Steel Mill A.M.: Anthony Chickillo was everywhere for Steelers in Sunday's win
CLEVELAND — Bud Dupree was impressed. The man who filled in for him at left outside linebacker for the Steelers on Sunday had a game to remember in what was his eighth NFL start.
"Chick's the man," Dupree said after Anthony Chickillo had two sacks, six tackles and a punt-block recovery touchdown in the Steelers' 21-18 against the Browns win in their season opener.
If it seemed as if Chickillo was everywhere Sunday, that's in part because he virtually was. No player on either team was on the field for more plays than the third-year linebacker (82). The player on either team who played the second-most snaps was Sean Davis, the Steelers safety who played 74 (66 on defense and eight on special teams).
Who was the Steelers' top performer in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns?— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) September 11, 2017
Chickillo sat out just four of the Steelers' 66 defensive snaps, and he appeared in 20 of their 25 special-teams plays.
Not bad for a guy who said he didn't find out he'd be playing a major role on defense Sunday until two hours before kickoff.
"I feel like I'm always prepared," Chickillo said. "I would put myself in the position where I feel like I can go in and compete and play at a high level."
Chickillo started in place of Dupree because of a shoulder injury to the latter. It was another reward for Chickillo, who was taken in the same draft as Dupree – but 190 picks later as a sixth-round choice.
Chickillo has become a core special-teams standout since, and he's also outlasted the departed Jarvis Jones and passed Arthur Moats on the depth chart and into a primary backup role on the defense.
Sunday, Chickillo made the absence of Dupree an afterthought on defense. And moments after Tyler Matakevich blocked Britton Colquitt's punt two minutes into the game, he became the unlikeliest of players to score the Steelers' first points of the season.
They also were Chickillo's first points, personally, in a long time.
"High school," he said. "I probably had a pick-six or I caught it as a receiver.
"I was caught by surprise, even though (special teams coach Danny Smith) did say we were going to block that punt. I'm just happy that we did. Tyler made a great play, and I jumped on it."
"It was awesome, man," Chickillo said later. "Anytime you can spark the team, it's a good feeling."
Five snaps later, Chickillo provided another spark, this time in the way of a sack of DeShone Kizer. He'd bring down the Browns rookie again later in the third quarter.
The two-sack game was another example of the depth the Steelers have at outside linebacker, arguably now the deepest spot on the team. T.J. Watt had two sacks and an interception in his NFL debut, Moats is a former starter and former NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison barely played Sunday.
"We feel like we've got a talented, young room and we've got to make plays when our number is called," Chickillo said. "We felt like we can be as good as we want to be on defense."
Steelers 21, Browns 18
Three stats to know
1. The Steelers' yards per play in their past three games against Cleveland over the past 10 months are 4.9, 4.5 and 5.4. In only three of their other 14 games since the start of last season have the Steelers averaged fewer than 5.4 yards per play.
2. The Steelers have 32 sacks in their five games against Cleveland. In their past 17 games against all other opponents, they have 32 sacks.
3. Le'Veon Bell has 6,097 yards from scrimmage in his career, now the eighth-most in Steelers history, despite appearing in just 48 games (equivalent of three seasons).
Snap counts to know
Offense – TE Jesse James (54 of 60), WR Antonio Brown (51), RB Le'Veon Bell (43), TE Vance McDonald (18), TE Xavier Grimble (1)
Defense – S Sean Davis (66 of 66), S Mike Mitchell (44), S J.J. Wilcox (20), S Robert Golden (1), CB Mike Hilton (34), CB William Gay (26), CB Coty Sensabaugh (0)
The Steelers practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Three storylines for the week
1. How bad is the biceps injury to Stephon Tuitt – and how will the Steelers replace him, be it for the short- or longterm?
2. Can Le'Veon Bell's listless production Sunday just be chalked up as a bad day? Or was he feeling any effects of not taking part in training camp?
3. Why were the Steelers penalized so much in their opener? Is that portending of a trend, or just an isolated occurrence?
Steelers (1-0) vs. Vikings (0-0), 1 p.m. Sunday, Heinz Field
It's the home opener. The most recent time the Steelers hosted Minnesota, Brett Favre was its quarterback. This time, it will be Sam Bradford. The Vikings host New Orleans in their opener Monday night.
Staff writer Kevin Gorman contributed. Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.