KANSAS CITY – This time they had no answers. This time the Steelers looked every bit like a team missing its franchise quarterback.
It's not that Landry Jones was awful, or the defense was porous, or special teams was an unmitigated disaster. It's just that there is a reason why these guys are paid hundreds of millions of dollars, why every team that doesn't have one wants to find one more than anything else in the world.
Yesterday marked the fourth full game the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, and if you also count the last quarter-and-a-half in St. Louis when it was feared his season was over, the outing at Arrowhead Stadium marked the only occasion when the Steelers didn't have enough of anything. Not enough running game, not enough splash plays in the passing game, not enough defense, not enough takeaways, not enough plays made on third downs regardless of which team had the football.
So it was that the sum total of everything the Steelers didn't have yesterday added up to a 23-13 loss to the Chiefs. The Steelers are 4-3, exactly where they were one season ago, and seemingly on the verge of getting Roethlisberger back, just in time for a visit by the 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals.
The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri to face the Chiefs in Week 7.
But that's next week. This game against the 1-5 Chiefs was winnable by following the same recipe as they had in the victories in San Diego, against the Cardinals, closing out that one in St. Louis over a Rams team the Steelers aren't getting enough credit for beating, and even the loss to the Ravens where things were progressing nicely until Josh Scobee realized he actually was attempting field goals with a meaningful game hanging in the balance for the first time since Le'Veon Bell was in ninth grade.
In those three-and-a-half games, the Steelers were plus-7 in turnover ratio, and that figure is as complimentary to the offense for protecting the ball as it should be for a defense doing the taking away. The lone turnover by the offense came on an end-of-the-half Mike Vick Hail Mary in San Diego, which is as benign an interception as exists in the NFL. Meanwhile, the majority of the defenses eight takeaways accounted for one touchdown directly and set up three others scored by the offense.
That was the big problem for the Steelers against the Chiefs, and the final minus-3 in turnover ratio is as much of an indictment of the offense that was doing the giving away as it should be for a defense that just didn't make any plays on the ball.
Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson's interception could serve as a teaching tool for young players concerning the importance of studying video of the opposing quarterback. There wasn't a lot out there on Landry Jones, precisely 12 pass attempts in 38 career regular season games, only three of which he was not actually standing on the sideline wearing something other than a uniform. But Johnson did the homework anyway, because when the Steelers tried that same play where Jones converted a third-and-13 with a 23-yard pass to Martavis Bryant on a crossing route behind the linebackers and underneath the safeties, Johnson got himself deep enough in the middle zone to be in position to make a pretty athletic play and come down with the interception.
Jones' second interception came off a bizarre carom off Antonio Brown, to whom footballs typically stick, and then finally the sack-strip that killed the Steelers' last offensive possession resulted from four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Tamba Hali finally getting the better of first-time starter Alejandro Villanueva.
While all of that was happening to the offense, the Steelers defense wasn't doing anything to impact the flow of a game that was going more the Chiefs' way the longer it went. Kansas City showed why it owns the No. 27 red zone offense in the NFL by settling for field goals after reaching the Pittsburgh 11-yard line, 3-yard line, and 9-yard line, but the Chiefs were controlling the ball along with maintaining the edge in field position because they were able to convert 56 percent (9-of-16) on third downs. And this game proved that even the No. 27 red zone offense in football is capable of eventually getting the ball into the end zone, which the Chiefs did on their fourth and fifth trips inside the Steelers 20-yard line.
When you don't have your franchise quarterback, every deficiency within the team's overall performance is magnified. As one example, Travis Kelce caught five passes for 73 yards, and because Roethlisberger wasn't around to take advantage of a Chiefs secondary that had allowed 14 touchdowns through the air in six games, that went from being a mediocre day for anyone who had Kelce on their fantasy team to a reason why the Steelers lost.
This predicament is expected to change next weekend when Roethlisberger returns to the lineup, but those striped helmets that will be on the opposite sideline arguably contain at worst the third-best team in the league this year.
And you know the only reason the undefeated Bengals aren't No. 1 or No. 2, instead of New England and Green Bay, right? It's because No. 1 and No. 2 have franchise quarterbacks, and the Bengals are still hoping Andy Dalton matures into one.