It was an ugly game that the Steelers played against the Bengals on Sunday, making for one of the most disheartening losses the team has had over the past few seasons. There isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t already been said about how Pittsburgh played against Cincinnati, but I’ll do my best to provide some takeaways from the game.
1. Thoughts on Ben Roethlisberger
Look, I’d like to think I’ve been one of Ben Roethlisberger’s biggest defenders on the site so far this season. So it pains me to say that after the team’s loss to the Bengals, I finally agree that the Steelers’ quarterback is certainly no longer a good one. Against the Bills, Ben had a rough game, but his performance was overshadowed by the win. Against the Raiders, Ben wasn’t great, but given the circumstances he played a solid game. But against the Bengals, he looked old, immobile, and washed up. Furthermore, he made a number of mistakes that would look bad even for a rookie. It was an abysmal performance.
That being said, benching Roethlisberger doesn’t get the Steelers any closer to the playoffs this year. Putting the inconsistent Dwayne Haskins, or Mason Rudolph and his terrible pocket awareness, behind an offensive line as bad as Pittsburgh’s would result in a similar level of disaster. Besides, benching a player like Roethlisberger could certainly lead to some unnecessary drama on a team that doesn’t need any more right now.
As much as it pains me to say it, this team still rides or dies with Roethlisberger this season, no matter how bad he plays. But that’s only regarding this year — it should be blatantly obvious that the Steelers should move on from Roethlisberger in 2022.
2. The top priority this season and beyond is the offensive line
As bad as Ben Roethlisberger was on Sunday, the offensive line deserves a large amount of the blame for how terrible the offense was against the Bengals. Once again, there was no running game and weak pass protection, along with countless penalties throughout the game. Even if Ben had been playing well, he wouldn’t have been able to do much behind this line, and the team couldn’t take the weight off of Roethlisberger’s shoulders as the run game was virtually nonexistent.
All of that is to say that if the Steelers want Roethlisberger to play better, or just stay healthy this season, it starts with fixing the offensive line. There are quality free agents available and the Steelers have enough cap space to bring in one or more. It’s a must if the Steelers want to save their season.
Beyond that, when Roethlisberger retires and the Steelers bring in their new quarterback, it is even more essential that there is improvement along the offensive line. Anything less and it would be a massive detriment to the development of any new starter that’s learning the system. It’s an easier fix in the long term, as the Steelers can take advantage of the draft and a large free agent pool in the spring of 2022, but the sooner the better.
3. A streak ends
The Steelers were holding a NFL record entering the Bengals game, having recorded a sack in 75 straight games. However, that record-setting streak came to an end on Sunday. Despite still having a pass-rush with talent such as Melvin Ingram and Cam Heyward, the absence of Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, Alex Highsmith, and T.J. Watt was definitely felt.
Once Joe Burrow started having plenty of time in the pocket, the Steelers defense really started to struggle, showing how important pressuring the quarterback is for this defense. Of course it’s important for every defense, but especially in Pittsburgh where the secondary isn’t strong enough to hold up for extended plays. It’s very important for the Steelers to get some of their premier pass-rushers back at some point this season.
4. Fullback sighting
Not many have mentioned that Derek Watt actually saw some snaps on offense against the Bengals. He blocked for Najee Harris on a few plays, received a terrible shovel pass from Roethlisberger, and even lined up in a pony backfield once.
And despite what some have predicted, it didn’t magically fix the offense.
But it still is worth noting that the Steelers finally started using their expensive fullback, and in some creative ways as well. Hopefully such offensive innovation will show up throughout the rest of the season, perhaps with better results.
5. Is it time to panic?
Last week I wrote that the sky wasn’t falling yet despite the Steelers’ struggles — largely due to the fact that their issues were largely fixable. But against the Bengals the Steelers didn’t fix any problems, creating even more if anything.
But it still isn’t time to panic.
We’re still only three weeks into a very long season, meaning that a lot can still change. Besides, the AFC is about as wide open as it’s ever been, so a slow start doesn’t immediately sink this Steelers team. And most importantly, some of the Steelers’ problems will be fixed. The team had a number of injuries against the Bengals, so when the likes of Watt, Tuitt, and others return to the lineup, this defense should greatly improve. And it’s not hyperbole to say that this offense has hit rock bottom, so the only way is up. The Steelers are very young at a couple of positions, meaning that there is still a lot of development and improvement to be done — and it’s still far too early to expect the Roethlisberger/Matt Canada marriage to be running smoothly.
The Steelers will improve. Who knows how much they will improve or how long it will take, but they will improve.
There wasn’t a lot to say about the Steelers’ game against the Bengals. It was a rough performance to watch, and they were outplayed in just about every aspect of the game. Here’s hoping they turn in a better performance against Green Bay.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 2021 regular season.