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Labriola on OT loss to Chiefs

Posted Aug 24, 2013



When it comes to evaluating preseason games, Mike Tomlin has said, “I’ve always been one to believe you can find what you’re looking for,” and that absolutely applies to the Steelers’ 26-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night at Heinz Field.

In the mood for the glass-half-full version? OK, let’s go there.

The offense, particularly the passing game, looked like an NFL passing attack for the first time this preseason. Not faced with having to run for his life every time he dropped back to pass, Ben Roethlisberger looked extremely sharp and was able to make plays down the field.

He connected with Antonio Brown for a 49-yard gain on a play in which he stood in the pocket and delivered the ball despite having to know he was going to take a big hit from Kansas City OLB Tamba Hali. His touchdown pass to Jonathan Dwyer was vintage Roethlisberger, in that he kept the play alive with his legs before finding his running back all alone along the right sideline. And had Emmanuel Sanders been able to maintain possession of the ball throughout what could have been a 34-yard touchdown, Roethlisberger would have been 14-of-19 for 200 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 135.2. Since this is the glass-half-full version, it’s acceptable to add that to his totals since the ball was delivered perfectly. And, the offense scored on its first two possessions for a 10-0 lead.

The first-team defense did some nice things in the first half as well. Three of Kansas City first four possessions ended with punts, and on the other the Chiefs turned the ball over on downs when Jamaal Charles was stuffed for no gain when Coach Andy Reid decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 21-yard line.

Ziggy Hood made plays. Cortez Allen did some nice things in what was his first game action of this preseason. Troy Polamalu was flying around being disruptive. Charles managed just 10 yards on seven carries, and the Chiefs converted only 2-for-7 on third downs. Overall, it just looked better than it had at any time over the first half of this preseason.

As for the glass-half-empty version …

While better, the pass protection for Roethlisberger was hardly leak-proof. He was sacked twice and took several more hits, more than he should have been exposed to in one half of preseason football.

And again, so many of the other issues the team had been battling to this point were just as apparent as they had been.

Special teams. A blocked field goal got the Chiefs started on their first scoring drive – 51 yards on five plays to cut the Steelers’ lead to 10-3. There was a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that tied the game at 17-17 just 14 seconds after the Steelers had taken a lead late in the third quarter.

Kansas City’s first touchdown came with 18 seconds left in the first half and it tied the game for the first time at 10-10, and it required something of a team effort by the Steelers to allow it to happen.

First, recently acquired RB Felix Jones ran out of bounds on a running play on a third-and-13 situation, which allowed the Chiefs to preserve their final timeout of the half. Then Brian Moorman followed that with a 31-yard punt. Then Polamalu was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a hit to Smith that combined with a 12-yard completion to Dewayne Bowe to put the ball at the Steelers 20-yard line with one minute remaining. The touchdown pass came with 18 seconds left in the half.

Once again the Steelers were highly penalized – this time nine for 98 yards – and again there were fundamental breakdowns at critical times.

If Sanders holds onto the ball. If special teams doesn’t get a field goal blocked and allow a kickoff return for a touchdown. If the defense doesn’t lose contain on QB Chase Daniel on two third-down situations in overtime.

But since it’s only the preseason, the outcome of the game doesn’t count in the standings, and so fans are left to decide whether the glass is half full or half empty.

What kind of story are you in the mood for today?

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