Medley / USA TODAY Sports Images

View from the Steelers Sideline

Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley with his must-read notebook from Arrowhead Stadium.

Steelers Nation is everywhere, even in Kansas City. Prior to departing the team hotel on the first bus, the early-to-the-stadium bus on game day, a number of Steelers fans in Kansas City amassed at the hotel holding up “You're in Steelers Country” banners as we left for the stadium.

* After leaving the Steelers' locker room, I exited to the tunnel which leads to the field. In a brightly painted wall mural, directly across the locker room door, was the factoid that Arrowhead Stadium is the loudest venue in the world. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the arena once checked in at an ear-blistering 142.2 decibels. Yow ...

* As I watched Chiefs mega-rusher OLB Justin Houston during pre-game warmups, I noticed the large knee brace. I duly noted out of habit it was on his left knee, and I know such a notation isn't generally encouraged by today's PC generation. But back in the day you were always aware of your opponents' injuries, just in the event you might need to go after him, or they after you. I realize I played back in the day when elves, wizards and dragons thrashed about in middle earth doing battle, but that was the way I was brought up in the game. Very different.

* One thing for sure, the Kansas City fans don’t just come to the game to watch, they come to participate in making noise. And the man on the PA system made sure the crowd knew they were supposed to participate.

* Le'Veon Bell has been on a tear of late, and much of the credit goes to the hogs up front. During the first offensive drive, "The Big Ragu," Ramon Foster, was one of the big reasons that Bell had room to move. Foster made like a waiter at “IHOP” and served up a big ol' pancake to an unfortunate and later-to-be-determined Kansas City Chiefs linebacker.

* Ragu is playing some of his finest football and the way he's steamrolling dudes is further testament to how good he is. And Foster is absolutely merciless when it comes to finishing. I think he would have done well in the Coliseum in Rome back in the day.

* That whole first series, the Steelers “muddle huddled,” or just gathered at the line of scrimmage, which made substitutions difficult. It gave Todd Haley the opportunity to create mismatches in personnel and took some starch out of the full participation Arrowhead crowd.

* Chiefs OT Eric Fisher resumed his battle with old nemesis James Harrison. James has had much success against Fisher in past matchups. As a matter of fact, “Deebo” might well be the bogeyman to Fisher getting a good night sleep. I bet Fisher checked his closet before getting into bed Saturday night. But early in the game, Fisher looked to be refining his technique in pass pro. He kept his head back and shoulders above his knees to prevent becoming head-heavy. In the first few pass rushes, it was making a difference as Fisher was indeed holding his own.

* As I’m minding my own business on the sideline, I see Houston walk out over the slot man, Antonio Brown. Surely you don’t take your best pass-rusher and put him in man coverage with the best WR in the game, do you?

* Yes, they did, and the moment I saw Houston running in man coverage down the field with AB I lost my cool and began yelling at Ben Roethlisberger to “Throw it, throw it!” Ben heard me. After working the pocket to avoid OLB Tamba Hali, Ben stopped and turned and launched a beautiful 52-yard strike to AB down the sideline. Incredible.

* Eh, maybe Ben didn't hear me, but his mental telepathy with AB was obvious.

* Every time Tyreek Hill touched the ball there was a sense of anticipation that he was going to do something spectacular. Boasting a 4.29 40-yard dash time, Hill is “Slicker than snot on a doorknob” whenever he’s got the ball underarm. After the "Wizard of Boz" kicked his second field goal, the ensuing kickoff found Hill catching the ball, and Vince Williams crashing down on him like a one-man tsunami. At the 12-yard line. That’s all, folks.

* With eyes as big as silver dollars flashing bolts of lightning, Williams blew by me on the sideline like he was Denzel Washington in the movie “Man on Fire.”  Vince was on a mission, and Hill had just encountered one of the answers to “How do the Steelers stop Tyreek Hill?”

* Fisher continues to surprise me. Now, James got the uppercut on a first-half rush, but Fisher is using his right hand to push on Harrison’s hip, so even though Deebo had sunk in the uppercut, he couldn’t turn the corner because Fisher was keeping pressure on James’ hip. This is not something I had seen before from Fisher.

* Dontari Poe, the outstanding NT of the Chiefs, is an anomaly of sorts. He’s a huge NT but he has sweet feet and is capable of playing the 3-technique, lining up over the outside shoulder of one of the guards. He’s pass-rush capable and plays as square as a four-by-four column of granite. I'm watching him play and I'm thinking about Casey Hampton, and that's almost as big a compliment as I can give.

* Poe is listed at 346 pounds but I’d put him at a biscuit under 365. And I’ll bet he’s got his own table at Jack Stack BBQ in K.C. Matter of fact, if I lived there, I’d have my own right next to him.

* Tonight is a test of sorts for OT Alejandro Villanueva. It was last season when Al got his first start in Kansas City, after Kelvin Beachum had gone down. Al had a rough first go at Arrowhead, with Landry Jones at QB. Flash forward and Big Al pulled and drilled Houston on a trap block that sprung Bell for 9 yards. Al is playing with a 3-D mindset, able to see the game and be the game rather than having to think through the game. Zen anyone?

* Bud Dupree got the edge on Chiefs OT Jah Reid, who came in for a jumbo formation. Dupree got past Reid and stunned the crowd, stunned Alex Smith, and maybe stunned himself with his ridiculous and devastating dis-engagement from Reid right into accelerating and swatting the already-in-motion throwing arm of Smith. The ball pop-flied into the air and Ryan Shazier corralled it with a nice display of athleticism.

