By Harv Aronson
If you are scratching your head after the Pittsburgh Steelers took down the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday 19-13, it probably means you are trying to figure out how the Black and Gold could lose to Jacksonville and look awful last weekend, then play like a Super Bowl contender on the road.
What we saw in Kansas City on Sunday was the team we expected to see all season long. A solid running game combined with sharp passing, and a defense that stifled what was one of the league’s highest scoring offenses is the combination Pittsburgh needs to win their seventh Super Bowl. But why the inconsistency? This is certainly the best played game of the year for the Steelers and despite having now won four games, they have not looked as solid as they did playing the Chiefs.
I had actually picked Pittsburgh to lose, but in the back of my mind, I knew when the Steelers have lost in badly played games in the past they usually come back much stronger. That was the case on Sunday and they were impressive. From the quote of Ben Roethlisberger about “not having it anymore” to the many distractions the Steelers have experienced through the first five games, all that seemed to go by the wayside in Kansas City as Big Ben had one of his best games of the year.
But the real difference in the game was the attacked of the “Three B’s.” Ben, Brown, Bell. All three had outstanding games with Roethlisberger missing on just 25 passes and cutting his pass attempts more than half of how many times he put the rock in the air a week ago at Heinz Field. Facing the Jaguars, Roethlisberger threw the ball 55 times, but in Kansas City, it was aired out just 25 times. Big Ben missed on just eight of those throw.
The passing game was not the primary took in beating the Chiefs. The biggest weapon was Le’Veon Bell who is turning out to be a Kansas City killer. In two games last season, one in the regular season and then in the playoffs, Bell chewed up the K.C. defense for big running totals. This time around, Bell rushed for 179 yards that included a nice 27-yarder and then also added three catches for 12 yards. Bell scored once and in the air, it was the Antonio Brown show. Brown’s one touchdown came late that sealed the game, an incredible one handed grab where A.B. showed his superb concentration.
One rookie whose arrow is rising fast is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Another three receptions on the day, but he his showing signs of stardom. Tight end Vance McDonald finally got his first Steelers receptions and it was big, for 26 yards. But now we have to wonder, what happened to Jesse James? His production has slowed to a crawl. Then there is Martavis Bryant. Just when you thought the distractions hurting the team have gone away, along comes word that Bryant had asked for a trade.
Over on the NFL Network, that site’s Ian Rapaport has claimed that he has sources that told him Bryant expressed dissatisfaction in how he was being used on offense. Martavis later went to Twitter to tell the world that “I am happy to be a Steeler and can't wait to reach Super Bowl win number 7 this year.” So if he is denying asking for a trade, then why is one Deja Hiott the apparent girlfriend of Bryant’s by his own admission on his social media accounts, went to her own Twitter last night to claim that “Well. You guys should’ve seen it coming. Taking him off the field, not giving the ball or the chance to reach his full potential.” She subsequently deleted the tweet.
If this is true, Bryant should grow up and realize that with the Steelers having so many weapons, the wealth should be spread after A.B. gets the ball. There is a ton of talent on this Steelers offense, so no one should be greedy. If he really wants to be traded, then I say trade him to the Cleveland Browns. He’ll see plenty of balls thrown his way over there.
As for the Pittsburgh defense, we were told prior to the game James Harrison would see significant action. As he lost his job to rookie T.J. Watt, “Silverback’s” playing time has been greatly diminished. When he got his chance on Sunday, he made perhaps the biggest play of the game sacking Alex Smith late to help cement Pittsburgh’s victory. Harrison could be seen on the sidelines jawing it up with Head Coach Mike Tomlin then Tomlin playfully rubbing #92’s bald head.
I believe James Harrison surpassed Anthony Chickillo on the depth chart based on his performance in Kansas City that included three tackles as well as that huge sack. As for the defense, everyone chipped in. Sean Davis made some big stops and led the team with six tackles, Vince Williams, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and Mike Mitchell all played a key part. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the play of Mike Hilton. Coming to the Steelers as a free agent, Hilton just seems to be getting more and more comfortable with the defensive schemes and his play gets better and better with each passing game.
Kareem Hunt was regarded as one of the NFL’s best runners prior to the game but Pittsburgh held him in check as he managed just 21 yards on the ground but did have 89 yards receiving. Alex Smith had been having a hot hand but he was sacked three times and managed just 246 yards passing and completed only 19 of 34 throws.
The Steelers seem to have the Chiefs number. This is three straight wins over Kansas City and six of the last seven. For a Chiefs team that was cruising along at 5-0 and hoping to get to the Super Bowl, they must now have in their heads that thought that come post-season, these same Steelers might be standing in the way of reaching the big dance. Of those last six victories, three were in Kansas City and being that they have the loudest fan bases in the league, for the Steelers to triumph there; it must be shaking the confidence of the Chiefs.
