FROM THE ROUTINE TO THE OBSCURE
I decided to attend Pittsburgh’s week three game against the Cincinnati Bengals after eye witnessing the home opener loss to the Raiders. The Steelers would not lay two eggs at home to start the season, would they?
Steelers fans always have the normal activities during a Pittsburgh home game. There are the favorite tail gate parties to attend. Mine is Cindy & Lenny’s Renegade Tailgate. They always make folks feel welcome.
Then there are folks’ favorite restaurants and bars to haunt on game day and the night before. I’m sure you all can name a few. Then there are the sites along the river walk. Museums like Heinz History Center or just some shopping in the Strip District. Since I’m coming up from Maryland I like to meet up with old friends.
SEEING BULL AND FINDING GRAVESITES
Pittsburgh also contains some hidden places of interest to find. This time I drove up on Saturday to see my old rugby teammate and college roommate Tim “Bull” Edwards. Before seeing the Bull, I took a detour to the Homewood Cemetery off Forbes Avenue. There, I found the grave site of two great people that are part of Pittsburgh Steelers lore.
Former Steeler coach John Bain “Jock” Sutherland led the Black and Gold to their first playoff appearance in team history in just his second season. Unfortunately, he would die in the offseason during an attempt to remove a brain tumor in 1948.
The second, is Steeler’s scout extraordinaire Bill Nunn. He is buried with his parents and wife Frances who passed in 2020 so did not see her husband inducted into the football Hall of Fame. His father preceded him at the Pittsburgh Courier. He undoubtedly influenced his son who published football All-American teams focused on African American players at historically black colleges and universities that otherwise may have been unnoticed by NFL teams.
There are many more obscure but cool sites to visit. I encourage you to find one the next time you attend a game.
OBSERVATIONS FROM HEINZ FIELD
Happy that Heinz Field opens two hours before kickoff. I got to see Mel Blount greeting fans and conducting an interview in the Great Hall. I met up with my high school classmate Paul Daugherty who has covered the Cincinnati sports since 1988 including the Bengals. He’s been a sports columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer since 1994. He’s suffered through many years of Steelers dominance over the Bengals. He predicted a 20-18 Cincinnati win. I wasn’t so optimistic giving him a 27-13 score prediction with his team on top. One of us will be happy and the other sad. I hope you’re sad, I said, to which his wife, a Steelers fan replied, how would you be able to tell? The curmudgeon that he is. He has authored several books; I’d encourage you to check them out.
GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER
Before discussing the Steelers play on the field, I’ll give a few of my observations as a fan in the stands. First, whomever is responsible for coordinating events and public communications must do a better job. Mel Blount led the fans in the Terrible Towel twirl. The only problem is most fans in the stands did not know Mel started waving the towel until seeing him on the jumbotron. Only about a quarter of the fans in the stands were into it simply because there was no real buildup. By the time they got into it, it was ending as the runup to the kickoff silenced the sound system. Lots of events but they felt perfunctory. More focus on getting them on and off the field on time than getting the fans fired up. Less pregame events on the field?
On a beautiful sunny day, Heinz Field was only at 85% capacity. Last week, fans filled Heinz Field to over 93% capacity. Part of the drop-off may be due to visiting fans. I noticed many fewer Bengal fans than Raiders fans. Last week, easily several thousand Raiders fans attended. This week, I estimate Bengals fans in the hundreds. They should have been able to audibly take over the field but just not enough orange and black in the stands. But where were the Steelers fans? It was not a prime-time game that usually excuses a small crowd. I anticipate more visiting stands as word gets around, the Black and Gold ain’t going to support their team.
CHEERS AND BOOS
The Steelers fans that were in the stadium while disappointed and frustrated cheered the team during a few good plays. Ben received a lot of encouragement on his five-yard lumber for a first down. The stadium erupted with “MUUTTHH!” when he scored and made some other catches. Najee Harris, Chase Claypool and even Ray-Ray McCloud received their fair of good cheers. But the fans let the players know when they were unhappy. Eric Ebron and Ray-Ray received shouts laced with invective for their drops. Ben Roethlisberger got it too. Poor passes or taking sacks instead of throwing the ball away.
