The Steelers looked lost trying to defend Kansas City’s spread passing game.
Yes, the Steelers have a leaky defense that doesn’t run very well.
Yet I’ll suggest — hyperbole alert! — that when the Chiefs empty out their backfield against most defenses in favorable weather, the combo of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and so many dangerous targets is … not unlike the famed “death lineup” that the Golden State Warriors popularized.
Andy Reid’s spread look helped Mahomes feel like he was still at Texas Tech. More to the point, he could better identify coverages and blitzes and get the ball out fast. (The Jets have less firepower but are doing this with rookie Sam Darnold.)
This was a turkey shoot.
Not only did Mahomes find the right matchups and throw strikes, he seldom was touched.
By golly, the Chiefs were fun to watch.
They were pretty cocky, too.
From their own 1 in a tight game, they chucked a deep pass, the kind of play we couch potatoes beg to see but seldom do.
The pass was incomplete, but here’s a plausible payoff for later: The film of Tyreek Hill gaining a step and Mahomes nearly hitting him for a 99-yard touchdown will spook opponents come other times the Chiefs line up near their goal-line.
Scary Part II
Timing between Mahomes and his top three targets — Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins — was improved from Week 1.
Good synch between Mahomes and Hill beat Artie Burns, a pretty good cornerback, on two key plays: 1) a 39-yard back-shoulder laser to open the second half that led to a go-ahead TD; 2) a streak that the first throw set up, making it a two-score lead.
Poor Burns had no safety help because of the spread set. Mahome likes empty so much the fullback ran through the line and downfield rather than linger to block.
Football lovers are gaga over Mahomes because he’s poised and sound yet also pulls off dares that most quarterbacks shouldn’t try.
Think of a slick shortstop — former Padres draftee Ozzie Smith, for one — who can zip a strike from various angles while charging.
Mahomes throws strikes without setting himself, which means the ball gets home faster.
Remember his Week 1 pass that Chargers safety Derwin James broke up in the end zone?
Mahomes flicked the ball 40 yards on the mark while still moving toward the line off a rollout.
Sunday in Pittsburgh, he hit receiver Demarcus Robinson with a cross-grain strike off the same action.
Don’t try this at home. You’re not Patrick Mahomes.
Remember the aforementioned failed heave by Mahomes from his end zone that was just wide of Hill?
Good idea but on the next play when the Chiefs tried to pound out a few yards, the Steelers bullied them. Tight end Demetrius Harris, looking like a former basketball player, which he is, missed a block on T.J. Watt, resulting in a safety.
Defensively, the Chiefs were again porous.
Reggie Ragland, perhaps rusty or hurting, missed two tackles he used to nail with Alabama. Eric Murray — the replacement to injured All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- whiffed on a dead-to-rights sack try of Big Ben. Top Chiefs draftee Breeland Speaks allowed tight end Jess James to block him too long, yielding a touchdown off a short-yardage run. Speaks was key to the play because two tackles doubled Chiefs lineman Chris Jones.
He pivoted twice while dropping to defend a deep diagonal route against tight end Jason Croom.
Then, put in position by his fluid retreat, White closed fast and made a leaping interception that his good height — 6-foot-2 — helped to enable.
So, by drafting a former West Virginia safety who had three interceptions and four passed defended last year but also is rugged in the tackling box, what Team Spanos has done is speed up and lengthen the second-level pass defense for the meager price of a fourth-round pick.
Rookie Derwin James ignited the defense with blitzes, including a burst from six yards back that was too fast for the area’s blocker and flushed quarterback Josh Allen. Cashing Allen’s assist, rookie Ochenna Nwosu sacked Allen after bull-rushing the left tackle.
See the trend?
Three rookie defenders made plays.
Jones was drafted out of Philip Rivers U in the third round.
Use pencil to check the boxes, but it appears Team Spanos hit on its top-4 draft picks. And rookie blocker Scott Quessenberry of San Diego has a chance, too.
Is Antonio Gates ancient by football standards? Sure, but when the old man ran a short route into the end zone, two Bills defenders bracketed him. Advantage, Gates’ teammates.
A boon to Team Spanos was Allen’s inexperience. Give the former Wyoming star a D/D-minus for his performance but a C for a career-first start.
Two solid games so far from top draftee Kolton Miller, who’s holding up in pass protection. Also, his good range punched up the outside run game.
Amari Cooper has his confidence back.
Marshawn Lynch made defenders wobbly. Looks like he’ll run his way onto the Patriots later in the season when the Raiders are 4-8.
Leon Hall is 33, and that may be why the Raiders lost. The Vista High alum has made scads of tackles in the NFL but couldn’t bring down young receiver Tim Patrick with 12 seconds left and Denver out of timeouts. The escape allowed Patrick to get out of bounds, setting up the winning kick.
Another entertaining, sharp performance from Philip Lindsay, the undrafted rookie from Colorado. I’ll say it again: Can he hold up? If this were MLB, he’d go on the phantom disabled list at some point to keep him whole.
Top draftee Bradley Chubb caught a big break when Raiders fullback Keith Smith dropped a fourth-down pass. Confused as a pass defender, Chubb peeled off Smith as Derek Carr released the ball. Uncontested, Smith would’ve had plenty of room to rumble (fullbacks don’t run; they rumble or lumber).
Raiders fans will be thrilled (sarcasm) to know D.J. Hayden has had two solid games for the defending AFC South champs. Hayden, who went 12th to Oakland in 2013, is replacing a good player in slot corner Aaron Colvin.
For Blake Bortles it was a good game overall, but he got too froggy with a two-score lead late in the game. Leading with his helmet on a downfield run, he rammed into cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Not real smart.
Dante Fowler is in his walk year. I’d like to be his agent. The former top draftee nixed New England’s comeback by beating the right tackle, LaAdrian Wadle, with a speed-and-bend move. He recovered the Tom Brady fumble after knocking the ball away.
The Pats looked slow on defense. They couldn’t keep up with Keenan Cole. The receiver was undrafted out of Kentucky Wesleyan two years ago. Geek Alert II: Former Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith, the NFL’s 2004 Executive of the Year, is a Kentucky Wesleyan alum (Class of 1971) who’s working up an evaluation of the school’s football program. Back to Cole. His nifty footwork creates clean releases and top-of-the-route separation. Think Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks, although Cole, at 6-1, is three inches taller.