Monday, December 03, 2007

Cincinnati v. Steelers: The Good, the Bad,
& the Ugly

For the first time since 2004 the Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh. Like all games there were things for Steelers fans to feel good about, and other things to make them cringe.

The Good
Saying that the Steelers' defense played "well" Sunday night is an understatement, in the extreme. The defense held the Bengals' offense to a season low point total (10), nearly 70 yards below their season average in rushing (23 yards v. 90.6 yards), and almost 100 yards below their season average in passing yards (175 yards v. 270.5). But as good as all of that is it is especially impressive when considering the tough spot that the defense found itself throughout the evening.

On three different occasions the Bengals began drives inside the Steelers' 30 yard line, and on two other occasions they began drives at their own 47 yard line. The sum total of those five drives was that the Bengals ended up with two field goal attempts, missing one. Statistically the Steelers are the #1 defense in the NFL, and Sunday evening they played like the #1 defense in the NFL.

An honorable mention has to go to the beleaguered offensive line -- no sacks (okay, one . . . for a safety . . . was negated because of a questionable defensive holding call) and decent (if not spectacular) rushing yardage -- 101 total for the Steelers -- allow the linemen to feel pretty good about things heading into their toughest game of the season.

One other honorable mention has to go to the Heinz Field grounds crew. Skewered by nearly everyone -- and rightfully so -- following the Monday night debacle versus Miami, according to Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer the field was in excellent condition before the rain began to fall. He did mention that conditions worsened as the rain continued to come down, but that the field was not any worse than it had been during prior visits to Pittsburgh.

The Bad
The poor quality of special teams play has been bemoaned frequently by everyone who watches Steelers football; but rather than kick/punt coverage, the problem against the Bengals was the kick/punt return teams.

The Bengals punted the ball three times and Alan Rossum was able to rack up five return yards. Total. Two kicks were returned for a total of 26 yards. Thirty-one total return yards on five opportunities? And the problem wasn't really Mr. Rossum -- he ran hard, for as long as he could, but there simply were not any seams for him to break through. Special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, and Assistant coach Amos Jones had to be pleased with the kick coverage teams (those units produced a turnover, and limited the Bengals to a combined average of 13.37 yards per return), but there is clearly more work to be done.

The Ugly
Willie Parker.


Enough Said.

The Final Analysis
The game versus Cincinnati was the first of four games that the Steelers will play in less than three weeks, and it was important to get off to a good start -- which they did. However, the two most difficult games of the season lie ahead (versus New England 12/9, and Jacksonville 12/16) and their is still room, and a need, for much improvement especially along the offensive front and on special teams.

Fun Fact
After twelve games the Steelers have played seven games against six teams who have a losing record at this point in the season. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Miami, New York Jets, and San Francisco have combined for a 20-52 record (with Baltimore playing New England Monday night), for a .277 winning percentage. Conversely, the Steelers' next two opponents have a combined record of 19-4 (with New England playing Baltimore on Monday evening) for a .826 winning percentage.

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