They came, they saw, they kicked.
That’s right the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Kansas City and beat the favorites to win Chiefs 18-16 behind the solid kicking of one, Chris Boswell, who was 6/6 on field goals – a postseason NFL record -scoring every single one of the 18 points the Steelers scored.
It marked the first time in league history a team had beaten an opponent in the playoffs despite giving up two more touchdowns than they had scored. It also marked the Steelers 35th postseason victory – the most in NFL history.
All the talk of the week was about Tyreek Hill and many amongst Steeler nation – myself included – was worried that the Steelers didn’t have the special teams capabilities to shut down the dynamic returner. How ironic that it was the Steelers special teams that won them the game.
Not only did Chris Boswell bang through every kick, but the Steelers only punted once all game, and the limited punts towards the Chiefs meant that the impact Tyreek Hill could have on the game lowered. The limited punts, superb kicking, and excellent tackling and closing speed on special teams all but eliminated the Tyreek Hill factor from the game, the electric return man ended the day with four returns for 18-yards.
Now just because the kicker scored all 18-points does not mean the Steelers offense had a bad day, nope, they just stalled when it came to the redzone, which can be explained quite easily; the Chiefs have the best redzone defense in the league. It’s that simple. Mike Tomlin characterized the redzone struggles as two things “bad execution by us” and “great execution by them”. That will need to be addressed this week in order to beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game, but more on that another day.
Last week Le’Veon Bell set a Steelers franchise record for rushing yards in a single postseason game at 167-yards.
It lasted 6 days…
Bell ran for 170-yards against the Chiefs, giving him ownership of the top two spots in all-time Steelers postseason runners history. What. A. Player.
Clock consumption was a big part of the Steelers gameplan, and has been this whole postseason, I can’t quite put into words the impact Le’Veon Bell has had on this team and in helping execute that gameplan, but I’m a couple of great games away from declaring him the best player on this Steelers team. That being said, it would be unjust of me to praise Bell without giving a shout out to the offensive line.
The Steelers offensive line is light years away from the patchwork group that Ben Roethlisberger had to operate behind for years. This current line is a well coached, physical line that displays unique agility and endurance in run blocking. Seeing a left tackle sweep across the line and deliver a crushing block downfield, only to be outrun by the center who delivers another crucial block to help Le’Veon eat up yardage is something to marvel at.
And it’s not just in the running game, the Steelers offensive line is a stout pass blocking unit, allowing just one sack against a good Kansas City rush that features all world player Justin Houston is pretty impressive. It’s safe to say the Steelers have the best offensive line in the playoffs.
Something that has come as surprise to NFL analysts and fans is the maturation and growth from the Steelers defense. I mentioned it last week after the Dolphins game, so I won’t dive into huge detail, but the defense has shown some serious bite to go along with it’s bark.
After going through the off season hearing about how the Steelers are a good defense away from being the best team in the NFL, after going through the season hearing about how the defense is holding back the team, after letting Dallas get that disgusting win with 40 seconds left, after watching five Steelers voted to the pro bowl – none of which on defense, I think the Steelers defense got tired. They got tired of being called bad, they got tired of watching the offense get all the glory, so they stepped up their play to a level I didn’t think was possible, not with so many young guys.
Bud Dupree is becoming a monster off the edge, Sean Davis is becoming more cerebral each passing day, James Harrison is defying age, Ryan Shazier is becoming a ball hawk and Artie Burns is becoming a good corner. The defense was not expected to be this good, this soon. It’s a pleasant surprise.
The Chiefs came out flat, they had a number of unnecessary penalties and dropped passes that cost them the game. Despite all I’ve written about how well the Steelers played the inability to score touchdowns left the Chiefs in this game right down to the last minutes.
Questions have been raised about whether Andy Reid and the Chiefs should start looking for another answer at quarterback, maybe, maybe not, but the question does have to be raised, how long will a 12-win season then failing in the playoffs be enough to keep Alex Smith their starter. It’s something to ponder.
With the win the Steelers will advance to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 2010 where they will face the New England Patriots to represent the AFC in the Superbowl.
Here We Go.