By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The offense has managed at least 457 total yards in three of the past four games, but has produced just 20 points in each of the past two games.
Ben Roethlisberger has passed for 734 yards in the past two games -- 350 in the fourth quarters -- but has produced just one touchdown throw in each game. Yards are up, so are interceptions and sacks.
"Something's wrong," coach Bill Cowher said.
Indeed. Even though the Steelers have taken off the training wheels on their passing game, the results have not been nearly as proficient as when they clamp on their quarterback to be more judicious and conservative.
Roethlisberger has attempted 91 passes the past two games, two fewer throws than he made in their four-game postseason run to the Super Bowl. His combined yardage against the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos was 67 yards fewer than the total yards he compiled in postseason victories against the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
To be sure, the Steelers have been forced to throw more because they fell behind, 20-3, against the Raiders and 14-0 to the Broncos. And, when they have, they have been forced to throw into zones that usually include seven, and sometimes eight, players in coverage.
The result has been a cacophony of mistakes that have sapped the Steelers of their offensive identity, which always has been to run the ball. In addition, it has produced a passing game that moves with ease between the 20s, only to stall and break down in the red zone.
"We're out of sync," Cowher said.
While the yards would appear to indicate all is well with the passing game, the 2-6 record and three-game losing streak indicate otherwise. It is all part of the surprising meltdown of the Steelers, a malaise that includes the inefficiency of the special teams and the sudden failure of the defense to prevent touchdown passes. Oh yeah, and a league-high 24 turnovers.
They get another chance Sunday against the New Orleans Saints (6-2) to right what has been wrong since the season opener. If, that is, they don't fumble away another opportunity.
"That's always been our strength, running the ball, so, when teams gear up to stop the run, we've got to throw the ball," Roethlisberger said. "We'll be OK. I've got a lot of confidence in our line, and my wide receivers are doing a great job of blocking for the backs as well. We'll be all right."
Even though he missed the season opener because of an appendectomy, Roethlisberger already is closing in on throwing as many passes (234) as he did in the 2005 regular season (268). More disturbing is this:
He has thrown 14 interceptions, two more than the entire 2005 season, including playoffs. Of the interceptions, 10 have come in the second half. Perhaps more bothersome: Four have come when the Steelers were inside the red zone.
"You work too hard to get into those positions," Cowher said. "Coming away with a field goal is not a bad thing."