For nine weeks Steelers Nation has watched and wondered, “Who are the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers?”
- Are the Steeler’s inconsistencies simply part of life in the NFL, or do they have a penchant for self destruction?
- Can this defense dominate with Troy Polamalu?
- Has the offensive line evolved from being a liability to an asset?
- Can the Steelers become a “passing team” and win consistently?
The big question of course has been, is Pittsburgh capable of returning to the hard fought glory won in Super Bowl XLIII?
Today’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs brought the answers into better focus, and the picture is not pretty.
“We’ve got some work to do, we’re a team that’s developing.”
– Mike Tomlin, after the second Steelers loss to the Bengals
Before dissecting the loss to the Chiefs, let’s examine the aftermath of last week’s loss to the Bengals.
Mike Tomlin’s assertion the Steelers were still “team that’s developing” turned my head.
Tomlin didn’t and shouldn’t have hit the panic button after the Bengals loss – panic rarely produces anything positive. But what kind of message does a coach send to his defending champion team by describing them as “developing” eight weeks into the season?
If Tomlin eschewed panic he nonetheless needed to instill a sense of urgency into the team, because the Steelers certainly appeared to lack urgency down the stretch against Kansas City. (Clearly, cutting Arnold Harrison and replacing him with Donovan Woods didn’t do that.)
It Was a Gimmie, and They Blew It
On paper this should have been a gimmie. A 5-3 team vs. a 2-6 club that was missing its top running back and wide receiver, and whose offense and defense are both ranked near the bottom of the league.
Perhaps the Steelers bought into that line of thinking a little too heavily, because they spotted the Chiefs 7 points on another kick return for a touchdown to open the game.
Of course both the Steelers offense and defense went on to thoroughly dominate rest of the second half stat sheet, but they only held a ten point lead at the half.
The Steelers started the second half strong, only to self destruct.
Imbalance on Balance on Offense
The CBS broadcast team tripped over themselves praising Ben Roethlisberger’s play. Ben played well, spread out the ball and his touchdown passes were the work of an elite quarterback. And if his second pick was ugly, it was hardly the game’s deciding factor.
Ben was in complete control of the game, except on third down where the Steelers were 4-13, and that’s where things started to unravel.
Bruce Arians claims to want a balanced offense, but Arians’ actions do not always his words. Against the Chiefs the Steelers run-pass ratio was almost 60-40.
The production curve was more lopsided, as Ben and Charlie Batch threw for almost 398 yards, and the Steelers running backs only managed 114.
Yet it would be unfair to criticize Arians’ commitment to the run on a day when he gave his feature back 21 carries. Nor one can argue that Pittsburgh’s reliance on the pass kept them from controlling the clock, as they dominated time of possession by holding the ball for over 44 minutes.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.
Arians has the tools at his disposal, his offense puts up some stunning stats, except when comes to the scoreboard. Until he changes that, Steel Curtain Rising will continue to question Arians’ play calling.
Steelers Offensive Line Overrated?
Early in the Bengals game Phil Simms praised the development of the Steelers offensive line, intimating that the unit had worked itself form being a liability to one of the league’s better front fives.
- It appears Simms spoke too soon
The Bengals were all over Ben like bugs on fly paper last week, and the Chiefs got in his face, and more important, brought him down when it counted today.
The Chiefs came into the game with one of the league’s worst rushing defenses, yet they held the Steelers to 114 yards rushing, including stopping Mewelde Moore for a loss on that all important 3rd down in OT.
Don’t blame Rasshard Mendenhall, however. He got stopped for plenty of short gains, but Mendenhall should actually be lauded for transforming losses into gains on most of those plays.
The Steelers offensive line simply lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. When you do that, you lose games.
It Came Down to Who Wanted It More…
Pittsburgh’s poor special teams put the Chiefs into the game, and their carelessness with the ball kept Kansas City alive for four quarters.
- Nonetheless, the Steelers had opportunities to put Kansas City away
Late in the 4th quarter, they had Matt Cassel in a third and 9 situation his own 10. Instead of ending right there Pittsburgh gave him a 30 yard pass and then a 47 yard pass. Four plays later, Kansas City had evened the score with 4:54 remaining.
But the Steelers offense got the ball twice more in regulation, and won the coin toss in OT.
- Situations like that come down to who wants it more
The Chiefs got the job done where the Steelers failed.
That conclusion may by chilling, but Steel Curtain Rising calls it the way we see it.
The Steelers should have no trouble finding a sense of urgency now. And they’d better find it in a hurry, because the season is quickly slipping away.