Feels like we’ve been here before, no?
People are questioning Alex Smith. They’re questioning Andy Reid. They’re calling for Bob Sutton’s head. They want Phillip Gaines removed from the team. They’re screaming about lack of pass rush. They want to know why Marcus Peters won’t tackle. They’re infuriated with the offensive line. I even had someone ask me why people “buy into” the idea that Justin Houston is an elite pass rusher (that’s where it jumped the shark for me).
Reminds me of the conversations we had in January, after the Steelers handed the Chiefs a very, very similar-looking loss. Eerily similar, really, though it lacked the freakish “pass right through a DB’s arms into a WR’s arms for a TD” backbreaker.
So where do we go from here? Well, there’s a lot to answer about that. Before I get started with the point of this article, I’d like to note something: the Chiefs are at the top of the entire AFC after six games despite playing the most difficult schedule in football. They’ve played ONE opponent with a losing record (the Chargers, who have now won two in a row). They’ve played three division leaders. And they are 5-1. So let’s all take a deep breath.
The reason people are upset, I know, is that NATURE of the loss to the Steelers. It all felt so... familiar. It all felt very, for lack of a better term, 2016. Or 2015. Maybe some 2014 and 2013 thrown in there. It felt like an anemic offense that couldn’t move the ball outside of a few plays, balanced by a defense that gave up yards upon yards and had some glaring issues. Again, it just felt familiar, and that’s concerning to a lot of people, especially given the way it felt like the various weaknesses we’ve worried about all year were “exposed.”
There’s not time to take on every issue from Sunday, so I want to start with something simple: it’s ridiculous to blame this loss on the defense.
I’m excited for some of you to skip to the comments at this point. I hope you don’t.
Yes, football is a team game, so there’s absolutely some blame to go around for everyone. And yes, the defense struggled to stop the run all day, and that is demoralizing for fans to watch. But when you really look at how this game went, the defense gave the offense opportunity after opportunity to seize control or come back, and the offense just couldn’t do it.
(Note: this article isn’t going to be about who specifically should be blamed on the offense: Alex or the OL or Andy or injuries or whatever. It’s also not a place I’ll be talking about Daniel Sorensen being unable to fill Eric Berry’s shoes, or the wisdom of having two DL sets when a team is running all over it, or DJ looking like a mortal. Hopefully we’ll get to that this week)
Let’s look at the drive chart for this game, shall we? Let’s REALLY examine how this game went.
Steelers first drive: punt, giving the Chiefs a chance to take the lead. How the Chiefs responded: with a bad snap that leads to a safety (so technically gaining -16 yards). Uh... 2-0 Steelers
Steelers non-existent drive: A drive technically doesn’t happen at first because the Steelers GIVE THE BALL TO THE CHIEFS in FG range on a bizarre free kick play. How the Chiefs responded: by gaining four yards and kicking a FG, not taking advantage. 3-2 Chiefs
Steelers second drive: Arguably the worst drive of the game, allowing a TD on a long drive. How the Chiefs responded: with a three-and-out that gained -5 yards. 9-3 Steelers.
Steelers third drive: INTERCEPTION after four plays, giving the Chiefs the ball at the Pittsburgh 48-yard line! How the Chiefs responded: three-and-out that gained four yards.
Steelers fourth drive: Long drive that frustrates Chiefs fans immensely, but ultimately results in a FG with 2:08 left on the clock for the Chiefs to answer before the half. Chiefs also got the ball after halftime here, meaning they had TWO DRIVES IN A ROW to make the game a contest. How the Chiefs responded: five plays for -8 yards to end the half, three-and-out with four total yards to start the second half. 12-3 Steelers,
UPDATE: The Steelers have had four drives with which to do something to this point. They had 10 points from said drives, having punted and turned the ball over. The Chiefs, in the meantime, have had six drives, two of which started in the Steelers’ territory. They have scored three points and gained a total of -17 yards if you count the safety as losing yards.
Re-read that again. In six drives, the Chiefs scored three points and had NEGATIVE SEVENTEEN YARDS. Let’s go back to the game.
Steelers fifth drive: three-and out, forced to punt. How the Chiefs responded: three-and out, 10 yards (they were a foot shy or so) gained. Still 12-3 Steelers.
Steelers sixth drive: forced to punt after seven plays. How the Chiefs responded: the Chiefs finally get into the “black” in terms of yards gained late in the third quarter with a long drive... that ultimately ends in no points after getting held at the goal line. Still 12-3 Steelers.
Steelers seventh drive: forced to punt after six plays. Note: this is the third consecutive drive the Steelers have been forced to punt the ball. How the Chiefs responded: hey a touchdown! Now 12-10 Steelers.
Steelers eighth drive: ugh, the fluke TD play. Pittsburgh scores on a play that should have ended in a punt, as the ball bounces off Gaines’s face and into Brown’s hands. Srsly? How the Chiefs responded: an actually quite efficient six play drive that ended in a FG: 19-13 Steelers.
Steelers ninth drive: three-and-out that only takes 35 seconds off the clock, then the special teams (well, Tyreek Hill) gets the Chiefs the ball at their own 44-yard-line. That’s coming up big in the clutch by the defense and special teams. How the Chiefs responded: a six play, eight total yards drive that ended with an incomplete pass to effectively end the game. 19-13 Steelers.
Sorry to walk you through what’s essentially a house of horrors and an awful game to re-live, but here’s my point: the defense gave the offense multiple chances throughout the first and second half to make this game close. They forced multiple punts in a row and the offense did nothing to take advantage.
Then the defense made a crucial stop (something they weren’t able to do in January) in the final two minutes to give the offense the ball back on the 44-yard-line with 1:42 left and a timeout. That’s an eternity in the NFL. The offense just couldn’t finish.
All of this is a long road to a short thought: yes, the defense had its issues. But when you look at this game on a drive-by-drive basis, it came through multiple times, including when it mattered most. The offense just couldn’t deliver. The defense gave up 17 points, which is approximately 13 fewer points than the offense has been scoring this season. I wouldn’t even put 20 percent of the blame on the defense. Maybe, like, 10.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a shower and wash this article off me.