The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) went into Cincinnati to take on the Bengals(2-5) on national television on Monday Night Football. Unlike some people I was expecting a Steeler's victory and was more interested in seeing if the Steelers could show themselves to be the dominant team they are capable of being.
Building to a 20-7 lead, it looked like that's what we were going to get. I expected the Bengals to fold and the game to be over. However, credit the Bengals for still fighting and not giving up to almost complete a great comeback. That being said, the Steelers defense once again showed tremendous issues against the pass late in the games.
In the end though the Steelers prevailed and won a crucial game on the road against a division rival. Now looking ahead the Steelers are 6-2 and in very good position to make the playoffs this year. Staying healthy and winning games that "they should win" will be crucial.
In this article I will discuss everything good and bad about this game and the future for the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Offense: The Good
The Steelers offense had an weird night if you ask me. They definitely tried to establish the run and did a decent job. They had a few run plays that were an inch here or a block there from being big plays. The Steelers ran the ball 32 times for 121 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per attempt. I thought Rashard Mendenhall ran hard and made some big plays, including a 22 yard run which was his longest, and scoring on a touchdown on from the 1 yard line, and that's promising considering that the Steelers have been struggling in their short yardage running game.
Mendenhall also did a good job picking up pass rushers and caught 3 passes 31 yards and nearly scored on one of those.
Speaking of the passing game, Ben Roethlisberger looked good for the most of the game, making some very impressive throws, including on his only touchdown pass of the game which went to Hines Ward. Roethlisberger also once again made defenders look silly on a few plays with his scrambling ability. I don't know why defenders continue to try and arm/jersey tackle him, he's simply too big and strong for that.Ben also picked up a key 1st down on a 12 yard run.
Big Ben only threw for 163 yards, and was 17/27, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. However, he made some key plays, including a good job blocking on a trick play. He made some beautiful throws, including a
Overall Ben had a decent game, really only have 1 big blemish on the night.
Mike Wallace continues to be the Steelers most reliable receiver, catching another a 39 yard touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle-El on a well executed trick play. Wallace caught 5 passes for 110 yards. Wallace continues to be one of the best deep threats in the NFL and if he can work on his short routes, could be an elite receiver in this league.
Antwaan Randle-El once again didn't do much returning punts or catching only 1 pass for 10 yards. However, he did provide a huge spark as he threw a 39 yard touchdown pass on a well executed receiver pass.
The offensive line played a lot better then they have been, allowing only 1 sack which wasn't even their fault. Ben bailed them out a few times escaping from pressure but they looked more prepared and aggressive. It was a scary when rookie Maurkince Pouncey went down with an injury but he did return.
Offense: The Bad
Despite the Steelers offense scoring 3 touchdowns and 27 points, they still didn't perform up to their potential. They once again had turnover troubles as this is the 3rd straight game in which they gave the ball away at least twice.
Ben Roethlisberger threw a wobbly pass that got picked off by veteran safety Roy Williams. The interception was a great play by Williams but Ben can't throw that pass at that point in the game. The Bengals then took over and scored a touchdown to get within six. Big Ben was very close to being the goat.
The other turnover was another fumble by a usually dependable Hines Ward. Now credit has to go out to Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall for delivering a text book hit on Ward, but Hines can't fumble there. It's also looking like Hines is finally losing a step as he continues to have a had time getting open against man defense.
Speaking of receivers getting open, it looks like the only player that can accomplish that on a consistent basis is speedy Mike Wallace. While Hines is having trouble getting open, the same can be said for Heath Miller and especially Antwaan Randle-El.
Randle-El threw a touchdown pass but he is the Steelers 3rd receiver and is having a ridiculously hard time getting open right now. He caught 1 pass for 10 yards Monday night and that's not going to caught it. The most receiving yards that he's accumulated in one game this year is 50 and his season high for receptions in a game is a whopping 3. Isn't it time to start seeing what Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown can do in that role? It might even be time to see what Arnaz Battle can do.
The receivers are also having a hard time adjusting their routes to blitzes by other teams. When a team brings more defenders then blockers the receivers have to look back for the ball. You don't have a very good chance of catching the ball if your heads turned to the quarterback .
Defense: The Good
I expected a good performance by the Steelers defense tonight and they were having a very good night until the 4th quarter. The Steelers defense once again shut down the run, allowing just 58 yards on 18 attempts by the Bengals. It was a team effort lead by James Farrior, who lead the team in tackles with 11 and had 1 sack.
I saw quite a few Steelers in the backfield on running plays especially James Harrison who had a very busy night. Harrison had 6 tackles, including 3 tackles for a loss. Harrison also had a sack and looked very good all night and continues to get held by opposing offensive tackles despite the referees not calling it as much as they should.
Harrison was also a key part in a pretty effective pass rush for most of the night. The Steelers hit Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer 6 times, including 4 sacks. LaMar Woodley joined the party getting 2 of them for himself.
With that pressure, the Steelers made Palmer uncomfortable for most of the night,causing him to fumble the ball and throw an interception, Lawerence Timmons made the pick and continues to play at a pro-bowl level.