But the fans stayed, late into the fourth quarter and most fans stayed in their seats. The crowd oohed with disappoint when Ben overthrew James Washington who was steps ahead of the nearest defender. They cheered madly when Chase Claypool caught a deep pass for 29 yards. But the play that broke the fans came on the same drive. Pittsburgh knocking on the door at the 11-yard line. Down 24-10 with just 3:09 to go. Score here and there is still a chance. On fourth and 10, Ben completes a short swing pass that loses a yard. The stadium explodes with boos and the slapping of seats slamming into the seatbacks as Steeler fans began a mass exodus. The few Bengal fans in the stadium coming to lower seats to celebrate with their team.
OFFENSE FAILS TO DELIVER EARLY AGAIN
How many times will I have to cut and paste “The Steelers offense delivers another substandard first half?” In week three, the Steelers had six possessions in the first half. Those possessions resulted in four punts, an interception, and one score.
The Steelers almost finished the first quarter with three straight three and outs. After punting away their first two penalty laden drives Ben threw an interception on third down. Officials flagged Chuks Okorafor for an illegal formation, Kendrick for holding, and Chase Claypool for offensive pass interference on the first two drives.
Terrell Edmunds intercepted Joe Burrows pass giving the ball to Pittsburgh at the 44-yard line. Instead of exploiting the good field position after a turnover, the offense just gave the ball back to Cincinnati. Trai Turner false started on the third drive to set up a third and 13 play. Sam Hubbard hit Ben Roethlisberger and the ball flew into the waiting arms of Logan Wilson. The Bengals knew what to do with a turnover. Their offense took the ball down and scored on Tyler Boyd’s catch and run where he bounced off Ingram leaving him to pound the grass as Boyd scored from 17 yards out.
BRIEF EUPHORIA NEAR END OF HALF
The Steelers started at their 25 and reached the 37-yard line on third and 11 when referees penalized Chidobe Awuzi for pass interference. Then, former Steeler Mike Hilton caught in the neutral zone to set up a third and two. Ben got fans cheering by scrambling to his right, fake pumping to freeze a defender and gain five yards for a first down. Who says the Steelers don’t have a mobile quarterback? Unfortunately, the Steelers could not capitalize the drive and Harvin punted a paltry 27 yards from his own 46-yard line.
The defense held and the Steelers get the ball back at the 14-yard line. The offense drives for eight and half minutes. The Steelers converted three third downs on this drive. A short three-yard completion to Pat Freiermuth on third and two elicited some cheers of “Muth” from the stands. Bengals sack Ben but on second and 15, fans excited again when Chase Claypool catches a 16-yard pass.
Kevin Dotson’s holding penalty set up first and 17 but then Najee Harris showed his burst going up the middle for 20. Ben dumps off to Najee on third and four and we have another Pittsburgh Steelers first down. Then another pass to Najee Harris on third down that goes 18 yards. On first and goal from the four, Ben hits Freiermuth for the touchdown. Heinz Field is rocking with the score tied up with just a minute to play in the half.
The euphoria wears off quickly with a drive aided by a questionable roughing the passer call on Melvin Ingram. Suddenly its 14-7 with the 34-yard pass to Ja’Marr Chase. The Steelers get the ball back with 37 seconds but can’t get the first down to control the ball but are forced to punt instead.
OFFENSE CONTROLS THE CLOCK BUT NOT THE SCORE
TURNOVER GIVES BENGALS SEVEN PITTSBURGH ANSWERS WITH A MISS
The Steelers spotted the Bengals a ten-point lead after an Evan McPherson field goal opened the second half to put them up 17-7. Najee catches a short pass for six yards. But he can’t handle the second pass and it’s third and four. Ben must have heard Logan Wilson calling for the ball because he threw it right to him and now the Bengals waste no time and score another touchdown off a turnover to go up 24-7.
