The Pittsburgh Steelers 18-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was a crushing defeat (to say the least). Not only did they fail to take the division lead, but also they lost to the Bengals for the second time this season, something that hasn’t happened since the 1998 season (one of Bill Cowher’s down years).
There are obviously many negatives that came out of this game. Most notably was the horrendous (to put it mildly) play calling from Bruce Arians, which has been well documented on this site (and not just this past week).
Arians (and the kick-off coverage team) aside, the most distributing aspect of this game was how bad Ben Roethlisberger played. He looked panicky when dropping back, was constantly looking to the covered man when there was an open receiver, never threw to the check down back when the rush was coming (part of this is the play calling), and most importantly, was very inaccurate.
All of these are traits that we’ve seen in previous years from Ben, but not this season, one in which an MVP mention would not be laughed at. If I were quarterback coach for a day, I’d have Ben work on nothing but the deep ball—it seems to be his biggest weakness.
On Sunday, he was short twice to Mike Wallace when he was behind the defense and long when the coverage was tight and an under throw was more appropriate. I'm thinking/hoping this was a one game aberration that will get corrected in Kansas City.
So, what about the positives?
1. The defense has played very well and seems to be getting progressively better each week. As the days start to get colder, this will be increasingly important to the Steelers. The defense should be able to keep the Steelers in any game (regular season or playoffs).
The only concern is Troy Polamalu’s knee. The defense doesn’t fall apart when he’s out, but it dearly misses his intimidation and big play ability. They are just not as feared without Troy.
2. The Steelers lost to a good team. A loss is never a good thing, but I think it’s a better sign for a good team to lose to another good then to lose to a bad team. And as difficult as this is to say, the Bengals are a good team.
The Steelers and Bengals look like they have the two best defenses in the AFC. Both teams are built to win playoff games: play hard, tough, physical defense and score enough on offense to win (although, the Steelers offense should be putting up big numbers, if not for Arians).
You can’t win every game. This last week should just go as one of those Ls that every team will get during the course of a year.
3. As odd as this may sound, a division crown is not out of reach. The Steelers have two grudge matches against the Baltimore Ravens, which are always physical, but the Ravens don’t look as good as they have in the past (and I’m not just talking about the way they handled The Clowns, who would have trouble against the local Pop Warner team). The rest of the schedule looks to be pretty easy for the Steelers.
Games still need to be played, but it would not be too much of a stretch to say that the Steelers will win out and end up with a record of 13-3.
The Bengals also have some very easy games on their schedule, but they close with three of the last four on the road against good teams—Minnesota, San Diego, and the NY Jets (well, two good teams anyway).
It also wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’ll lose two of those three games (Minnesota and San Diego) and end up with a record of 12-4.
Stranger things have happened.
The bottom line is the Steelers are still in good shape to return the Super Bowl. There are only two things standing in their way:
- Bruce Arians and the location where his head is stuck
- Mental mistakes—this not only includes giving up returns for touchdown, but also offensive lineman (yes, you Kemo and Max) having temporary amnesia about how to block an on-rushing defensive lineman
The Steelers get one week to recover, and then face the Ravens at Baltimore. I think we’ll know more about any positives the Steelers have after that game.