Sometimes you just play an opponent that is struggling so much that you can’t help but find success. After the Pittsburgh Steelers mustered just one first down on their first three possessions, the Cincinnati Bengals’ continued failures, including multiple lost fumbles, saw to the Pittsburgh Steelers finally making headway, building a 12-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, you can’t count on your opponent struggling week in and week out, and this early offense was yet another supreme disappointment. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner talks every week about needing to start faster, but talking about things doesn’t make them happen.
Pittsburgh netted just 28 yards on its first three possessions against the Bengals on Sunday, yet the Steelers managed to score six points out of it because they started two of those possessions inside opponent territory.
Their one early drive that was a success, unsurprisingly, was built off the back of a big play, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger quickly connecting with Diontae Johnson on the first play for 40-plus yards. Another first down to James Washington put them inside the red zone, and Roethlisberger found Johnson again one play later for their first touchdown of the game—only to fail the two-point conversion attempt.
That’s five first downs over two drives and nine points to show for it. They when three and out, however, after cornerback Cameron Sutton forced a fumble near midfield after the touchdown drive and they were unable to capitalize on yet another possession that begins with good field position.
The point isn’t about the offense overall. It’s simply about the beginning, and the fact that they have had so much difficulty getting off to good starts this season. And generally, when they have had good starts this year, it’s been as part of a boost from the defense or special teams.
It’s just confusing that the Steelers, with all of the talent that they have, at quarterback, at wide receiver, at tight end, at running back, along the offensive line, that it takes them time to get going. And the issues are not consistent. Sometimes it’s Ben. Sometimes it’s the receivers. Sometimes, the blocking. Other times, it’s unforced errors, like penalties.
It’s better to win late than to not win at all, of course, but the deeper hole you dig yourself, the less likely you are to be able to climb out of it, and this will be a bigger concern in the postseason than it would in a midseason game at home against your weakest divisional opponent.
The Steelers produced 377 net yards of offense. Just 62 of those yards came on the first four drives of the game. They put up another 315 yards over the their final 10 drives, including four drives of 50-plus net yards, plus a 15-yard touchdown drive. But they know as well as anyone that they can’t keep getting off to such slow starts.