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Week 2 Recap: Bungling Their Way To Victory

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“There’s a certain amount of misery with the position that we’re in. We’ll wear it. We don’t like it. We’ll wear it.” – Mike Tomlin

If the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was an article of clothing, it’d be a pair of bowling shoes. Stinky ugly bowling shoes. Coach T was gracious about crediting Cincy for playing well during his post-game cliche-fest. All I’ll say is that if the Bengals are the class of the AFC North, then our division has quickly become the Big East of the NFL.

In my game preview, I mentioned this being the year quarterback Andy Dalton needed to take his game to the next level. The Ginger Rifle responded by playing a hideous game. Overthrows, underthrows, missing wide open receivers, Dalton did his best to keep the Steelers in the game. Unfortunately, the Black and Gold were in an even more charitable mood.

While the Bengals offense moved in fits and starts, the Steelers pathetic offense barely moved at all. There was one brief period of competency towards the end of the first half and beginning of the second when it looked like things were finally starting to click. Then the refs nullified a 33 yard pass play to Antonio Brown by calling a bogus tripping penalty on Marcus Gilbert and it was right back to stunning ineptitude.

Fernando Velasco got the start at center and acquitted himself quite well. The same cannot be said of tackles Gilbert and Mike Adams who are seemingly trying to get Big Ben killed. The stat sheet shows Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice but he was hit mauled on nearly every pass play. Ben is often at his best when running for his life – the team’s lone TD scoring drive was aided by a sandlot style pass to Emmanuel Sanders for 19 yards who took the next one 43 yards to set up the score – although all that abuse doesn’t bode well for his long-term availability.

The running game was once again non-existent. I don’t wish injury on anybody but Isaac Redman being pulled aside for a concussion test was an early blessing in disguise because it forced the Steelers to play Felix Jones. Jones is clearly the team’s best back in Le’Veon Bell‘s absence yet Todd Haley seemingly refuses to use him.  Redzone One Yard Redman went right back in as soon as he was cleared and proceeded put up 4 yards on 3 carries (with a one yard reception thrown in for good measure).

At this point I don’t know what it’ll take to convince the Steelers that Redman is useless garbage.

Putting the ball into Ben’s hand isn’t the answer, either. Dumbass Steeler fans on Twitter keep whining about Haley not setting Ben loose to which I have to wonder what games they are watching. For one, Ben already took a hellacious beating on 37 throws, how’s he gonna live through 50? Secondly, the wide receiving corps is just not that good.

Sanders was targeted 10 times, catching half the balls thrown his way. Jerricho Cotchery was even worse, getting 9 chances and coming down with only 3. Where’s Markus Wheaton? Rookie Derek Moye got a chance in the Plax spot, catching a jump ball TD for his first NFL catch. Time to give Wheaton a shot as well.

For the first time this season, we really saw how the loss of Mike Wallace hurts the team. AB is a very good receiver but he does his work on short and intermediate routes. Sanders and the Cotch Rocket are likewise middle-of-the-field type WRs. The only big play potential they have is in breaking some tackles and amassing Hines’ beloved YAC yards. Problem is, without a deep threat to stretch the field – which Wheaton was drafted to be – the defense can collapse on the shorter stuff and force the Steelers to nickel and dime them to death.

While Haley and the offense seem adverse to playing rookies, the Steelers defense is loaded with youngsters. Last week I criticized Dick LeBeau for not playing rookies, this week more of them were on the field than I can remember seeing in a long long time. In addition to Jarvis Jones, whose presence contributed to LaMarr Woodley having his best game in awhile, S Shamarko Thomas and ILB Vince Williams saw a lot of playing time. Add in Cam Heyward (who created all kinds of havoc for the Bengals line), Kion Wilson, and even Al Woods and the Steelers did a great job of infusing new blood into the line-up.

Unfortunately, the new faces didn’t produce any more splash plays than the old ones did. Once again, the defense did a good job in terms of points and yardage but yielded zero sacks and zero turnovers. Despite Ike Taylor holding AJ Green to 6 catches for 41 yards, a mix-up in the secondary led to TE Tyler Eifert getting loose for a 61 yarder that set up Cincy’s first score. Their second score came on a screen to RB Giovani Bernard where Bernard simply outran three Steelers to the end zone.

Once again, all the tide turning plays went against the Steelers. Troy Polamalu just barely missed picking off a quick out where he had nothing but green grass ahead of him. Heyward and Brett Keisel batted passes that fell harmlessly to the ground. Meanwhile, Cincy got two big breaks – early on when TE David Paulson fumbled away a catch that would’ve set the team up at the Cincy 13 and late when Ben’s pass deflected into a defender’s waiting hands.

So here we are, two weeks into the 2013 and – counting the preseason – the Black and Gold have yet to experience victory. The defense continues to struggle to generate big plays while the offense continues to struggle to generate much of anything. Sunday night’s match-up with the Bears will be the turning point of the season. Win and the remaining schedule is soft enough for them to rebound. Lose and we’re looking at a long year.