The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football was an ugly, frustrating affair for Mike Tomlin and company, and it revealed some unpleasant things about this team.
While the Steelers were able to tie the game at halftime, their ensuing collapse in the second half showed that this team still has a lot to improve on.
There were a few positives here and there, notably involving players like Troy Polamalu and David Paulson, but the negatives involving things like the play-calling and the play of the rest of the defense should be very concerning for Steelers fans.
Mediocre Pass Rush
Rushing the passer has been a strength for the Steelers over the last decade or so, but the defense hasn’t had much success in that area recently.
The team has just one sack in its first two games and has only hit the opposing quarterback eight times.
LaMarr Woodley was able to put a little bit of pressure on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, but he never connected with a sack.
Dalton had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the Steelers’ coverages, and Tomlin stressed to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this would be a key area for improvement going forward.
#Steelers Tomlin: Under circumstances, thought pressure on QB improved but not good enough to win.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 17, 2013
Jarvis Jones has looked explosive at times in his increased action, so there’s certainly hope for the pass rush in the future, but it was virtually nonexistent on Monday Night Football.
Depleted Middle Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons is an incredible talent at middle linebacker, but the loss of Larry Foote has proven to be more costly than anyone anticipated.
Though Timmons is still very adept in coverage, Foote’s replacements—mainly Vince Williams and Kion Wilson—have left a lot to be desired thus far.
Just look at the way at Williams misreads Tyler Eifert’s route on this play that helped set up Cincinnati’s first touchdown.
He should have absolutely had some help from the secondary, but it got locked in on A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu. A more experienced player would have been able to make the adjustment.
This will be a big issue for the defense if it can’t improve in coverage and the team has to drop Woodley back as often as it did Monday.
Troy Polamalu wasn’t kidding when he said he was finally healthy prior to this season.
He’s been throwing himself around like a madman in these first two games of the season, and it’s added an element to this defense that’s been sorely lacking over the last few years.
The only downside to this is that he seems likelier than ever to hurt himself again with reckless plays like this one.
The team still had to use him in coverage more than it would have liked to compensate for Cortez Allen’s absence, but Polamalu will be a force to be reckoned with as the season progresses.
Tight end David Paulson was a hero in last night’s game for about 30 seconds.
Ben Roethlisberger hit him for a 34-yard gain to put the team on Cincinnati’s 16-yard line, giving the Steelers a chance to build on their 3-0 lead.
Then, Marvin Lewis challenged the call and replay revealed that Paulson had the ball stripped away from him before he was down by contact, deflating the offense for the next few possessions.
While the fumble is frustrating, this view makes it clear that it was the product of an excellent play by the Bengals instead of a mistake by Paulson.
If anything, his three receptions for 49 yards show that he will continue to be a big part of the offense going forward.
No one is exactly sure when Heath Miller will return, so Paulson's continued development will be crucial.
Haley’s Hot Seat
Few people in Pittsburgh were happy about Todd Haley’s hiring as offensive coordinator last offseason.
Haley alleviated some concerns last year by not butting heads with anyone in the locker room, even if the offense didn’t always perform as it should have.
However, Monday's loss makes it clear that patience for Haley is at an all-time low.
The offense only managed to score when the team ran the no-huddle with Roethlisberger at the helm. That's very bad sign for the maligned play-caller, which was noted by Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
If I’m OC and my only two TD drives through two games came when someone else called plays, I’m losing a LOT of sleep … and maybe my job.— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) September 17, 2013
The ineptitude of the running game is likely the offense’s biggest concern.
Haley’s penchant for calling ill-advised trick plays, like Jerricho Cotchery’s end around that lost five yards on a crucial second-quarter drive, is also wearing on many people.
Overall, this team could be in real trouble based on its upcoming schedule.
While Polamalu and Paulson showed some positives, this team’s struggling defense and inept offense could negate their positive impacts.