The Steelers dropped a tough loss to the Chicago Bears today 17-14 when Robbie Gould's 44 yard field goal sneaked past the left upright with 15 seconds remaining. The Steelers had several chances to take this game, most obvious one being Jeff Reed, who missed a 38 yard field goal that would have given the Steelers a 17-7 lead with more than ten minutes to go in the game.
Reed has been a reliable kicker for the Steelers since 2002 and has won countless games for the Steelers late in the 4th quarter and overtime. Watching Reed miss was more shocking than disappointing, given his great track record kicking in the worst place for kickers, Heinz Field.
Before I go on, I will remind Steeler Nation of this: Kris Brown and Todd Peterson. Neither guys could get it done and Reed has gotten it done many times, including in the playoffs. Don't be in a hurry to bury Jeff Reed so quickly.
The grass in Soldier Field was not ideal but neither is the sod in Heinz Field; thus, many thought Reed was money from 38. When he got another chance later in the game to kick from the 43 to break the 14-14 tie, I was so sure Reed would redeem himself. Alas, he did not and Jay Cutler drove the Bears down the field to give Gould a chance to win, which he did.
At first glance, all the blame would go to Reed, and he will be the first one to admit losing the game. However, it should have never come to Reed's right foot. These are some of the observations I have from this disappointing loss:
1. Despite that 3rd quarter touchdown drive, the running game is still M.I.A.: Rashard Mendenhall finally flashed some of the brilliance that made him the first round pick in 2008, first catching a dump off pass and running across the field for a first down and then running through the right side for 39 yards to set up the Steelers' second TD.
However, for most of the game, the running game was not as good as it should be. The Steelers ran for 105 yards but nearly 40 percent of it came on Mendenhall's right side burst. I still don't trust Willie Parker or Mendenhall and hope that Mewelde Moore gets more carries until both Parker and Mendenhall prove themselves.
2. The Bears' defensive gameplan was very good: Yes, the Bears gave up two long TD drives but, for the most part, kept Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket and didn't allow him to escape. The Bears pass rush got to Roethlisberger twice and hit him five times, which can be considered decent numbers for the Steelers' offensive line.
However, Roethlisberger is at his most dangerous when he rolls out of the pocket, and scrambles around and the Bears did not allow too many of those plays to occur. The Steelers will need to adjust to this type of scheme, and I feel they will. However....
3. Bruce Arians still needs to go: Long time readers of my articles know that I am perhaps the biggest critic of the Steelers' offensive coordinator and play caller Bruce Arians, who gets a reprieve for two reasons: being the offensive coordinator of a Super Bowl winning team and having a great relationship with Roethlisberger.
However, the Steelers won many games last season in spite of Arians's playcalling.
Outside of the opening drive of the game, Arians's play calling was lacking, questionable and inconsistent. On one drive in the second quarter, the Steelers went four wide and tried to do nothing but short passes outside for first downs. Then they would try to run the ball on another series with little success.
On the second missed field goal drive, Arians called for a TD shot to Santonio Holmes on 3rd and 2, who had dropped two passes earlier in the game. It was, I believe, a bad gamble for several reasons. Keeping the drive going and getting closer for Reed would have been a smarter move, in spite of his performance today. The ball went threw Holmes's grasp and the Steelers subsequently missed the field goal.
Mewelde Moore was constantly open in the flat or in the short middle all game and every time Roethlisberger threw his way (three total times), Moore came up with the catch every time and picked up a first down.
A dump off to Moore would have eaten up more clock and gotten the Steelers closer to goal line, thus making life much easier for Reed if the Steelers did not score a touchdown.
At the time of the missed FG, there were over three minutes left in the game. The Steelers, with a first down, could have ran off over 90 seconds as they crept closer to the red zone, thus giving Cutler not much time as they did. Once again, Arians should have gone with a safe pass that would have gotten the Steelers closer to the end zone instead of a risky play with a rain-soaked ball.
I always believed that Arians is outmatched as a NFL offensive coordinator and never did anything to warrant the job after Ken Whisenhunt left after 2006. Until I see massive improvement in playcalling, I will champion QB coach Ken Anderson to take over the play calling duties.
4. The defense missed Troy Polamalu a lot but have bigger problems than injuries: prior to this game, the Steelers went 6-2 without All-Pro Polamalu in the lineup. Tyrone Carter was OK but not spectacular save the big hit on Greg Olsen. Carter was beaten on the second touchdown, a play that many Steelers fans believe Polamalu would have made a play on.
However, despite having Lawrence Timmons back on the field, the Steelers gave up two long touchdown drives, including a 97 yard drive. The roughing the passer call in the end zone on James Harrison was tough but the Chicago Bears should not be driving the ball 97 yards on the Steelers.
But they did.
One man does not make an entire defense. Polamalu is a special player and the Steelers are better with him than without him. However, giving up a 97 yard touchdown drive to the Bears is inexcusable. For most of the game, the defense played well, but Cutler did too, especially compared to last week.
5. Stefan Logan is not showing anyone thus far he is a difference maker: Logan, the former CFL standout who was one of the best stories in preseason, has yet to make a difference that the Steelers thought he would. Right now he is no different than Mewelde Moore as a returner.
Logan was supposed to improve a weakness from last season, but I have a tough time seeing it. I didn't see the Titans or the Bears do anything special when they punted to Logan. There was no Dante Hall treatment. He lost some fans today with his game ending fumble on the last kick return.
I am not going to bury Logan but he has not had the impact that punter Daniel Sepulveda has had and I thought Logan would. I am not asking Logan to take one to the end zone on every kickoff and punt return, but I would like to see more consistency and after today, better ball security. Right now he is not impressing me very much. Only thing he has in common with Darren Sproles (the guy Logan is often compared to) is his height.
In the NFL, teams and fans live and die from week to week. While the Steelers leave Chicago with a tough loss, we can all hope that a win against the AFC North rivals Cincinnati will cure the disappointment, at least until the next game. If last season was any indication, Coach Tomlin will get the team prepared well for Cincinnati.
Until next week....
Next game: at Cincinnati at 4:15 pm Eastern time