The Steelers try to answer the score. Najee gains 21 on another pass reception. Ben takes a late shot from Trey Hendrickson and 15 more yards added to the play. Ben then throws three straight incompletions. The last a miscommunication with Chase Claypool with him turning one way and the ball going in a different direction. Ben takes another shot. Chris Boswell misses a 42 yard field goal attempt well within his normal range. The Steelers fail to close the gap and time is wasting away.
NINE MINUTE DRIVE FOR THREE
Ben leads the Steelers on a nine-minute drive that felt like an hour. He got the ball with over two minutes left in the third quarter and by the time Chris Boswell lined up his second field goal attempt there was only 8:11 left to play. I believe Cody White caught his first NFL pass on this drive that went six for a first down. The Steelers reached the three, but another offensive pass interference call charged to Chase Claypool takes the ball back to the 13. Is this execution or are the Matt Canada schemes ineffectual? Dan Moore false starts taking the ball back to the 21. Weren’t they just at the three? Two dump offs to Najee Harris take precious time, so Pittsburgh takes three on fourth and eight to make it a two-score game again.
FOURTH DOWN PLAY BREAKS FANS
The Steelers start at the 15 after another strong punt by Kevin Huber. Ben is in the no huddle that is or isn’t in the playbook? Ben takes a sack with people wondering why he just didn’t throw the ball through the endzone. Over three minutes into the two-minute drive offense, the Steelers are on the 11-yard line. It’s fourth and ten. Fans have stuck to their seats to this point. Then Ben swings the ball to Najee in the backfield who is tackled for a loss. All but the stalwart and Bengals fans stay for the end, the rest are streaming out of the stadium.
The Steelers would get the ball one more time but give the ball up on downs a second time in a row. Yoi.
DEFENSE CAN’T HOLD THE BENGALS TO THREES
Joe Haden back in uniform. But T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith scratched from the lineup. The Steelers offense no help in the first quarter. A usual occurrence early this season. But this time the defense could not hold its opponent to field goals early in the game to keep it close. Instead, the Bengals scored a touchdown after one turnover then another with just a minute left in the half.
BENGALS SHOW STEELERS HOW TO HANDLE A TURNOVER
The first two Cincinnati drives ended well for the defense. The Bengals started with good field position at their 42 after a less than impressive Harvin punt returned 16 yards. Minkah Fitzpatrick prevented Joe Burrow from making a first down on third and eight, but Jonah Williams holding penalty nullified the play anyway. Tre Norwood tackled Chris Evans short of the sticks on third and 18 and the Bengals punted away their first drive.
The next Bengals drive lasted just two plays. Joe Mixon gained six yards before Isaiahh Loudermilk’s long outstretched arms brought him down. On second and four, Joe Burrow threw to Tyler Boyd, but Minkah Fitzpatrick tipped the ball up and Terrell Edmunds snagged the ball out of the air.
Sadly, Logan Wilson intercepted Ben’s pass less than a minute later. The ball on the 42. This is where the Steelers defense holds them to three points. But on third and eight, Burrow connects with Ja’Marr Chase for 15. Then on another third down, Tyler Boyd catches the ball. Not only does he get the first down, but he bounces off Melvin Ingram’s tackle and runs in for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
DEFENSE YIELDS A QUICK SEVEN
The defense holds Cincinnati to a punt on the next drive. But not before Mixon runs 27 yards on the first play to get up near midfield. The offense will have to start from behind the 20 again. Not the best situation especially with an ineffectual offense.
But the Pittsburgh offense mounts a long drive and ties the game with 1:04 to go in the half. What should have been an incomplete pass setting up a third down becomes a huge first down when officials flag Ingram for roughing the passer. Did he hit him after releasing the ball and a little high? Yes, but it was close, I’ve seen worse hits like the one to Ben’s chinstrap last week go unflagged. Still the ball is at midfield with 51 seconds to play in the half. But then boom, Burrow to Michael Thomas for 19 yards. Then again boom. Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase for a 34-yard touchdown. No pressure, no coverage. It’s 14-7.
