Chiefs are a Better Barometer for Steelers than Browns
There is evidence to suggest Pittsburgh can be better against Kansas City.
Opening games are often less than defining in the National Football League, as was the case with the one the Steelers played in Cleveland.
That, at least, is what the Steelers are hoping.
The 21-21 tie they slogged through last Sunday included enough mistakes and misplays to produce a result that was frustrating if not alarming.
Too many turnovers, six in all. Penalties committed at inopportune moments. A rare missed field goal from Chris Boswell, who was money when games were on the line with remarkable consistency last season.
The Steelers let a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead get away and in the end couldn’t put away a team that had lost 31 of its last 32 games.
That would explain the Steelers’ frustration.
But there were also glimpses of how they can be who they think they’ll be eventually, of what they’ll be capable of individually and collectively.
Ben Roethlisberger turned the ball over five times (twice on fumbles, three times on interceptions), was too often off target and still threw for 335 yards.
JuJu Smith-Schuster picked up as a sophomore where he’d left off as a rookie with 119 yards receiving.
And James Conner temporarily made everyone forget Le’Veon Bell (at least until that fumble in the fourth quarter) with 135 yards rushing and 57 more on five receptions.
A 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver usually adds up to a lot more than 21 points.
There’s no reason to suspect it won’t the next time, or that the Steelers won’t be capable of filling the stat sheet in such fashion with regularity.
Roethlisberger traditionally sizzles after relative stinkers. And his training camp/preseason, from his appearance and conditioning, to the way he threw the ball, to the way he engaged and immersed himself in his work, suggested a monster campaign is ahead.
Don’t bet against it.
The performance of the defense also hinted, all things being equal, that the Steelers have every right to believe they’ll be better on that side of the ball this season, at least better than they were last December and January. And if the defense is that, it has a chance to be good enough, particularly if the offense can continue to do the heavy lifting as anticipated.
The run defense was, for the most part, respectable.
The seven sacks generated suggested the Steelers might be capable of setting another franchise record in that category.
And the play of the secondary, despite losing cornerback Joe Haden late, revealed more promise than potential problems.
It has been a while since such an observation has been made.
Both units will have to be a lot better against Kansas City, which figures to show up this Sunday at Heinz Field with an offense that’s so explosive it’s scary, and with a defense that’s so vulnerable it ought to have Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster, Conner and Antonio Brown salivating.
Given the trend in the NFL toward pinball and exploding scoreboards, this ought to be the type of game the Steelers will play more often than not, and one in which they should be in their anticipated element, especially at home.
The optics of doing anything other than beating that Browns aren’t appealing.
It’s hard to get past that.
But what happens against the Chiefs will be much more revealing as to the early-season state of the Steelers.