Ron Cook: Steelers deserve every bit of 0-2


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CINCINNATI -- Good football teams can't win by turning the ball over, committing killer penalties on offense, failing to make any splash plays on defense and blowing pass coverages.

How in the world is a bad team such as the Steelers supposed to do it?

Much as they did in their putrid home loss to the Tennessee Titans in their opening game, the Steelers fumbled and stumbled their way to a 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on a gorgeous Monday night along the Ohio River.

The Steelers thoroughly deserve their 0-2 record.

If you are starting to sense this is about to become a very long football season, you are not alone.

"Embarrassing," running back Isaac Redman called it. "It don't look like Steelers football out there."

And from a defensive perspective?

"They can point at this and that as the reasons we're losing, but we just aren't playing good enough," safety Ryan Clark said. "Until we do, we won't win a game."

Clark is right about one thing.

Plenty of us are willing to point at reasons.

The offense can't run the ball or finish drives. The defense can't stop the run or come up with sacks or turnovers.

It is a deadly combination.

"Everybody needs to work harder," Redman said. "We have to get this show on the road."

If this were Broadway, the Steelers would have been closed down after the Tennessee loss. As it is, 14 more performances are scheduled. Heaven help Steelers fans, at this rate.

Against Tennessee, it was a botched handoff between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Isaac Redman deep in Titans territory that cost the Steelers points and a possible early 9-0 lead. Monday night, it was a fumble by tight end David Paulson at the Bengals 16 after a 34-yard catch that denied the Steelers a chance to take a 6-0 lead if not a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.

The Steelers offense isn't good enough to give away points. It produced one touchdown drive in 11 possessions against the Titans. It was 1 for 12 with seven three-and-outs against the Bengals.

The one touchdown drive here was nice. Roethlisberger, who came in with a 9-1 record at Paul Brown Stadium, completed all five of his passes for 65 yards. He found wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for 19 yards, then found him again for 43 yards. He finished the drive with a perfect 1-yard lob touchdown pass to rookie Derek Moye, who beat Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, to tie the score, 10-10.

But just when it appeared Roethlisberger might add another win in his favorite home away from home, the Steelers were called for a penalty at a rotten time. The yellow flag was on the turf even as wide receiver Antonio Brown was finishing a 33-yard catch-and-run to the Bengals 20 early in the third quarter with the score still tied. Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert was called for tripping.

"That's the worst call I've ever seen in my life," Gilbert said. "The NFL has to review that call."

It's a bit late for that, right?

It was bad enough that the Steelers defense produced no sacks or turnovers against the Bengals after getting just one sack against the Titans. Clark said it was the result of allowing the Bengals to gain too much running the ball on first down.

"We can't get 'em behind the sticks. You've got to play everything on third-and-4. That's not how we play defense."

What made this defensive performance worse were a couple of blown coverages. They were crippling. The first resulted in a 61-yard catch by rookie tight end Tyler Eifert that led to the Bengals' first touchdown and a 10-3 lead. The second came on the Cincinnati possession after the Gilbert penalty and resulted in a 27-yard touchdown on a dump pass over the middle to rookie running back Giovani Bernard. That made it 17-10 with 6:08 left in the third quarter.

Clark took blame for the Eifert play, saying he bit on quarterback Andy Dalton's pump fake. "When you can't count on veteran guys like me to make a play, you're in trouble," he said.

Ordinarily, the Steelers still would have been in the game. They had won three games in a row here and 11 of the past 12.

But there was no miraculous comeback. The run game was inept again. After rushing for just 32 yards against the Titans, they managed just 44 against the Bengals. Felix Jones was the top rusher with 10 carries for 37 yards.

"There's no explanation for it," Redman said. "We need to figure it out and we need to figure it out fast."

That left it all up to Roethlisberger. He got the Steelers into Bengals territory one final time when they still had a chance, but his pass on third-and-2 from the Cincinnati 27 was high, skipped off wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's hands and was intercepted by safety Reggie Nelson.

You might remember Nelson. It was his interception of a Roethlisberger pass late in the game Dec. 23 at Heinz Field that led to a 13-10 victory for the Bengals. That loss eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention.

This Nelson interception wasn't as significant, but it still stung the Steelers.

And so, the Bengals defense did what the Steelers defense couldn't do; it forced two turnovers to go along with two sacks of Roethlisberger.

It was pretty clear which was the better defense on the Paul Brown lawn.

It was really clear which was the better team.

Steelers - mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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