Gene Collier: For the Steelers, no more leaning on Big Ben



Maybe this will all look better if they pick it up and put it on another continent.

Maybe in London the Todd Haley offense will finally make sense, being accustomed as it is to the fog 'n 'at, right?

Maybe London seems like a long way to go just to have Adrian Peterson run up 150 yards against you, but few would disagree today that the Steelers might as well leave the country for a little while rather than try to impersonate an NFL team in these United States.

Steelers Report: Bears 40, Steelers 23

Steelers beat writers Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers' 40-23 loss to the Bears at Heinz Field. (Video by Peter Diana; 9/22/2013)

Mike Tomlin on the Steelers 40-23 loss to the Bears

Mike Tomlin on the Steelers 40-23 loss to the Bears. (Video by Julia Rendleman; 9/22/2013)

All the truths we hold as self evident in the floundering season of 2013 were on display again for the bemusement of NBC's national Sunday night audience -- the ridiculous third-down calls and staggering inefficiency, the empty offensive sets for a quarterback the offense can't protect in the best of circumstances, the stream of turnovers by which the Steelers give but never seem to get, the ongoing pratfall known as the Steelers offensive line, which Sunday night broke into a spirited round of musical tackles, the whole sorry business ... plus-one.

You know that truth about how despite all these problems, despite all conflicting logic, as long as this team has a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, all things are possible?

That might be a better project for MythBusters.

"We gotta do a better job of taking care of the football," coach Mike Tomlin said after four Roethlisberger turnovers. There would have been a fifth had Ben not fallen on one of his three fumbles. I wondered if it might have been a case of No. 7 being so divorced from real offensive opportunities in the first two games that he was overanxious to the point of recklessness Sunday night.

"No, I don't believe that's the case," Tomlin said. "We played [Sunday night], played to win [Sunday night]. We didn't bring the baggage of the past performances per se."

At the upswing to the 11 o'clock news, with a little more than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Steelers trailed the Chicago Bears by two touchdowns and Roethlisberger was by arithmetic fact the difference in the game.

And it only got worse.

Big Bad Ben's first-possession fumble set up Chicago's first touchdown, a 5-yard plunge into the NFL's 25th-ranked run defense by Matt Forte for a 7-0 lead, and Big Bad Ben's second-quarter interception, an egregious overthrow of Jerricho Cotchery, led directly to the second, with Bears safety Major Wright prancing 38 yards the other way to the touchdown that made it 24-3.

The Steelers are not officially in the market for a new offensive coordinator, not as of deadline Sunday night, but when they get around to it I'll be nominating Antonio Brown, who had a philosophical discussion with Haley on the Steelers sideline one week ago.

Antonio posited that the Steelers would be better off trying to get the ball to Antonio, then went out and demonstrated his reasoning by catching four balls for 105 yards and a touchdown by halftime on Sunday Night Football.

Before the third quarter had ended, Antonio raced behind Chicago corner Charles Tillman in the left corner of the end zone and snagged a Roethlisberger pass with one hand as he dragged both feet across the chalk line for the touchdown that changed a rout to a ballgame again.

But Big Bad Ben wasn't through fumbling yet.

He dropped the ball again on an early fourth-quarter scramble, but in a shrieking indication that the Steelers had suddenly absorbed all available momentum, Roethlisberger fell on it for a 5-yard gain at the Chicago 30.

Still 2 for 8 on third down at that point (and 9 for 33 on the season), Cotchery made a critical conversion out of a slant pass for a first down at the 26 early in the fourth. But it was on that possession that Roethlisberger threw one pass behind Brown and another into the ground, so the offense settled for a 44-yard field goal that sliced Chicago's lead to 27-23.

That's when, almost as if to shift the bulk of the culpability for this Steelers predicament from Roethlisberger and the offense, the defense decided it was time to transform Jay Cutler into Steve Young. Cutler ran for a first down to start the next Bears possession, banging into defensive back Robert Golden rather than slide to safety. He then rifled a 41-yard strike to Brandon Marshall at the expense of Ike Taylor, and his 17-yard touchdown to wideout Earl Bennett put the game back in Chicago's pocket.

But Big Bad Ben wasn't through fumbling yet.

Wait, didn't I already start a paragraph with that?

Well yes, but Big Bad Ben wasn't through fumbling yet. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs collapsed the pocket around Isaac Redman's protection, knocked the ball out of Ben's hands into the paws of defensive end Julius Peppers and Peppers lugged it 42 yards to the end zone.

"We can't -- I can't turn the ball over," Roethlisberger said. "The two fumbles, they made a good play. Guys were running by, stuck a hand out and got a piece of the ball. That's the way it goes. First interception, a guy came on a blitz up the middle and I tried to anticipate a throw and threw it a little too far inside."

So it's no longer correct to scream about the Haley offense failing to produce points. Sunday night it pounded out about 44, 23 of its own and essentially 21 of the opposition's.

It's the worst start around here in 13 years, and your January weekends are now unofficially officially clear.

"It's a deep hole," Roethlisberger said. "It's getting deeper, but I'm not gonna quit."

Just remember though, as long as this team has Ben ...

Never mind he has won once in his past seven starts.

homepage - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. First Published September 23, 2013 5:00 AM


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