Man, that was a really tough loss. The Steelers did what you have to do on the road in a division game and kept it close. It was a 10-10 game at the half but the Steelers failed to score in the second half and as you read on the headline the Bengals did.
Despite the Bengals really having no interest in winning the game in the first half thanks to Andy Dalton thinking that every single receiver was eight feet tall. The Bengals finally broke through and while it wasn't totally unexpected it was a little demoralizing after the Steelers had done enough to have a chance.
This isn't really something I want to talk about much so here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the game last night:
-The Steelers were better this week. I am not sure that means much because they couldn't possibly be worse than they were last week against the Titans but they were better this week. They ended with 278 total yards and 14 first downs. Yea, that is about all I got for this one. They were a little less bad than last week. Yay.
-In the preview I talked about how A.J. Green was turning into one of the best receivers in the league and all Ike Taylor did was hold him to six catches (on 14 targets) for 41 yards and no scores. Green didn't make a catch for more than 10 yards and was largely a non-factor in the game. A lot of people don't like Taylor and for a large part it is because he can't catch. That is true, but he has been nothing less than great for the Steelers in his tenure. I don't think that many people are going to appreciate Taylor until he is gone and top receivers aren't getting shut down like Taylor has done every time he puts on a Steelers uniform.
-Jarvis Jones is a monster. While he didn't record any sacks he did make eight tackles (seven solo) and was a beast on special teams. He was one of the only Steelers that were getting to the quarterback with any consistency. If he is looking this good in the first couple of games then I can't wait to see him develop as the season goes on.
-Speaking of special teams, they were pretty great for the Steelers last night. Zoltan Mesko was busy last night with seven punts but averaged nearly 47 yards per punt and with really solid kick coverage the Steelers weren't giving the Bengals some shorts fields. The Steelers were also pretty good on returns as Antonio Brown averaged 18.5 yards per return including a 40 yard return early that set the Steelers up in prime scoring territory. Felix Jones averaged 27 yards per kickoff return too, so that was good.
-Word came down that Heath Miller is a candidate to return to the field on Sunday. While I am not sure if he will be close to what he was last season you have to think that it would be a huge mental boost to an offense that is having a hard time doing anything. You can bet that Ben Roethlisberger would love to have him back.
-The defense wasn't necessarily good but they weren't bad either. They were doing enough to keep the game close and while they weren't getting anything else done (turnovers, sacks) they did get to Dalton a little bit and force some bad throws. Actually some of those were on Dalton just not being good. The defense wasn't the problem tonight and they did some good things.
-Where to start. OK, we can start with the nonexistent running game. The Steelers gained only 44 yards on 16 carries. Jones led the way with 10 carries for 37 yards. That isn't bad in itself but Jones should not be the main ball carrier if you want to succeed. Isaac Redman looked awful, again, and Jonathan Dwyer only ran the ball one time for two yards. Woof. Some of this is on the backs and some is on the offensive line but the Steelers don't have a capable back.
-I talked about the defense as the last highlight but they weren't all good. So far this season the Steelers have one sack and have yet to force a turnover. This is a big problem. The Steelers did a better job of getting to the quarterback but Dalton was largely untouched the entire night. At some point you have to make a big play. The Steelers still haven't done that. Two games, two winnable games, and the defense didn't even get more than a single sack. The defense was one of the last problems in the game but when you give up 407 total yards and 22 first downs you need to make a play.
-David Paulson fumbled. This was not good. I am a little more inclined to give him somewhat of a break thanks to a really great play by Adam Jones to rip the football out but this play turned the tide of the entire game. Paulson took the ball to nearly the Bengals red zone and fumbled it. At the time the Steelers were up 3-0 and were in a drive where they looked pretty good. What was even more puzzling about the fumble was that Paulson got up and didn't even try to go after the ball. Now, I don't think he would have got it but it seemed like fumbling was the last thing on his mind as he walked away. The Bengals scored a touchdown directly following the fumble. Momentum, crushed.
-Sometime in the first quarter the Steelers took Brown and Emmanuel Sanders OFF the field and that play they ran a reverse to Jerricho Cotchery. Think about that for a second. I am not a hater on Todd Haley like most people are but there were some really bizarre play calls last night.
-Ryan Clark was brutally bad. I actually stopped even watching him in the second half. He was reading the quarterbacks eyes (in a bad way), missing tackles, and just not doing anything productive. Now, I do like Clark as a player. I think he brings a lot to the backend and despite his pension for rather delivering hits than playing the ball I think he works really well with Troy Polamalu, but last night was one of his worst games I have seen. Just one bad play after another. Hopefully he can fix it up for next week. The defense needs him to.
-The offensive line. Yikes. When they weren't doing a bad job run blocking they were having Ben run for his life from pass rushers. Ben was only sacked two times but he spent much of the night running for his life. I actually thought the line was going to get better this year, and to be fair the Bengals have a really good defense, but I just haven't seen much from anyone on that line.
I am sure there is more to go over here but I just don't have the time or energy. I really think that the problems with that Steelers right now are that they are playing to their talent level. Now, that is a tough pill to swallow but it really is the truth. When you are successful for so long there is bound to be some bad times. This is only the second game and there is a ton of season left but I don't think I have seen a single reason to believe that the Steelers are going to be able to overcome this brutal start. I thought this was an eight win team before the season and then some huge injuries happened. So, here we are.