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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The division goes through Cincinnati

Over the last two years (ok for the entirety of my life) I'm normally tormented after a loss. I retrace my steps, relive the problems, and gradually accept the proceedings. Basically I move through the stages of loss and move on sometime midweek.

However, Sunday's loss was different. Even though it was an important game, I was over the loss rather quickly. I'm not sure why, but I think it was this:

The Bengals were the better team on Sunday.

After the Bears loss and first Bengals loss, I thought the Steelers were the better team. They just made bad mistakes. Missed field goals, dropped touchdown passes, and late game missed tackles. Every game in the NFL is important. So you can't afford to lose games when you outplay the opponent.

But, the Steelers were outplayed on Sunday.

They didn't bring their best. The offense was 0-4 in the red zone. Despite making it inside the 10 yard line four times, the team didn't sniff the end zone. Give credit to an impressive defensive performance.

The Steelers defense played an extraordinary game, but when opportunities arose to make a game changing play, the ball slipped through their hands. Ryan Clark dropped an interception on a Bengals drive in the fourth quarter. Willie Gay dropped two earlier in the game.

The Bengals made the plays.

The special teams did what the special teams does and let up another game changing touchdown return. For the 7th straight game, the Steelers allowed a return touchdown. Those eventually catch up to you. And the 6 points from that touchdown was the difference in an 18-12 game.

The Bengals defense earned major respect from this blogger. The front four dominated in the run game, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 30+ yards on 13 carries. The blitz schemes of Mike Zimmer had Ben Roethlisberger running for his life and the O-line looking like the 2008 version, not the new and improved 2009 version. Even when Big Ben had time to throw, the Bengals secondary smothered Steeler receivers. This defense made Roethlisberger look like Alex Smith. And this was all done without Keith Rivers. A Bengals turnover generated 3 important points for the team. It held a talented Steelers offense to 0-4 in the red zone and 3-16 on third down. That won't get it done for Big Ben and Company.
Bruce Arians has long been the whipping boy of Steeler Nation and he looked overmatched again on Sunday. But, what I have learned is that if you lose the matchup on the line, every offensive coordinator will look like an idiot. Of course I would have loved to see more screens, draws, throws to running backs, and other tactics to slow down a defense that blitzed nearly every third down, but the Steelers aren't all that good at those plays. And God forbid we ever try a run on third and short. But, we stuck with our bread and butter and just got beat by a hungrier team. No more fingers should be pointed at Arians than should be pointed at the players.

The Bengals offense did just enough to win, but didn't look overly impressive doing so. The Steelers defense, minus Troy Polamalu who was injured early, held the Bengals without a touchdown and played exceedingly well, for all but the Bengals final drive. The defense only allowed 9 points. 6 came from a kickoff return and 3 came from a Roethlisberger interception. James Harrison cannot take a stupid penalty.

In the end, Big Ben and company had 2 minutes to drive down the field for the win. But, he didn't get a yard.

What does it all mean?

It means that the Steelers will probably be a wild card team. But, other than that, not much. It was an off day. I don't think it has any long term consequences. The Steelers weren't exposed. They didn't lose because of stupid mistakes. On this day, the Bengals made more plays.

And I'm not losing any sleep over it.


Anonymous said...

Santonio Holmes drops a ball right between his hands in the end zone, and special teams allows another TD-return. Hmm. I would say those are pretty big mistakes that contributed to the Steelers losing the game! I would say that the Bengals offense did not look any better than the Steelers for most of the game. I blame Arians for not getting creative at all in the Red Zone. Run on first down every time,and then pass on third. Soooo predictable like his old self! I generally don't like halfback passes, but they could've used a Antwan Randle El play on their third or fourth try at the end-zone. Ultimatley, the mistakes weren't the biggest reason they lost, but it didn't help. The O-line stunk and so did our receivers inability to get open. I get disgusted with this happening at times from week to week, but it finally catches up with them in a loss. Ben takes sacks a lot because he wants to extend plays rather than throw the ball away. However, what does this say about our receivers? Does anybody expect me to believe Ben is too inept to find open receivers? I think not! Heath Miller and Hines are the best we got. The only problem is Hines is getting old, and Heath is a Tight End. Holmes and Wallace are average. They are not "Weapons" the way an NFL commentators described them after defeating the Broncos.

