The good news is the Steelers' offense scored 30 points for the first time during the 2022 regular season. The bad news is the defense gave up 30-plus points for the third time during the 2022 regular season.
I believe that perfectly sums up the Steelers 2022 regular season, as well as their latest defeat, a 37-30 downer at the hands of the visiting Bengals at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday evening.
Of course, the struggles of the Steelers, who dropped to 3-7 with the loss, can’t be explained away that simply. It’s been more nuanced all throughout the first 10 results, even if blame has been almost universally centered on one man: Offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Canada is deserving of blame for Sunday’s loss, along with the struggles of Pittsburgh’s anemic offense over the first 10 games of the season. Having said that, the Steelers' offense did play its best game of the season on Sunday, amassing 351 total yards—including 249 through the air and 102 on the ground—and those aforementioned 30 points. But Canada did have those moments that made you go “Fire him!” For example, the shovel pass to tight end Zach Gentry, the human vending machine, midway through the first period that turned a second and seven into a third and eight.
There were the three-straight three-and-outs to open the third period after the Steelers had established a 20-17 halftime lead on the strength of Kenny Pickett’s right arm, Najee Harris’s legs and George Pickens’s hands and feet. Unfortunately, the Steelers' offense simply couldn’t keep up with Cincinnati’s in the second half. That was especially the case with Pickett, who seemed to have a hard time adjusting to whatever adjustments the Bengals’ defense likely made at the break.
That brings me to the defense.
While the Steelers' second-half offense failed miserably to match its first-half output, the defense mostly failed miserably all evening. It may be sacrilege to place even half the blame on the defense for any loss, but it is more than fair to do so when talking about Sunday’s game.
Yes, the defense did have its moments. It did manage to pressure Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow a bunch throughout the game—including seven quarterback hits and two sacks—but it really didn’t slow the former Heisman Trophy winner down. Burrow completed 24 of 39 passes for 355 yards and four touchdowns. True, Pittsburgh did manage to intercept Burrow twice—once by Levi Wallace at the end of the first half that set up a Matthew Wright field goal; and a second time by T.J. Watt late in the third quarter (his second line-of-scrimmage leaping grab against the Bengals in as many games) which led to a second Wright field goal—but what about the rest of the game?
Tee Higgins did his best Ja’Marr Chase impression all evening, pulling in nine passes for 148 yards against various defensive backs but especially Arthur Maulet, who did his best impression of William Gay trying to cover Rob Gronkowski many years earlier.
The defense did contain Joe Mixon, who actually missed most of the second half with a concussion. The unit limited Cincinnati to 62 yards on the ground—including 30 yards on 11 carries by backup Samaje Perine—but that didn’t stop the Bengals from using Perine out of the backfield to exploit the Steelers' pass defense, as the sixth-year back out of Oklahoma scored three receiving touchdowns on four catches.
All-in-all, Sunday’s game was an exciting one, but, much like most close contests involving the Steelers in 2022, you just never felt like the team had quite enough firepower—on both sides of the ball—to keep up with a superior opponent.
The Steelers soon hope to be at the same level as the Bengals, a team with a third-year quarterback who just went to the Super Bowl a season ago.
How soon? That remains to be seen, but the Steelers clearly have much more work to do before they get there.