There’s something unsettling about the 2-2 record the Steelers put up in October. Not Michael-Myers-peering-into-your-window unsettling…more like neighbors-giving-out-subpar-candy-during-trick-or-treat unsettling.
The Steelers enter Sunday’s clash with the AFC North-leading Bengals at 4-3, when 5-2 (or dare I say 6-1) was right there for the taking. I know, I know, Ben was hurt. We all suffered through four-plus weeks of inconsistent – and at times downright ugly – quarterback play from the duo of Michael Vick and Landry Jones.
And thanks to Josh Scobee needing a map to find the area between the goalposts against Baltimore and Jones scuffling through much of his first NFL start last Sunday in Kansas City, the Steelers enter Week 8 with a plastic pumpkin full of Mallo Cups instead of Reese’s.
Sitting 2.5 back of Cincy and owning a 1-3 mark in conference games is a less-than-ideal position for Pittsburgh as November approaches, but if the Steelers are 3.5 behind and saddled with a 1-4 record against AFC opponents by about 4:30 Sunday afternoon, the season takes on a different tenor altogether.
This is supposed to be the week all is right with the world. Ben will be back under center with two fully functioning legs at his disposal, the Steelers are starting a three-game homestand, Le’Veon Bell has somehow managed to raise his game to yet another level…but all of that falls by the wayside with a loss to the Bengals.
Last week, the pass defense took a huge step backwards in allowing tight end Travis Kelce and a group of nondescript Kansas City wideouts make catch after catch without so much as a bump at the line of scrimmage. It’s no secret that the Tampa-2 scheme depends heavily on pressuring the quarterback, but the Steelers’ front failed in that pursuit last weekend.
Any quarterback – even Alex Smith – can pick apart a defense that doesn’t generate a pass rush. Rather than being named after the city and team where Tony Dungy made it famous, I’m starting to think our corners have been told Tampa-2 means to line up closer to Tampa than the line of scrimmage.
Oh and this just in: Cincinnati’s passing game is better than anything the Steelers have seen since Week 1 in New England. Sure, Andy Dalton typically doesn’t play well against Pittsburgh, but the Red Rifle has been firing at peak efficiency so far this year. The prospect of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert running free across the Heinz Field grass doesn’t fill me with hope for a positive outcome on Sunday. Ben’s return, Bell’s consistency and a happy Antonio Brown, however, do make me think there’s a chance to send the Bengals home with their first loss of the season.