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Pittsburgh Steelers: Six takeaways from Sunday

After a huge win over the league’s only undefeated team, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly left many reasons for their fans to feel optimistic about the outlook of this season.

Here are my six takeaways from their 19-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

1. The defense is legit

When is the last time you felt more comfortable during a game when the defense was on the field instead of the offense? I am sure I am not the only one who felt that way yesterday.

I won’t call them a steel curtain, but this young group of play makers we have been developing for years is finally starting to come together.

In the first half, the Steelers defense made the Chiefs top ranked offensive unit look worse than the Cleveland Browns. Their run game was invisible and their passing attack was essentially nonexistent.

Obviously, they could not keep this pace up against any team, let alone Kansas City but even looking at the second half stats for the Chiefs, the Steelers defense really played phenomenal.

They limited the top rusher in the NFL, Kareem Hunt, to only 21 yards on the ground, prevented Travis Kelce, who finished with four catches for 37 yards, from having any significant impact, came up with a key goal line stand in the fourth quarter after Andy Reid refused to attempt the easy field goal and held strong at the very end of the game when they needed a stop to win.

The Chiefs offense had been incredible in the fourth quarter coming into Sunday, which left many Steelers fans worried.

However, their overall performance last night showed they can stop the run, that their secondary is top notch and most importantly, they can play their best when it matters most.

2. We are a run first team

Remember on Friday when I said the Steelers are 23-3 in Le’Veon Bell’s career when he gets 20 or more rushes a game? Well go ahead and make that record 24-3.

Bell absolutely shredded through Kansas City yesterday. However, for an offense that has been looking for their identity this season, I believe they found it.

Despite having a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback under center and arguably the best receiving core in the NFL, the Steelers are a run first team.

Don’t believe me? Let us look at third down.

The Steelers were 4-11 on third down yesterday. The first two third downs of the game, they ran the ball and were successful both times.

After that, they decided to pass for every third down for the remained of the game which only worked for them twice. If you take away the one play where Ben Roethlisberger was saved on a bad pass by an incredible catch from Antonio Brown that ended up being the game winning touchdown, the Steelers passing attack simply could not get the job done when they really had to.

Now we can sit here all day and debate who exactly is to blame for that stat, but the reality is this team is much better when they run the ball, even in high pressure situations when the defense is expecting them to.

3. Todd Haley’s offense cannot finish drives

To piggyback off the last point I made, this has become a real problem for the Steelers. I hate to be the fan who sits here and complains after his team just beat the only undefeated squad in the NFL, but the struggle for the Steelers to finish drives is 100 percent real.

Pittsburgh dominated Kansas City for the first three quarters of that game, yet all they had to show for it was a 12-3 lead when entering the fourth quarter. When your defense plays to the level that theirs did yesterday against a top tier offense, you must take advantage of that. It was not as if the Steelers were not moving the ball.

They finished the game with 439 yards of total offense, including 23 first downs. Aside from the drive that ended in an interception, the Steelers were only forced to one three and out for the entire game. Though their dominance in time of possession without question was a big factor in leading them to a win, they simply cannot settle for only 19 points.

The Steelers seem to dominate the game a lot more than the final score shows. When they reach a third and long or even worse, the red zone, it seems as if their offense just goes on auto pilot. Regardless of how well the defense plays for the rest of the season, this team was built to score points and win by offense.

The bottom line is, did they improve from last week’s loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars? Yes. Was that hard to do? No. Should we expect more from such a talent group? Absolutely. Are they capable of meeting those high expectations? That I’m not sure of.

4. Antonio Brown is the best player in the NFL

I seriously question how many games this team would have won without Brown on the roster. My guess would be two or less. I do not care how he dances after he scores, what he posts on social media or how many Gatorade coolers he throws on the sidelines, this man is hands down the most important player on our team.

As I stated earlier, the Steelers are clearly a run first offense this season, which is fine. Yet, when they are forced to pass, something they have not done incredibly well at this season, they are able to get by because of Antonio Brown is their to bail them out.

There is no doubt that week by week, shutting Brown down is the key part of the game plan for any defense that faces Pittsburgh. Yet, he still carries the offense through the air, no matter what situation they’re in.

He has been targeted 74 times which is more than the combined total of times the rest of the wide receivers of the team have been thrown to (73). He has had more yards receiving in the past two weeks (312) than the Steelers second leading pass catcher, Martavis Bryant has had all season (231).

Finally, his 158 receiving yards on third down account for almost half of Roethlisberger’s 334 yards through the air on third down.

For the longest time, the most valuable player on the Steelers offense was their quarterback. Now, I believe that title belongs to the man who keeps business boomin.

5. James Harrison is back

If you did not come close to shedding a tear when Harrison rushed around the edge and took down Alex Smith for that game winning sack, then you my friend are no true Steeler fan.

Harrison was not shy about expressing his frustration from not seeing the field this year. As a guy who went undrafted and was cut multiple times before he became the Steeler’s all-time sack leader, he has never been one to let a few setbacks prevent him from being a difference maker.

Yesterday, when given what might have been his final chance to make an impact, Deebo did just that. I am not sure how Keith Butler will use Harrison for the remained of the year but I can promise he will not be a healthy scratch anytime soon.

6. Martavis Bryant needs to go… later

It wouldn’t be the Pittsburgh Steelers if there wasn’t off the field drama after the game, right? After being suspended for the entire 2016 season due to failing multiple drug tests and starting off slow in 2017, reports surfaced that Martavis Bryant is “unhappy” and had recently asked to be traded.

To this I say, do it – but maybe not right now. Bryant should not be dealt because of his poor attitude, because if we traded players for making dramatic comments, we would have no team. However, Bryant is in my mind, the most expendable player on our roster.

His youth and raw talent make him very marketable. Teams are aware of the upside that his skill set can bring and with legislation to lower the severity of penalties toward drug use in the NFL, his pros outweigh his cons.

With the run game being our strength and Juju Smith-Schuster getting better every week, I see Bryant as a luxury more than a true need for the Steelers. Is it nice to have him? Sure. Could we live without him? Probably. As a team that always takes the safe route when handling player transactions, I don’t expect Pittsburgh to trade him this season.

However, if Bryant finishes this season strong, he could certainly make for a great bargaining chip around draft time, if the Steelers were looking to acquire a large amount of picks in order to trade up and address a need for their long term future quarterback.

 

Photo courtesy of Denny Medley of USA Today Sports.

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Noah Hiles

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