By Jeremy Hritz
Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost in overtime 26-20 to the Kansas City Chiefs, but they were much improved.
I couldn’t help to have bad memories of last year’s game against KC in Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger suffered his weird rib/shoulder/aorta injury. I had my fingers crossed all night, and if you ever tried typing that way, it’s damn hard. Thankfully it paid off, and Ben made it through just fine.
As far as Ben was concerned, he looked in midseason form, and he was his usual improvising-self, moving around in the pocket to make plays. He finished the night 13 of 19 for 166 yards with a touchdown pass to Jonathan Dwyer. It would have been two touchdowns for Ben had Emmanuel Sanders had been able to hold on to a deep pass in the end zone. Roethlisberger connected deep on a 49-yard pass to Antonio Brown early in the game, and if he would have led him a little more, it may have gone for a TD. Overall, a good night for the Steelers franchise QB.
The offensive line had a much better performance than they did against the Giants and the Redskins. However, their performance still allowed for two sacks, and they did not generate much in the run game. The same holds true for the second team offensive line. They still need to get better in all phases of their game.
Dwyer carried the ball eight times for 25 yards, but he was reminiscent of Rashard Mendenhall and danced too much rather than hitting the hole. Dwyer needs to be more decisive if he is to help the Steelers. That being said, he also caught three passes for 20 yards, including the 13 yard touchdown from Roethlisberger. Dwyer also struggled in pass protection.
Felix Jones flashed some shiftiness and a burst that may not only earn him a spot on the team, but also may get him some carries in the opener against he Titans in the event that Le’Veon Bell is still not back from injury, which looks like will be the case. Jones carried eight times for 29 yards, and while that doesn’t jump off of the page, for only being with the team for a day, he had a decent performance. It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds with Jones moving forward.
God bless Baron Batch. He was a great story two years ago, but he no longer has a place on this team. He lacks the explosiveness to be an effective contributor to the team, and that was evident against the Chiefs.
Brown was solid, as mentioned earlier, and he finished the night with three catches for 61 yards. He looks poised to have an outstanding season in 2013. He will be Ben’s go-to target.
Markus Wheaton continues to look like the real deal, and it was a night of firsts for him as he caught his first pass from Ben Roethlisberger, and he caught his first touchdown, for 34 yards, from Bruce Gradkowski. He finished the night with three catches for 54 yards. Wheaton looks like a technician in his game, and you have to think that the coaching staff will find a way to work him into the offense once the regular season starts.
Jerricho Cotchery had a nice game as well, catching two balls for 32 yards, including one for a nice third down conversion.
Derek Moye continued to make his case to make the roster by catching three balls for 41 yards. He continued to show that he is tough and fights for yards after the catch. It is that no quit attitude that will earn him a spot on the team.
Defensively, the team looked solid.
Let’s start with Jarvis Jones. I would be very, very surprised if he is not the starter the opening week against the Titans. He was better this week than he was against the Redskins, and he has shown that he has the capability to continuously improve. While he didn’t record a sack, he set the edge nicely, applied pressure, made a nice special teams tackle, and had an interception invalidated by a pass interference call. He adds a dimension of explosiveness that has been missing from the defense, and one that cannot be provided by Jason Worilds. Jones looks to be an animal, and if he continues to get better every week, he can be a force this year on the defense. Worilds in comparison simply looked too slow.
Troy Polamalu continues to look explosive and violent, and he absolutely crushed Alex Smith. While he got penalized for the hit, it showed that Polamalu is healthy and ready to make an impact in the new season. Kudos to Troy as well for his recovery on a forced fumble by Brett Keisel.
Cortez Allen was strong in his fundamentals and was near flawless in his tackling. He looks to be fully recovered from his surgery, and as he progresses and continues to round into form, he could be poised for a big season.
Lawrence Timmons was an absolute beast, and if he is not named to the Pro Bowl this season, then something is amiss. Timmons was everywhere on the field tonight, and he finished the game with four tackles and one assist.
There was a Ziggy Hood sighting tonight, and he recorded three tackles and a sack.
Steve McLendon was powerful, as he controlled the line of scrimmage and was a force in the running game, though he didn’t record a tackle.
William Gay got beat. Again. Why not give a one of the younger guys a shot?
Props to Alan Baxter for recording two sacks and one forced fumble. Makes the trade of Adrian Robinson look like a good move. Though he had a dumb late hit call, his playmaking was laudable.
Vince Williams has great energy on the field. His pass breakup on a third and 18 was outstanding, but his horse collar penalty was not.
Shamarko Thomas continued to look good, while Robert Golden did not, and he gave up the game winning touchdown reception.
Special teams need work moving forward, as the Steelers cannot afford to give up kickoff returns for TDs or blocked field goals. The only bright spot was Reggie Dunn who had a kickoff return for 45 yards. I’d like to see him get more work next week, and if he continues to do the same, the Steelers have to seriously consider him for the roster. You cannot underestimate field position off of returns.
The Steelers also have to work on playing mistake-free football as tonight they had nine penalties for 98 yards. That cannot happen if the Steelers are going to be better than 8-8.
While they lost, the Steelers showed much improvement from their first two contests, and now it is just a matter of discovering which fringe players will make the final roster.
We are getting closer and closer to the regular season.
How sweet it is.