Grading The Steelers: Game Three Vs. Bengals

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
By Philip Barrett
Steelers Fever Columnist


I'd like to preface this by saying the following: if I am overly critical and come off upset and down about our Steelers, please forgive me. I wear this team with me every week and love them just as much as any true Steeler fan would. Right now though I feel like a parent who has a troublemaker child. I love the child and I always am, but I'm just disappointed in them right now.

Steelers vs. BengalsHowever, over the past two weeks what I've witnessed is a team that hasn't been outright beat by their opponent. No, our boys in black and gold have simply lost the games by beating themselves. Yet again, we have another game that we should have won and were easily winning only to lose it in the final seconds. As of right now, I'm at an utter loss for words. Not because it's the Bengals, or because it's Ben's first loss in Ohio, but because we seemed to find ways to lose it.

Offense: C

Really, after the first half it was a very solid 'A' because our running game was clicking and Ben couldn't have been more perfect. True, some passes were dropped but the offensive line was still holding strong and Big Ben was once again proving why he's one of the best in the league.

And then the second half happened and wiped all of that away. I stress again, we do not have the running game to put away teams as we did in 2005. Yes, it's great Willie's improving each week but we cannot go to the run. In fact, the moment it started to settle in that it was over for me happened I believe after the Bengals made it 20-15 and I shouted "Ok, we can't afford to run here," and we did the exact opposite and ran it up the middle. Also, Ben needs to breakaway more, even for forth and two situations. The guy is a tank and can take a hit, so why not utilize it?

Ben on the other hand, well it's really tough to criticize him. Unlike last week though, this interception was 100% his fault and ended up being a lot more costly than the one in Chicago. That was one ball he should have never even thought of throwing and this time, yes he did get very, very greedy. Outside of that, he was who we thought he was and made the throws he needed to.

Too bad Santonio Holmes and Limas Sweed are still dropping just about anything thrown to them. Sweed continues to disappoint as the weeks go on and while I understand he's still learning the ropes, it's growing tiresome watching him drop balls at key times like that usually textbook touchdown pass. Holmes is a different matter and really needs to step it up. In my opinion, Mike Wallace is our number two receiver at the moment as he tends to catch and actually make plays. Had he not made a rookie error, we're looking at a 17-0 game at that point. Hines Ward, once again, did exactly what he was supposed to.

I again want to give praise to the offensive line, who have drastically improved from last year. They're not letting the defense get at Ben too much and are actually opening up holes for Willie. They took a lot of crap last year from the lot of us (myself included) so any chance I get, I'll praise them.

Defense: C

It'll be tough not using the "we need Troy" defense so I'll do my best to refrain. Give credit to Ike Talyor and William Gay, both of whom gave great performances and jumped on Cincinnati's receivers pretty much all day. They were tipping key passes (especially Ike) and maybe they could have caught a couple, but for now, their performances were very stellar.

James Harrison continues to remain the only back trying to make a difference and get to the quarterback. He can't do everything, and he seriously needs some back-up from LaMar Woodley who's disappeared after the Tennessee game. Lawrence Timmons as well needs to pick up his play, but none mucked up as bad as James Farrior did. Two times the man could have sealed the game for us and he blew both chances. It's childish to be calling for the man's head right now, but he's a veteran and needs to start playing like one.

Joining Woodley on the disappearing act is Brett Keisel, who once again didn't do a thing in terms of pressuring the quarterback or make an impact in any way. Casey Hampton is doing adequate, but possibly needs to step it up a couple of notches. However, I blame all eleven men for leaving Andre Caldwell wide open, with no one making the slightest effort to cover him.

Bottom line, they need to start playing to the quality they can and not make it look like we're entirely based around one single player. No, I don't believe we can win it all without Troy, but I do believe we can play better than what we are. They need to stop being soft and start playing with the physicality and chip on their shoulders that they had last year.

Special Teams: B

No wonder Tomlin benched Mendenhall this week. What a boneheaded decision by him to lateral the ball when all he has to do is go down and let Ben take one, possibly two shots at the end zone. He's still working out the kinks, no doubt, but did he forget we still had ONE timeout left?

Jeff Reed once again showed his struggles. Now granted, he finally made a field goal for a change and yes 52-yards isn't exactly his range. However, he had the distance, but had a terrible kick on it. He better start making kicks at critical times before he even thinks about asking for three million, which right now is looking more like $495,000.

For two consecutive weeks, Daniel Sepulveda and Stefan Logan emerge as the stars. Logan gives us a much needed spark in our return team. Maybe if he can continue to get us solid field position the team will get it together and start turning it into points. Sepulveda continues his impressive distance on punts and makes teams actually work for their yardage. Not much more to be said about him other than keep it up.

Coaching: D+

If one seeks to ask if the Steelers coaching staff learned from their mistakes last week, the answer is a big NO. Once again (and I hope someone on the Steelers staff reads this,) Arians needs a new playbook or needs to be gone. Willie is a capable running back, but he's not what he was a few years ago and is not number 36. In addition, this is not the Cowher era where we just need our QB to throw twenty times to win. When we're leading 13-3 or the game is in danger of slipping, you bleeping pass the ball or you run Roethlisberger to pick up yards. The guy is a tank, and can handle a hit or two. We can no longer depend on Willie, Mendenhall or even Moore to run the clock out. Throw it out and get some new plays or make us all happy and fire the guy.

But now it's time to call out a man many of us know and love, but right now doesn't have it together. Dick LeBeau's schemes are either not working or he's just letting them play soft. For consecutive weeks nothing he's concocted has resulted in anything close to pressuring the quarterback. Again, this is not last year where the defense will get lucky and come up with a play, especially since Mr. Polamalu is inactive for the time being. LeBeau's too much of a defensive genius to base our entire defense around him and not come up with new schemes in his absence. When the season started I wanted to believe he was holding back his genius, but three weeks in we should have seen some of it but we're not.

But once more, Mike Tomlin doesn't seem to be coaching with the killer instinct we had last year. Last year was the toughest schedule in the history of the NFL and yet the Steelers breezed through it like they were the Pittsburgh Cole Trickle's. Tomlin didn't care if we were putting up points against solid opponents, and wasn't afraid to smack both Houston and Cleveland around in our meetings with them. He's right, this isn't last year and he shows it by making us get out to a hot start only to be cooled down by playing way too conservatively. We have to, no, we NEED to put teams away even if we're up 42-6. What was bothersome though was Tomlin punting when he shouldn't have and not punting when he should have. He, just as much as Arians and LeBeau, and Sweed and Farrior, should shelter the blame for this loss.

Overall: C

We need to play with a killer instinct again. For back to back weeks, we've lost games we in no way, shape or form should have squandered. Neither the Bears nor the Bengals really beat us so much as they capitalized on stupid mistakes by our boys. Last week though, things could have been forgiven and for thirty minutes of this game, they were. Then we went right back to what's hurt us and have now backed ourselves into a corner.

Make no mistake though, we're still a solid team and we have the pieces to make a run. Unfortunately though, we have to start this week against a San Diego team that has had this game marked on their calenders. Next week's game is a must-win for a number of reasons, mainly because the guys need to prove to themselves they're not the 2006 squad. And really, they aren't. That team had a quarterback who was still learning the ropes and coming off a dismal offseason who did everything he could to lose games. The panic button doesn't need to be pressed yet, but if we lose to San Diego, much like 2006, we don't make the playoffs.