By Jeremy Fowler for ESPN.
PITTSBURGH — All week in the locker room, the Pittsburgh Steelers were eager to retake the field for redemption after a brutal 34-3 loss in Philadelphia.
The result: an explosion against the Kansas City Chiefs so massive that Seattle or New England or any other city with an NFL contender must have heard it.
The 43-14 beatdown Sunday night reminded the NFL exactly what the Steelers can do when a physical defense pairs with the offensive battery of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, who made his return to NFL play with 178 total yards on 23 touches.
“(Bell) made it look easy,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “Whoever had him on their fantasy team was at the house screaming.”
The New York Jets, who visit Heinz Field for Week 5, will watch the video from this game and see a listless Chiefs team that mustered no resistance. They will also see a problem on the other side, in the form of a should-be contender finding its high-and-tight fastball in October.
Games such as this one are why Roethlisberger is feared, no matter what happened the week before. Big Ben (22-of-27, 300 yards) had a perfect 158.3 passer rating through three quarters and threw five touchdowns for the fifth time in his career.
“Probably the best quarterback in the league,” Bell said.
The way the offense operated is how the Steelers want to attack the Jets and other teams: with versatility, aggression and Bell involved in all of it.
For example, early in the game, the Steelers lined Bell up wide on six straight possessions while mixing and matching formations. This didn’t produce direct results early, but it helped loosen up the middle of the field for Brown andDarrius Heyward-Bey for scores on deep balls. The Steelers found one-on-one, man-coverage matchups that they liked and exploited them.
By halftime, Roethlisberger had more touchdown passes (four) than incompletions (three), and that’s without a conservative gameplan.
“That’s our mentality on offense, that’s who I am, we’re going to gun-sling it and not be afraid to take shots,” Roethlisberger said.
With a big lead, they could then load up maximum protection and milk the clock with Bell, who finished with 18 rushes for 144 yards along with five catches for 34 yards. The offense emphasizes the vertical passing game, but it does that best when it has balance. That showed in the first two weeks, withDeAngelo Williams rushing for 237 yards. Bell, fresh off a three-game suspension and last year’s knee injury, looks like his explosive self. Lateral quickness, cutting ability and speed are all there. Bell’s 89 rushing yards after contact were his second-most in his career.
The unpredictable game plan triggers the play-action pass, on which Roethlisberger completed his first six attempts for 124 yards and a touchdown.
“They were playing the run early,” Bell said. “We wanted to take our shots.”
What’s more, if the Steelers defense can attack like this most weeks, Pittsburgh will be playing January football. Most of Alex Smith‘s passing came in garbage time. The Chiefs couldn’t do anything in the first half.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler called more blitzes off the edge, but a big difference might be a dominantCameron Heyward (three sacks), who finally looks healthy after his high ankle sprain. Heyward and defensive end Stephon Tuitt were active all night. Jarvis Jones continued his solid play. First-round pick Artie Burns battled on several coverage plays, including a diving pass breakup on a deep ball.
But even if the defense has an off night, a healthy offense always gives Pittsburgh a chance. Philadelphia was officially an aberration.