What the Pittsburgh Steelers need to do now is start building some consistency. With a game at home next Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals and then a road game in Detroit before their bye, the Steelers could be in great shape with two more wins and head into a two week layoff at 6-2. On a final word, Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid was probably second guessing himself this morning because with the Chiefs in the red zone yesterday and down 12-3, Reid on fourth down opted to go for the touchdown instead of kick a field goal. Alex Smith threw and incomplete pass and the complexion of the game changed.
The team that beat the Steelers last weekend convincingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars, they lost at home yesterday which indicates that it was more of the Steelers having an awful game last Sunday at Heinz Field and the Jaguars just had one good day. Jacksonville lost to the Los Angeles Rams and more embarrassing is that the Jags were playing in front of their own fan base and at EverBank Field, the seating capacity is 67,164. Yesterday, knowing the Jaguars just had one of their biggest victories in a really long time, only 56,232 fans showed up, meaning 10,932 did not show. OUCH.
By Harv Aronson
Coming off his worst game ever, Ben Roethlisberger vows he will come back strong. Heading into Kansas City, the Steelers will absolutely have to have a great game from Big Ben as well as fixing other problems.
First and foremost it’s the defense Pittsburgh and their fans must be concerned with. The Kansas City Chiefs are not just ranked second in the NFL in total offense, they are second in rushing averaging 156.2 yards per game. Most of that attack has come from rookie Kareem Hunt who is averaging 6.3 yards-per-carry and has totaled 609 yards on the ground. Hunt has outstanding speed and also has added 166 yards receiving on just 16 receptions.
Alex Smith was supposed to face a challenge from rookie Patrick Mahomes but you can forget that noise. Smith is having a Pro Bowl season and is the front runner for M.V.P. of the league. Smith has a quarterback rating of 125.8 thus far and has thrown for 11 touchdowns while through five games has yet to throw an interception. Travis Kelce is having another banner year and Tyreek Hill is contributing in a big way.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, their locker room is in turmoil whether they admit it or not. There have been so many distractions this season and it seems to have affected their play on the field. Despite their 3-2 record, if this team played to its potential, they should be 5-0. But things seem to be unraveling and Big Ben’s comment about maybe not having it anymore has just added fuel to the buzz that has become a wildfire around the NFL.
These two teams have met 31 times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. The Steelers hold a 22-11 advantage and the in the post season each team has won once. For three straight seasons from 1996-1998 Kansas City and Pittsburgh played in Kansas City on Monday night but the Black and Gold prevailed twice and lost the 1997 game. When playing in Kansas City where they will be come Sunday, the Steelers have won 11 of 17 meetings. When playing at home, Pittsburgh has beaten the Chiefs 11 times while losing four.
The last meeting was in 2016 when the Steelers clobbered Kansas City 43-14 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has won four of the last five with Kansas City’s sole victory coming on October 25, 2015 winning 23-13. But here we are in 2017 and the Chiefs are now #1 in everyone’s power poll and have yet to lose.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL: it was thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers would have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league before the season began. Five games in and Pittsburgh is ranked 17th in total offense, not where they want to be. In passing offense they are 12th. Rushing was supposed to be a given with Le’Veon Bell toting the rock yet the Steelers find themselves 24th in the NFL in running the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger’s rating is a terrible 75.8 and he has thrown seven interceptions, albeit, five came last Sunday. He has thrown just six touchdowns and has been sacked nine times in five games. The Chiefs defense is way down at 27th in the NFL but don’t let that fool you. They can defend.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL: Knowing how easy teams have run on the Steelers, punctuated by Leonard Fournette’s huge game in week five, believe you me, Kareem Hunt is going to be stuffed down Pittsburgh’s throats until they can stop him if they can. Pittsburgh’s pass defense is top ranked in the NFL but that doesn’t become apparent by watching them. That ranking was helped last week when Blake Bortles did not have to throw the ball much because his running game was working so well.
The Steelers are 28th in the league in stopping the run, so unless they find a way to make tackles and stop Hunt, they will be in big trouble. But much has been made about how well Alex Smith is throwing the ball and Travis Kelce has always been a Steelers killer. When Joe Haden signed with the Steelers, it was thought that he would be the man to put the secondary over the top. However, after five games, Haden has just 10 tackles, zero interceptions, and one sack.
INTANGIBLES: You know that Arrowhead Stadium crowd is going to be rocking. The Chiefs are undefeated and could be heading to anywhere to 13-15 wins this season. I don’t think they can run the table but ahead of them after Pittsburgh are the Oakland Raiders twice, Denver twice, the Chargers again, and then games with the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins. In other words, Kansas City is in good shape aside from what could be a difficult game on Sunday if Pittsburgh shows up as they team they are expected to be.
For the Steelers, how will they handle the noise? How will they handle the distractions and trying to get back to playing solid football and correcting the issues? For the Steelers, they better get better FAST. After week six they are looking at a visit from the improved Cincinnati Bengals and a trip to dangerous Detroit. After their bye week, they’ll see the Colts on the road, host the Titans, then the Packers come knocking on the Heinz Field doors.
On to Cincinnati in week 13 is following up with the rematch against Baltimore. The final three games include New England, Houston, and finally with Cleveland. Not a cupcake schedule. As for Sunday, a victory and taking Kansas City off the unbeaten list would be huge for Pittsburgh and give them some momentum.
