PITTSBURGH — Can we agree the Steelers are a long way from being the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles?
That it is harder than ever after this postseason to imagine the Steelers making it to a Super Bowl any time soon?
It starts with the edge at quarterback that the Chiefs and Eagles have.
Patrick Mahomes won’t win seven Super Bowls, but I like the chances of remembering him the way I’ll remember Tom Brady. He is just 27 but will play in his third Super Bowl after playing in five consecutive AFC championship games. He is spectacular.
Jalen Hurts, at 24, is just as precocious as Mahomes. He was a legitimate MVP candidate before injuring his shoulder late in the season. He threw for 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions and used the run-pass option game to perfection, running for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns. He, too, is spectacular.
Kenny Pickett might approach that level one day. Even if he doesn’t, he might be good enough to win a Super Bowl. We’ll see.
The Chiefs and especially the Eagles have another significant advantage over the Steelers:
They are so much better up front, on the defensive and offensive lines.
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was the best player in either game on Sunday. He had two sacks, five quarterback hits and three tackles for losses. He embarrassed the Bengals offensive line, which, admittedly, was down two starters. All of the Chiefs defenders did, sacking Joe Burrow five times with 12 quarterback hits, seven pass deflections and six tackles for losses. It’s probably a good thing for the Steelers that the Chiefs made Burrow seem like just another quarterback at times. They have to play Burrow and the Bengals twice a year.
The Eagles also are loaded in the trenches — on both sides of the ball. They just dominate their opponents.
It happened in the Eagles’ first playoff game against the New York Giants and happened again Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. I know, the 49ers had major quarterback issues, losing third-stringer Brock Purdy and fourth-stringer Josh Johnson to injuries. Purdy had to go back into the game in the third quarter even though he couldn’t throw a pass because of an elbow injury. It didn’t matter. Even with a healthy Purdy, the 49ers weren’t going to be good enough against that Eagles defense to win.
The Eagles led the NFL with a staggering 70 sacks during the regular season, 15 more than the Chiefs, who had the second-most, and 30 more than the Steelers. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was a big part of that, adding a sack of Johnson on Sunday to the 11 sacks he had during the season. You remember Hargrave, right? The Steelers let him go as a free agent after the 2019 season, choosing instead to stick with Stephon Tuitt. It wasn’t the wrong decision at the time because the Steelers envisioned Tuitt and Cam Heyward destroying their opponents’ offense. But it turned out to be a bad decision because of Tuitt’s injuries, the personal tragedy in his life with his brother dying in a hit-and-run accident and his decision to retire before the 2021 season.
As for the Eagles’ offensive line, it is the best in football, at least according to Pro Football Focus ratings. It is a big reason the Eagles finished third in the NFL in yards and points per game and fifth in rushing yards. Offensive tackle Lane Johnson had a silly-good year, not allowing a sack or quarterback hit and giving up just nine hurries on 551 pass-blocking snaps.
Quite simply, the Eagles spent the season mauling their opponents in every way.
There is some good news for the Steelers, at least as far as the Eagles are concerned:
Steelers first-year assistant general manager Andy Weidl had a big say in building the Eagles as their vice president of player personnel.
Wouldn’t you love to see Weidl do the same thing with the Steelers by concentrating on the defensive and offensive lines during this offseason?