The reasons for the loss from biggest to least are this: 1) Our O-line got smacked in the mouth. 2) Poor play-calling by Arians in the Red zone.
3) Receivers not able to get open.
4)Stupid mistakes on special teams, and another dropped pass in the end-zone by Holmes. I will not say that Wallace's 2 dropped passes and Heath Miller's dropped pass cost them anything. They just killed those two drives. Those passes went right through their hands like it did with Holmes. I heard Mel Kiper say (in reference to another quarterback) it's ridiculous for people to think a quarterback needs to make perfect throws for a receiver to catch the ball. He quoted Johnny Unitas by saying "if a reciever can get his hands on the ball he should make the catch". Now, I agree that fingertips aren't a good enough pass, and a throw nearly in the dirt is bad. Our receiver can rarely catch balls that are not routine except for Hines and Heath. The other cast of characters need balls thrown at their chest.

The Steelers are still a better team than the Bengals and could beat them in the Post Season. They can fix the play calls and the o-line play. However, they have got to quit making dumb mistakes! Other weeks it was fumbles, and other weeks it's been special teams. Special teams has been bad as long as Big Ben has been in Pittsburgh, and the Steez still do not have an answer for that. Even though I think they are a more talented team than the way they played, the recent Bengals game showed me they will not make it far in the post season. The Steelers have shot both feet off and don't have any more to shoot off with kick-off returns. Those things take a team with no momentum, and it gives them some. I don't see the Steez making the adjustment any time soon!

Anonymous said...

This game bothers me also, and I however was able to move on fiarly quickly as well Josh, but for other reasons. I believe that, dispite getting outplayed by their defense, we are the better team, and we didn't take advantage of our opputruinities.

I thought the missed TD catch by Santonio in the corner of the end zone in the 2nd quarter was a key play. Had we scored there, that kind of reward in a grinding game like this one, after a hard-fought drive, makes your team believe and is a rush of momentum. On another drive in 4th qtr, the normally sure-handed Heath Miller let a 3rd down pass go through his hands. A completion would have given us a
1st down and kept a potential TD-drive alive.

Another thing I will harken back to (and I brought this up before the season when cuts were being made) is the special teams coverage. Stefan Logan, while not horrible, hasn't really produced the way Steelers fans had hoped for after the hype of the preseason (that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one "hype of the preseason" - I digress). Is this now hurting our kick coverage units? Remember, some of our "better" coverage guys were released to make room for Logan. There's probably too many variables to know for sure but, it doesn't help Logan's case. I think any combination of Wallace/Moore/Holmes could retun kicks/punts with just as much effectivness as Logan. My apologies to you Stefan, this was not meant to be a Logan bashing post.

Altough to some it may have seemed otherwise, our D actually did quite well (Bengals were 4-15) on
3rd down. They denied the potent Bengals offense the endzone, shut-down (and even hurt) Cedric Benson, and only gave up 12 points. This, all while giving the Bengals great field position all day, and without Troy for most of the game. Any time the Steelers give up less than 15 points, I expect them to win.

Troy being out hurts this team a lot. Let's hope he can find a way to stay healthy in December, when it matter most.

Just a side note, if Cedric Benson has to miss extended time due to the injury he sustained in the game, would the Bengals be the team to sign LJ??? With his team-destroying abilities,... let's hope so.


Elliot said...

