The Steelers’ first divisional clash of 2013 is in the books, but the bad taste it has left will stay for a while. Yes, there were positives to come away with, namely on the defensive side of the ball, however, unless the black and gold can find an offense, the worst may be yet to come.
The Positives (defense) :
As I said, if it wasn’t for the defense, there would be nothing positive to write about. Although he didn’t record a sack, rookie OLB Jarvis Jones was all over the field,both on defense and special teams. While I’m not thrilled he’s risking injury by playing on special teams, he continually flashes the talents that had many draft scouts rating him as a top ten prospect in last April’s draft.
At thirty-five years old, Brett Keisel continues to defy his age with his all-out aggressive style. Much like Jones, ‘The Beard’ was all over the field chasing after Bengals QB Andy Dalton and chasing down runners from behind. With young ends Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward continuing to have little or no impact, the team needs Keisel to continue his high energy play. Question is, can he over the course of a long season? He is set to be a free agent at the end of the season, and despite his age, he should be a priority re-signing, but not at the cost of over-paying.
Cornerback Ike Taylor played a nice, physical game. There are some who feel the graduate of ‘Swag U’ is over rated, however, he held WR A.J. Green to a mere six catches despite being targeted twelve times. With the shaky William Gay opposite him, Taylor will keep shadowing the other team’s best receivers. While the team is hoping Cortez Allen will return soon and take over for Gay, shutting down an elite receiver like Green will help silence Taylor’s critics, as well as close off one side of the field.
Lamar Woodley and Troy Polamalu look to be healthy and in great shape. Polamalu has stated his calf injury, which has plagued him over the past couple of seasons, is a non issue. That’s great news as is seeing Woodley hustling and making plays in the Bengals backfield.
The Negatives (defense):
Despite some decent pressure, the defense did not generate a single turnover. To me this is the most serious sign all is not well on defense. With all the chatter in the off season about their creating more turnovers, the Steelers D has looked nothing short of impotent in doing so. With Cutler, Forte and Marshall looming next, this unit better start generating the turnovers they promised to, or the offense will continue to play catch up.
With no Casey Hampton, the interior of the defensive line looks to be soft. Not once was NT Steve McClendon’s name called, either pressuring Dalton or stuffing the run. With rookie ILBs Kion Wilson and Vince Williams rotating alongside Lawrence Timmons, McClendon needs to step up and keep opposing lineman from getting to that second level, something the Bengal lineman were able to do, especially in the second half.
The Positives (offense):
If anyone can find any, let me know. Antonio Brown had some nice returns, but much like Jarvis Jones, playing Brown on special teams adds to the risk of injury. And though one touchdown a career does not make, it was nice seeing the 6’5 Derek Moye haul in a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Moye may be on the way to providing the offense with the tall red zone target they have desperately been searching for since Plaxico left for the Giants.
As usual, whenever Ben is behind center, no play is dead. Roethlisberger made something out of nothing on a few occasions, and as long as he is under center, the offense always has a chance.
The Negatives (offense):
Where to start? Zero (yes zero) first downs in the third quarter, and too much confusion between Ben and the receivers in the first half underscored what has been a pathetic display of offense in the first two games. I’m reminded of a great quote by the late John McKay of Tampa Bay, who when asked how he felt about his offense’s execution, responded “I’m all for it.” While I’m not suggesting we’re there yet, one more disgusting display and I may be all for it as well. OC Todd Haley has shown no imagination with his receiving corps and the offense looked to be out of sync for most of the game. Mark my words, the Haley-Ben relationship is going to end very badly. Another week of this and I see tempers blowing.
The offensive line was once again over matched. DE Michael Johnson owned tackle Mike Adams and guard David DeCastro couldn’t handle DT Geno Atkins. Newly signed C Fernando Velasco was serviceable, but even he was pushed around by Atkins and Domatko Peko. This is by far one of the worst units in all of football and will need a serious overhaul (of personal and coach) in the offseason. I’m tired of hearing the excuses that they need time to adjust to the new blocking scheme, year in and year out this unit is the poorest on the team and quite frankly plays like garbage.
I’d talk about the running game, but there isn’t one.
I wasn’t aware anything was wrong with Markus Wheaton aside from the fact that other than one play he was gorilla glued to the bench. Possessing the best speed of the receiving corps, Wheaton one would think he’d be out there more. However, Todd Haley seems against using him, unless like I said Wheaton’s absence was due to injury.
Yes, that tripping call on Marcus Gilbert that negated a great deep pass to Sanders did swing momentum, but this offense looks as flat as ever. Ben threw high much of the night, Paulson fumbled away another great opportunity, and none of the tight ends even remotely provide the team with a reliable option. Combine that with an MIA running game and a horrendous front wall and this team is in serious trouble.
Steeler fans will point out that the team started 0-2 in 2002 yet made the playoffs, so there is no need to panic yet. That’s like saying Miley Cyrus never sticks her tongue out in public. C’mon people, time to get real here. With the Bears next on the schedule, an 0-3 start is very likely. Until some type of running game emerges, no team has any reason to play Ben & Co. honest. Todd Haley has been up until this point, a disaster of a hiring and the sheen has gone off of HC Mike Tomlin. Right now he is being out coached and looks clueless at times. And great as he is, Dick LeBeau’s defense has not generated the sacks and turnovers they promised. Much as it pains me to admit it, there is serious trouble in Steeler land.