By Tyler Sweet
The Steelers came out tonight and were ready to go. In front of a home crowd, they were hitting hard, and played very aggressive. The outcome may not have been what they were looking for, but the preseason is all about improvements.
1st Team Offense
The first team offense knew they had a lot to prove, and they performed much better than they had all preseason. Although the pass protection was not perfect, Ben was not taking shots like he had been in the previous two games. Todd Haley clearly wanted to throw the ball early to establish some sort of rythm between Ben and his receivers which they have been lacking. Ben connected with 7 different receivers in the first half, completing 13 of 19 for 166 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown came when Roethlisberger avoided the pass rush and scrambled to find a wide open Jonathan Dwyer on the far side of the field. The offense utilized the play action tonight to keep the defense honest and give Ben enough time to find the open receivers down field. The Steelers were aggressive in play calling tonight, throwing several deep balls and running end arounds. Aggressive is good, but without a run game to compliment the pass, the Steelers may run into some problems. Passing on 3 straight plays inside the Chiefs 10 may be a little too aggressive for my liking. It was VERY refreshing and assuring to see the offense moving the ball and putting point on the board against a tough Kansas City defense tonight.
Overall 1st Team Offense Grade: B+
1st Team Defense
The starting defensive unit continued to impress this preseason. The entire unit came out very fast and ready to hit. Troy Polamalu looked fantastic, dancing around the line of scrimmage and was involved in nearly every defensive play. Troy had a couple hard hits and recovered a fumble in the 3rd quarter. Cortez Allen made his preseason debut and made an impact with some hard hits of his own. The defense held tough for most of the first half and gave up very few big plays.
When the defensive line failed to put pressure on Alex Smith, allowing him time to scan the field, he made the defense pay for it. For the third time in as many games, William Gay was beat in the endzone for a touchdown. A solid performance by the defense once again, but would like to see more pressure from the defensive line and consistent secondary play.
Overall 1st Team Defense Grade: B+
With Le’Veon Bell out, newly acquired running back Felix Jones got plenty of action. Jones looked good and led the Steelers in rushing with 29 yards on 8 carries. Bruce Gradkowski was effective but missed several opportunities to hit open receivers. Markus Wheaton used his tremendous speed and blew by two defenders for a 34 yard touchdown catch from Gradkowski. The backup offensive unit had the opportunity late in regulation to conduct a game winning drive and was forced to punt. Nothing to go crazy over from this unit besides Wheaton, who is working his way to becoming a key part of the Steelers offensive attack.
Overall Backup Offensive Grade: C
The backup defensive unit was very streaky tonight. They had moments where they looked great, and then they would allow a 3rd and long conversion. Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas made a couple big plays late in the game, including a diving pass deflection on 4th down to force a turnover. With under a minute left in regulation, the Steelers had three straight sacks by Alan Baxter, Cameron Heyward, and Kion Wilson to ultimately send the game to overtime. The defense played mediocre, however the rushing ability of Chase Daniel really hurt the Steelers. Chase Daniel ended the game with 5 rushes for 45 yards and it seemed as though every time the rush got to him, he managed to get out and run for a first down. Some good moments mixed with some big plays given up.
Overall Backup Defensive Grade: D+
As I had mentioned in my game preview, the Chiefs wanted to come out and play an “attacking” style of special teams play to take advantage of the Steelers weakness. The beginning of the game looked promising as the Kansas City returners were being extra aggressive and taking the ball out deep in their own endzone, resulting in a short field for their offense. Ultimately however, the weak special teams came back to haunt the Steelers when the Chiefs blocked a Shaun Suisham field goal attempt and later returned a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown. Special teams was the downfall of the Steelers again. Danny Smith seemed to be a good fit for the Steelers as special teams coordinator, but at this point, I would be surprised if he finishes the season in Pittsburgh. Another bad performance by special teams and another loss.
Overall Special Teams Grade: F
The first team offensive and defensive units looked impressive tonight and gave hope to Steeler Nation that this team may in fact contend for a playoff spot in the AFC. The bad part, is our special teams unit may be the worst in the NFL right now. If special teams don’t improve, they will cost the Steelers a game or two. A two game swing in the NFL is the difference between a playoff run, and watching the playoffs from home.