ReFo: Chiefs @ Steelers, Week 10
In a surprisingly close fought game, the Steelers defense just about did enough to overcome a plucky Chiefs outfit. Ben Stockwell breaks it down.
ReFo: Chiefs @ Steelers, Week 10
This season has been a torrid one for Matt Cassel but last night he was turnover free for sixty minutes of football. If games ended in ties at the end of regulation he would have been lauded a hero for getting the Chiefs something from the clash with an exceptional fourth-down conversion at the end of the game. However, games go to overtime and in the fifth stanza Cassel spurned the chance to further cement his hero status for the week, turning villain as Lawrence Timmons and Shaun Suisham ensured a much-needed victory for the black and gold.
This was the type of game that allows the Steelers to sneak under the radar around this time of season before launching into a customary late-season spurt toward the postseason. Sneaking past a team like the Chiefs is wholly unconvincing, but the most important thing was that they got the win and maintained the pressure on the Ravens in the AFC North.
The Steelers now have a short week to get ready for the visit of the Ravens on Sunday night. Here is a look back at a few of the notable performances that tilted this tight game away from the Chiefs.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Rolling to the Right
The performance of Jeff Allen in Oakland a fortnight ago is the biggest question mark hanging over the Chiefs’ offensive line, so it is of little surprise that the Chiefs focused their running attack and yielded a fair deal of success from running right. To that side the Chiefs are set up with a trio of strong run blockers, and with the inconsistent Jon Asamoah finding some form last night (+2.6) the Chiefs were able to average 4.7 yards per carry on rushes to the right of Ryan Lilja. New right tackle Eric Winston had the highest run block grade of the three (+2.6) and, though he had a couple of errors in pass protection, he was consistent and at times dominant as a run blocker. Jamaal Charles collected 46 yards on eight carries, including his touchdown, rushing to either side of Winston.
Houston proves a point
In the past few weeks we have been baffled by the Chiefs’ deployment of Justin Houston. For only the second time in the past four games Houston rushed the passer more often than he dropped into coverage and responded with a tremendously productive day (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu). Houston is not just a pure pass rusher, he is one of the few true all-rounders in the league, but the Chiefs have made poor use of his skill as a pass rusher this season. His all-around game was in evidence this week adding a further three stops to his sack, while allowing only a solitary completion for 6 yards on two targets into his coverage. His performance level has fluctuated this season with how he has been deployed and Chiefs fans will be hoping that the appointment of Gary Gibbs as defensive coordinator will spark more consistent usage and performance as a result.
One man wrecking crew
Whether it is the way the Chiefs’ defense is set up or simply how good a player Derrick Johnson, is there is no doubt that he carries the inside linebacker pairing for the Chiefs. In recent seasons Johnson has had a tendency to take over a game in run defense, and this was one of those games as the former Texas Longhorn victimized the Steelers’ run defense to the tune of eight stops. Johnson recorded a defensive stop on more than a quarter of the run snaps he was on the field for, a simply ludicrous number for a starting linebacker to achieve. Also flashing his playmaking ability, he force d a fumble from Isaac Redman late in the first quarter to set up a two-score lead for the Chiefs early in the following quarter. The Chiefs are left with a conundrum at inside linebacker, clearly they can upgrade on Jovan Belcher but the pairing seems to work for them. Do you mess with that trying to put two good players next to each other?
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
A Game of Two Halves for Pouncey
This was a very busy game for Pouncey in terms of one-on-one blocks, and he responded with a back and forth battle against the Chiefs’ nose tackles. Pouncey was able to make more than his fair share of blocks on Dontari Poe in the first half as the Steelers set up early with some lateral movement in their running game, which allowed Pouncey to use his athleticism to work to seal the Chiefs’ big bodies. However, later in the game the Steelers abandoned this for some reason and put Pouncey into some distinctly unfavorable situations, such as asking him to handle Dontari Poe one-on-one for stretches of the second half on straight ahead runs up the middle.
As highly as you might think of Pouncey, this simply is not a matchup that he is set up to win and unsurprisingly he didn’t, struggling to get movement from Poe one-on-one on a number of carries in the fourth quarter. The Steelers’ weakness at guard in recent seasons usually sees Pouncey busy helping on double teams in the run game, but against the Chiefs he was left one-on-one with nose tackles more often and acquitted himself well in certain situations, but the Steelers will need to review their thinking of how well he can block big bodies on straight ahead runs. There aren’t many centers that can make that sort of block consistently.
Keisel Drives the Defense
Against the Chiefs’ inconsistent and inefficient offense the Steelers struggled to put up the sort of defensive numbers that you often associate with them, and might have expected against a turnover-prone unit. The Chiefs’ pair of top line tackles kept both Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison quiet to the outside, so it was left to the interior defense to do much of the work this week. Veteran RE Brett Keisel did just that, capitalizing on a favorable matchup with Jeff Allen and shrugging off the attention of Branden Albert when the Chiefs attempted to take care of him from the outside. Keisel got rolling from the Chiefs’ first drive, registering a sack and a stop for no gain in the running game on consecutive snaps to force a punt after one first down. After that, Keisel exploded back into life in the second half with a trio of hurries, a pair of hits and a second sack cleaning up a play that saw Cassel flushed up through the pocket. Keisel even got the slightest of touches to disrupt the game-clinching interception in overtime, underlining his contribution to the Steelers’ defensive effort in this game.
Life Without Roethlisberger?
We saw enough quarterback injuries on Sunday to last a month, but we weren’t done with them yet and with early reports suggesting that Ben Roethlisberger could be out for a number of weeks there will be a nervous wait in Pittsburgh for official results of scans on their starting quarterback’s shoulder. Prior to injury Roethlisberger was solid, if unspectacular, hitting on a few throws and slowly building into the game before being knocked out. His replacement Byron Leftwich was, as ever, inconsistent and had issues with accuracy and timing that we have become all too accustomed to seeing from the former first-round pick. There were a couple of big plays over the middle of the field, but his two intermediate completions accounted for 53 of his 73 passing yards as he simply struggled to get the ball to his playmakers and overshot a couple of deep balls. Squeaking past the Chiefs is cause for enough concern for Pittsburgh, needing to play Leftwich for an extended period of time will only add to that concern and test their ability to win close games. However, would it really be the week of a Steelers-Ravens game without uncertainty over the status of Roethlisberger due to injury?
– Steeler LE Ziggy Hood (+0.9) earned his first positive overall grade for a single game since Pittsburgh’s Week 7 victory in Arizona last season.
– Short passing was not a forté for Matt Cassel this week. On passes between the line of scrimmage and 9 yards deep he was an entirely disappointing 3 of 9 for 24 yards.
– This game marked the second week in a row that James Harrison was blanked as a pass rusher. Prior to this stretch he had only been blanked in a single game once since the start of the 2008 season; Week 14 2010.
A crucial presence throughout the game in the Steelers’ defense Brett Keisel once again served to point out that this defense is not all about the linebackers.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.