By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
In the summer, if someone said that the Steelers defense would be the main unit keeping the team afloat halfway through the season, most people would look at that person and simply laugh and say “yeah, right”. But as it stands now after week 8 of the NFL regular season, the Steelers D has been one of the unsung heroes of the season thus far. Unfortunately, the defense was not enough to come away with a victory this weekend, as the Steelers (4-4) lost 16-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals (7-0) in a game that appeared would be a win for the black and gold for much of the game.
On Sunday, the Steelers held Andy Dalton and the vaunted Bengals offense to 309 total yards (231 pass, 78 rush), while only allowing 16 points. Coming into the game, the Bengals had been averaging 30.3 points per game and around 400 yards of total offense. Even after putting pressure on Dalton all day (3 sacks, 7 QB hits) and forcing 2 interceptions, it was simply not enough to overcome the struggling Steelers offense.
Due to the injuries and suspensions that have plagued the team this season, the Steelers have not been able to form any sort of stability to develop into the offense that everyone was expecting this season. As Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Reviewput it yesterday, the Steelers “…have had the entirety of their first-team skill-position offense together for exactly 20 minutes and 46 seconds this season.” That does not even include injuries to All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and up-and-coming left tackle Kelvin Beachum that have left massive holes in the offensive line. Because of the inability for the offense to get going, the Steelers have been left looking pedestrian at best. Against the Bengals, the Steelers mustered 378 yards of total offense (262 pass, 116 rush). Even though these numbers might seem adequate, watching the team play was another story. Too many times, Ben Roethlisberger looked uncomfortable and rushed in the pocket. His 3 costly interceptions on the day are very indicative of this, as the passes made just did not seem like the Big Ben we are all used to seeing. The offense’s inability to stay on the field, combined with the costly turnovers and penalties, proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Steelers on Sunday.
Even with all of the offensive issues the team has faced over the past few weeks, the biggest issue came midway through the second quarter when Le’Veon Bell went down with a knee injury after his leg awkwardly twisted underneath the weight of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s body. The hit, even though it was clean, is being viewed by many Steeler’s players as being a dirty hit and a case of a player being targeted. Either way, the injury ended a seemingly promising season for one of the NFL’s premier backs after reports of a potential MCL tear arose shortly after Bell left the field. Earlier this afternoon, it was also announced that Bell would be placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Considering the fact that Bell is widely viewed as one of the most exciting and electrifying players in the league, his injury leave’s a gaping hole in the Steeler’s offense moving forward. DeAngelo Williams will take over the starting job in the meantime, with Jordan Todman and newly signed Isaiah Pead being his back-ups. Although Bell has been the Steeler’s primary back since his rookie campaign in 2013, the Steelers are used to life without Bell already this season. In 2 games this season as the starter during Bell’s suspension, Williams had 204 yards and 3 touchdowns and in Sunday’s game, he added an additional 71 yards on just 9 carries, with a season-long rush of 55 yards. For the Steelers to be effective during Bell’s absence, it is vital for the 32-year-old Williams to be able to prevent his age from showing and find some semblance of his 2009 Pro Bowl self. Additionally, Roethlisberger must shake off the rust and physical discomfort that seemed to plague him against the Bengals throughout the course of the game. It was clear that he was still having some issues with his knee injury that he suffered in week 3 against the St. Louis Rams and a healthy Roethlisberger likely would not have made the mistakes that were witnessed on Sunday. Having weapons like Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Heath Miller at his disposal, it should take no time at all for the 2014 version of Big Ben to resurrect from the dust.
After Sunday’s game, the Steelers currently are in a win-now situation. Sitting 4 games behind the Bengals in the loss column, the Steelers cannot afford to lose many more games, meaning that their next game against the Oakland Raiders (4-3) carries with it potential Wild-Card playoff implications. In the NFL today, no wins are guaranteed and for the Steelers to make it back to the playoffs for the second straight year, the offense must find a way to move the ball more efficiently and put points on the board. If the team can do that and the defense can continue to improve each week, the Steelers will be a team to fear in the AFC playoff race.
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