BENGALS SCORE TEN TO OPEN SECOND HALF
The defense allowed the Bengals to score three points on their opening drive of the second half. Then gave up a touchdown on a short field following another Roethlisberger interception. The Bengals punted away their next three possessions, but they were just killing time.
The Bengals began their opening drive at the 20 after Derek Watt tackled Brandon Wilson after returning the ball from three yards deep in the end zone. Cincinnati reeled off three straight first downs. First Joe Mixon ran 11 yards off tackle before Minkah Fitzpatrick tackled him. Next Joe Burrow connects with Auden Tate for 14 yards. Third Mixon runs another 11 yards with Minkah and Chris Wormley tackling him. It is not good when your safety must come up to tackle a running back, it usually means the runner has broken through a hole bypassing the front seven.
Finally, Mixon took a rest, and Sam Perine stopped but an illegal formation made it first and 15. Burrow connects with Perine in the air for eight yards. Derrek Tuszka tackles Mixon after a four-yard gain. Chris Evans gets the first down with a 14-yard catch. The Bengals drive stalled after that in part due to a holding call. But they were within field goal range and went up by 10 points on McPherson’s 43-yard kick.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY
The defense went off the field with 8:52 in the third quarter. At 7:51 just a minute later they were trotting back onto the field after Ben’s second interception by Logan Wilson. Hardly fair but there they were at the 19-yard line. Burrow hesitated on second down then ran off left guard on a designed play for eight yards setting up a first and goal at the nine. Joe lofted a pass to Ja’Marr Chase all alone in the end zone. It won’t be that easy every game kid.
BENGALS BIDE THEIR TIME
The Bengals punted away their next three possessions, but they wreaked their damage already. Two turnovers leading to 14 points. The Steelers tried a field goal on fourth and at the 24 and missed. Two runs and a reception by Joe Mixon kept the clock moving. Steelers closed to 24-10 but ate nine minutes of time on a drive that started at their own four. Burrow threw an incompletion on first down. But back to pounding on the ground with Mixon after a penalty made it second and 15. On third and 10, Chase catches a short pass, but the clock keeps running. The Steelers run 12 straight passing plays from the no huddle but give the ball up on downs. Three more Mixon runs and the Steelers using up their timeouts. The defense did stop the Bengal’s victory formation to end the game.
I believe special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even determine the game winner. So, have broken this facet of the game into a separate overview here.
In summary, Chris Boswell missed a 42-yard field goal attempt early in the second half. Kevin Huber clearly out punted Pressley Harvin giving the Bengals an extra territorial advantage.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST
Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:
- Najee receives at least 23 touches including some well-designed screens. His 14 rushes and 14 pass targets gave him 28 even if a lot were checkdown passes. Mission accomplished.
- Stop Joe Mixon early in the game. Mixon ran successfully on four of his seven first half rush attempts. Including a 27-yard gain on first down from his own 19. Mission failure.
- Hold rookie Ja’Marr Chase to no more than one deep pass greater than 20 yards. The Steelers did it. But his one long 34-yard reception put the Bengals in the lead for good at the end of the first half and he scored another touchdown on a short nine-yard catch. Mission accomplished.
- Apply fierce pressure on Joe Burrow. Advance defensive metrics with quarterback hurries not published yet. However, the Steelers sack record ended at 75 games and no quarterback hits registered keeping Burrow’s jersey clean. Mission failure.
- Offense gives defense rest by staying on the field for at least 70 plays. The Steelers played 83 offensive snaps. Mission accomplished.
Steelers achieved three of five keys. Pittsburgh will win more often if they achieve three or more of Dave’s keys to victory. However, while limiting Ja’Marr Chase on long receptions, he did score two touchdowns.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 1034 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Steelers Depot respondents met the standard. The question is the Steelers offense meeting it in the first half? Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date with the latest tweets and updates as the game progressed.
