If you go back to last year, and count this year’s preseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have now won two of their last 13 games after Monday night’s pitiable performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The offense showed a few signs of life late in the first half and late in the game, but too many mistakes at the wrong times, and a general lack of execution means the Black and Gold have dug themselves an impressively deep and wide hole.
As was pointed out during the game Monday night, no team out of the last 30 who have gone 0-2 has made the playoffs. It doesn’t look like this Steelers team is going to break that trend.
Next up is a visit from the Chicago Bears. This is the same Bears team who beat Cincinnati on opening day. Fellow Citizens of the Black and Gold Nation, the Steelers are in big, big trouble.
Know Thine Enemy
The Bears come into Pittsburgh sixth in the league in scoring but only 14th in yards per game on offense. This tells me, without even looking, they are getting turnovers which means they have short fields to work with.
As I have now checked, I see that I am right. Chicago is tied second in the league for takeaways per game with six turnovers forced in two games.
In most other areas, the Bears defense is middling. They are 22nd in points per game; 17th in yards per game; 14th against the run; 17th against the pass.
What that doesn’t tell you, however, is whom the Bears have played. They have faced one of the best running backs who ever played the game, Adrian Peterson, and these same Bengals, who. while not exactly a scoring machine, are no slouches on offense.
The Steelers, on the other hand, are worse than bad on offense. This unit is 30th in the league in scoring. QB Ben Roethlisberger did not have his “A” game last night. Even when WRs Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders got separation, Ben was throwing the ball over their heads all night.
And, on the rare occasion Ben was able to find an open receiver, the Steelers fumbled the ball away, or the play was negated by a penalty.
The Bears have stars on their defense at every level. Julius Peppers anchors their defensive line. Lance Briggs leads the linebacking corps, and Charles Tillman had two picks against the Bengals.
Now that the Bears have two weeks of tape showing the Steelers’ complete inability to run the ball, it should be no problem for the Bears to defense the Steelers. In effect, the Steelers have made themselves one-dimensional. Everyone knows they can’t run the ball, and if Roethlisberger and the receivers are not playing well, the Steelers are no real threat on offense. They might string together a good series or two, but have shown a dismaying tendency to make a crucial mistake, or the drive simply sputters out and they are forced to settle for field goals.
It seems clear that the Steelers are missing TE Heath Miller on offense, but that is not the only issue. The offensive line is under-performing given how high most of those players were drafted, and the backs are simply not good enough. Let’s face facts: There aren’t many other teams who would have any of the Steelers’ backs as there number one running back. Most of these guys are change of pace backs, or third down backs. They are not the caliber of starting running backs in the NFL. Le’veon Bell might be, but we don’t know because he’s hurt.
The future is very bleak for this Steelers offense.
On defense, things are only slightly better. The Steelers are ahead of their pace from last year, when they allowed 19.6 points per game. This year they have only allowed 18.0 PPG, but the two opponents they have played aren’t exactly offensive powerhouses.
While QB Jay Cutler has shown a propensity for throwing the ball the the opposing team in the past, we cannot count on the Steelers’ defense to turn the ball over. The reason we can’t is because the Steelers are one of two teams in the NFL to not force a single turnover yet. The other? The Oakland Raiders, and even they have managed to win a game.
The problem is that there are too few real difference makers on this defense. SS Troy Polamalu is only one man, and he is the only superstar on this defense. Everyone else is either too young, or is good, but not great. LB Jarvis Jones has shown flashes of brilliance, but Lamarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are not living up to their potential.
The entire offense is a concern. Without a running game, defenses will continue to go after Ben Roethlisberger. Without receivers and tight ends that can catch and hang onto the ball, Ben will continue to be sacked and pressured. Without an offensive line that can create holes for the backs and protect Ben, we may soon be watching QB Bruce Gradkowski taking the snaps. Or Landry Jones.
The real problem is that it might simply be the Steelers have lost too much talent that they haven’t replaced on the offensive side of the ball.
The Steelers historically haven’t built through free-agency. They have built through the draft, and that is the right thing to do, unless your high draft picks do not pan out. Most of the players on this offense are not playing to their draft positions and it is costing the Steelers wins. The ones who are playing to their potential can’t seem to stay healthy (Maurkice Pouncey).
On the defensive side of the ball, it is utterly, completely amazing that this unit cannot create turnovers. They are a solid unit, and might even still be one of the best in the league, but they have to get off the field in third-and-long situations, and they must create some turnovers. Without some turnovers and short field opportunities, the offense is going to be forced to produce long drives to score, and as we have seen, they are simply not capable of that.
(What a depressingly short part of this article this section is.)
Maybe the only bright spot of the team is the play of special teams. Suisham seems to be reliable, and the coverage teams are playing very well. Of course, it is still early and the weather has yet to get nasty.
Jarvis Jones had a great play on a punt on Monday to drop the return man after Jones had run one of the blockers over.
Whatever they are doing on special teams, they need to keep doing it.
The Bears’ defense is good. They might not be ranked as high as Cincinnati, but they are creating turnovers for their offense, and their offense knows what to do when they have the ball.
Chicago’s defense held Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson to “only” 100 yards, but he didn’t score. Peterson had 100 yards are 26 carries, but one of those carries accounted for 36 yards. For the other 25 runs, Peterson gained only 2.6 yards per carry.
The Steelers are averaging 2.4 yards per carry for the season. If this defense held Peterson to 2.6 yards per carry for most of the game, imagine what they are going to do to Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and company.
Chicago’s pass defense is average and they are not producing sacks (only two in two games), but they will have the luxury of not having to worry too much about the Steelers’ running game. It really doesn’t exist.
Look for the Bears to play defense against the pass until the Steelers prove they can run the ball. The way it is looking, that might not happen until week four. Of 2014.
On offense, all Jay Cutler has to do is not try to throw into tight coverage. The Steelers struggles to turn the ball over on defense, and that they have put almost no pressure on quarterbacks, means he can take his time and be careful with the ball. He can even afford to throw the ball away or take what would be a rare sack for the Steelers. It’s not like the Steelers are going to put 30 on the board and then run the clock out.
My prediction: Bears 24 Steelers 7