With the Steelers defense losing second-half leads as if they were pocket change, perhaps a different approach might be in order as they prepare to play their first AFC North Division opponent Sunday in Cincinnati.
Is it time to make up for the failings on defense by cranking it up on offense?
"I think, for us, it's time to realize as an offense the potential we do have," said veteran offensive tackle Max Starks. "We can talk about it, you guys can speculate about it, we can break it down individually, but, for us, we just need to come together as one cohesive unit and realize our true potential.
"We can score a lot of points if we're all on the same page and we do our job."
The Steelers boast one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Pro Bowler Ben Roethlisberger, Pro Bowlers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown at receiver, former Pro Bowler Heath Miller at tight end, and Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey at center.
They and many others have talked about their potential firepower, yet, when it comes down to it, they've been more Popgun than Topgun on offense. They average 23.2 points per game, which ranks 17th or in the second half of the NFL.
The Steelers scored 23 against a Tennessee team that had allowed an average of 36.2 points per game while going 1-4, and they lost by three.
"We are not scoring enough points or making the play when we need to," Roethlisberger said.
Perhaps a big part of the problem has been the lack of punch from a ground game that ranks 31st in the NFL with an average of 74.8 yards per game. It had to work without starter Rashard Mendenhall through the first three games, and then lost Mendenhall and backup Isaac Redman to injuries early in the game at Tennessee.
Roethlisberger has thrown only two interceptions and his passing offense ranks seventh in the NFL with an average of 285.8 yards per game.
"It's just about us getting on the screws and complementing that," Starks said, "maybe making sure we have a better run game than we do have because, obviously, that opens things up for play-action passing which allows for more downfield shots."
Running back Baron Batch could not help but look back to six years earlier after he scored his first NFL touchdown Thursday night on a 1-yard run in Nashville, Tenn.
Seven years earlier, he was told he might not play football again and might not walk right again because he might lose his left foot after a staph infection set in after his foot was broken in practice.
"I pretty much destroyed my left ankle in college my freshman year," Batch said Monday. "I broke it. It got infected. It was so bad I almost lost my foot. It was a bad deal. I didn't ever think I would even run again."
With Mendenhall and Redman out, Batch virtually was it for halfbacks in the second half against the Titans, when he ran 10 times for 22 yards, including his touchdown.
"Baron Batch did an amazing job in the game, I can't say enough about that," Starks said. "He pretty much had to play every single snap."
Batch missed the rest of his freshman season and the following season, when he took a redshirt. His ankle finally healed, and he returned to play in 2008.
"A broken ankle is a broken ankle, but the complications with the infection and everything, it definitely opened my eyes," Batch said. "I might not ever play football again, and never mind football, I might not ever walk right again. It was a scary thing."
Because of his ordeal, though, "I met some cool people. Some of my closest friends now are because of that whole incident. It worked out."
Jonathan Dwyer, who has not dressed for the past two games, might return to see some time at halfback in Cincinnati because of Mendenhall's new injury.
Although the achilles injury is considered minor, the Steelers might go slowly with Mendenhall this week. The stress of playing two games in five days for the first time since his ACL was torn Jan. 1 might have been too much.
"That probably has something to do with it," Mendenhall said. "It's a long process coming off major surgery."
The Steelers received good news on the knee injury to Pouncey, who might be able to return to play this week. And it appears that outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley will return to play in Cincinnati after he missed the game Thursday with a hamstring injury.
First Published October 16, 2012 4:00 AM