* Late in the second quarter, Keith Butler dialed up a fire-zone blitz which included Javon Hargrave in pass coverage. After an incomplete pass, the punting unit came out onto the field and the defense took to the nice, heated benches. There I saw Javon talking with a teammate while motioning with his hand, seemingly explaining the finer points of his coverage technique I’m sure.

* Midway through the second quarter, after a major-league car crash of bodies including Villanueva, I saw Al clutch his taped-up elbow and simply roll over on his back for a moment. Shrugging off the injury, which looked from groundhog level to be painful, Al stayed in the game, Ranger-style. But it worried me until I saw him in the third quarter out on the field laying waste to some poor unfortunate Chief. Naw, he’s good.

* OK, now this is the second time Williams has ripped down the field at high speed and creamed Hill while covering a second-half kickoff. Sheez-Louise, Hill has been one of the forefront threats that every sports talk show had highlighted the past week, and Vince Williams seems to be single-handedly eliminating that threat. This is very impressive work by Vince and his coverage teammates.

* Vince must listen to sports talk shows. Haha, busted.

* Stephon Tuitt continues to play high-caliber football. On a screen - and screens are definitely an Andy Reid specialty - too-quick pressure can nullify the play, and Tuitt did just that by beating his man handily and getting into the grill of Smith before he was ready to dump the ball to RB Spencer Ware. Smith had to lay the ball up high, Ware jumped to catch it and found himself over-rotated in the air. He crashed to earth flat on his back and hit his head pretty hard. It was definitely a “brain bouncer.”

* Can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The battle between Harrison and Fisher really heated up in the second half. And because Fisher wasn’t as overextended as in the past, James switched tactics and on this rush Fisher has his arms out and Harrison knocks them down, or “traps” them, as we used to call it back in the day. Today, we can just call it a sack, and a big one for James.

* Late in the third quarter on a Lev Bell short-yardage run attempt, Antonio Brown and CB Marcus Peters got into a bit of a tiff. It got so heated the officials had to get between the combatants. I thought for sure one or both guys would be flagged but none was thrown.

* When TE Travis Kelce dropped a nice ball while running down the seam, and Mike Mitchell lit him up, you could see Kelce losing his cool. Then Kelce got all aggravated at Ross Cockrell after a little pop from Ross. So Kelce came back and openly and blatantly punched Cockrell with an open-handed two-hand punch after the play had been whistled dead. Although Ross went down, he was quick to get back up and though cooler heads prevailed there were a lot of angry faces on the sideline.

* During the quarter change heading into the fourth, there was AB standing at the line of scrimmage talking to Poe. I don’t know what was said but it looked fairly amicable.

* In the fourth quarter now. During a stoppage in play, the ref asked the clock operator to correct the time on the scoreboard to 9:49. After waiting a bit during a TV timeout, he turned on his mike and again asked the clock operator to adjust the scoreboard clock and add one second. Pause, more waiting, and then just as he began to ask a third time a second was added to the clock, causing Tunch Ilkin to wonder if “Maybe the clock operator was on a bathroom break.”

* All along the Steelers sideline you could see craned necks and a sucking in of air when Alex Smith launched a big fly to Hill running down the sideline with Artie Burns in man coverage. Artie played the ferociously fast Hill to perfection, squeezing him to the sidelines in a mano-y-mano confrontation of two rookies whose paths are certain to cross again. Seemingly, the entire Steelers bench gasped a collective sigh of relief when the ball fell to the ground, after Artie had high-pointed it in the end zone to knock it down.

* Sean Davis made what would have been a great play in my day. Only, my day was a quarter century ago. Had it been my day, Davis would have been celebrated along the likes of Steelers all-time great Donnie Shell. And the Hall-of-Famer who should be would have congratulated Sean for the hit. No, no one ever wants to see another player get hurt, as Chiefs WR Chris Conley writhed in pain, but there was another time and another day and another way of playing this magnificent game of ours. And though that way has gone the way of dinosaurs, it bears remembering, for in it legends were born.

* Sean got a flag for his effort, and it was a young, somewhat distraught safety who conversed with the coaches on the sideline. And in the heat of the moment, when young people could lose their head over a flag like that, Carnell Lake tapped his own head towards Sean, reminding him to keep his cool and don’t let the flag take away from your game. Carnell was always the level-headed thinking man with the striking ability of a Donnie Shell. Young Sean Davis has a great teacher on the job.

* When Fisher was flagged on the two-point conversion, I frankly was surprised. I have seen opponents throw a “Mata Leo” or rear naked chokehold on Deebo so many times I didn’t think refs even bothered to look anymore. But Deebo is like the “Terminator.” He doesn’t stop. He just keeps hounding and pounding you.

* If you want to know what taking the air out of a stadium sounds like, imagine nearly 142.2 decibels screaming on the game-deciding third-and-3 following the two-minute warning only to go nearly silent after AB and Ben hooked up for the game-winning first down. The crowd went from utter heart-pounding mayhem to whispering and murmuring in less than the time it took for AB to run a crossing route and step out of bounds.

* Taking the knee, otherwise known as Victory Formation, is still the best play in the book. From the smiles on everybody’s face, I believe we have a majority decision on that one.


Steel City Insider Top Stories