Despite a respectable and seemingly sound 23-7 win over their division rivals, the score does very little to paint an accurate picture of what really happened in route to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 10th victory of the 2010 season over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers pulled off yet another win Sunday afternoon against the Bengals with little help from their offense.
The Steelers have scored just two touchdowns in their last 30 offensive possessions, and had it not been for Isaac Redman’s sheer will to win on the team’s final drive of the game in Baltimore, the Steelers would only have one touchdown in their last 30 and nine wins.
With a week full of stellar defensive play, stagnating offensive drives and a few circumstances sure to add drama to the playoff picture, there is plenty to talk about in this Week 14 edition of “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly.”
What doesn’t Troy Polamalu do well?
In similar fashion to what he typically does, Polamalu stopped the run (two tackles, one for a loss), disrupted Carson Palmer’s pre-snap reads and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown.
But what Polamalu does well, if not better, than anyone else in football is secondary to the fact that he does it all in the biggest of moments.
Polamalu’s first interception came at 5:24 in the second quarter with the Steelers down 7-0.
After moving the ball but unable to put points on the board, the Steelers were on the verge of going in to halftime down by at least a score. With no momentum in the Steelers’ favor, Polamalu stepped in front of a Carson Palmer pass intended for Terrell Owens on the second play of the drive and returned it 45 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
The momentum switch gave Pittsburgh the edge, as Shaun Suisham was able to connect on one of three field goals on the day to give Pittsburgh a 10-7 lead going into halftime.
Polamalu would later intercept a pass with two minutes left in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for the Steelers.
Every good team is able to get a lift from some part of their team when they are falling short in other areas of the game.
The Steelers defense is proving its worth in black and gold when it comes to lifting their team over offensive obstacles.
From a purely defensive standpoint, the Steelers were a tackle eligible play on a penalty extended drive away from pitching a shutout.
While the Steelers continue their struggle to put points on the board offensively, their defense has taken matters into their own hands. The Steelers defense once again shut down the running game of their opponent (34 yards allowed) and forced them to put the ball in the air. While the secondary has not been at its best this season with the exception of Troy Polamalu, the rest of the defense excels when their opponent is forced to drop back in the pocket.
The defense provided three sacks, five quarterback hits and deflected seven passes while harassing Carson Palmer into throwing three interceptions, two of which were returned for defensive touchdowns.
When your offense is kicking field goals, it is a major asset to be defensively offensive, and the Steelers are showing off their assets.
How can an offensive that has only scored two touchdowns in their last 30 possessions escape the ugly category and arrive at bad?
They are moving the ball.
The Steelers are finding ways to control the clock despite the lack of overall running game. This week against the Bengals the Steelers controlled the clock for 34:31, but even better is the time of possession in the second half of the last few games. The Steelers started the second half with a drive the drained over nine and a half minutes off the clock taking most of the third quarter with it.
Against Baltimore the Steelers again controlled the clock for over 34 of the games 60 minutes, but even better was the fact that they dominated the time of possession in the second half, holding on to the ball for 19:24 of the 30 minute half.
While the Steelers failed to score a point on the nine minute, clock-munching drive to begin the second half on Sunday afternoon, they were able to keep the Bengals offense off the field with a tight lead.
The offense undoubtedly has its issues, staying healthy being the biggest, scoring once they are in the red zone being the worst.
Calling the red zone play calling predictable, questionable and otherwise pitiful at this point in the season is like beating a dead horse, but man that friggin’ horse deserves its whoopin’!
While their offensive line is undoubtedly playing on its last leg, and by that I mean most of them are playing with one good leg at this point, the Steelers still have the pieces to score points in the red zone.
With proven red zone targets in veteran receivers like Hines Ward, Heath Miller and even the likes of Mike Wallace and Matt Spaeth who has a knack for getting open in the end zone, there is no excuse good enough for the lack of productivity inside the 20.