Cornerback Ike Taylor had a good night being matched up with Chad Ochocinco for most of the night, holding him to just 1 catch for 15 yards.
The Steelers defense was also very good on 3rd downs, only allowing the Benglas to convert 3 of their 12 chances.
Defense: The Bad
The almighty Steeler defense once again struggled against the pass late in the game. From my perspective it's a mixture of bad execution and not making the right adjustments again. The Cincinnati Bengals were not going to be able to run the ball that well, that's a given. Down 27-14, the Bengals were in full comeback mode and completely one-dimensional.
Yet the Steelers still couldn't stop them. Despite the Steelers putting a decent amount of pressure on Carson Palmer, the Steelers couldn't seem to figure out how to stop Terell Owens. For some reason Bryant McFadden tried to watch him most of the game, tried being key word. Owens had a huge night catching 10 passes for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns.
His first touchdown came when he was lined up in the slot against William Gay. Mismatch. That can't happen, William Gay has no chance there. The second touchdown came when he was once again lined up on man, but this time he was being covered by Bryant McFadden. McFadden continues to struggle in man coverage no matter how far he lines up off the line of scrimmage.
My question is why didn't they put Ike Taylor on Owens? Taylor is the best Steelers cover corner and Ochocinco is playing second fiddle to Owens. I don't know hard it is to figure that out.
Furthermore, where is Troy Polamalu at? He played good against the run but he the Steelers can stop the run with their front seven. The Steelers need Polamalu to be a difference maker. Other teams try their best to take the play from the opposite side of the field Troy is at but they need him to step up and be the player he is capable of being.
I keep hearing that he's the best defensive player in the league but eventually he has to prove that. He certainly has the ability to but for this team to win a Super Bowl they are going to need Polamalu to play at a different level.
Overall this defense is still one of the best in the NFL but it's still a concern that they won't be able to stop a really good passing attack late in games.
The Rest Of The Bad
Besides the pass defense and the receivers not getting open the Steelers have a few other concerns that need to be addressed.
The play-calling on both sides of the ball continues to be mediocre. Bruce Arians offense is predictable and he still doesn't understand the strengths of his players. Not enough play-action, running back screens, or designed roll outs for Roethlisberger.
On defense, coaches Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau continue to struggle in making in-game adjustments. Teams continue to march down the field on the Steelers defense in the 4th quarter. The Steelers seem to get way too conservative on both sides of the ball late in games.
The Steelers had the ball with in Cincinnati territory with little over 4 minutes to go. They ran three straight runs and attempted a 46 yard field goal. Why not go for the jugular? Why not attempt a pass on any of those three downs to put the game away? Was it because Roethlisberger threw an interception in the 4th quarter? It's not like he was horrible the entire game, besides that one pass I thought Ben played well. Go for the win.
That entire series of reminded me of the playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in which they ran three straight plays and gave the ball back to the Jaguars. The Jags then went down the field and scored a game winning field goal.
Speaking of field goals, Jeff Reed could have also put the game away if he makes a 46 yard field goal. Reed is now 0-4 on field goals that are 40-49 yards away, and just 2-8 from 40 yards or longer. And this is the same guy that was complaining about his contract.
That isn't the only special teams area that needs improvement. The Steelers are dead last in punt-return yards in the entire NFL. They had 1 yard from punt returns last night. Why is Antwaan Randle-El out there at all anymore? So he can make a fair catch inside the ten? The only way guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown get to show you what they have is if they let you play.
Last but not least, the other area the Steelers struggled is in the officiating area. The Steelers were penalized 7 times Monday night for 73 yards. Against a better team these penalties could be the difference. There were some questionable calls, including a pass interference call on Ike Taylor, and a roughing passer call on Casey Hampton.
The Rest Of The Good
Despite all the analysis the Steelers won a crucial game against a division rival on the road and that shouldn't be taken lightly. No wins are guaranteed in the parity filled NFL. The Patriots lost to the Browns as did the Saints. The easiest way to lose a game is to take your opponent lightly.
How about the Steelers getting a blocked punt? That's a huge play that really helped the Steelers get some early points and helped the Steelers get a a quick 10-0 lead.
The special teams came made a play before that as rookie Emmanuel Sanders made a nice hit on the kicking team and another rookie Jason Worilds recovered it. Sanders is playing hard and has talent so I would like to see the Steelers get a little more playing time.
If the Steelers can get some big plays like that in the playoffs they will be tough to beat.
The Steelers also came away from the game without that many casualties to injury. They did have three starting offensive linemen leave, Pouncey, Max Starks, and Chris Kemoeatu, and Pouncey was the only that returned. Starks has a reported neck injury and Kemoeatu has a ankle injury. Brett Keisel also left the game with a reported hamstring injury.
In some good news, I think I can safely say that James Harrison won't get fined for anything this week. Even though he may have hit receiver Jordan Shipley too hard for the NFL's taste.
In moving on, the Steelers are a very respectable 6-2 and can now look to their match-up with the New England Patriots next Sunday. The Patriots are also 6-2 and the game will be very meaningful for both teams. I expect the players and fans to treat almost as if it's a playoff game.