#STEELERS PREGAME STRETCH: A new star in KC?
Mahomes has skills, weapons to keep Pittsburgh winless
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (1-0) VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-1-1)
CBS, SUNDAY, 1 P.M., HEINZ FIELD, 68,400
Last week in a nutshell
Headline: TIE DIE / Same old mistakes don’t bode well for Steelers’ 2018 fortunes
Summary: The repeat of an all-too familiar script didn’t offer Pittsburgh fans much hope for 2018 just one game into the campaign. Undisciplined play, six turnovers and critical mistakes at crunch time allowed the still-lowly Browns to erase a 14-point deficit in the game’s final eight and forge a 21-21 tie in what might have been the ugliest span of football in Mike Tomlin’s 11 years and one week at the helm.
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn (sideline). This will seem like a breath of fresh air after last week’s too-crowded, too-clueless booth. Eagle is the most underrated play-by-play man working NFL games and Fouts can be very insightful at times, although he’s very much hit or miss. As an aside, what is ESPN thinking putting Brian Griese in the booth for an NFL game (as they did with the early game last Monday)? We assume he works with Beth Mowins on college football and they wanted to keep them together, but, wow, was he horrible. His delivery is very flat, which you could live with if he was providing insightful, fresh information, which he was not. Ick.
Weather – or not: Mostly sunny, 80. At this writing, it looks like the Steelers are going to dodge the remnants of another hurricane this weekend, getting this game in with near-perfect conditions a day before what’s left of Florence heads north. Information courtesy www.accuweather.com
Referee: Jerom Boger. After one of the most poorly officiated football games last week in the past decade, it can only get better, right? Right? Possibly. This crew assessed only 12 penalties last week for 99 yards and in 2017 they were also below the league average at 13 flags per game. Information courtesy www.footballzebras.com, www.profootballreference.com and www.nflpenalties.com (it takes three, count ’em, three web sites to provide you with the best each week in officiating background information).
The last time: Pittsburgh picked up a hard-fought 19-13 win last October at Arrowhead Stadium when Ben Roethlisberger threw what should have been a critical fourth-quarter interception, but instead became a 51-yard Steelers touchdown when Antonio Brown plucked the tipped pass out of mid-air and outraced the Chiefs secondary to the end zone. The Steelers lead the all-time series with Kansas City, 23-11.
The line: Pittsburgh -4.5/53.5. Smarts say: While this line has remained steady, the over/under has gone up from an already-high-for-a-Steelers-game 50 to 53.5. Off the top of our head, we think there have only been a few Patriots/Steelers games that have seen kind of o/u over the past few years. On one hand, we guess that could be taken as a vote of confidence in both quarterbacks, but it’s just as likely an indictment of the Steelers run defense and the Chiefs pass defense. Even at that high level, about three-fourths of bettors were on the over as this writing. Putting the line and o/u together and you get something like 29-24 Steelers. Information courtesy www.pregame.com
Note: Since this line is still on the board and has not moved, we are assuming Ben Roethlisberger is fine and will play Sunday with no limitations. Vegas knows.
When the Steelers have the ball:
PIT offense, 5th passing, 5th rushing, 18th scoring (21.0 ppg), 25th sacks allowed (4)
KC defense, 31st passing, 22nd rushing, 25th scoring (28.0 ppg), 22nd sacks (1)
When the Chiefs have the ball:
KC offense, 11th passing, 20th rushing, 5th scoring (38.0 ppg), 4th sacks allowed (1)
PIT defense, 6th passing, 31st rushing, 14th scoring (21.0 ppg), 1st sacks (7)
Giveaway/Takeaway: KC +2; PIT -5
Strength of schedule: KC .000; PIT .000
So…: Obviously, some crazy numbers with just one week in the books, but the most concerning one for the Steelers has to be sacks allowed. Pittsburgh was near the top of the league in protecting its quarterback last year and you see what happens when that is not the case, a bunch of goofy turnovers and a banged up Ben Roethlisberger already. Alejandro Villanueva has to be better than he was last Sunday, but keep in mind he was going against a player who likely will be All-Pro this season and maybe DPOY. Information courtesy www.nfl.com and www.espn.com.
Players on the spot:
Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger
Why: We don’t have to tell you #7 was terrible last week, inaccurate and unable to find open receivers and get Antonio Brown involved in the game. We also don’t have to tell you that he’s quite often brilliant the week after being terrible. But with each year of Ben’s prime that Pittsburgh has wasted, the expectation that he’ll be brilliant again gets a little less certain. Last season, he was not good for nearly half the year before playing some of the most brilliant football of his career. This year, until he puts a good game on tape, there will be whispers about how close he is to the end of that prime.
Kansas City Patrick Mahomes
Why: Mahomes was electric, efficient and deadly last week against the Chargers, tossing four TDs in just 27 attempts. “Breakout player of the year.” “Real deal.” “The truth.” Those were some of the plaudits tossed his way by the national media talking heard (who may be just a tad prone to over-reaction). But if the kid does the same thing to the Steelers? In Pittsburgh? A star is born. That’s a lotta pressure for a second game as a starter.
