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Steelers vs. Chiefs: 8 Observations from Pittsburgh's Win at Arrowhead

Joshua HayesCorrespondent IIJanuary 2, 2017

Steelers vs. Chiefs: 8 Observations from Pittsburgh's Win at Arrowhead

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    On a night that promised a Pittsburgh Steelers blowout win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the offensive struggles by former Pitt Panther Tyler Palko and his offense, only one of those things happened.

    Reminiscent to an episode of South Park where both teams are trying to lose a softball game to avoid the playoffs, the Steelers played poorly enough to lose, much like an offense of Cartman, Kenny and Stan. The Chiefs were like the team that was "so good that they were simply batting themselves on purpose," hitting baseballs right into the gloves of the opposing team, despite the boys' best efforts to move them.  Sadly, in this case, those "baseballs" were footballs and the "gloves" were Steelers defenders.

    Also, in this game, the "team so good they could bat themselves out" was just a bad football team with a quarterback in over his head.

    The Chiefs defense held strong as the Pittsburgh offense played like "Men of Still," but the final score saw a stressful 13-9 outcome favoring the Steel City.  In reality, the Pittsburgh success could be more aptly described as not losing than actually winning.

    After starting the game with an aggressive no-huddle approach that yielded the first of three K.C. field goals, the Chiefs' success was short-lived.  Palko was overwhelmed for the second straight week, committing key turnovers that led to nearly all of Pittsburgh's anemic offensive output.

    Ill-timed penalties and turnovers were nearly damning to the Pittsburgh cause in a must-win game, including a poorly thrown interception into coverage by Ben Roethlisberger.  Despite opportunities to take and extend the lead, the Steelers allowed the struggling Chiefs to remain within striking distance, creating tension in the final minutes.

    An evening of aggravation in the Steel City ended with the desired result anyway, as Palko's third interception snuffed out any chance of a Kansas City upset.

    Here are eight observations that Steelers fans can take from the pivotal, albeit underwhelming, win at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Mixed Emotions of Winning Ugly

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    Bittersweet. How else can one describe the internal conflict of the Monday morning Steelers fan? The joy of winning makes the start of any week better, but the team's performance left mounds to be desired.

    Make no mistake about it. Some wins feel dirty, but at the end of the day, it was a necessary step, pretty or not. It isn't the first time a successful Steelers squad played down to their opponent. 

    Just a year ago, the Steelers traveled to Buffalo to combat the struggling Bills. After a fast start gave them a 13-0 halftime lead, their second half reeked nearly as badly as last night's performance, and Pittsburgh should have lost the proverbial "trap game" when Steve Johnson dropped a game-winning pass in overtime.

    In other words, while not much can be taken from Sunday night in terms of long-term validating their place atop the AFC rankings, the end result is not necessarily proof that the Steelers don't have what it takes to repeat recent seasons' success.

    Despite the win, they were lucky. Last night's performance was a how-to list for losing in the NFL:

    Exhibit A: Ill-timed penalties, including enough holding calls to haunt your dreams.

    Exhibit B: A terrible throw into double coverage.

    Exhibit C: A fumble along the goal line by the normally reliable Mewelde Moore.

    Basically, Pittsburgh did everything in its power on offense to lose on the road, but the Chiefs failed to capitalize.

    The offense looked putrid, and the defense saved the day thanks in equal parts to their own stellar play and the Chiefs offensive offense.

    Nevertheless, one solid outing at home and a season sweep of the Bengals will be all the tonic fans need to forget about this lackluster effort. Additionally, by avoiding a loss, Pittsburgh enters Week 13 still harboring legitimate hopes for an AFC North Championship.

Palko Clause Wears Red, Too!

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    Like his sibling from the North Pole, Tyler Palko put on a red suit outfit and came with gifts! Clearly, the Steelers need to thank him.

    So, in what circumstance should the team pose for a holiday photo and send Tyler Palko a warming Christmas card?

    If they win the AFC North, that's when!

    Why? The answer is Tyler Palko, a.k.a. Palko Clause. The Chiefs couldn't run the ball with consistency, and their defense certainly did allow the Pittsburgh offense to move periodically. 

    However, the defense made big plays to keep the game in striking distance, and the lack of a running game may have been rendered moot if the former Pitt Panther simply protected the ball.

    Indeed, this NFL experience isn't the Big East anymore.

    While the Pittsburgh community would certainly have wished to bestow more success upon him, the last two weeks have been a clinic by Tyler on how to not play NFL quarterback.

