Week two is upon us and after the performance we saw on Sunday, one has to be worried about this game, which will be in prime time, on Monday night.
About the only good that came out of Sunday was that the rest of the division lost their games, so the Steelers are still tied for the division lead. Aside from that, a lot of the concerns I wrote about last week were proved to be genuine.
So, let’s look at this upcoming match-up between the Black and Gold and one of their division rivals, the cats from Ohio.
Know Thine Enemy
The Bengals are on the rise. They made the playoffs last year, and seem to be ready to take the next step to being a contender more often than not.
They are coming off a tough loss against the Bears, a game in which they held the lead late in the fourth quarter.
The difference, and I’m basing this on the stats from the game, seems to have been turnovers by the Bengals, to the tune of two interceptions and a fumble lost. The Bengals defense could only produce a single turnover, and they still had a chance to win.
This does not bode well for the Black and Gold, who committed two turnovers against the Titans and created zero.
QB Andy Dalton and WR AJ Green hooked up for two touchdowns, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for one.
Dalton had 282 passing yards to seven different receivers, to go along with those two scores and two picks, but Green-Ellis was held in check, amassing only 25 yards on 14 carries.
Green was The Man on the field, collecting 162 yards on only 9 catches. That is some serious production.
The Steelers’ defense didn’t play badly, but they were put into tough positions repeatedly against the Titans either by turnovers or complete lack of production by the offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals’s defense did force that one interception, but QB Jay Cutler of the Bears is known to give the ball away, so that could be a little misleading.
What the Bengals did, however, was shut down RB Matt Forte. Forte was only able to manage 50 yards on 19 carries, which is 2.6 yards per carry.
Why does that matter? Well, for the simple fact that the Steelers don’t really have a running game to speak of against the Titans. If the Steelers couldn’t run the ball against Tennessee, there is a pretty good chance they won’t be able to run the ball against what is widely considered to be a better Bengals defense.
The return of Jonathan Dwyer, last year’s leading Steelers’ rusher, may help, but the real issue is that there simply is nowhere for these guys to run.
Wow, where do I start? The defense, while they did well to only allow the Titans to score one touchdown in four trips inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line, still are not creating turnovers, and they allowed several critical plays in third and long situations to keep drives alive. They also did not generate a lot of pressure on QB Jake Locker. They really only touched QB Jake Locker twice, and one of those was a remarkable play by S Troy Polamalu that he makes when he times the snap of the ball. The rest of the time, Locker was able to escape the pressure to either make a play with his feet or find an open receiver.
The running game was anemic against the Titans. There seemed to be nowhere for running backs Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Stephens-Howling would eventually leave the game with an injury. Felix Jones came in the game late, but by then, the Steelers were passing 100% of the time. One has to wonder why they signed Jones if they were not going to give him the ball.
Also, the running back corps has got to stop putting the ball on the ground. Early in the game, when the Steelers were already up a safety on one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen, Redman and QB Ben Roethlisberger muffed a hand-off after a long drive inside the Titan’s five-yard line. Granted, that wasn’t entirely on Redman. In fact, they showed how Big Ben put the ball too high for the hand-off, but still, a running back was involved. The ball bounced into the end zone where the Titans jumped on it, and the Steelers offense didn’t do much of anything else until their touchdown drive late in the game.
The biggest concern, as it was last week, is the play of the offensive line. C Maukice Pouncey left early in the game and is out for the year with ACL and MCL injuries after David DeCastro chop-blocked him. That will cast even more doubt over a group whose play was already a huge question mark for the Steelers. (As an aside, what is it with the Steelers and their offensive linemen getting hurt?)
This is a very young group and they are playing like it. They seem to be playing very timidly, not generating any push for running backs (who are having to bounce outside on nearly every play because they are finding no holes to run through), and they are not protecting Ben. Right now, at this moment, Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to be sacked 80 times this year. I know it’s only one game, but it is a troubling thing for your franchise quarterback to be sacked so many times so early in the year. Ben has not exactly been the picture of health over the years, so the cleaner the Steelers can keep his uniform, the better.
I honestly don’t know what to write here. The defense was solid, but they are not making the plays that can change a game, inspire an offense, and get a crowd revved up. No turnovers and one sack against a second-year quarterback who had never seen them before is frankly not good enough.
Aside from the defense being solid, I’ve got nothing. Hang on, let me think…umm, they didn’t have any kicks or punts blocked. And the weather looked nice.
That’s it. I’m out.
No one is confusing Green-Ellis with RB Chris Johnson from the Titans, but he doesn’t have to be as long as Dalton and Green are doing what they are doing.
The defense will have their hands full with Dalton and Green, and they, the defense, will have to do something to stop them. If they – the defense – don’t, they – the Bengals – will run up and down the field on them. I mean the defense has to force at least two turnovers and get three sacks.
In order to win this game, however, the offense is going to have to play much, much better. It’s really that simple. They have to stop turning the ball over, and score some points. And scoring points while the game is still in doubt would be good. A garbage time touchdown doesn’t do anything but pad the stats and mess with the gamblers. They have to score in the first three quarters.
Look for the Bengals to go after Big Ben, possibly bringing five or more guys on most of their defensive plays. Until they prove they can run the ball effectively, no defense is going to commit too many resources to stopping the Steelers run game. Why should they? The Steelers seem perfectly capable of stopping themselves.
If they can establish a running game of some kind, some passing lanes might open up for Ben. If not, it’s going to be a very long Monday night for most of us.
My prediction: Steelers 10 Bengals 27