ReFo: KC @ PIT, Preseason WK 3
Week 3 of preseason is typically when teams will do their regular season “dress rehearsal”. Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs certainly bought into that ethos and took it a step further last night. The Chiefs kicked a late field goal to send a preseason game into overtime before grinding out the first drive of the extra period for a winning score, as Chase Daniel found Rico Richardson for a 15-yard game-winning touchdown.
As I stated in my Re-Focused article for the Ravens versus Panthers encounter from Thursday, preseason is what you take from it and both coaching staffs will have positives and teaching points to take forward from this game on both sides of the ball. For the Steelers, the offensive line had some shaky moments once again but Ben Roethlisberger looked in mid-season form — he was calm in spite of a disrupted pocket and able to make good decisions under pressure with the first-team offense. Perhaps the biggest positive for the Steelers came on the defensive line where a number of players put their hand up for regular season playing time.
On the other side of the field, the Chiefs will have been pleased to see their backups mount both game-tying and game-winning drives, but among the starters they got strong displays from the likes of Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe, and Tamba Hali, a front seven grouping that will be crucial in helping the Chiefs move forward this season.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Strong Defense Up Front
So, where better to start than with the Chiefs’ front seven. For a team that has spent such a high number of draft picks, and high picks at that, on their defensive front seven they didn’t get anywhere near the sort of performances required and expected from them last season. However, with the change of coaching staff Chiefs’ fans will be hoping that this is a season for change, and on last night’s evidence the likes of Tyson Jackson (+3.5 run defense) and Dontari Poe (+1.3 run defense) are ready for much better years this fall. Poe was plenty busy last night, registering four tackles (two stops), and Jackson contributed two run stops as well. Poe and Jackson had plenty of fun against the right side of the Steelers’ offensive line, and that set up Derrick Johnson (+3.0) who had a strong night all-around with four stops across his run defense and pass coverage, and even added a sack into the mix. With Tamba Hali adding five pressures (1 Ht, 4 Hu) this is precisely the sort of form the Chiefs need to see as they look for improvements in 2013.
The biggest question for Alex Smith coming to Kansas City was whether he could translate the efficient, turnover-free football that he was producing in San Francisco’s run-first offense to Andy Reid’s often pass-happy offense. If you check Smith’s passing map, not only from this game but from preseason as a whole, then things don’t look terribly different in terms of Smith’s aim and efficiency, even if the volume might increase. Thus far in preseason Smith has targeted only two passes more than 20 yards downfield (both incompletions) and neither of those were in his 24 targeted passes last night in Pittsburgh. While Smith may never be a difference-making quarterback, and he might never have the run of form that set Joe Flacco up with a Super Bowl ring and a $100 million dollar contract, he can provide an upgrade, comfortably, on Matt Cassel. Last night Smith was 12 of 15 on short passes (+0.3), taking his preseason totals to 21 of 27 (+1.8). Above average and solid will be a big step in the right direction at quarterback for the Chiefs.
Jones and Zombo State Their Case
Once the dress rehearsal is done for the starters, preseason moves on to people fighting for a job, and one of the battles we saw play out on Kansas City’s defense was at outside linebacker. Playing behind Justin Houston and Tamba Hali neither Frank Zombo nor Edgar Jones is going to see a great deal of playing time unless one of the Chiefs’ big stars get hurt, but there are jobs to be won here. Both excelled in different areas in this game, with former Packer Zombo showing his ability to rush the passer (+1.8 pass rushing), while former Raven Jones put in a strong showing as a run defender (+2.3). Each played 35 snaps, with Zombo netting four pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 2 Hu), while Jones picked up three stops in run defense. The only differentiator on special teams was Zombo collecting a holding penalty in the first quarter. There may be a roster spot for both, but these guys will be fighting hard to be the next man up should anything happen to Houston or Hali.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Changing of the Guard on Defense?
The departure of James Harrison from the Steelers’ defense could yet be the signal of a big change in where the power lies in that unit. For so long Steeler defenses have been built around pressure off the edge, but with Harrison’s departure you may start to see some bigger performances coming from the defensive line. As a group, the Steelers got 11 pressures (3 Sk, 1 Ht, 7 Hu) from their outside linebackers, while their defensive line contributed 13 (2 Sk, 3 Ht, 8 Hu), led by Cameron Heyward (1 Sk, 2 Ht, 4 Hu) who put in his strongest display (+3.3) of preseason. Lamarr Woodley hasn’t been in the best form in recent seasons, while Jason Worlids and Jarvis Jones don’t appear ready to provide the amount of pressure that Woodley used to do alongside Harrison in the Steelers’ best years. Adding to the improved penetration up front in the passing game Steve McLendon (+2.3 run defense) and Brett Keisel (+3.5 run defense) both had strong days in run defense helping to bottle up Jamaal Charles who struggled to make his presence known in the game. McLendon in particular was able to consistently control Rodney Hudson in the middle of the line and looks ready to shine as Casey Hampton’s replacement.
Roethlisberger Looking to Hit the Ground Running
While Joe Flacco may have picked up his Super Bowl and MVP trophy in February there should still be no doubt who the best quarterback in the AFC North is — it’s still Ben Roethlisberger. One strong run of form doesn’t overturn the established order of reckoning, and Roethlisberger is showing in preseason that he’s ready to make a fast start to the regular season. Even though his offensive line has looked as sketchy as ever in front of him (though this was a much improved performance over Monday’s game in Washington), Roethlisberger has looked calm under pressure, showing his unerring ability to make plays when the heat is on. Last night Roethlisberger made his best plays under pressure, going 4 of 4 for 94 yards and a touchdown (earning a perfect NFL passer rating) when he was pressured, compared to 9 of 15 for 72 yards (72.1 NFL passer rating) when he wasn’t pressured. His +6.2 preseason passer grade is bettered only by Drew Brees. Even if Roethlisberger doesn’t feature in the preseason finale on Thursday he looks well warmed up for the Steelers’ regular season opener at home to the Titans.
The injury to Le’Veon Bell in Washington on Monday night left the Steelers with one of the tougher decisions to make at running back in the entire league. All reports out of Steeler training camp were that Bell was looking like an every-down back and putting everyone else behind him. Without him, and with Isaac Redman featuring on only two snaps so far in preseason, the Steelers don’t have an obvious lead back. Four backs got carries last night and none really stood out, or were given much opportunity to do so by the offensive line. New acquisition Felix Jones paced the team with eight carries alongside Jonathan Dwyer, but neither back was able to make a great deal happen — Dwyer did break off a 13-yard carry, but it was one of only two longer than 10 yards for the Steelers all night. With a total team run block grade of -19.7 thus far in preseason, and no running back standing out as being able to rise above that effort, expect the Steelers to be very pass oriented at the start of the regular season.
– A better showing from Eric Fisher this week, as the No. 1 overall pick played a preseason high 39 snaps, surrendered only one hurry, and earned a +0.9 overall grade.
– When Jon Asamoah left after seven snaps with a calf strain, Geoff Schwartz got his chance to work with the first-team and recorded 32 snaps at right guard, before playing 41 snaps at right tackle with the second-team.
– With five missed tackles last night the Steelers’ defense has missed only 11 in total this preseason. Most other defenses have missed that many in a single game.
PFF Game Ball
The fortunes of the entire franchise rest heavily on Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulders, and on this preseason showing he looks ready to lead the fight for the Steelers this season.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben