PIT-KC grades: Running game powers Steelers to AFC title game

Pittsburgh's offensive line grades very well in close win, while Chiefs struggle on offense despite solid game from QB Alex Smith.

| 4 months ago
(Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

(Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

PIT-KC grades: Running game powers Steelers to AFC title game

Pittsburgh Steelers 18, Kansas City Chiefs 16

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Pittsburgh’s 18-16 Divisional Round playoff win over Kansas City, which earned the Steelers a berth in the AFC championship game against New England:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback grade: Ben Roethlisberger, 80.5

Roethlisberger struggles on third downs — until it matters most

Seven different Steelers drives ended in Chiefs territory, with all six of their failed third-down conversions coming via pass plays. On the most important third down of the game, though, Ben Roethlisberger delivered the game-clinching conversion on a shallow crosser to Antonio Brown. The game plan was ultra-conservative, and Roethlisberger did his part with no turnover-worthy throws to speak of.


Top offensive grades:

LG Ramon Foster, 85.8

LT Alejandro Villanueva, 85.5

RT Marcus Gilbert, 83.6

RG David DeCastro, 83.0

TE Jesse James, 77.5

Steelers put together one of most impressive O-line performances of season

On 32 passing snaps Sunday, the Steelers offensive line combined to allow a paltry two pressures all day long. Left guard Ramon Foster, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and right tackle Marcus Gilbert didn’t allow a single pressure, while center Mike Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro allowed one a piece. It was one of the most impressive offensive line performances of the entire season, as they also paved the way for a ridiculous 81 yards before contact for Le’Veon Bell.

Top defensive grades:

LB Ryan Shazier, 82.5

CB Artie Burns, 80.0

OLB Bud Dupree, 78.1

OLB James Harrison, 75.9

S Sean Davis, 73.6

Steelers overcome their lack of pass rush

The Pittsburgh front-seven did not have a lot of success pressuring Alex Smith. Out of his 37 dropbacks, Smith was under pressure just eight times. However, the Steelers kept Smith from completing a single pass when under pressure, including a handful of throwaways. James Harrison had the most success, with one sack, one hit, and three hurries on the night. Rookie safety Sean Davis overcame a bad penalty on the Chiefs’ final drive to break up the pass on the second two-point conversion and preserve the Steelers’ lead.

Kansas City Chiefs

Quarterback grade: Alex Smith, 82.4

Smith rarely under pressure

Alex Smith took a few more deep shots down the field than he averaged over the regular season. He was off-target on a few, but also had a couple of well-placed ones, including a deep pass to tight end Travis Kelce that was dropped. He also had a few nice intermediate throws, but the majority of the Chiefs’ passing game revolved around the line of scrimmage, as usual. Nearly one-third of his completions came on passes thrown behind the line scrimmage, and 16 of 29 targeted passes were under 10 yards downfield.

smith (1)

Top offensive grades:

QB Alex Smith, 82.4

RT Mitchell Schwartz, 81.8

RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 79.3

LT Eric Fisher, 72.0

TE Travis Kelce, 67.9

Offense fails to outscore touchdown-less Steelers

Anytime the opposing team is held without a touchdown, it gives you a pretty good shot at winning. However, Kansas City managed just three scores on the night, and a disastrous holding penalty by LT Eric Fisher on the successful two-point conversion hurt the Chiefs’ chances of tying it up at the end. Tight end Travis Kelce finished the game with five catches for 77 yards, but he disappeared for long stretches of time and his dropped pass would have put the Chiefs in the red zone, and instead they never got past the 30-yard line on that drive. Wideouts Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson also dropped passes, and the former had just two catches for 28 yards. Kansas City did OK when running the ball, but Spencer Ware was only given eight carries and Tyreek Hill three. They couldn’t sustain drives in the first half, and when they could later in the game, they still abandoned the run.

Top defensive grades:

LB Ramik Wilson, 83.9

CB Marcus Peters, 82.5

CB Steven Nelson, 82.0

CB Terrance Mitchell, 76.3

OLB Frank Zombo, 74.8

Feeling the loss of Derrick Johnson

One can’t help but wonder if things would have gone differently if Kansas City’s veteran linebacker was still healthy. Terrance Smith was a complete non-factor after getting bumped up the depth chart. He was walked off the line of scrimmage multiple times by the Steelers’ interior linemen. Ramik Wilson played well in his stead, registering five stops, but even he got sealed out multiple times at the second level, creating big plays.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player by subscribing to Player Grades.

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • Nelson Cobb

    How many drops did KC have?? Seemed as if they were dropping every other pass.

    • DaStrongSKRAWN

      Seems as though Kelce was dropping every pass

  • 42DAHA

    The steelers o line dominated. I expected them to do so run blocking but the pass blocking was incredible. Didn’t even get close to Ben. Poe against the run nowadays is worthless, clueless as to what happened to him. 346 lbs going backwards every single play. Great game. I think its reasonable to say the Chiefs have hit their ceiling as a team with Alex Smith at qb. 16 points is the only thing to blame here.

  • Ryan Whelchel

    I’m confused as to why Bell gets the game ball. Including Ben, theres at least 6 players on the steelers listed as top performers on offense. Sounds like the ball should have gone to the entire O-line