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Steelers vs. Bengals: This time, the offense needs to lead

For years the Steelers' defense has faced criticism for not creating turnovers, allegedly not finishing games, and mistakes. While Troy Polamalu may take responsibility for the defense not creating more turnovers, other veterans such as Jerricho Cotchery know it's the offense that will have to improve to win games.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

After every Steelers' loss, you can almost guarantee that if Troy Polamalu was on the field, despite how well he might have played, he will always point to his own shortcomings, no matter how few, when asked about how the Steelers must improve.

This weekend was no different. Polamalu acknowledged that the defense did not create turnovers still, and shouldered the blame for the loss.

"We had few opportunities, but we did have opportunities," said Polamalu. "It's tough to make splash plays when a team commits to the run ... it's hard to force turnovers when a team knows they can run the ball."

But did Tennessee really control the ground game offensively? Sure they gained 112 yards on the ground, but it was on 42 attempts. That's less than three yards per carry. Hypothetically if the defense maintained that average, their average yards per carry allowed would be .8 less than that of the best team against the run in 2012, Tampa Bay.

While it is a bit much to ask the defense to limit teams to that few yards, the point of that observation is to recognize just how well he defense was stopping the run. The one drive in which the Titans scored a touchdown did feature all but one running play, but the defense had just forced a three and out against Tennessee before the offense turned the ball over in one play.

Not only was the defense given a short field to defend, it wasn't given any time to rest after shutting out the Titans for the entire game at that point in a game when the offense had not produced anything on their side of the ball.

For years the Steelers' defense has carried the team, ranking atop the league in their statistics in multiple categories. While turnovers may have decreased in number, the team still yields the fewest yards.

Had the Steelers' offense not committed two turnovers and instead produced two touchdowns, the Titans most likely would have been trying to throw the ball more and provided more of the opportunities Polamalu spoke of earlier this week. The Titans ran the ball because they knew that was their best chance to not commit a turnover and aid the war of attrition of the field position chess match that Tennessee had the advantage in for most of the game.

Jerricho Cotchery admitted the truth, that if the offense can't get something moving during a game, the defense will grow more tired as the game continues and opportunities at victory will dwindle.

Again, this is where Pittsburgh fans are spoiled. We're used to seeing defenses not care about how the offense was performing and still finding a way to win a game and create scoring on their own. But you can't have immaculate defenses, like the 2008 team had, every year. Why? Because no one is ever that good forever.

This is why it's on the offense; no matter who starts at right outside linebacker or which unproven player plays buck linebacker, the offense has to step up for this team to continue its winning ways.

This is why this year needs to belong to Roethlisberger. No matter what the defense does, that unit has, over the years, paid its dues in excess to the point where they should be owed a debt from the offense for how many games they have scored and kept the team alive. Sure, the offensive line needs to produce; and once that happens the running game will have some holes for Redman and company to make their way up the field in the running game.

It also means that Roethlisberger will have more appropriate time to pick defenses apart. The offense can't afford to drop big plays like the one Emmanuel Sanders did on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage of 2013. The team has invested a lot into this offense: over $100 million to the quarterback, a major multi-year deal to Antonio Brown, $2.5 million one-year tender for Sanders, and a litany of first and second round picks to produce an effective offensive line.

Monday night against the Bengals is vital to see if the offense has gotten their system in order. There may come a point this season where the defense is short on personnel because of injuries or being out-schemed for a game. At that point, the offense will need to be there to hold their end of a shootout and carry the team to victory like the defense has time and time again in recent history.

This is the Steelers' imbalance over the years. I thought the imbalance may have finally been evened, or we were at least seeing the signs of it being evened, at the end of 2009. When the Steelers duked it out with the Green Bay Packers and Ben had to throw over 500 yards and match Aaron Rodgers blow-for-blow, it appeared that maybe the offense could finally start carrying the team in upcoming seasons.

Unfortunately the day I thought was very close, never came. The next year the defense was still making the crucial plays to keep the team in games, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but it wasn't accompanied with the offense entering the elite category by also ranking atop the league in scoring, yardage or other ways similar to the defense.

This needs to be the season where Roethlisberger ends the question of whether he's among the league's top five quarterbacks and prove that he is who the Steelers have thought him to be. Instead of starting to score late in games and winning in the clutch after the defense had put together a more than solid afternoon, take those games as opportunities to rout teams.

When the offense starts putting more points up so that the defense is playing with the lead, then that may pressure more opposing offenses to take more risks with the ball and allow for more opportunities for the defense to create turnovers.

This does not excuse the defense from any potential failures that may occur this season, but it is more to call up a debt the offense has needed to pay for years. If it doesn't happen soon, this generation of Steelers may go bankrupt before the end of the regular season.

That being said, this article is not to say that the offense won't produce in 2013. Kevin Colbert said before the season even began that the offensive line would need to gel. While David DeCastro may have committed the biggest boneheaded play of the year by taking out Pouncey, what better way to redeem himself would there be than if he made 2013 his coming out year as a dominant guard in the league.

Though the unit may be without its captain, they still have several players who have the potential to get their jobs done. It does not give them a pass to go into the tank for an entire season and just wait for Pouncey's return for them to start controlling the line of scrimmage.

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