Another week, another big game, another loss. This could end up being a common theme for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers and the frustrated fan base. In watching the game against the Bengals, it seemed as though the Steelers were outgunned by Cincinnati.
I’ve noticed that Ben Roethlisberger is completely frustrated with the play calls offensive coordinator Todd Haley is making. Go ahead and re-watch the game footage and after every missed opportunity or “safe play” that Haley called, Ben would walk off the field and roll his eyes.
No matter what anyone in the organization tries to say to cover it up, it’s clear that Big Ben is not a fan of Haley’s playcalling nor the system he has put into place. First of all, the Steelers do not have a Larry Fitzgerald type of wide receiver - or even Mike Wallace for that matter - and I will never understand sending Emmanuel Sanders deep when he can’t burn a defensive back. He’s quick, not fast, and neither is Antonio Brown or Jerricho Cotchery or Derek Moye. The closest we may have on the team is Markus Wheaton and he’s nowhere to be found.
This much is clear for the Black and Gold: it’s put up or shut down time for Week 3. There is almost no chance the Steelers will be able to make the playoffs after losing their first three games of the season, and it’s a tough matchup as well on Sunday night vs. the Chicago Bears. My guess is we will see more of an open offense this coming week as Mike Tomlin should mandate to open things up.
Coach Tomlin may also have no choice but to bring tight end Heath Miller and running back Le’Veon Bell back this week to give the offense a boost. The defense seems to be doing OK, at least in terms of being able to make stops against the opposing team’s offense; however, it is still not getting turnovers.
I’m not trying to be a complete pessimistic person here but I’m pointing out some very big holes the team will need to fix very quickly. The good news is, the other AFC North teams have no better of a record than 1-1 so the Steelers can still turn it around. What I would worry about the most is the team starting to shut down their efforts as soon as something goes wrong. Heads will go down and doubts creep in and at that point, it becomes about self-preservation and that is a terrible possibility.
How does this go about getting fixed? The coaching staff is going to have to work a ton more hours to figure that out, but on the positive side, the offense has been able to move the ball deep into the opposing team’s territory. The problem is the inability to score touchdowns and having to settle for field goals, or someone will to force the issue which results in turnovers.
It could be possible the philosophy of being a run-first team will go straight out the window and the run game will only complement the passing game. If Bell does return this week, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them stick with the run-first mentality at least one more game.
When Miller comes back, that should help Ben find a comfort zone with a guy he knows will make the tough catches and it will also help open up the outside-pass game as the safety will have to cover him. I would also much rather see Wheaton out wide while Sanders returns to the slot position. This is where each guy would feel overall more comfortable and it plays to a strength of the team. Cotchery should be the other slot guy while Moye can be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations for the five-wide sets.
I’ve said this in the past, the Steelers defense is playing things very safe and going more after the player than the ball. This is the reason they are not getting turnovers. They do not want to get beat deep or have the opposing player break a tackle so if they go to wrap up first, they are missing their chances on tipped passes. Go back and watch the game, there were several chances the Steelers had to grab a wayward pass but they were focused on the player.
One final point to note for the defense, they better figure out how to stuff the running game because teams will start to zero in on that fact and all teams will control the clock. It could be a really long season and I’d hate to call this week’s game a must-win but I think it just might be.