The NFL Playoffs will begin two weeks from now. The Pittsburgh Steelers will not be playing in them. Yes, the unthinkable has happened. With a miserable 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are officially eliminated from post-season contention.
As they say, you reap what you sow.
I’m a Steeler fan. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t bleed Black and Gold. However, I can’t really get too worked up over the fact we aren’t going to the playoffs. When you lose four games to four of the worst teams in the league, you don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs.
I will be interested in hearing sports talk radio tomorrow to see how the Ben Roethlisberger fans spin this loss in a way which exonerates their man. For the second time in two weeks, Little Ben had the ball in his hands with a must-win game on the line. For the second time in two weeks, he made an idiotic decision which led to an interception. And for the second time in two weeks, that interception cost the Steelers the game.
Maybe he can blame Todd Haley for not calling enough no-huddle again.
There has been this absolutely ridiculous meme going around that says the Steelers defense isn’t really that good and that the team has to start leaning on the offense to win games. I call bullshit on that. When the story of the 2012 season is written, the record will show the Steelers finished with the #1 ranked defense. Yes, they don’t generate a ton of splash plays but they perform more than well enough for the team to win.
If only this team had an offense worth a damn.
Yesterday, the Steelers had splash plays. Three of them, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The inept Pittsburgh offense generated a grand total of ZERO points off those turnovers. Meanwhile, Cincy had two interceptions of their own. The first was a pick-six off a terrible throw by Ben (their only TD of the game) and the second was a head-slappingly dumb decision by Ben with less than 30 seconds left in the game. That second pick resulted in the Bengals kicking the game-winning FG with only seconds left to spare.
Todd Haley was brought in to improve the Steelers offense. The offense has been nothing less than terrible this season with yesterday’s performance perhaps the worst of the season. Nothing was working. The running game was anemic with only a couple nice carries from Rashard Mendenhall keeping the day from being a total failure. The passing game never got on track. Mike “LarryFitz Money” Wallace caught one pass. ONE PASS.
When Heath Miller left the game with what preliminary reports is a torn ACL (ugh), the only consistently dependable facet of the offense left right along with him.
The Bengals came in leading the NFL in sacks. They added another four to that total as the guard tandem of David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were human traffic cones. It’d be unfair to totally blame the line, however, as when they did provide decent pass protection Ben would hold the ball for far too long. For the first time in years, Ben looked confused and gun shy, like he was playing his first game in a new offense, not running a system he’s practiced for almost 10 months now. I don’t know if he’s seriously hurt or if the Bengals’ defense is just that good but this was the worst game Ben has played in years.
Which is fitting because this is the worst season he’s had in years. I like that Ben apologists (*cough* Mark Madden *cough*) point to the Steelers’ D and call it a “stats defense” but don’t apply the same standards to Ben. His final numbers will not look all that bad when the season is over but anybody watching objectively has to agree that Ben regressed this year. He hasn’t made the plays when they needed to be made. A $150 million quarterback has to make plays.
Yesterday’s game was kind of a microcosm of the Steelers season. Ben made a dumb mistake leading to a pick-six. The Steelers put together a nice drive down to the Bengals 15 but couldn’t finish it off. Then the special teams (coached by Mike Tomlin‘s buddy after Tomlin fired a perfectly capable special teams coach because he didn’t like him) botched a snap which led to Shaun Suisham shanking a 24 yard FG.
Over the next 2+ quarters, the defense came away with three turnovers and made stop after stop only to watch the bumbling offense do absolutely nothing. The first turnover, a nice INT by Cortez Allen (who, along with Keenan Lewis, played a very strong game) set the Steelers up on the Cincy 32. They couldn’t even get a FG out of that thanks to Ben taking yet another “I think I’ll hold the ball forever” sack. After a defensive struggle left the game tied with two minutes left, Marvin Lewis went for an insane 64 yard FG which naturally fell short. Starting at mid-field, Ben couldn’t manage the Tomczakian feat of leading the team into reasonable FG range (Suisham’s 53 yarder also fell short). When the D came up with one last stop, Ben put the finishing touches on this shit sandwich and the team’s season with a final ill-timed turnovers in a season full of them.
So much for Little Ben’s rep as “the best clutch QB in football.”
And so much for the Steelers season. This team is going to have a lot of work to do over the off-season. Unlike the “Super Bowl Hangover” year, there are no easy excuses for the swoon. Injuries certainly played a part. However, the team had plenty of talent on the field and yet still couldn’t win games they should have won never mind winning the games they had to win. In the end, the coaches from Mike “the Fraud” Tomlin and Todd “SooperGenius” Haley too often didn’t have this team ready to play and too often the players didn’t play up to the level we expected.
Steeler Nation has received a lump of coal in their stocking this year. I’ll be around to wrap up this fiasco of a season but I probably won’t post much until next week. In the meantime, I hope all my loyal readers have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Bah Humbug.
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Do or die. Not much more needs be said about the importance of this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. We can argue about how good this Pittsburgh Steelers team actually is but you’d be hard pressed to make a convincing case that this team shouldn’t at least make the playoffs. With a loss on Sunday, that disastrous scenario would indeed become reality.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BENGALS OFFENSE
Andy Dalton hasn’t had great success against the Steelers. Part of that is Dick LeBeau owning young quarterbacks. Part is the Steelers just seem to have the Bengals’ number. Whatever freaky mojo the Black and Gold hold over the Ginger Rifle, it’ll be something if it continues through this weekend.
The Bengals come in with the 9th best offense in football by points scored per game, which is really the only stat that counts when it comes to winning. The Steelers statistically still hold the best defense in football but that is determined in terms of yardage. There are actually a half-dozen defenses who give up fewer points per game. Still, despite the onslaught of injuries to LeBeau’s crew, the Steelers have epitomized a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.
For whatever reason, there’s a meme going around that the defense hasn’t been good this season. In terms of sacks and splash plays, that’s definitely true. However, they’ve kept the team in games which is really all you can ask of your defense, especially one ravaged by injury. If your team has a mediocre QB running an average offense, then you need a defense which creates turnovers and scores points. If the Steelers think they’re in the same league as teams like Green Bay or New England (who have average defenses), they should be perfectly fine with a defense that plays well enough to not lose the game. Which this defense certainly has.
The Bengals have some weapons. As I said before our first meeting, I think AJ Green might be the best receiver in football. He’s certainly in the top five. Ike Taylor absolutely shut him down last time. The secondary expects Cortez Allen back this weekend which should help immensely as even at 50%, he’s probably a whole helluva lot better than the two-headed suck monster known as Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown. One of those human traffic cones will be playing the nickel, though, so there will be plays for Dalton to make.
Let’s just hope for once the Steelers make a few more.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BENGALS DEFENSE
Which brings us to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. The D is giving up on average 21 points a game. Considering we have a $150 million quarterback, a crew of receivers led by one guy making $8 million per year and another who thinks he’s worth more than that, and a posse of running backs led by a former first round draft pick, three touchdowns per game should be the least of our worries. Yet this team has struggled mightily to score points all season. Even when Ben is playing and fully healthy.
At some point Steeler fans will step out of 1970 and start asking the offense to WIN games for us instead of expecting the defense to do it (as always). The amount of money invested and the level of (alleged) talent is certainly there. The time for excuses and finger-pointing are over. The time to produce is now.
The Bengals have a pretty decent defense themselves. They actually lead the entire NFL in total sacks. Despite also being ravaged by injury, the Steelers offensive line has done a fairly good job all season. Granted the dink-and-dunk offense helps. Last week against Dallas (who also boast a pretty good pass rush) was really the first time Ben was routinely running for his life. David DeCastro struggled in his first start although I’m sure the first rounder will improve as his reps increase.
DeCastro along with fellow rookie RT Kelvin Beachum have acquitted themselves admirably although they’re clearly not the run blockers Willie Colon and Mike Adams were. As a result, the Steelers running game has been non-existent for almost a month now. There’s flashes here and there but no consistent threat. Mike Tomlin hasn’t named a starter and the assumption is Jon Dwyer will keep starting. I do believe Rashard Mendenhall will dress (Ike Redman is always banged up), however, as this may be his last best chance to audition for a job here or elsewhere next season.
The people who really have to come through are the
Young Money Cash Droppah crew. They talk a big game and like to preen and pose after every 5 yard catch (I’m looking at you, Antonio Brown) yet their play hasn’t backed up their posturing. The Steelers recent swoon which has seen them lose 4 out of their last 5 has been punctuated by mistake after mistake from this group of arrogant miscreants. Manny Sanders can’t hold on to the ball, Mike Wallace can’t catch it and AB may be the dumbest football player alive. I don’t know how we went from “best young receiving corps in football!” to “these guys need to get their shit together” but here we are.
Although, really, the latter can be said about the Steelers as a whole. If this team doesn’t at least make the playoffs with all the big contracts and big name players, well, something is certainly rotten on the Southside. This year has already been a bad soap opera, the accusations and recriminations if the unthinkable happens would no doubt increase tenfold.
Today is the final day of the Mayan calendar. I don’t know if they were Steeler fans but their prediction was remarkably accurate for a culture that existed two centuries before the first pig was skinned and fashioned into an oblong ball. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the end is also nigh. Come Sunday, there is no tomorrow.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night Football. Well, sorta. Some guys wearing Black and Gold uniforms will take the field against our old rivals although many of the names will not be the ones we normally think of when we say “Steelers.”
I’m not sure what’s happening this season. The AFC is wide open. Only two teams have winning records. One of those two are the Baltimore Ravens, who may be getting Terrell Suggs back but lost Ray Lewis and their best CB for the season. They should win the AFC North but that’s far from a given even after starting the year at 5-1.
Then we have the Bengals. Last season, Cincy surprised everybody by riding a rookie quarterback and rookie wide receiver into a Wild Card playoff berth. That they got drubbed by the Texans was irrelevant. It was supposed to be the beginning of bigger and better things.
Like about half the AFC, they currently find themselves at .500. After getting hammered by the Ratbirds in week 1, they won three straight. Then they lost to a shockingly competent Miami team two weeks ago before being upset by the promising Browns for their first win of the year.
Which leaves us with Sunday night’s match-up. What many saw as two of the AFC’s top teams is now a battle between a couple of reeling teams riding two game skids.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BENGALS OFFENSE
Andy Dalton is currently the fourth ranked passer in football. Let that sink in a moment. He’s already thrown for 1700 yards and 12 TDs. When Carson Palmer pulled his punk card and got himself ran out of town, many thought Cincy was done for. Turns out, they made out on the deal. Not only did they get a better QB than they had, they also got one of the best receivers in the game.
AJ Green is a beast. We saw it last year when he almost single-handedly beat the Steelers. He’s quickly becoming the most feared receiver in the league, already catching over 600 yards worth of passes and half of Dalton’s TDs. The thing is, Cincy’s receiving corps aren’t deep. Andrew Hawkins, the team’s #2, has only 328 yards so you know teams are keying on Green.
Doesn’t matter. You can’t stop him.
Which makes makes me extremely worried about this week. They say in MMA and boxing, styles make fights. Styles also make football games. Certain teams match-up better than others. Teams with mediocre QBs who try to dink and dunk on the Steelers (like the Jets) tend to struggle. Teams with big fast receivers (like Denver’s Denarious Thomas) do well. Meanwhile, when Cincy plays teams that can rush the QB, they tend to falter. When Dalton has time, they succeed.
The Steelers haven’t been very good at rushing the passer. And Cincy has perhaps the best big fast receiver in football. This is not a good match-up. In fact, on paper this is a fairly disastrous match-up. The only saving grace is the Bungles tend to be the Bungles, meaning no team is better at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Still, Ike Taylor has been absolutely brutal this season. While he spent the week bitching about the media, he should’ve been looking at game tape and figuring out how not to get embarrassed this week. The secondary used to have a field day against young QBs but without Troy Polamalu (who rumor has it being shut down until the last half/quarter of the season) a lot of their trickery goes out the window.
The good news is LaMarr Woodley is expected back. How long the Football Gods decide to allow both Woodley and Harrison on the field together is anybody’s guess. If they can stay reunited longer than Guns N Roses last tour, the Steelers MIGHT finally generate a pass rush. As I’ve mentioned many times, Dick LeBeau‘s defense has a very specific design where Person A has to do his job for Person B to succeed. Getting after Dalton will make the secondary look better almost by default.
And, really, at this point could it look any worse?
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BENGALS DEFENSE
The collective gulp you heard on Thursday was Steeler Nation after news broke that Ben Roethlisberger rolled his ankle at practice. He left the field, giving the rest of the first team snaps to Byron Leftwich. Word is he’ll be okay come game time but if there’s one person this team absolutely cannot afford to be without, it’s Big Ben. The season was effectively over when he broke his foot last year (the same ankle he injured, by the way) and 2012 will follow a similar pattern if Ben is significantly less than 100%.
Especially when you figure most of the offense will rest on his shoulders. Rashard Mendenhall is still experiencing problems with his ACL while Isaac Redman is fighting a banged up shoulder. One or both may miss Sunday’s game. The running game was atrocious without Mendy, subtract Mendy and iRed then throw in an offensive line missing at least one, possibly two, starters and I see 40+ passes in Ben’s future.
Maurkice Pouncey has said he is going to try to go on Sunday. I fully expect him to start just like I fully expect him to run to the sideline at the first twinge of pain. He’s a great player but he’s soft. Marcus Gilbert is expected to be out 2-4 weeks although I’m not sure Mike Adams is that much of a downgrade. He’s definitely not as good at run blocking but I thought he did okay in pass pro when pressed into duty last week.
And pass protection will be the name of the game on Sunday. The Bengals have a ferocious pass rush which has accumulated a whopping 20 sacks already. D-linemen Michael Johnson (5) and Geno Atkins (6) will be a handful. Again, I refer to this being a bad match-up. The Steelers O-line struggles against talented d-tackles and Cincy has two of the best. There are plays to be made against a mediocre secondary (1 INT) but not if Ben is flat on his back.
This will be only the Steelers sixth game of the season. It’s hard to make grand statements like “It’s over if they lose!” before you’ve even reached the halfway point. However, if they lose, falling to 2-4 with a 1-4 record in the AFC does not bode well. Especially with tough games against the Ravens (2x) and Giants ahead.
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This weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Cincinnati Bengals in a crucial AFC match-up. Unfortunately, most of you who live out-of-state will have to fire up the satellite dish or visit your favorite Steeler bar in order to watch since it’s neither a national nor prime time game. In fact, all Bengal games start at one o’clock because they have to be indoors before curfew as a condition of parole.
Anyway, when last we left Cincy, franchise quarterback Carson Palmer was saying he’d rather retire than strap on their orange jumpsuit ever again. Hardheaded GM/Owner Mike Brown eventually traded him to the desperate Oakland Raiders which for Palmer must have been like being handed a Get Out Of Jail Free card. The haul in return was impressive, a first rounder and a second that becomes a first if the Raiduhs win a playoff game, which I’m sure Cincy will use to augment their team with the best available criminals in next year’s draft.