The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
There probably weren't enough players added to the Winners side of the Winners and Losers column, and there definitely were a few Losers left off as well.
Upon a second viewing, the Steelers' cornerbacks were worse than I initially feared, and the safeties were better. Troy Polamalu played a strong game, at least until his injury. Mike Mitchell wasn't at fault for a few of the plays I initially thought he was, but Ike Taylor was probably worse than I thought, and William Gay was way worse.
It didn't seem like the cornerbacks were just getting beaten physically by receivers. It looked like they were unaware of what was going on around them. Put some of that on the linebackers as well, Sean Spence struggled in coverage and Lawrence Timmons could have played better. It seemed like the inside linebackers were confused as to what was happening, and the result was triple covering one receiver (not always Jimmy Graham) and that left another receiver wide open.
Exchanges in zone didn't happen crisply or fluidly, either. It'll be a rough morning of film review for all positions in terms of coverage.
But the biggest goat overall was easily right tackle Mike Adams. He was whipped on several pass rushes from the talented Cameron Jordan. You hope to get something of a draw when a backup fills in for a starter and, while the results may have only been that - a draw - had Marcus Gilbert been in the game, the Steelers had a significant match-up disadvantage we probably should have seen coming.
Adams did not appear to have a good sense of what he was doing. A big loss for him.
We wrote extensively about Ben Roethlisberger's poor game, and it certainly didn't get any better with a second viewing. "Off" is the best word to describe it. He missed several throws, he was slow to pick up multiple reads, I'm surprised he wasn't sacked more than he was.
You have to wonder if it isn't just simply the impending pass rush. Adams was a turnstile for most of this game, and while Roethlisberger never threw well (he was injured after his first 10 passes) despite having been sacked once, it seems pretty clear the pressure spooked him into a few poor throws.
Loss of Keisel
The Steelers are expecting to put veteran defensive end Brett Keisel on injured reserve today or Tuesday, and they really only have depth options to replace his spot. They may activate Jarvis Jones this week to fill Keisel's spot. That's not a guarantee, but it illustrates the fact the team doesn't have to bring up a defensive end. That would also save Ross Ventrone, who I thought came very close to blocking a punt and otherwise has performed well as a special teams player.
On one hand, there is still reason for optimism. The Steelers almost certainly will bring back Steve McLendon this week (believe it or not, though, Cam Thomas actually wasn't that bad outside the Saints' first scoring drive). This team's run defense is just far better with him on the field. Without Keisel, though, they're going to have to really get rookie Stephon Tuitt some work. He struggled in this game.
The Cincinnati Bengals represent a murderous matchup for this Steelers team. With a physically-imposing wide receiver who simply can't be stopped in certain positions, a strong offensive line and a great running scheme, it's a nightmare for Pittsburgh's weakened defense. This will be as tough a game for the Steelers as any other they've had this season. A loss all but eliminates them from the division championship, while a win puts them right back in the running.
Crazy season. More than anything, they'll need Ben Roethlisberger's best if they're going to have a chance to win this game.