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler vs. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Why: The Steelers have had tremendous success over the past few years against the Chiefs and that is mostly because they’ve consistently been able to shut down their explosive offense, especially Hill and Kelce. Pittsburgh has done it largely by keeping KC QB Alex Smith guessing with a variety of five-, six- and seven-DB packages and mix-and-match coverages and blitzes. For example Mike Hilton came up huge in last year’s regular season win at KC, but not in coverage, rather via pass and run blitzes. This time, it appears Butler will be one piece down with Joe Haden likely missing the game with a barking hamstring. But Butler now has Sean Davis in a different position, a wily veteran in Morgan Burnett and an X factor in first-round pick Terrell Edmunds (actual first name: FeDarius). Keep an eye on those three, especially, early and see if Butler might be able to get into Patrick Mahomes head the way he did Smith, Kelce and Hill.
+ “Hey, you over-officious jerk,” Marv Levy screams in a famous NFL Films clip. What would poor Marv say if he was on the sidelines today? NFL officials assessed (they actually called more!) 255 penalties last week. That’s against the 2017 weekly average of 207 penalties per week (to be fair, this year’s average will drop a little when bye weeks start). Everywhere you turn, fans and media are complaining about the blizzard of flags. Many contending the games have become unwatchable and they’re ready to turn them off. So what does the NFL do about this crisis of confidence? They just keep making new rules (or adding “points of emphasis”). Entering this season, we’ve got a handful of new rules involving hits with the helmet, hits on a quarterback and how to line up for a kickoff. What did they think was going to happen? The officials who’ve been schooled and drilled on these new rules for months were going to go out and NOT call them? Whether the rules are good or needed is somewhat irrelevant at this point. If you keep adding pages to the rule book, you’re going to keep adding penalties and time onto games, which now are regularly coming in at close to four hours. There needs to be an effort to streamline the NFL rule book and eliminate as many rules each year as are added. The impetus for that should come from the league’s Competition Committee, which includes owners, general managers and four head coaches, including Mike Tomlin.
+ Apparently, Alberto Riveron and the NFL have decided they are going to call instant replay reviews this year by the actual standard, the standard that should have been used since Day 1: Indisputable video evidence. If you truly apply that standard, 90 percent of reviews will see the call on the field upheld. The punt that the Browns touched last week is a great example of something that would have been overturned last year, but was upheld this year because, for all the circumstantial evidence in the frames, there was no angle that indisputably showed the ball touching Nick Chubb’s helmet or changing direction. Does that mean the call was right? Absolutely not. It means the replay challenge was ruled on correctly. The call was still blown on the field by an official who wasn’t in position to see what everyone on the Pittsburgh sideline saw and Chubb himself felt.
+ After one week, we’re ready to declare Ryan Switzer a gigantic upgrade in the kick return game. He looks sure-handed, decisive and, most importantly, he seems to grasp the all returns should start north-south, rather than east-west. He was a breath of fresh air in the stinker of a performance otherwise from Pittsburgh. Anything he contributes on offense is gravy. Again, just one week, but combine Switzer’s performance with what Khalil Mack did Sunday night and how bad do the Raiders look right now?
+ Speaking of the Raiders, we’re glad to see Martavis Bryant on their roster and we hope he avoids trouble and sticks with them. That said, it was still highway robbery getting a draft pick for Bryant last winter.
+ It will be interesting to see if the Steelers kicking game is any better Sunday. Jordan Berry was “below the line” as Mr. Tomlin likes to say, and, of course, Chris Boswell missed a makeable, game-winning kick that featured a high snap from Kameron Canaday (that we did not hear mentioned very much during post mortems last week). To his credit, Boswell took the blame when he could have easily pointed out the need for perfect execution when kicking in those conditions.
+ At this writing, Ben Roethlisberger still hasn’t practiced this week because of an elbow injury, but most involved (including bookmakers, as noted above) still seem to think he’s fine and will play Sunday. That said, if he does not play Sunday, we expect Josh Dobbs to perform poorly in Roethlisberger’s absence and the Steelers to get smoked. If and when that happens, we’ll discuss again in detail why it was a mistake to cut Landry Jones.
The pick: Whether their star quarterback plays or not, the Steelers might be in trouble here. They were hurt badly last week by a mobile quarterback and Patrick Mahomes is that, but unlike Tyrod Taylor, Mahomes can also make plays from the pocket with his arm. Mix in a banged up (already) defense and an out of sync offense with an injured QB and this looks like it could be an ugly outcome. All that said, this is the NFL, so…the opposite… Pittsburgh 34-21.
Last week: Our pick of Pittsburgh by 14 was looking pretty good with eight minutes to go, but you know the rest. That leaves us 0-0-1 straight up and 0-1 vs. the spread.