The Bengals are reportedly signing LJ today. For the first commenter, Ben is not too inept to find open receivers but he routinely misses open guys just like every other QB. Please support your conjecture that our receivers aren't weapons with real evidence. I would bet most teams would take our trio of wide receivers. They are all putting up great numbers. Homes drops a few balls but he makes great plays as well. (See last years Superbowl) Hines is only having such a great year because other teams are concentrating on shutting down Santonio. Ben had one of his worst games in a while yesterday. Guys were open, he wasn't finding them. And sometimes they weren't. You aren't going to get wide open every play.

Anonymous said...

I agree Ben misses receivers perodically just like other quarterbacks. However, what is your explanation for the lack of offense in the first half of the Denver game? The O-line was blocking well in that game. I have heard time and time again the game announcers say our receivers are covered when Ben has to throw it away or try and make a play. Usually he tries to make a play and sometimes takes an unecessary sack.

Again, I like Hines and Heath. I am a fan of those guys. I actually think Wallace has some promise, he's just got some more time to prove it. Holmes dropped an easier pass in THE SUPER BOWL right before the big catch! It went right through his hands in the back of the end zone. When he caught the pass before that, he was dancing around while Ben is trying to hurry everybody up to the line so he can spike it. He should have got an excessive celebration penalty after the big catch with the Lebron imitiation. He was not far away from being a goat because of a dropped pass and selfish showboating.

Holmes had a good postseaon, and a good Superbowl. Ben was the MVP of that Superbowl, and got robbed big time! The scramble passes he made in the first half when the O-line was blocking were spectacular. Not to mention the 2 minute drive with average blocking. He had to scramble to make his first pass pinned up against their own end zone.

Nonethless, I don't care just about Holmes overall numbers. It's ok to drop passes after being hit, or because of low throws, etc. which Ben throws every game in his usual 8-10 incompletetions. Holmes has dropped 2 passes in the end zone this year which would have changed the outcome of the game. Both balls went right through his hands. If he had to make that Super Bowl catch again, he would miss it 9 out of 10 times. He misseds this latest pass mainly because he was focusing on keeping his feet in bounce only this was a little easier than the Super Bowl catch. Easier because he didn't have a guy on him like glue this time and he was a little further away from being out of bounds. Also, when he drops balls they are too often balls that are slightly challenging but catchable balls.

I do give some of these defenses credit for covering guys well in varoius games this year. It gets frustrating seeing it from game to game. Not every game, but certain games.

I saw something that boggled my mind one replay where our guys were covered in the last Bengals game. Two of our receivers were running routes a similar distance down the field on the same side of the field. I said to myself, "a hand grenade would have killed both of these guys". No wonder they were covered so easily. I have to blame the play design for that. If your going to send receivers out a similar distance, their routes need to end a considerable distance apart from each other east and west.

I'm willing to concede I may be too hard on Holmes. Maybe it's Arians play desgin at times.
I think they can still make a run. It was a little discouraging seeing the Steelers get swept by a divisional team.

I'm still not a Holmes fan. I a guess we can agree to disagree on that. Teams would envy having Hines Ward because he can catch, block and punish denfenders. NO DOUBT! They would envy having Heath. He's one of the best tight ends in the league. I don't think they would desire Wallace yet. It's too soon to make a permanaent assestment on him. He's definitly got promise. Holmes "is like a box of chocalates" to quote Forest Gump. "You never know what you're going to get" in clutch situations.

Anonymous said...

There's no way Ben had a bad game in that game. He was hurried and presssure so many times because of poor blocking. Please! When quarterbacks are rushed all game, they end up making lots of incomplete passes beacause they have no rythm and they are constantly looking over their shoulder. I've seen it with the best ie. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning etc.

Ben did not have much to work with in that game from his O-line. All I know is when Ben has time and guys are open he makes the plays. His record at this point in his career is better than most quarterbacks in the league right now except for Tom Brady. His record during his sixth season at this point was 1 game better than Ben.

Bottom line: Ben's in the top 3 or 4 quarterbacks in the league! He's the man.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone has a personal vandetta against Santonio... Hey man, don't get mad cause 'Tone didn't pass the blunt your way...

Is it puff, or puff-puff... I just want to know the rules.