The Steelers propensity for giving up points with the defense NOT on the field continued yesterday at Heinz Field where the Bengals swept the season series against the Steelers with an 18-12 victory. The Steelers 2009 personality seems to be to give the opponent points while LeBeau’s bunch is on the sideline. Whether a Ben pick-6 for 6 or a punt or kickoff return the Steelers are regularly giving up free points to opponents who are using these points to beat the Steelers. At 6-3 the season is far from over but the Steelers chances for an easy road to the playoffs is over and their chances for a home playoff game are virtually nil.
Yesterday Ben Roethlisberger had his worst day of 2009 and Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians had his typical “I wish I had a game plan or a clue” game. Inexplicably the Steelers failed to run the ball with any conviction. Dropped passes, over thrown passes and missed 3rd down opportunities spelled doom for the Steelers TD less offense. Too many empty set backfield plays on 1st down or 2nd and short leading to 3rd and long. Too much of a mish mash incongruent game plan presented by Bruce Arians for the Steelers to put any consistency together. Horrid play calls in the red zone only added to the frustration. Do the Steelers have a play that will work at the goal line? Can someone ask Ken Whisenhunt for a copy of the 2005 playbook?
In a repeat of 2005 the Steelers have lost a home game to the Bengals for possession of 1st place in the AFC North and are now looking up at virtually every playoff team in the AFC. The O line looked a bit like the O line that played for the Steelers last year in Philly and against the New York Giants. A pitiful display in which Max Starks and Willie Colon took turns with the Guards not blocking blitzing Bengals and allowing them in Roethlisberger’s face moments after snap. The receivers failed to get open. When they did, Ben misfired or they dropped the ball. In another repeat of 2005 the Steelers got Willie Parker the ball. Once for a 7-yard run. Mendenhall had a robust 13 carries. Surely not enough to get in a groove and impose your will and game plan on the opposition.
The defense was stout and good as usual but failed to come up with any splash plays. It’s hard to find fault with a unit that really only gave up 9 points yesterday and kept Chad 85 and Ced Benson in check. Yet with the game on the line, James Harrison took a senseless 15-yard penalty and the Bengals ate up plays, yardage and points in the waning minutes of a close game. Something Bruce Arians and the Steelers failed to do on either of their last two one-minute possessions at the 7 minute mark and again at the 2 minute warning. Bengal offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (a Cowher and Whis disciple) calmly ran off 9 and 11 play drives late in the game to ice the Steelers and garner another victory for the Bengals. If only BA could get a glimpse of that Bratkowski game plan where you run and pass with equal vigor perhaps the Steelers could show some semblance of a consistent well-honed offense.
Losing Troy Polamalu yesterday really hurt and I hope he is back soon. The 3 games the Steelers have lost have all featured a defense sans Troy. He may have given the defense the “splash play” it so badly needed yesterday to thwart defeat. One place Troy Polamalu can’t help even if healthy is on special teams.
The Bengal special teams unit missed a field goal yesterday and missed an extra point. Yet they were the most competent of the special teams units on the field. The Steelers for the 3rd time in 4 games gave up a KR TD costing them valuable points. This time it came back to beat them as it provided the margin of victory and possibly the margin of the AFC North title. I have posted on these pages before that Tomlin's lack of demand for "style points" would cost them games in January and February. That's if this unstylish team gets to January beyond the 3rd. On kickoffs, Jeff Reed kicks it short and the Steelers fail to run down and tackle. When the returner gets passed everyone on the Steelers unit and Reed is left, he simply “oh-lays” the runner like a bullfighter to the bull and it’s off to the races for our opponents. There have been several less than adequate attempts at a tackle by Skippy this year. Perhaps someone should tell him the KR is really a towel dispenser at a Sheetz? Perhaps it’s time to insert Timmons and Harrison on these units? In addition, as much as I liked the idea of Stephan Logan (and he has done an ok job so far) he simply has not broke a KR or PR yet and is hurting them on kick return defense. Perhaps it’s time to go get Anthony Madison back or activate Donovan Woods?
All in all it is not all lost yet. The Steelers can still win out and take the AFCN. Another scenario is a bunch of wins and a wild card spot where the Steelers can go road warrior like 2005. KC will be a tough game as they all are. At any rate, the repeat just got a lot harder and the Steelers don’t look very special at this point of the season. They look good, but not in the class of New Orleans, New England, Indianapolis….or the Cincinnati Bengals.