By Jeremy Hritz
Hritz 2012 Prediction Record: 8-6
|Offense||18th (347.6)||19th (345.1)|
|Rushing||11th (120.3)||26th (96.5)|
|Passing||17th (227.4)||10th (248.6)|
|PPG||9th (25.4)||20th (21.6)|
|Defense||12th (219.2)||1st (273.3)|
|Rushing||9th (101)||4th (92.7)|
|Passing||12th (219.2)||1st (180.6)|
|PPG||10th (20.9)||8th (20.8)|
The Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to find a way to keep it close, don’t they?
After dropping their seventh game of the season to the Dallas Cowboys by continuing the trend of ill-timed mistakes and underperformance due to injuries, the Steelers find themselves in a must-win game if they are to make the playoffs in 2012. Last week, I wrote about the susceptibility in the secondary due to the injuries to Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen and how Tony Romo could have a field day. While that did come to fruition, the Steelers found themselves in a position to win the game, and they even had a solid lead, yet they could not get out of their own way.
As David Todd said on the Friday edition of the Terrible Podcast, he believes that this truly is a good Steelers team, despite their seven losses, and that the only thing that would make him think differently would be a loss this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. I share his sentiment, and it is frustrating how a team with as much talent as the Steelers simply cannot close games out consistently.
The results are the results, unfortunately, and the Steelers find themselves in the biggest game of this nearly complete NFL season against the current sixth seed Bengals. Strangely enough, when the Steelers faced the Bengals earlier this season, they were in a similar position, as they were coming off of a stunning loss to the lowly Tennessee Titans and were staring at a 2-3 record. Regardless, the Steelers started that game poorly, and fell behind 14-3, yet they rallied, and ultimately won the game 24-17. This triggered a four game winning streak that instilled a faith in this team that they have the capability of being a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl.
In the week seven contest between AFC North rivals, the Steelers played poorly in the first half, as Mike Wallace dropped a critical pass (surprise, surprise), Baron Batch dropped a what-would-have-been a touchdown pass from Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger lost a fumble. The Steelers did rally at the end of the second quarter on a touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Heath Miller, and then the game was put away on an 11-yard touchdown run by rookie Chris Rainey. In total, Roethlisberger was sacked three times, while the Steelers defense failed to put Andy Dalton on the ground. This was also the game that Jonathan Dwyer broke out, rushing for 122 yards, and sealing the game with a 32-yard run in the final minute of the game.
The Steelers shut down the Bengals offense in that game, holding Dalton to 105 yards, but that was largely due to the play of Taylor, who began a stretch of dominance on that Sunday Night.
This coming Sunday, the Steelers will not be with the services of Taylor, who is still injured, and there is an outside chance the emerging Keenan Lewis will not play. If that is the case, Allen and Josh Victorian will be charged with the responsibility of limiting A.J. Green as much as they can. Yet based on the performance last week against the Cowboys, there is not much to feel confident about in the secondary in shutting down the Bengals passing game.
So what will be the solution to keeping the Cincinnati passing offense in check? The first would be the rejuvenation of a pass rush, which has not been a staple of the defense this year or last year, or, the Red Rifle crumbling under the crowd noise of Heinz Field and the pressure of a do-or-die game. Sadly, it is more likely that Dalton will hurt his team before the Steelers pass rushers do.
We cannot honestly blame the defense for the torching from last week, as a no-name like Victorian cannot be expected to play at the level of Taylor, and at some point, this Steelers offense has to round into form and score points. So far this year, the defense has been the staple of this team, and the Todd Haley-led offense has yet to make its contribution to helping the Steelers be a complete team. Too much pressure on Roethlisberger, too few running lanes, and too many turnovers are resulting in an ineffective offense that is stifling the Steelers and their chances for winning. The Steelers offense has played the game of chicken long enough, and it’s time to jump off of the tracks or get smashed by the “home-for-the-postseason” train.
The defense will be just fine tomorrow, as Dalton is simply not ready, and may never be, for this type of game. What this contest will come down to is the offense discovering and locking into a rhythm, earning and building on an early lead, and most simple of all, not turning the football over.
If what we see from the offense tomorrow is several one to two yard runs, dropped balls, and lots of three and outs, next week, our only peace of mind will come from researching the 2013 NFL Draft. But like the last time the Steelers and Bengals played this season, the Steelers backs are against the wall, a place they know very well, and one they don’t linger for very long.
The Steelers will live to fight another day, and Christmas will come early at Heinz Field.
Steelers 27 Bengals 14