The Pittsburgh Steelers were handed a devastating loss by the improbable score of 18-12 yesterday afternoon. This defeat completes a shocking sweep of both divisional games by the Cincinnati Bengals. Barring a monumental collapse, the Bengals have all but assured themselves of winning the AFC North title. On a day when both a game and a division were lost, perhaps the worst loss for the Steelers came in the form of Troy Polamalu, who re-injured his knee on the first series of the game and may be lost for the season.
This is where I usually launch into an obnoxiously detailed analysis. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to talk about with this one. Most of the action seemed to follow the same script over and over again. There were no offensive touchdowns scored. Pittsburgh punted five times while the Bengals had four boots. Neither team was able to reach 250 total yards of offense for the entire game. The offensive heroes were Cincy’s Shayne Graham (4 for 5 on FGs) and Skippy Reed (who split the uprights on all 4 of his attempts).
Skippy also figured prominently in the key play of the game. The final margin of victory was primarily owed to rookie Bernard Scott and his 96 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Skippy did another fantastic job on kickoff coverage, running past Scott without so much as laying a finger on him. Although let’s be fair and remember Reed is paid to make kicks not tackles. The 10 other guys who by and large don’t do anything except play on special teams should be embarrassed by their work this season. This is the worst kick coverage I’ve seen in close to ten years.
A badly depleted Steeler defense managed to bend but not break all day long. Subtracting the kickoff TD and one FG that was set up by a Ben Roethlisberger interception returned deep in to our territory, the D held up quite well. Of course, it helped that the Bengals played most of the game without the red hot Cedric Benson, also lost to injury. Still, when you hold a high-powered offense featuring the likes of Carson Palmer (178 yards passing) and Ochocinco (2 catches for 29 yards) to a handful of field goals, you’ve pretty much done your job.
Which is more than I can say for our offense. This week really exposed the weakness of Bruce Arians’ Flying Circus. When it clicks, it’s great. But when you have one of those days where things just aren’t firing on all cylinders, everything falls apart. And, brother, not even superglue could’ve put it back together.
Big Ben sucked yesterday. Every throw was high or low or a little to the right or a little to the left or overthrown or underthrown or directly into a defender’s paws. Ben had so many passes swatted down at the line of scrimmage that I lost count. And even though Ben’s throws were wild and erratic, his receivers didn’t provide him much help. Santonio Holmes let a sure TD go right through his arms in the end zone and Mike Wallace dropped a crucial third and long conversion.
Then we have the offensive line. It surely didn’t help Ben’s cause that his boys had a hard time keeping him upright, surrendering a season high 4 sacks and many other knockdowns/pressures. The bookends, Max Starks and Willie Colon, were repeatedly getting beaten off the edge by the Bengals speedy pass rushers. And when they did manage to provide a sliver of protection, the Bengals secondary was able to keep things covered long enough to prevent Ben from doing any damage.
Despite this laundry list of shortcomings, the Steelers managed to move the ball into the Cincinnati red zone no less than four times. In fact, they got as deep as the Bengals 16, 10, 8, and 17 yard lines before settling for FGs on each occasion. A disturbing pattern soon emerged where the Steelers would look lost, somehow pull a couple nice plays out of their asses to get into Cincy territory, then proceed to shoot themselves in the foot. On three of those drives, what started as a 1st and goal from around ten yards out became a 2nd and goal from the 25-30 yard line because of a penalty or sack. The playcalling was beyond atrocious. I realize the Bengals are the #2 team against the rush and Rashard Mendenhall only had 36 yards on the day but lining up in a five WR set from the 8 yard line???? If we can’t pound it in from that distance Steeler Football is truly dead.
Much like our hopes for a championship repeat may be. This loss drops the Steelers to 6-3 and creates a scenario where the only way we can win the division is by finishing a full game ahead of the Bengals. With that scenario highly unlikely to happen, it appears the Black and Gold are now relegated to Wild Card status. Last year, the New England Patriots missed out on the Wild Card despite an 11-5 record. In other words, not only is that route to the Super Bowl extremely difficult because you have to play three games all on the road but it’s a huge crapshoot just to get the spot in the first place. But this is where having lost twice to a team we should have beaten has left the Steelers. They’re going to have to play their best football from here on out because as of now the margin for error is officially zero.