From Josh Katzowitz, reporting on the Bengals game against Detroit this past weekend:
" ... With 136 yards, Cedric Benson became the third Bengals' player in three weeks to rush for 100 yards or more. But it will take more than that to impress coach Marvin Lewis. 'I wish we were more consistent on offense,' Lewis said. 'I'd like to run for 200 yards instead of 100.'"
That's an interesting statement coming from a coach with one of the better passing quarterbacks in the NFL. Here's a team with the second-best record in the AFC, and still their coach is unsatisfied with the offense.
And this from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, referring to Mike Tomlin's remarks in his Monday news conference:
"He all but promised major changes -- especially in the team's lame secondary -- and indicated he will look at rookie cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis in place of injured William Gay (concussion) and Ike Taylor (burned almost beyond recognition)."
Well, all I can say is, in the words of former Pittsburgh Penguins player and current radio analyst Phil Bourque, "Are you kiddin' me?"
Does Tomlin truly believe that rookies Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis will be able to play better than veterans Ike Taylor and William Gay (or Deshea Townshend) at this point in the season? If so, I have a few very rare and rather large items that I'd like to sell him.
Has Tomlin ever stopped to think that it would be good idea to inform his offense that it actually is permissible to score more than a field goal or two before the fourth quarter? Has Tomlin informed his offense that when they advance the ball into the red zone it is permissible to score touchdowns rather than score field goals, give up turnovers, or turn the ball over on downs?
Yes, the Steelers defense is giving up more points per game this season (19.2) than last season (14.9), but this may not be the reason for the Steelers' current woes.
Compare the Steelers to the Colts as an example. The Colts defense is allowing 16.8 points per game, which is 2.4 points per game lower than the Steelers defense is allowing. The Steelers have lost their six games by a combined total of 21 points, which is an average of 3.5 points per game.
So, from a statistical standpoint in relation to wins and losses, the difference in defensive performance between the Colts and the Steelers is not significant. In other words, if the Steelers defense allowed 2.4 points per game less, the Steelers would still have lost six games, but they would have lost by fewer points.
Now look at offensive performance. The Steelers offense averages 22.7 points per game. The Colts offense averages almost five points per game more, at 27.6 points per game.
Again from a statistical standpoint in relation to wins and losses, this IS significant. If the Steelers offense were to score five points more per game, the Steelers would have won five of the six games that they lost. The one game that they would have lost anyway is the second game against Cincinnati, since they lost that game by six points.
Scoring five points per game more is the difference between having six losses and being unlikely to make the playoffs, and being one of the best teams in the league.
Looking at this season's top teams, every team that is leading their division or tied for the lead has increased its scoring over last season, with the exception of Arizona. Thus far this season, however, the Steelers offense is scoring the same number of points per game as last season.
Based on yardage-related statistics and a number of other measures of offensive performance, the Steelers offense does indeed look better than last season, but it is not leading to more points.
The conclusion seems fairly obvious. As disappointing as the Steelers' defensive performance has been this season, especially their woeful 4th-quarter performance, it is the failure of the offense to compensate for the defensive slippage that is responsible for the Steelers' precarious position in the playoff race.
Does this surprise anyone? It should not.
Remember that last season's defensive performance was one of best in NFL history since the inception of the Super Bowl, being only a fraction of a rushing yard per game from being the best since 1992 and possibly the best ever.
Don't let yourself be spoiled by that kind of performance. It does not and cannot happen every season, so this season's defensive decline is not all that unusual and should not be unexpected.
And, by the way, the Steelers defense is ranked 9th in points per game allowed this season, and is ranked 5th in total yards per game allowed. That kind of performance is good enough for most other teams that are already in the playoffs or are in contention to be in the playoffs, and it should be good enough for the Steelers as well.
Everyone and his brother (including myself, by the way) is lamenting the fact that the Steelers haven't been able to hold fourth-quarter leads.
But ask yourself this question: If the Steelers offense scored five more points BEFORE the fourth quarter, would the defense need to perform any better than they have in the fourth quarter in order to hold the lead?
The answer is, obviously, no. If other teams' offenses can make up for shortcomings on defense, why cannot the same be true for the Steelers?
Everyone wants to blame the defensive lapses for the Steelers' predicament. Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger and everyone else on the Steelers says that they win as a team and they lose as a team. Well, if they win and lose as a team, then the offense needs to pick up their performance down the stretch, just like in the 2005 season.
That season had a happy ending for Steeler Nation, and this one can also. If the offense can pick up the slack, that is.