By Jeremy Hritz
Nearly a week after the debacle in Pittsburgh against Tennessee, the loss still stings and the uncertainty surrounding the 2013 Steelers is muddier than ever. When the fourth quarter ended last Sunday, an 8-8 season seemed delusional, as if that mark was far beyond the reach of the talent of the Steelers. What seemed more realistic was a record south of 8-8. If the Steelers could not move the ball against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, how could they expect to gain yards against much better teams moving forward? And now, with Cincinnati and their stout defense on the horizon on Monday Night, the concerns are great not just for the ability of the offense to move the ball, but also to keep Ben Roethlisberger’s healthy.
Ryan Clark said earlier in the week that the Super Bowl is not won in week one, and he is correct. However, the Steelers cannot follow up a poor performance with exercises in justifications and rationalizations, they must follow up the game against the Titans with a display of life on offense. Even if their contest against the Bengals results in defeat, the Steelers must show that they are going to be a competitive bunch and not the lethargic and helpless offensive blob that they were against the Titans.
And is there any true way to rationalize or to explain the Steelers offensive performance except for simply not being a quality unit?
Did the injury of Maurkice Pouncey impact the offense psychologically? After the celebrated center went down, the morale of the team, and their execution, diminished. However, Pouncey’s injury occurred in the first quarter, and the Steelers play was just as bad in the second half as it was in the first.
Was the heat too much and did it fatigue the players too quickly? Very unlikely since Mike Tomlin put an emphasis on conditioning this offseason, and since the Titans, who had to play in the same weather, seemed to manage just fine.
Or was it the play calling of Todd Haley that led to the ineptitude of the offense and the inability to score points? Maybe the play-calling could have adjusted to the injuries that occurred in the game, but ultimately, it is the players’ responsibility to perform.
Could the ugly and unavoidable truth be that the Steelers are in decline and that the remainder of the 2013 season will be reminiscent of the opening-day thumping from the Titans?
Over the past several drafts, the Steelers have made a focused effort to draft linemen to protect their franchise quarterback, and in doing so with their high picks, they passed over potential explosive offensive weapons. And while their reasons for doing so was justified because they had to protect Ben Roethlisberger and save him from the beating that he took game after game, those first and second-rounders are not meeting the “standard,” and the result is an offense without any firework threats and with what appears to be a tremendously porous offensive line. The Steelers best offensive weapon is Roethlisberger, but when he cannot fire off a steady, accurate shot on two feet, the result is short-lived drives, sacks, and turnovers.
The defense should be fine, but the success of this team will depend on the play of an offensive line, that like many other recently drafted players on the team, have not lived up to expectations. If this continues to be the case this season, the outcome is no secret. And unfortunately, based on the evidence so far, there is no reason to believe anything will change.
Monday Night will be very telling for what’s ahead for this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers.