Why the Steelers Loss to the Bengals Stings So Much….

Steel Curtain Rising preluded season by talking about challenges that held both the promise and peril for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • Against the Titans the Steelers abandoned any semblance of that black-shades of grey- white continuum, answering the many “ifs” confronting them with resounding “no’s.”

Vs. the Bengals however, the Steelers again wrestled with promise and peril, but unfortunately the results peril won the day fair and square.

Tale of Two Halves – The First Half Promise

The NFL preseason is meaningless, but one of the mysteries it left Steelers Nation this year also serves as a perfect metaphor for the Bengals game.

What to make of results in meaningless games where backups may have been wanting, but where a limited (read healthy) subset of the starters did “OK” when not beating themselves?

Pittsburgh Tribune Review writer Mark Kaboly summarized a similar puzzle that now faces the 0-2 Steelers:

Take away Redman and Paulson first-quarter fumbles past 2 weeks and replace with TD and I’d like to see how those games played out.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 17, 2013

The Steelers began the game with a statement of sorts, returning the opening kickoff 34 yards. That resulted in a three and out which the Steelers defense dutifully matched.

  • Antonio Brown responded again, returning a punt for 40 yards.

The Steelers sputtering offense of course gave up a sack, but a 14 yard Felix Jones scamper allowed Pittsburgh to bank the first three points of the night.

  • Clearly, the Steelers had no intention of feeling sorry for themselves after the Titans embarrassment.

It would be poetic to say that following that, the Steelers went out and played “hard nosed football that resulted in a 10-10 tie at the half,” but alas it did not happen that way.

The Steelers failed to convert a third down prior to the two minute warning. When Ben Roethlisberger’s passes weren’t high they landed well in front of the receivers. They failed to establish the run.

  • Yet the Steelers defense managed to confuse Andy Dalton, or else Dalton was misfiring on his own passes.

The Steelers verged on establishing something when Ben Roethlisberger hit David Paulson with a 34 yard pass that took him all the way to the Bengals 13 yard line, where, and you knew this was coming, Paulson fumbled away.

  • But even when the 2013 Steelers wound themselves in the foot, they still can’t shoot straight.

Paulson had been ruled down by contact, and the Steelers had – and miss – the chance to get another playoff before it could be reviewed.

It was that kind of half for the Steelers. Yet, in spite of it all the Steelers found themselves with the ball at the 4:13 mark, Roethlisberger went into no huddle and two passes to Emmanuel Sanders later the Steelers were at the on.

  • Another one to Derrick Moye and the Steelers had the game tied at 10-10.

To add the cherry on top, Cincinnati got the ball back with 1:54 remaining and all 3 time outs. Dalton put in a workman like performance, but the Steelers defense held with help from Ike Taylor’s pass defense of a Hail Mary.

And in one half held Pittsburgh’s implicit promise of 2013 – if the Steelers could only stop beating themselves, they’re a team that might go places.

Second Half – Steelers Embrace Their Peril

Story spinners might seek to wave a tale that revolves around the Steelers second half hopes disintegrating with a bogus tripping penalty called on Marcus Gilbert that nullified a 33 yard catch by Brown.

  • The penalty was bogus, but pay the apologists who use it as an excuse no mind.

The Cincinnati outplayed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half. No, Bengals hardly looked like a championship team themselves.

And that’s what makes this one sting so badly.

  • Ben Roethlisberger may have only been sacked twice, but he got hit six times
  • When not under duress, Roethlisberger continued with his erratic passing
  • Unlike the first half, the Steelers running game didn’t even feign an appearance

Worse yet was the defense. On paper, holding a offense loaded with weapons such as Cincinnati’s to 20 points on a night when your own offense only manages one non-garbage time 3rd down conversion might seem like a feat.

  • But Cincinnati nickled and dimed the Steelers defense.

They did it by being more physical up front in the running game, and by smartly working the short passing game.

Dick LeBeau has instructed Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward to take a more active role in pressuring the quarterback.

And they have, somewhat successfully. Yet they haven’t come up with a sack, and the middle of the Steelers defense is suddenly vulnerable for the first time since Joel Steeds knees disintegrated in 1999.

  • This does not bode well, especially when the Steelers are 0-2 for the season and have recorded zero turnovers.

Tackling was also an issue, as multiple times during the night Bengal rushers and receivers extended plays and drives as single Steelers defenders failed to bring them down at first contact.

  • That in a nutshell is the story of the night.

When Cincinnati needed to throw for four yards, they completed passes for four or more; when Pittsburgh needed six Roethlisberger was as more likely to complete it behind the line of scrimmage than he was to throw it incomplete near the pylon.

Pittsburgh defense gang tackled the Bengals running backs just as Cincinnati’s defenders gang tackled Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. The difference is that Bengals backs went down 3 or 4 yards past the line of scrimmage; Steelers backs were lucky if the got there.

All of this simply shows you that, while isn’t doing itself any favors with turnovers and penalties, even when those mental issues aren’t factors, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers simply have not shown they’re capable of playing good football.

  • Ryan Clark is right. The Pittsburgh Steelers cannot win the way they’re playing now.

That’s the truth. And the truth most definitely hurts sometimes.

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