Offense just gets its kicks

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Sweezie Money was right back at it Sunday, thumping home three more field goals in an astonishing bid for Steelers employee of the month. Not only is Shaun Suisham a perfect 9 for 9 on field goals since Jeff Reed got himself kicked to the curb, he's a perfectly identical 9 for 9 on extra points.

Moreover, Suisham has scored 31 of the Steelers' last 55 points.

So what's the bad news?


Suisham has scored 31 of the Steelers' last 55 points.

Remember touchdowns, actual offensive touchdowns? My buddy Jim in Florida must have figured it was so long since he'd seen a Steelers touchdown drive, he might as well try to come with a nickname for the new kicker. So you can thank him for Sweezie Money.

But ... adding the zero they managed Sunday against a depleted, dilapidated Bengals defense, you now have two touchdowns by this Steelers offense in the past three games, and one of those was cued by the defense at the Baltimore 9.

"We're not proud of what we did in the red zone," Hines Ward said after a 23-7 victory that included touchdowns by a safety (likely employee of the month Troy Polamalu), a linebacker (LaMarr Woodley), and an eligible Bengals offensive tackle (335-pound Andrew Whitworth, perhaps the largest man ever to catch a touchdown pass at Heinz Field). "We know that when we get chances in the red zone we've got to score touchdowns. Field goals aren't going to do it."

The offense managed six points on three trips inside the Cincinnati 20, once exiting the red zone in reverse on a day the offensive line turned one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL into Blitzburg, Ohio. The Bengals, with 14 sacks through this 2-11 season's first 12 games, got four Sunday including back-to-back sacks by Pat Sims and Dhani Jones that sent Ben Roethlisberger tumbling out of Sweezie Money's range in the third quarter.

Ben's day was fairly forgettable, what with the rain, the wind, the sleet, the wind, the foot, the nose, the wind, the face shield, and the unforeseen pass rush. He had one pass tipped, one pass mercifully dropped by Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson, and just enough caught by seven teammates to allow for nearly 35 minutes of possession time.

There's no telling which way a second consecutive AFC North struggle might have tilted had it not been for Antwaan Randle El, whose leaping left-handed snag at the Cincinnati 18 just before halftime set up Sweezie's first field goal, the one that gave the Steelers a 10-7 halftime lead. Mike Tomlin's team is 8-0 when it leads at the half.

"Sometimes you gotta play bigger," laughed the 5-10 Randle El of his up-the-ladder grab. "Ben put it in a good spot for me."

Or as good as a spot can get that's four feet over his head.

For all the available talent in the conventional portions of the Bruce Arians offense, no one's hitting better spots right now than the kicker, who nailed his 14th successful field-goal attempt between 40 and 49 yards.

Do not overlook the fact that Suisham's first three Heinz Field three-pointers came amid the rain, the wind, the sleet, the wind, the foot, the nose, yeah, you get it. Everything Reed complained so bitterly about on his way out of town except the turf, which was new this week.

"I kicked [five] extra points my first game here," Suisham reminded interrogators afterward. "You try to treat every kick the same. I'd basically come off of five field goals last time, in my mind. It was fine. It was just like another game."

Of course, the stakes will spike somewhat next Sunday when the Jets visit. In any case, the Steelers have three remaining dress rehearsals for the postseason, and there's little empirical evidence on whether that's sufficient time to eradicate the stubborn penalty virus that continues to slam the offense in particular.

Three separate holding penalties on three players -- Jonathan Scott, Flozell Adams and Matt Spaeth -- helped poison one third-quarter possession Sunday, as the Steelers offered their fourth consecutive performance that included at least nine penalties. Sunday's nine were marked off for 89 yards, making it 42 penalties for 420 yards in the past month.

"When you're looking at first-and-30, it's tough," Tomlin said after watching Roethlisberger stretch his career record to 28-7 against division opponents. "Somehow we overcame that and for the most part, we have all year when we get behind the chains with the penalties. We find ways to overcome them. That's because of our leadership, starting with number 7."

These 2010 Steelers will go as far as No. 7 will take them, the oversimplifiers will insist, but it's No. 6 who has emerged as the perfect Plan B. Shaun Suisham may be Sweezie Money, but I wouldn't abandon Plan A, you know, the one with the touchdowns.

Gene Collier: .


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