Well, there's not much positive spin to put on this one. There's one major positive to take from this game, which we'll get to shortly, but there's plenty to be concerned about as we limp towards the playoffs.
- First off, the injuries. Part of the reason I was optimistic about this team's chances to rebound from its mid-season funk was the absence of significant injuries. Now Aaron Smith is on the shelf, Ike Taylor was injured yesterday, Santonio doesn't seem to be quite 100 %, and Marvel Smith is again injured with an aggravated back of some sort.
- Speaking of Marvel Smith, brutal game for him yesterday. Something must have been bothering him all game, because he was responsible for just about every one of the Jaguars 5 sacks of Ben Roethlisberger. If he had been ailing all game, I'm disappointed he didn't take himself out of the mix until the 4th quarter, when Max Starks finally replaced him and played well.
- As for Aaron Smith? Guess we missed him more than we thought, even though none of us were dismissing his injury as no-big deal for the Steelers. I'm not sure Smith's presence yesterday would have made enough of a difference to change the outcome of the game, but I still don't believe we give up over 200 yards to Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones Drew if he's playing.
- The game turned in Jacksonville's favor for good when we failed to tackle MJD on 4th and 1 from our 46 on the first drive of the 2nd half. We had the middle clogged, but Drew and his powerful legs bounced off the first tackler and picked up the first drive. Jacksonville finished off that 20 play 9:00+ drive and it was clear who was the more physical, determined football team.
- It was fun watching Polamalu fly around the field, and he certainly made some incredible tackles. But he, along with the rest of the team, got pushed around in the running game on more than one occassion.
To the few positives of yesterday's game:
- Ben Roethlisberger. Wow, what a competitor! The numbers were ugly in the first half..real ugly. But he hung in there, despite being battered and bruised by the Jags interior linemen for much of the day. Plenty of QBs would have taken themselves out of that game in the 2nd half. Not Ben. He just kept fighting, and almost single-handedly saved the defense from humiliation. It wasn't meant to be yesterday, but it was only further proof that we have a special competitive talent playing the most important position on the football field for us. Priority #1 this offseason: locking him up for the better part of the next decade.
- I haven't seen much on Nate Washington's knee injury, but it looked painful and potentially serious. If that was Nate's last play as a Steeler either for this year or for his career, it was a fine way to go out. Very nice catch by Washington on that long TD catch. Great concentration and toughness to hold on after he landed awkardly.
- Heck of a throw on that 2-point conversion by Cedrick Wilson! Anybody else notice Big Ben landed the necessary block to give Wilson that split second he needed to get rid of it? That play did, however, leave me wondering why we had to wait until Week 15 to see our first gadget play of the season.
Sadly, that's about it for the positives. There's many more concerns to address today and this week, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear: the Steelers may be a playoff team, but we're heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time of the season. At this point, there's no one thing that continues to plague us. In fact, we've suffered from poor play in just about every conceivable important department of play: poor special teams play, unacceptable blocking from the offensive line, porous secondary play in pass coverage, an ineffective running game, and after yesterday, you can add being manhandled up front defensively to the list. The flip side of that coin is we've excelled at least partially in all of those departments at some time during the season, so as unlikely as it seems right now, it's not impossible to believe that we could piece it all together at the right time and pull off an upset or two in the playoffs. Not likely, but not inconceivable.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your take, we have a short week to prepare for the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night. Mike Tomlin, who failed to become just the third rookie coach to post a perfect home record since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, has his hands full getting this group to regroup, refocus, and to rebound with just two short weeks to go.
What else guys? Thoughts?