The facts are the facts. Right now, Pittsburgh is a team that is only one score better than the Lions.
The mojo of 2008 is gone. Of course, it's still early in the season. We could get it back when Troy returns from injury. But it's certainly hard to get excited about a 28-20 win against a Detroit team that has won once in the last two seasons. Especially considering that the team was missing its starting quarterback and its only offensive playmaker - Megatron.
Those blessed with a positive temperment will point out that a win by 40 counts as the same as a win by 1. And in the final standings it doesn't matter if the win came against the lowly Lions or the dominant Giants. Which is all true. But when you need a last minute defensive stand to beat such a bad team, doesn't that bode poorly for the rest of the season?
The defense, in partcular, was less than stellar. It employed the bend but don't break method and only allowed 13 points (7 points came from another Big Ben pick 6). I suppose in most cities a defensive performance of 13 points should be extolled, but not in Pittsburgh. And not against Daunte Culpepper and the Calvin Johnson-less Lions. The Steelers defense struggled to get off the field and let up a few too many long drives. All it would have taken to make this game a blowout was a couple three and outs. But the Steelers could not cover Dennis Northcutt and could not get off the field. Allowing the Lions to go 11-18 on 3rd down and win the time of possession battle by 5 minutes certainly needs to be improved upon.
That's not to say that it was all bad. When the team needed it the most, the defense stood up in a big way. After allowing Detroit to drive to the Pittsburgh 21 with 2 minutes to play, the defense recorded 3 straight sacks to effectively end the game. The team finished with 7 sacks led by James Harrison with 3. LaMarr Woodley chipped in with 1.5 sacks; Willie Gay had 1.5; and Lawrence Timmons had 1.
After a 3 and out to start the game, the offense got into a nice rhythm scoring touchdowns on all five of its next five possessions (excluding the drive that ended the first half). Of course, one of those touchdowns was for Detroit. Big Ben had another solid night finishing 23-30 for 277 yards 3 TDs and 1 int. Ben's play has been exemplary all season, but he still needs to do just a little more to avoid the big turnover. I know the 3 touchdowns make up for the one pick 6, but remember he had another interception negated by a questionable roughing the passer penalty.
Nonetheless, the second half offensive effort was less than stellar. Going against a Detroit defense ranked 27th against the pass and 20th against the run, I expected the Steelers to put up at least 35 points. A little too much to ask? Maybe. But I was expecting a big play or two from the defense and special teams.
Much of the reason the offense didn't score often in the second half was lack of possessions. The Steelers defense couldn't get the Lions off the field, so Pittsburgh only had four possessions in the second half. One went for a long touchdown to Mike Wallace. The other three possessions resulted in a total of 11 yards. The poor performance gets pinned on a lack of execution, but it seems unfathomable that Rashard Mendenhall, who again played very well as the starter, only got 5 carries in the second half. Especially considering the Steelers had a two score lead, Mendenhall was averaging 5 yards per carry, and the offensive line was playing more physically than the Lions defense. I'll give Arians a pass because the offense was efficient overall and the Lions are vulnerable against the pass, but the team was just a little too pass happy on Sunday.
Despite all the doom and gloom above, the Steelers are only one game back of the AFC North leading Bengals and are now tied with the Ravens. With the Browns coming to Pittsburgh on Sunday, bringing a starting QB that went 2-17 for 23 yards and an INT against the Bills, the Steelers should be heavy favorites to get to 4-2.
Other quick hitters
- Poor Limas Sweed. He had one ball thrown his way on Sunday and he dropped it. At least the man's consistent.
- Mike Wallace also did his best Sweed impression, dropping a perfectly thrown deep bomb that should have been a touchdown. At least the mohawked-one came back strong with a long touchdown catch later in the game.
- It's been two games against bad defenses, but Mendenhall should at worst split carries equally when Willie Parker returns. Mendenhall runs harder and blocks as well as Fast Willie, but he is a much better receiver. I'm not anointing Mendenhall the starter after two games, but he's earned himself more carries.
- The Steelers defense can no longer hide behind the "we played good quarterbacks" excuse. Kerry Collins has not played well all season and Daunte Culpepper is way past his prime. But both were able to extend drives against Pittsburgh.
- Was Dick Lebeau holding out on his exotic blitz packages until the end or did Detroit's O-line and Daunte Culpepper wilt under pressure?
- Stefan Logan had one big return yesterday and it came at the perfect time. Detroit had just scored a defensive touchdown to get within 1, and Logan returned the ball to midfield, where the Steelers quickly scored to take an 8 point lead.
- That said, the coverage units and blocking for Logan remain shaky. The punt return unit committed another penalty. Robo-punter continues to robo-punt.
- Nice coordination by the defense to copy the Larry Foote dance. Wonder if he misses Pittsburgh right about now?
- Long way to go in the season. Let's hope the early season struggles get ironed out and we peak in December, January, and February.