Well, that was quite a start to a game, wasn’t it?
The Bengals, division leaders and, according to some, the second best team in the AFC (which would make them somewhere around 6th best in the league, if you try to extrapolate that nonsensical thinking) struggled badly with the windy conditions at Heinz Field and were blown away early by a team that looked a lot like our beloved Steelers.
You probably read Dejan Kovacevic already if you’re reading this blog (and I agree with him about 90% of the time – not to mention that he’s a super bloke who has even given me feedback on this blog), but he quite rightly gave a lot of credit to Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff for getting things together for this weekend’s game in his Monday column.
The point where I don’t really agree with him is that he decides not to bemoan where this Steelers team has been all season long. Our O looked really good, but it has been playing well for a number of games now. Ben has been at his very best for a while now, only blotting his record with a pick in this game – his first for about 200 pass attempts.
Ike Taylor, much maligned for so much of the season, once again shut down AJ Green. I was yelling at the TV when Taylor was not covering Green at points in the second half, particularly on the Bengals’ final TD drive when Dalton went from easy first down to easy first down, picking out wide open receivers, but he really did a good job on one of the league’s very best.
The D showed up at times, but the second half showed that there are very obvious holes throughout our defensive set up. We struggle in particular with the long ball and the fact that Dalton chose not to use Green a lot more is perhaps fortunate on our part.
The Pittsburgh weather, which kept some 20k fans on their couches (look, I’ve only ever been to one Steelers game and it was in late October, but there is no way I would miss a divisional game because it was a bit cold), played havoc with the Bengals early on, the most unfortunate soul being punter Kevin Huber who nearly gave up a safety when a long snap went a fair bit wider of its target (i.e., him) than intended. Instead Huber was stopped at the 1 and LeVeon Bell (impressive but surely not fully recovered from last week’s brutal head injury?) punched it in for the first score of the game. Huber then had his head very nearly taken off by special teams LB Terence Garvin.
Garvin has come under severe criticism online for his block, which at the very least broke Huber’s jaw, particularly from outspoken ex-punter Chris Kluwe. I am a bit more cautious before delivering criticism to him on this occasion. The rules apparently do protect Huber as being in a “defenseless posture” for the duration of the return play. What? Like Huber couldn’t at least have tried to make a play on the returning Antonio Brown and perhaps stopped the TD play? Of course, I am a Steeler fan so I’m not completely objective here.
Lets say Garvin doesn’t block Huber and Huber stops Brown and we end up with a field goal or less. You don’t think Garvin is getting a talk from the coaching staff today and perhaps finding himself looking for work? Additionally, you don’t think that the special teams guys, not forgetting that our special teams has been occasionally woeful this season, are firing each other up to the point of murderous aggression before each and every ST play?
If the NFL wants to protect punters, then have them run off the field once they’ve punted. Hell, give the kicking team another player to replace them. Otherwise they’re going to get hit from time to time. You’ll all recall Pat McAfee, the Colts punter, knocking the electric Denver return man Trindon Holliday out of bounds with a helmet to helmet hit? Google “Colts punter hit” and see the headlines praising this brutal and illegal action. McAfee wasn’t fined.
Anyway, we are now 6-8 on the season with a game in Green Bay coming up. The Packers were very good against Dallas, but there are weaknesses in the team which we can exploit. Without a couple of Romo interceptions, Dallas had this game in the bag. We then have the Browns. Finishing 8-8 is a very real possibility, a finish which of course does nothing for our draft pick (assuming we don’t make the playoffs, which is almost certain), but we were already in line for a fairly middling pick. There are ways of improving your pick, of course.
Final word goes to LaMarr Woodley who suffered yet another minor injury and missed almost the whole game. Time’s up LaMarr. You are replaceable. Perhaps you’ve been trying too hard to get back and prove your value to the team, but that $22.5m in guaranteed money should see you through. Jason Worilds, assuming we are able to keep him, is the way forward for this team. Thanks and good luck somewhere else.