    One of the few pluses from his game was an ability to escape in the face of blitzers coming off of the edge and the occasional NFL-level throw. 

    Yet, for every step forward, the "kid" took two steps backward, and it wasn't more evident than early in the game. After fumbling a snap after his team had just received the blessing of a Mewelde Moore fumble in the endzone, Palko entered a tied game, throwing two interceptions on the next pair of drives that could only be described as the act of a panicking passer.

    Let's just call it how it is: Without the struggles of Tyler Palko, which was assisted by the Chiefs' inability to run the football, the Steelers would have lost. Period. It was a tailor-made trap game, but the "Stealers" made like rats, getting away with the cheese!

    Against any other starter, that wouldn't have been the case. Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel...

    ...would it be ridiculous to imply that Pittsburgh may have even lost to Ricky Stanzi last night? Perhaps that's a stretch, but maybe not. 

    One thing is for sure. If the Steelers go on to win the AFC North over the Ravens, it will be assisted by a road win at Arrowhead Stadium that can only be labelled as "getting away with one....."

    "...one" that was gift-wrapped with a bow.

Credit the Chiefs Defense and Secondary

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    On a night where their defensive backs gave Pittsburgh a number of man coverage assignments, the Steelers receivers finally encountered an opponent whose individual talent kept them in check.

    Sure, Antonio Brown made that amazing catch down the right sideline on the team's first possession of the game, a phenomenal effort that was partly negated by Mewelde Moore's subsequent lost fumble.

    Despite some struggles in recent weeks, most notably against Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins, the KC secondary, complete with youth and promise, played to their potential on Sunday Night Football.

    While the safeties helped to prevent explosive plays downfield, the two corners demonstrated to a national audience that the defensive backfield in KC is safely established with great players.

    Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr were all over Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. While the two receivers campaigned for penalties and dropped a few key passes, including a touchdown in the endzone by Mike Wallace, it was clear that Carr and Flowers had the star wideouts contained. 

    Since Ben and the receiving corp began to truly develop the type of chemistry many fans hoped for in the offseason, few defenses have managed to put the clamps on the Pittsburgh passing game. For that, along with generally containing the Pittsburgh running attack, the Chiefs defense deserves props.

While Antonio Brown Is Rocketing, Is Mike Wallace Coming Down to Earth?

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    Despite the Steelers offensive anemia at Arrowhead, Antonio Brown did manage 84 yards on four receptions, through most of his production came in the early phases of the contest. After the first quarter, both wideouts struggled to make plays.

    While Brown got his yards in early, Mike Wallace barely contributed at all, gathering two catches for 17 yards. His total yardage against the Chiefs was less than his average per career reception.

    In truth, a record-breaking start to 2011 bolstered Wallace into a different stratosphere; he will finish with one of the greatest pass catching seasons by a Steelers receiver, and he is a threat on any down.

    Still, after talks of 1,600 yards or—dare it be said—a new NFL record dominated conversations about No. 17 in October, November ends with a new question:

    Will Wallace even break Yancy Thigpen's record for yardage in one season by a Pittsburgh Steeler? Weeks ago, it seemed obvious that he would shatter Thigpen's total. 

    Currently, Wallace has 939 receiving yards from his 55 receptions, trailing Yancy's 1,398 yard effort from 1997. With fives games left, Wallace needs 459 yards to set the new franchise record. That would require a average of over 90 yards per contest.

    In the first seven games of 2011, Wallace had four 100-yard efforts, five touchdowns and his low total was 76 yards. In the four most recent affairs, Mike has finished with 70, 68, 54 and 17 yards with a lone score in a downward progression. During the stretch, Brown has put up superior totals in three of four outings, bringing his season total to over 700 yards receiving despite a late start.

    One good effort will erase any memory of a lackluster November, but it seemed that Wallace was far and away the best Black and Gold receiver. Now, that is up for debate, more as a result of Brown's rapid ascent into elite NFL receivers status than Wallace's coincidental drop-off.

    While few would argue that both men are the future (hopefully) of the offense at receiver, is it possible that the team's best all-around wideout wears No. 84?

The Steelers Defense Did Its Job

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    On a night of mixed emotions, Steelers fans can wave their towels with pride this week regarding one facet of the game: the defense balled!

    Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster were bright spots on the struggling Chiefs, leading KC to over 120 rushing yards per game. The two averaged nearly five yards per carry.

    On a night where the Chiefs offense needed the deterrent of a running game, which had the potential to be (and was) nearly their entire offense, 34 rushing attempts translated to 90 yards, a paltry average of less than three yards per rush.