The Steelers are not going to fool anybody and they are certainly not going to overpower and bully them either. At least for now, the days of lining up and blowing opponents off the goal line are over. In case the last couple of years weren’t enough of an indication, look at the injured reserve list and count the number of starting linemen that had a hard enough time getting that job done. It continues to be inexplicable how the run game is still a viable first and second option on the goal line when the backups to those players are now your starters.
If the Steelers don’t find a way to harness all of their offensive laden potential and start putting the ball in the end zone, they are going to find themselves on the wrong end of a playoff butt-kicking that makes their first meeting with the Patriots look like a close game.
As we’ve already mentioned the offensive line is playing at a considerable disadvantage after losing starting tackles Willie Colon and Max Starks for the season. Trai Essex is probably not a guy you want backing up your starters let alone being a starter, and his replacement Doug Legursky has digressed tremendously throughout the season after a strong start. The remaining offensive line in Pittsburgh is a concern with little to no remedy at this point.
Rookie Maurkice Pouncey has been outstanding to this point in the season, but he is not without fault for the beating Ben Roethlisberger has been taking in recent weeks. Pouncey has found himself on the wrong end of a few bull rush efforts by the likes of Haloti Ngata, and a few others that have left No. 7 on his back looking up.
While Ramon Foster has done well enough not to have his name called as he has been given increased playing time, replacement tackles Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams have been collecting holding penalties like they are worth more in bulk in recent weeks.
No one expects this group to be the starting five at the Pro Bowl this season, but they are going to have to make up for their deficiencies by playing fundamentally sound football. The number of penalties this unit has earned has done more to kill momentum and productive offensive drives than anything else.
If the heavies up front do not find a way to concentrate and cleanup the technical issues in the coming weeks, Pittsburgh's playoff run could be very short lived with the strength of the AFC this season.
The offense undoubtedly has its issues. It’s kind of like watching one of those awful walking dead type movies that somehow continues to hold your attention because it’s just too unbelievable to look away.
A different player continues to rise from the tattered bunch at different times to bring life to the team at critical moments. Every once in a while they all find a way to collectively bring a play or two together in order to make the big difference, but these plays have been few and far between in recent weeks.
Losing offensive linemen is one thing, but the injuries to players like Heath Miller continue to add up to hurt offensive production.
With Troy Polamalu hobbling around the field yesterday, and the concerns for the well being of Ben Roethlisberger being a constant factor, perhaps the Steelers have never needed to earn a first round bye more than they do this season.
If the Steelers are the walking dead, then Big Ben is the staggering, zombie that refuses to die.
No, the Steelers quarterback did not make the list because of his facial condition, but simply because the things he has had to endure have been flat out ugly to watch.
With a specially made, oversized shoe to protect the broken bone in his foot, and a foggy visor on his facemask in order to protect his surgically repaired broken nose, Roethlisberger has limped his way from play to play, willing his team to victory. All the while doing it with little to no protection or time in the pocket.
The Steelers have feasted off of the deep ball connection between Roethlisberger and receiver Mike Wallace this season. However, Roethlisberger has not had the time to let the speedster break free downfield in recent weeks, and the resulting famine has been paralyzing to Pittsburgh's offense and their offensive scoring ability.
While Roethlisberger has proven to be one of the toughest players in the National Football League, one has to wonder how long he can endure the punishment he is taking.
The Steelers indeed control their own destiny going into the last three weeks of the season. With the Jets coming into town next Sunday, the Steelers will face the toughest defense left on their schedule and quite possibly their first opponent in the playoffs as well.
The reception former player Santonio Holmes gets upon his return to Heinz Field might be a bit nicer than what the Jets and their flamboyant head coach Rex Ryan have planned for this Steelers offensive unit.
With an outstanding defensive unit led by Aliquippa native Darrelle Revis and former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott, the Jets are sure to put more pressure on Roethlisberger than the Bengals were capable of this week.
The Steelers will not be able to afford costly penalties against a Jets team looking to bounce back from a rough stretch under second year quarterback Mark Sanchez. Their ability to cover receivers downfield on defense while minimizing the current penalty issues facing the offensive line will be the key to a Steelers win in what promises to be another cold and windy day in Pittsburgh.