PREDICTION: Ben Roethlisberger’s head does not appear to be where it needs to be and heading into Kansas City to face what will be a very loud and hostile fan base, taking on a team that has yet to lose, the only way the Steelers win this game is play a PERFECT game. Final score: Kansas City 31 Pittsburgh 20.
By Harv Aronson
What could be worse than the Steelers losing 30-9 to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday’s? How about your starting quarterback thinking he’s finished as a pro?
Following the embarrassing beat down in front of their own fans, Big Ben Roethlisberger said to a writer:
“Maybe I don't have it anymore. I'm not playing well enough.”
On the Dan Patrick show he claimed it was sarcasm. However, if your star quarterback has lost confidence in himself, then he should be benching himself. You can’t have a quarterback without confidence leading your team. In Sunday’s loss, Roethlisberger has what amounts to be one of the worst if not the worst game of his 14 year career. I don’t think he was joking. Maybe it was a knee jerk reaction to his poor play on Sunday, but the bottom line is that he said it so he was thinking it. To counter that Big Ben also said:
“If anybody in this room ever has that doubt, they probably aren’t here; you know what I’m saying? Professional athletes shouldn’t have doubt. You play this game long enough; you’re going to get those games. The first pick, I got a little pressure and had to throw a little early. They guy made a great play. The second pick, the ball got tipped and ended up hitting the linebacker in the chest. The third one, tipped again. And on the fourth one, the guy hit my arm. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve had bad games before. I’ve had bad stretches. I’ve had good ones, too. You just find a way to move on and play better.”
Speaking for the defense, Cam Heyward said:
“It’s not soul-searching, we just have to play better. We got beat in every phase, simple as that.”
Then Ryan Shazier and Mike Tomlin chimed in:
Shazier: “Definitely demoralizing. We have to do a lot better job of playing the run.”
Tomlin: “We turned the ball over. We didn’t take care of it. Over the course of the game they were able to play in the manner in which they like to play, grind the clock and maintain possession of the ball. It produced the outcome it did. They played a heck of a ball game. They executed their game really well.”
Let’s be clear about one thing…Ben Roethlisberger was contemplating retirement and the writing is on the wall that this WILL BE his last season in the NFL. I have absolutely no doubt he will retire following the season. So Mike Tomlin and the Steelers best be thinking about who is their starter in 2018. Tomlin also better get some control of his players. From Bell skipping camp, to the earlier Roethlisberger retirement talk, then we have the Alejandro Villanuevo split on standing for the National Anthem, and more recently the blowup by Antonio Brown. Things are awry in the Black and Gold locker room.
Call me crazy, but if I was Mike Tomlin I would sit Ben Roethlisberger now for the time being because I would rather see a confident quarterback behind center not a man who is doubting his abilities. I would not go to backup Landry Jones either, I would give Joshua Dobbs a shot. Why not? Allow the most likely to retire Roethlisberger mentor the young man. What was the reason for drafting Dobbs? Just as a backup? Jones doesn’t have the mojo and the skills to be a franchise quarterback. Perhaps Dobbs doesn’t either, but I would rather give the young kid a chance with all the weapons on offense than a guy like Jones who is a statue in the pocket.
As for Roethlisberger, five interceptions, two that were pick sixes, sacked twice, and just seemed out of sync all day. Granted, the Jaguars’ defense is NO JOKE. Jalen Ramsey said Jacksonville’s secondary is the league’s best and on this day, they looked like it. Listen to what Jacksonville’s Malik Jackson said:
“You could definitely tell he’s a little older and he was getting a little tired.”
Still, the Steelers had three red zone opportunities and could not find the end zone. On Ben’s five interceptions they turned into 20 Jags points on the board. The two interceptions for touchdowns were tipped but that is no excuse because they were both dangerous passes.
Steelers Nation...it is my opinion this team is unraveling. Next Sunday they must face a very good Chiefs team in Kansas City. This season began with question marks. Big Ben was contemplating retirement in the off season but returned anyway. Now he looks like he must still have that on his mind as he has yet to have a really great game after five games.
We had Le’Veon Bell skipping training camp and while he had a solid game in Baltimore last week, he managed just 47 yards facing the tough Jaguars defense. There was the Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown mess this week.
Lastly, the Steelers defense can simply not stop the run and left Heinz Field red faced after allowing rookie Leonard Fournette run wild on them including a final 90-yard romp at the very end of the game to finish with 181 yards rushing and a per-carry mark of 6.5. Chris Ivory added insult to injury with 41 yards on just eight carries. Even Blake Bortles took off once for nine yards.
Now, it’s on to Kansas City who dumped the Houston Texans on the road to go 5-0 and on Sunday they will host a Steelers team that is in disarray and I can’t see any way the Steelers win that game unless they play a perfect game. I would love to be a fly on the wall inside the Steelers locker room. Many times the phrase “has a coach lost his locker room” been used. That must might be the case in Pittsburgh.