I will admit I thought after the the nice drive leading to the touchdown pass late in the first half, that we were back. But the second half was filled with an array of overthrown balls, negative plays, and the continued inability to put points on the board. The realty is the Bengals are not the AFC powerhouse the media is portraying them as, and Andy Dalton is not going to make anyone in Cincy forget about Ken Anderson or Boomer Esiason. It was more a case of everyone picking the Bengals not by virtue of them being the better team, but due to the fact that the Steelers are just that bad. In a nutshell, the offense is devoid of any play making threats, no run game whatsoever, and lacking in leadership. So where do you start, and who do you blame? Well, there’s plenty of blame to go around and certainly you can start at the top then go right down through the injury list to the water boy. For whatever reason Kevin Colbert and Coach Tomlin didn’t see fit to either draft a tight end or acquire one in free agency, knowing Heath Miller may not be available for the season. Last nights performance by David Paulson should certainly point to that as a significant error on their part. Paulson, after not having blocked anyone since he’s been on the team, caught a crossing route in the first quarter and starting rambling down field, the first spark of the game we had. Without putting any effort into securing the football during his run he was stripped from behind before hitting the ground by Pac-Man Jones. How he could not know it was a strip and fumble is beyond me, but the fact that he laid on the ground staring at the ball before he decided to just get up and stroll away, is mind boggling.
The sad part about the game was that it was definitely winnable, I don’t want to go as far as to say we gave them the game, but just like last week against the Titans, missed opportunities and the inability to put points on the board will give any team the upper hand. The amazing thing was Big Ben was only sacked twice, that’s not to say the line didn’t get pushed around all night, but considering having newly signed center Fernando Velasco with less than a weeks preparation, things could’ve been much worse. Velasco actually played pretty well in his first start, the larger problem was the quarterback. Big Ben was showing no signs he could hit the blind side of a barn, let alone his receivers who did a good enough job of getting open. One errant throw after the other, sailing sometimes five feet from the intended target, most definitely a loosing performance on Ben’s part. When Ben was able to connect on a crucial 43 yard pass to Antonio Brown, it was called back on a totally bogus tripping penalty on Marcus Gilbert.
Things looked somewhat promising throughout the first half, aided largely to Andy Dalton missing his targets and the defense being able to get off the field relatively quick. The one Steeler player who was well prepared and ready to play a football game, was cornerback Ike Taylor. As announce John Gruden so aptly pointed out, Ike rarely gets the credit he deserves, and he certainly deserves high praise for his stellar performance in last nights match up. Ike, being the long time veteran that he is, has seen he share of battles over the years and his game plan was to handle his business, and he did. Knowing he was taking on one of the NFL’s top receiving threats, Ike held AJ Green to 6 catches for a paltry 41 yards, and also went up to break up the hail mary pass with no time left on the clock. With a team that has somehow lost much of it’s identity and toughness, Ike was the true embodiment of what Steeler football and hard nose play is all about. Big kudos to Ike for bringing his game and doing his job to try and make a win possible for his team.
What was for the most part an acceptable first half, the Steelers got gashed and literally bulled over in embarrassing fashion in the second. Once known as one of the toughest teams to run on, the Steelers allowed Patriots cast off Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis to gash them for major chunks of yardage, as well as converting several third downs. By the time rookie running back Giovanni Bernard entered the game, the defense had no answers and allowed the North Carolina alum to score a 27 yard touchdown off a check down pass in the third quarter, as well as barreling over the middle of the defense in the first quarter for a 7 yard touchdown run. The Steelers had zero sacks on Dalton, and created no turnovers for the second week in a row, seems they’re always playing catch up rather than playing opportunistic football. If there were any bright spots to cull from this groups prime time performance, it was the fact that rookies Vinnie Williams #98, and safety Shamarko Thomas #29, got extensive playing which should serve them well down the stretch.
There was improvement in the kicking game, good coverage on both kick offs and punts, and a couple of solid returns by both Felix Jones and Antonio Brown, both setting up the offense with good field position. Newly acquired punter Zoltan Mesko had deep punts with good hang time, and he was certainly busy as the offense handed him enough three and outs to keep his leg loose. Jarvis Jones has also become a standout on special teams.
Coach Tomlin best known for having his team ready to battle, seems a bit clueless at this stage of his Head Coaching career. I keep wondering what’s been going on throughout OTA’s, Training Camp, then Pre-Season, there doesn’t seem to be much attention to details either individually or collectively, little in the way of preparation. In addition to this team having no specific identity, they’re lacking the intensity and toughness the Steelers have become famous for. Though there are many Steeler fans bemoaning the Todd Haley offense, and some even opining for Bruce Arians, I won’t target the play calling as much as the execution, especially from Big Ben. I am however so tired of seeing these nonsensical end-arounds and bubble screens, gaining nothing and fooling nobody. Here’s another thing that is curious, where’s Markus Wheaton? Let’s see what they have planned for the Chicago Bears in next weeks match-up.
This team lacks leadership, toughness, and grit, all of the things that are emblematic of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach Tomlin can preach “the standard is the standard” ’til he’s blue in the face, but until someone actually steps up and starts smashing heads, this is going to be a slow and painful journey to the deep bottom of the AFC North.
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