Stone Age Tone sounded hopeful but prescient in a post prior to kickoff. “Hosting a Red Zone gathering today, beer, pizza and fans of Detroit and Cleveland. Hoping for three wins……. because I have the Browns in my money line treble, lol. All three of us are desperate for a Baltimore loss, and it could just happen, Goff can spray it around Ford Field to run the Ravens ragged, GO LIONS!!! Also hoping for a Steelers victory but fear it could be another frustrating watch, actually happy to miss the live broadcast, our Offense has been driving me crazy for way too long now. FREE THE MUTH !!!”
Jay Clam could see the writing on the wall. “If the Bengals were even competent, this would be 14-0 or 17-0.” The Steelers did score but the Bengals scored more.
Nunya needs to stop sugar coating his comments and tell us how he really feels: “ENOUGH!!!! I’ve defended Ben more than anyone, but I’ve had it with this short pass trash! IF he can’t throw the ball down the field, bench him. If this is a trash offense because the OC can’t call a game, fire him. But stop! My 3rd and 4th grade PAAL team literally have more play verity than the garbage this offense has shown in 3 weeks. They aren’t growing, they are regressing, and my patience has reached its limit. Ok…I feel better now.”
We not might have felt better with the Steelers down 14-7 at half, but our hopefulness was still there. But the Steelers putrid performance crushed out our sense of hope like a smoldering cigarette butt well before the final whistle.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
The Depot respondents 1143 comments met the standard in the second half live discussion. The tenor of fans feelings is not so much anger as it is the pity of lowered expectations.
RyanM received the most likes and thus the “best” comment of the game. “The good thing about a decade of this team, and the expectation of disappointment has led to me no longer being emotionally invested in the team, which makes Sunday’s way less anger filled when you have to watch this kind of performance”. The Intense Camel 2 diagnosed RyanM’s symptoms: “It’s called PTSD post traumatic Steeler’s disorder.”
Taylor Williams observed, “Can’t believe Ben missed Washington wide open.” But several folks expressed surprise at Taylor’s surprise of Ben missing an open receiver.
Mrs. Bighead not prepared to give the Bengals their due. “The Bengals did nothing that would prove they are a good team. We simply played like a crap arena league team.” Others like Darth Yinzer did, “They did what they were supposed to do… beat an inferior team by double digits.”
Folks, fasten your seatbelts. The Steelers crested the top of the roller coaster in their week one victory against the Bills. Looks like we will be pulling some Gs on the ride down. Pull-up. Pull-up!
The Steelers coaches and players need to come up with solutions fast. Right now, they are playing like a bad team. A 2003 bad team when they went 6-10. That was before there was a quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger on the team.
WHAT’S THE FIX?
I host a Steeler Town Hall for fans of the Black and Gold on Monday nights on an app called Clubhouse. We’re a small group that discusses everything Steelers related. This Monday night we listened to Alex Kozora’s Terrible Take from earlier in the evening that discussed the lack of answers in fixing the Steelers right now. We talked about fixes the Steelers should try to right the ship. We concluded that there was no instant solution on the free agent or waiver wires. So, if not personnel changes, what can Matt Canada adjust with the current offensive scheme and/or how improve players performance?
We agreed that more use of the no huddle earlier in the game might shake things up. Simplify the blocking assignments for the young offensive line. Put Ben under center more and even have several series out of the I formation to enervate defenses. Utilize max protect if you must keep Ben on his feet. Reduce Eric Ebron’s snaps in favor of Pat Freiermuth.
On the defensive side, the group saw less issues but need to get players like TJ Watt and Stephon Tuitt healthy and back playing. We did not have an answer for filling Tyson Alualu’s shoes other than both Davis and Buggs need to step up.
How about you. What realistic fixes can the Steelers make going into week four of this young season?
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. Steelers Depot respondent FlaFan47 attended an Eric Clapton concert this weekend and suggested Got to Get Better in a Little While. There is no time like now so added it along with his suggested encore of High Time We Went with Jimmy Vaughn. Clapton is like 76 and still kicking it.