    During the defensive struggle, the Steelers offense made mistakes that could have easily led to a "trap game" upset. Yet, on a night that they were supposed to get takeaways, the Steelers defense finally did what is was expected to do:

    ACTUALLY GET TAKEAWAYS.

    Two interceptions in the first quarter set up Pittsburgh with the lead, and a game-clinching interception by Ryan Mundy in the final minutes secured a sloppy win. Even Ike Taylor got into the turnover act, an attribute not credited to the corner known more for blanketing receivers and lacking the ability to hang onto interceptions.

Troy Can Prolong His Career with Improved Tackling Mechanics

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    Don't get me wrong, whether for years or months to come, I love the way Troy Polamalu plays the game.  His ability to torpedo the offense's best efforts, combined with his sensitivity to football situations and physical prowess, make him arguably the greatest safety in football. The Steelers defense and overall team record improve dramatically with Troy in the lineup.

    Who doesn't love a safety that can break up a pass in the endzone one minute, intercept the quarterback in the flats afterward and then shoot like a missle into the backfield and break up the quarterback's handoff?

    For all of his sacrifice, most notably of his own body for the sake of making plays, Pittsburgh fans can be proud of the humble safety who will do whatever it takes to win.

    Yet, for everyone's desire to see the "Tazmanian Devil" continue his work, most would love to see Polamalu play for seasons to come.

    While some of his plays simply require a focus on speed over fundamentals, few can deny that the defensive stalwart could work on his mechanics as a matter of personal safety. 

    It's hard to tell, considering the angle required to make the tackle and the speed of pursuit, if there was any way to avoid coming head first on the play he was injured Sunday night.  Surely, giving up extra yards or missing the runner altogether isn't advisable. 

    Despite what we may say, let's face it: hearing Troy say, "I missed the runner because of a decision to focus on the fundamental tackle opposed to giving up my body for the sake of a violent collision" wouldn't suffice in a 16-13 loss, no matter the logic.

    Still, this guy's head gets beaten like a school bell, and those love taps are often quite brutal. With his history of concussions, the next one could be the last one.

    Polamalu is an all-pro player. My discussing how he could change his style to be more disciplined or what constitutes a form tackle would be self-righteous to the point of absurdity.

    I do wish for Troy, though, that he uses precaution where at all possible. Avoiding direct helmet contact where possible will keep football's best safety playing.

Was No No-Huddle a No-No?

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    Not to be crude, but wasn't it a few weeks ago that Ben Roethlisberger mentioned a desire to use the no-huddle offense to spark the unit whenever they went into the proverbial crapper?

    I was very surprised to see a lack of fast-paced offense during long stretches of the game.  Despite coming out with a successful, aggressive package at the start, the Chiefs went away from this style, and the results were disastrous. It's not as though Palko was unfamiliar with the playbook.

    I'm more surprised that the Steelers didn't attempt a no-huddle. This has sparked the offense in the past, even during stretches of stagnation. During the second half, the offense struggled to muster a single first down at times, sinner point production and their anemic output couldn't have been much worse.

    I can understand that crowd noise does not foster quick, effective communication, making the snap count difficult to discern and making audibles a challenge. Still, the unit was performing poorly, and the offense could have utilized a standard snap count during no-huddle. In fact, the Chiefs defensive pass rush has been one of the worst in the game, potentially aiding to the approach.

Could the Suisham Liability Be Exaggerated?

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    Connecting on a 49-yard field goal, Suisham extended the Steelers lead to 13-6, showing off a right leg that appeared non-existent in other big moments, most notably the Super Bowl.

    At times, it has been obvious that the coaching staff has been reluctant to have him attempt long kicks, and they may have withheld him again if not for Kansas City's utter offensive ineptitude.

    With a rare shot at a thundering kick, Suisham connected, powering the football through the uprights almost flawlessly.

    So, could it be that the Suisham liability has been an exaggeration?

    Or, was the successful field goal attempt an exception to the norm?

    After seeing many similar efforts go painfully wide or land strikingly short, the "shank-u-licious" Suisham did plant one seed of reassurance in Steelers Country: He can make the kick.

    The question still remains if he could or would consistently. In that regard, we'll see. The seed he planted could blossom, or it could remain a buried dud soon to be long forgotten (but, hopefully not painfully relived....right, Mr. Norwood?)

    For now, Suisham can breathe easy for a bit. Still, I'm ascribing to another theory to explain his converted attempt at Arrowhead. Simply, every squirrel finds a nut.

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