Steelers bungle chance for redemption

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After a performance of titanic ineptitude in week one against the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers had the opportunity to redeem themselves in Cincinnati but they bungled it, losing 20-10 against a divisional opponent.

Whether it was the offensive line being its usual porous self allowing two sacks, repeated hits and constant penetration, the receiving corps obviously not in synch with its quarterback or Ben Roethlisberger for whatever reason not throwing accurate passes, or the revolving door of bodies in the backfield masquerading as running backs, the Steelers' offense is showing signs of dry rot that is threatening the foundation of the Steelers 2013 season.

The defense played decently, but once again failed to make any splash plays; there were no interceptions, no forced fumbles. In fact, maybe decent isn't the right adjective, because while they did not allow many big plays, they allowed too many little ones. Indeed, one surprising issue with the Steelers was with many players' inability to tackle properly. In particular Ryan Clark and rookie Shamarko Thomas, two players with reputations for delivering heavy hits, failed to tackle cleanly several times, allowing the ball carrier to gain extra yards and first downs. For all the seemingly good coverage Ike Taylor provided against the Bengals' A.J. Green, when it came time to actually tackle Green, Taylor repeatedly needed help from other Steelers in bringing him down. In fairness however, it was Taylor's heads-up play at the close of the first half that prevented the score from being worse; he accurately read the Hail Mary Bengals QB Andy Dalton threw as time ran out and broke away from his assignment, leaped up and batted the ball out of WR Mohamad Sanu's hands and denying what otherwise would have been a Bengals touchdown for a 6 point lead going into halftime.

While the first half of the game was close, the final drive of the half foretold what was to come. The Bengals received the ball after the Steelers' sole touchdown of the game (how galling is that to read for the second week in a row?)and proceeded to rattle off 11 plays in just one minute 45 seconds, moving from their 11 yard line to the Steelers 42, gaining 3 first downs along the way before time ran out at the half.

The time of possession stats best illustrate the depths to which the once vaunted offense led by Ben Roethlisberger has fallen. While the Cincinnati Bengals possessed the ball 11minutes and 8 seconds longer than the Steelers, over four quarters that would only average about three minutes a quarter, or the average length of a Bengals possession throughout the game.

But statistics like this can mask the real issues. Over the first two quarters the time of possession was in the Steelers favor by 40 seconds and the score was tied at 10-10 at half-time. However, when the Bengals received the second half kickoff, which they had deferred to at the coin toss, they proceeded to control the ball for over 10 minutes in each of the two final quarters.

After going three-and-out to open the second half, the Bengals put together drives of 5:08, 4:10, 6:51 and 3:12, which despite the Steelers' defenses' best efforts, resulted in Punt, TD, Punt, FG and Punt, respectively. Looking at it one way, the Bengals did rather poorly scoring only 10 points in nearly 21 minutes of the second half; however, that was more than enough to outscore Ben Roethlisberger and his band of misfit backs and too short receivers. For the third and fourth quarters, the Steelers managed to Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception and...oh yea, run out of time at the end. Roethlisberger was patently off on his timing, either throwing ahead of the receivers, or too high; his throw to Emmanuel Sanders on the possession after the Bengals scored their fourth quarter FG was so far over his head that even if Sanders had borrowed 6 inches of height from Plaxico Burress it is unlikely he would have caught the ball. Instead, despites a leaping stretch, the best Sanders could do was tip the ball which allowed Bengals FS Reggie Nelson to intercept Roethlisberger for the second time in the teams' last two games.

If a win is a win, no matter how ugly, how bad is a loss with little positive to show for it? The Steelers are 31st in the league in terms of offensive yards per game; 30th in first downs per game, but hey, they're 25th in Penalty Yards, so that's something, right? On the defensive side of things, the Steelers currently are 10th in the metric that has consoled Steeler Nation the last two years, Yards per Game Allowed, but so far have allowed 43 yards more than they did last year. The Steelers are ranked 6th in terms of fewest yards allowed per play, which is good, but they're ranked ninth in terms of most plays allowed per game.

Worse yet however, how ugly is a loss to a divisional opponent that wasn't as close as the final score might deceptively indicate? The Steelers aren't just 0-2; they are down one in their own division, and are tied with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars for worst AFC Conference records.

Fortunately for the Steelers, their next two games are against NFC opponents so any losses won't be compounded by further wild card ground lost; the Chicago Bears come to Heinz Field, then the Steelers travel to England to play the Vikings. After the Vikings, the Steelers face the toughest opponent they'll face this year; a week off to themselves to dwell on how things have gone so wrong so fast.

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