such a great game. All three phases of the team contributed to this win for the first time this season. The Steelers became a complete team on Sunday, just in time for their trip to New England. No longer is it necessary for the offense to carry the Steelers to a win. No longer does the offense have to be perfect. The defense has been building momentum for weeks now, and it has finally carried over the kick coverage team. Though the Steelers won’t be the favorites ahead of the AFC Championship game in New England, they are now a complete team and are the only team equipped to beat the reigning NFL Champions in their own building.