The Steelers are finding new and ever frustrating ways to lose football games. This one against Cincinnati was one they should have won running away, but between agonizing interceptions, dropped surefire touchdowns and key drives by the opposition where the defense can't close the deal, it turned into a second straight gutpunch to Steelers fans. Now the season is following an all too familiar pattern established in 2006 - win in season opener, loss in first road game, loss in game three versus Cincinnati. Just like 2006, the Steelers' fourth game is against San Diego.
Other than Mike Wallace's going over 100 in this game, I'm not sure what good there is to take away. The pass protection was decent again for the most part. Roethlisberger was only sacked once. When the Bengals knew the Steelers were running, they could squelch it out, though Willie Parker was still able to put together a respectable game (25 carries for 93 yards, along with shockingly making a key reception for a TD). How was Rashard Mendenhall not used at all this week, though, even in short yardage situations? It seems like the guy made some plays last week. How does he get shut out against the Bengals?
As last week, here are a number of items in need of addressing if the Steelers are to put together a respectable title defense.
Limas Sweed - I was never forgiving in the many mistakes Sweed made last season, and there were plenty to not forgive. Other Steelers fans assured me that he would work out, and the guy made a few plays during the preseason. But now, in his first significant action of his second season, he drops a wide open touchdown catch that a high school player could haul in, just like his flub in the AFC Championship Game. I'll give him credit as a guy who is able to blow by defensive backs, but he can't make even the most basic of catches. no matter how tall or flashy his other abilities are, he's a liability. He belongs behind Shaun McDonald on the depth chart.
LaMarr Woodley - I love the guy, but James Harrison is drawing all the double and triple teams and Woodley isn't generating the pressure he should from one-one-one encounters with opposing tackles. It's a very big reason why the pass rush isn't as overpowering as last year. The defense only generated marginally more pressure this week - putting up two sacks. The coverage was mostly solid - Ike Taylor kept up well with Chad Ochocinco and again kept him out of the endzone. Otherwise, the defense kept the Bengals from being able to dink and dunk, but couldn't tackle on the 4th down that could have won the game. Sadly, they still come off as very vanilla without Polamalu to work with.
Closing - Last year, the fourth quarter surge was the Steelers motif. Now somehow it's become the first quarter juggernaut that fizzles as the game goes on. The team came out like gangbusters, putting up two scoring drives before the Bengals got a single first down, only to see the Bengals progressively chip away and watch Pittsburgh be unable to maintain their intensity or put them away.
Santonio Holmes - Another sloppy game. He had one bad drop and failed to get both feet in bounds on another snag. Finished with one catch for 18 yards. Meanwhile, Hines had four catches for 82 yards and Mike Wallace had seven for 102. The Steelers outgained Cincinnati by 100 yards and everyone responsible for not letting the team put up more than 20 has to be held accountable.
Offensive Pass Interference - Hines was somehow called for two of them on receiver screen passes, both for infractions that happened within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The latter of the two negated a first down by Santonio in the second half. On the following play, Roethlisberger threw a pick-six to draw the Bengals within four points. Whether they were bad calls doesn't take away from the fact that Ben made a terrible, costly throw, but it would good to know how someone is supposed to block on these plays without drawing a flag.