Observation deck: Steelers-Chiefs

The Pittsburgh Steelers easily played their best game of the preseason in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday night at Heinz Field, but it was hardly a Picasso.

  • The Steelers committed nine penalties for 98 yards, allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a blocked field goal and let the Chiefs go right down the field at the end of the first half and score a game-tying touchdown. Strong safety Troy Polamalu was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on Kansas City’s 72-yard drive at the end of the first half for launching himself at Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. “We were penalized on drives that they scored on, and if we remain penalty-free defensively we’re a tough team to drive the ball on,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve got to be cleaner.”

  • The Steelers’ biggest scare of the evening came late in the fourth quarter when rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones stayed down after returning an interception 22 yards. (The pick was negated by a pass-interference call.) Jones, who made his presence felt at outside linebacker and on special teams against the Chiefs, sustained what Tomlin called an upper-body injury. But, as the coach pointed out, Jones trotted off the field under his own power, so the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. Jones is seriously pushing Jason Worilds for the starting job at right outside linebacker.

  • Worilds started against the Chiefs but Jones replaced him for the Chiefs’ second possession of the game. Worilds returned to the game for Kansas City’s third offensive series, but to spell left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley as Jones stayed in the game.

  • Tomlin wasn’t pleased with some of the penalties called against his team, including a chop block on running back Jonathan Dwyer, Dwyer said after the game that the Steelers' coaches told him it was a clean play. With Isaac Redman (stinger) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee) sidelined, Dwyer started Saturday night and rarely came off the field in the first half. He rushed for 25 yards on eight carries. Felix Jones actually led the Steelers in rushing as he gained 29 yards on eight carries despite joining the team Friday via a trade with the Eagles. The Steelers have a week to take a good look at Jones and see if he can help them, particularly with depth an issue at running back.

  • If I am Tomlin there is no way I let Ben Roethlisberger do anything but hand off in the Steelers’ final preseason game Thursday at Carolina. Roethlisberger is ready for the regular season. Against the Chiefs he completed 13 of 19 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski after halftime. Roethlisberger’s best throw of the night actually came on one of his six incompletions. He showed exquisite touch on a pass down the right sideline to Emmanuel Sanders. The play would have gone for a 34-yard touchdown but the ball squirted out of Sanders’ arms after he landed in the end zone. With the final preseason game a throwaway for starters anyway, there is no use in risking anything when it comes to Roethlisberger at Carolina.

  • The same goes for Polamalu. The oft-injured safety is healthy and has been active as ever this preseason. There is no need to allow him anywhere near the field on Thursday night. Polamalu was all over the field against the Chiefs, making four tackles and recovering a fumble in two-plus quarters of work. Polamalu disrupted a fourth-and-1 run by Jamaal Charles in the first quarter after perfectly timing the snap, and the Chiefs' Pro Bowl running back was stuffed for no gain. Even on the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, Polamalu showed impressive closing speed in nearly chasing down Smith. He appeared to hit Smith above the shoulders before the latter threw a pass, and Polamalu said he understood why the play drew a flag. “Obviously if Ben was in that position I’d want them to make that same call,” Polamalu said.

  • Starting cornerback Cortez Allen missed an open-field tackle on the second play of the game and was later penalized for a late hit out of bounds. (Another penalty against him, for illegal contact, was declined.) He still played a terrific game, especially since Allen has practiced sparingly this preseason after having knee surgery at the beginning of August. The Chiefs threw at Allen early and often, and the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder more than stood his ground. Allen led the Steelers with six tackles and was also credited with one pass defended. Barring a setback with his knee Allen looks ready to build on the season he had in 2012, when he showed immense promise after injuries thrust the Citadel product into the starting lineup.

  • A handful of cornerbacks are vying for roster spots and at least one of them didn’t help himself against the Chiefs. Journeyman Josh Victorian missed an open-field tackle that allowed Knile Davis to return a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. A pass-interference call against Victorian in the fourth quarter wiped out the interception by Jones. Victorian played well enough last season when injuries decimated the Steelers’ secondary, but missing a tackle he was in position to make on special teams isn’t something that Tomlin easily forgets. “Obviously we can’t give up kickoff returns for touchdowns,” Tomlin said.