* With Kemoeatu in the lineup: a sack every 11.6 dropbacks; 3.7 yards per carry.
* With Kemoeatu on the bench: a sack every 15.8 dropbacks; 5.1 yards per carry.
The difference in those sets of numbers is significant, but the Steelers had only played three games without him (won all three), so I was hoping to add to the data with the Kansas City game.
However, Kemoeatu returned to the lineup early in the second quarter because Maurkice Pouncey left the game with an illness. Therefore, Pouncey became a focal point of this week's tape review.
He was said to have missed pre-game warm-ups with a stomach virus, so I expected a "sickly" effort from the high-motored center, but was pleasantly surprised by what appeared to be an exceptional performance. Pouncey may in fact have played with more frenetic energy than usual, and that's saying something.
He was flawless in head-up battles with Glenn Dorsey, Kelly Gregg, Allen Bailey and Wallace Gilberry when they lined up on the nose. Pouncey's only possible miscue occurred when K.C. used a 4-3 front and he should've helped Ramon Foster on Amon Gordon's first-quarter sack.
Other than that, Pouncey was exceptional. On the first play after Brett Keisel's fumble recovery, Pouncey drove Gregg five yards off the ball, and was his typical nasty-finishing self on most other running plays. Pouncey even sprinted to the middle of the field after the whistle to help Mike Wallace out of a post-play fracas with Chiefs defensive backs.
Pouncey looked all but sick in his one quarter-plus time on the field.
As for Kemoeatu, I didn't focus on him but it soon became apparent that he was motivated and focused, probably because of the benching. I didn't see him make a mistake in either pass protection or run blocking and he wasn't whistled for a penalty. So let's update those stats for the season:
* With Kemoeatu on the field, a sack every 12.5 dropbacks; 3.7 yards per carry.
* With Kemoeatu on the bench, a sack every 15.0 dropbacks; 4.9 yards per carry.
SANDERS & SAUNDERS
Emmanuel Sanders replaced Antonio Brown as the return man on kickoffs and couldn't bring the ball out past the 31 even with the help of two holding penalties. In fact, the Steelers' starting points after his four kickoff returns were the 18, 23, 15 and 12.
According to the play-by-play sheet, penalties don't affect your return average, so Sanders averaged 19.3 yards per return. The man he replaced, Brown, had been averaging 27.8 yards per kickoff return, the best by a Steelers return man (over 10 returns) since Mel Blount averaged 29.7 in 1970.
Coming into the game, the Chiefs' league-leading coverage unit was allowing 19.8 per return (now down to 19.6), so that may have had something to do with Sanders' scant average.
Now, let's add a "u" and move on to tight end Weslye Saunders. For the second consecutive game, the big rookie made a key play.
Against Cincinnati, Saunders gained the Steelers' penultimate first down on the final series when he caught a short pass and made a nifty juke for an 11-yard gain to help close out a seven-point win.
In Kansas City, Saunders scored the game's only touchdown with more nifty footwork to stay in-bounds in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown grab out of a four-TE formation (Trai Essex was the fourth) late in the first half.
So, we know the big rookie can catch and run. But can he block? That was my interest during this review, and the best I can report is that he has the heart for it and will probably improve, because he needs to.
In the 12 snaps that I counted, Saunders was asked to block someone seven times. He was effective on only four of them.
Saunders also made the tackle on the fake punt. He was lined up over the center before the upback ran to his left, where Larry Foote and Jason Worilds were being pushed off the ball. Saunders had help on the tackle from the "lineman" to his right, Jonathan Dwyer, but the 5-yard conversion was successful on fourth-and-1.
MORE SPECIAL TEAMS
Shaun Suisham had another strong game. He kicked 21 and 49-yard field goals and sent all three kickoffs into the end zone, two of which resulted in touchbacks, in the sub-freezing weather (27-degree wind chill opening kickoff).
Suisam has now made five field goals in a row since missing a 44-yarder against New England. He's 11 for 12 in his last five games.
WHAT'S WRONG ...
... with James Harrison? After all of that rest during the bye week, the Steelers' blindside pass-rusher made five tackles but he didn't hit the quarterback (at least according to the stats sheet).
It should also be noted that the Chiefs ran predominantly at Worilds, who was in for LaMarr Woodley, and that Harrison actually played well in the first half. But he appeared to stiffen up in the second half. His back problems were clearly evident late in the third quarter on a draw play in which Harrison ran past Dexter McCluster but couldn't redirect without running a loop in the K.C. backfield. His trademark leverage and agility were notably absent as the game wore on.
WHAT'S RIGHT ...
... with Troy Polamalu? Yes, he was forced to the sideline when he stuck his head into the knee of Steve Maneri on a pass to the fullback in the flat. Polamalu was probably surprised when he struck Maneri, who was actually a 6-6, 290-pound reserve tackle in fullback's clothing.
But Polamalu was playing well on that first series and is making these oft-asked questions about his speed more irrelevant with each passing game.
And once again Polamalu perfectly timed a snap. I fully expected to slow down the play and catch him offsides, but he wasn't. He never is. No one times the snap better and more consistently than Polamalu. I see college players try to imitate him, but they only look foolish when they crash into the line and the ball hasn't been snapped. Isn't that right, Vontaze Burfict?
The most disruptive player for the Chiefs appeared to be outside linebacker Tamba Hali, but he only made one solo tackle and hit the quarterback only two times without a sack, or even a tackle-for-loss. Part of the Steelers' success with Hali was the performance of right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
The rookie, in his ninth career start, went up against Hali nine times and stoned him every time, even the first time when Hali was flagged (and declined) for jumping offsides on the snap.
Hali did force Mewelde Moore's fumble on that side, but only after Gilbert rode him wide to open the gaping hole in the first place.
Once, Hali pinned his ears back on a third-and-29 pass play but Gilbert held his ground and kept Hali away from Ben Roethlisberger. Gilbert also stoned and then mirrored Hali on a first-and-15 pass play in which Roethlisberger didn't throw for a full five seconds.
Gilbert has surprised and impressed me, and I was convinced Gilbert was chosen too early in the second round.
Roethlisberger admitted he made a mistake in calling for a timeout after he had hurried the offense to the line of scrimmage on fourth down in an attempt to force the Chiefs to jump offsides. He had tried that maneuver earlier in the game, but was rebuffed by an official's review of a possible fumble. Note to Ben: The fourth-down move worked once early in the season but it's out there on tape and no one's going to fall for it again. ... The most underrated performances were turned in by Kemoeatu and Brett Keisel, who made up for Harrison's bad back by blowing up most of the running plays to the weak side. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons also played his best game of the season. ... Rookie Curtis Brown continues to excel as a punt gunner. In fact, Brown leads the Steelers' special teams this season with 10 tackles, one more than Ryan Mundy and five more than those in a third-place tie: Cortez Allen, Stevenson Sylvester and Suisham. ... Yes, Suisham.