Sunday, September 15, 2013

Steelers Must Overcome Deficiencies Monday Night vs. Bengals

It is a bit of Pittsburgh Steelers lore that when newly hired head coach Chuck Noll addressed his team for the first time back in 1969, he told them he would be watching tapes of their play and would get back to them as to why they were mired in losing. What was the answer he was said to have given them? 

"Most of you just can't play football."

Fast forward to 2013 and we could be seeing a bit of déjà vu. - http://tinyurl.com/onyrkn2

At the close of the 2012 season, If It Ain't Steel posted several articles exploring the problems facing the Steelers as a football team and an organization. Problems that have seemed to transfer right on into 2013. 

Just one game into the season and the Steelers lose their Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, starting Buck linebacker Larry Foote and change-up running back LaRod Stephens-Howling. A bleak beginning to say the least. 

Now the Steelers have the daunting task of not only facing a division foe, but facing them with one further depleted their ranks. One who also has inside knowledge of the team. 

When the Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, they will face former All-Pro linebacker and teammate James Harrison. Harrison and the Steelers were unable to come to a contractual agreement, causing the Silverback to eventually take less to sign with the Bengals. 

Now Harrison will be doing all he can to pay back the Steelers and help his new team get on the winning track. What are the ways in which he can help and can the Bengals win? 

Head coach Mike Tomlin said in his weekly press conference that the team was one or two “explosive” plays away from possibly winning the game. This is actually fairly true. But, it is difficult to do so when your "explosive" play guys are minimal to begin with, and too few of those types of plays are called the entire game.

The Steelers do have some talent, they aren't bereft of it as the team was in 1969, and can perform when they execute. Unfortunately, the key word there is "when."

Over the last nine games the Steelers are -10 in turnover ratio, have allowed 24 sacks and have not had a player run for more than 56 yards in a single game. So the first order of business is the OFFENSIVE LINE.

The acquisition of Fernando Velasco would seem to aid the Steelers in that department as Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review stated recently from his Twitter (@MarkKaboly_Trib) account, "I haven't heard a bad word about #Steelers center Fernando Velasco yet. Makes me wonder why the Titans cut him?"

One man's (or team's) trash...

Once the OLine decides it wants to block, it is then on the RUNNING BACKS the Steelers do have to actually grind out some yards. As offensive coordinator Todd Haley said, "We need Isaac (Redman) to bounce back and play a better game."

Whomever is the primary ball carrier, he needs to put forth an above-his-pay-grade effort because 32 yards simply won't cut it against Harrison, Michael Johnson (4.5 sacks in last five games against Steelers) and the man who may have been the defensive player of the year were it not for J.J. Watt, Geno Atkins (three sacks and a forced fumble last season vs. Steelers). 

If they're able to weather that storm, then they still must TAKE CARE OF THE BALL. As Tomlin brought out at his presser, cornerback Leon Hall intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 17 yards to score the Bengals lone touchdown in their second matchup last season. 

"We can't turn the football over and expect to win," Haley said. Protecting the football has to be a priority for anybody touching it." - http://tinyurl.com/nztj4tu

The defensive side of the equation is slightly different. Though the offense largely dictates whether or not the Steelers will win, the defense has to still be able to check the Bengals two-tight end sets, wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals. 

"They have two really talented guys there," Dick LeBeau said. "I would rather have three real good tight ends and no A.J. Green. I'll put it that way. It gives them a good combination."

But, A.J. Green they do have, and he torched the Steelers with 10 catches for 116 yards in their last meeting with Ike Taylor sidelined. This time Cortez Allen will be the one sidelined, so the intrepid Taylor will be needed to follow Green all night. It will also assure that Shamarko Thomas will be seen in the Nickel and possibly Robert Golden as well for a Big Nickel 4-Safety look.

Getting to quarterback Andy Dalton is imperative. Containing BenJarvus Green-Ellis is also very important. Slow the running game and force them to be one-dimensional. If the defense can do that, it will go a long way toward securing a victory. 

After all, despite the overall inept play last week, the Steelers still gave up only 229 yards of total offense in Week 1 - the third fewest in the entire NFL. Plus, Big Ben is 13-5 all-time against the Bengals. Not to mention that the Steelers are 40-23 all-time on Monday night and Tomlin is 7-1 himself. 

It may sound like a reach to refer to history to find solace in the season so far, but there may not be much else to grasp onto. Much depends on the OLine growing up fast. Then we would see the offensive restraints lessened and the offense opened up. 

But this is more than a one-game fix, and the Steelers have many deficiencies to overcome. A Bengals win, therefore, is certainly in the realm of possibility. 

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TIDBITS: Steelers injury report: CAllen, LBell, HMiller are out; Curtis Brown (illness) is doubtful.

Bengals injury report: CB Ghee, G Pollack are out; S Miles is doubtful; T Whitworth is questionable.

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Jerricho Cotchery needs 5 receptions to reach 400 for his career and 10 receiving yards for 5,000 yards.

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LaMarr Woodley has 53 career sacks. He needs one more to pass Greg Lloyd (53.5) for seventh-most sacks for a Steeler.