The Pittsburgh Steelers bowed in defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium today for the first time since 2001. In doing so they lowered their record to 1-2, dropped a game to a division rival and now sit two games behind the Baltimore Ravens.
The most poignant aspect of this is that the Steelers deserve every bit of their 1-2 record.
Steel Curtain Rising says that because a team deserves to lose when…
- you drive to your opponents 1 and 6 yard lines and come away with two field goals
- you can only register 2 sacks, force no fumbles, and make no interceptions
- you give up two fourth quarter touchdown drives – for the second consecutive week
- you let your opponents convert two fourth downs while protecting a five point lead
- you come out on the wrong side of a three point margin between victory and defeat even after you (partially) block a field goal and your opponent misses an extra point
Yours truly is seldom given to sensationalism, but what you see above isn’t sensationalistic. As Mike Tomlin will say, its brutal honesty.
Steelers Continue to Give Games Away
Thus far the Pittsburgh Steelers have given away two very winnable games. Give all the credit in the world to Marv Lewis, Carson Palmer and the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals. They may not have dominated. They may not have padded stellar stats sheets.
But the Cincinnati Bengals did three very important things that the Steelers could not:
- They over came their mistakes
- They protected their quarterback when it mattered
- They kept together their poise to make plays when it counted
Where’s the Defense?
Going into the season people asked “Can the Steelers defense get better? The Curtain’s Call was that the defense could and would be more dominant.
No one expected this.
The Steelers 2008 defense got all kinds of well-deserved accolades for leading in numerous statistical categories – total yards allowed, total passing yards allowed, fewest points allowed, among others.
Those numbers are pretty, but statistics do not define great defenses. Great defenses define themselves in their ability to marshal physical force against an opponent. They strip balls, sack quarterbacks, stuff runners for losses, and intercept balls.
Save for stuffing the run, the Steelers defense has done next to none of that in 2009.
Sure, missing Troy Polamalu hurts, but is he the only playmaker the defense is supposed to have?
Pressure Sans Sacks is Not Enough
Phil Simms pointed out that the Steelers were getting good pressure on Carlson Palmer, even if they were not getting sacks. To fess up completely, Steel Curtain Rising made a similar observation last week after the Steelers loss to Chicago.
Today’s game revealed the limits of that truth. Pressuring a quarterback without actually sacking him only goes so far. It works under normal circumstances and/or against average quarterbacks.
But Carlson Palmer is no average quarterback.
A sack would have been devastating on any number of snaps on the final drive. But if there were any number of black and gold uniforms buzzing around him, they never reached the signal caller.
Hence you get two fourth down conversions, a four yard touchdown pass, and a successful two point conversion.
In two weeks now we have seen the Steelers establish a pattern that has already become disturbingly familiar. The Steelers start gang busters. The defense forces quick punts. Ben leads the team down the field to score an early touchdown.
Things continue to go well. The Steelers reach the goal line, but have to kick. Fear not, the defense continues to hold… until the opponent scores in the last two minutes of the first half. The Steelers play Cat and Mouse with their opponents in the third quarter. Steelers Nation senses that Pittsburgh will prevail, but the Black and Gold fails to pull away….
Then the Steelers once vaunted defense gives up two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
Déjà vu 2006 Style
If the scenario above is a little too disquieting for comfort, consider this:
To a man, the 21 Steelers veterans who remain from Super Bowl XL vowed to avoid a repeat of 2006
Today those pledges ring hollow. Consider:
- the 2006 team started with a Thursday night win,
- lost a close one the next week on the road,
- then lost to the Bengals in week three
And like those 2006 Steelers, the 2009 Steelers face San Diego in week 4 on national TV…
- …the ’06 Steelers lost that game 23 to 13.
The oft quoted cliché is “those who fail to study history are condemned to repeat it.”
Mike Tomlin loves history. He spent the summer studying the 1975 Steelers. Although he refuses to use the word, he was hoping to gain insight into repeating.
Steelers Nation now must hope that those studies have given Tomlin the wisdom he needs to keep Pittsburgh from repeating a less pleasant, but more recent chapter in team history.
Pittsburgh Steeler Fan Club of Buenos Aires
To regular readers: Last week we promised an indepth look at John Stallworth. We didn’t get to it last week, but check back for with Steel Curtain Rising on Monday or Tuesday.