By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Rashard Mendenhall(notes) #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the football during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Steelers won 23-20. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
We could go with Ben Roethlisberger's colorful explanation of the Steelers' offensive struggles: "The sky's the limit for us — we just have to, you know, get on the plane."
Or we could say it in three words: This offense stinks.
Seriously, I'm sick of watching it. The Steelers must be sick of watching it. And if they don't start scoring soon — like Sunday against the turbo-charged Houston Texans — their season won't matter much past Halloween, or around the time Tom Brady visits Heinz Field.
The NFL is a scoring league. The Steelers don't score enough. They have long been dependent on phenomenal defense. Isn't it time the offense stepped up, particularly with the defense looking less than phenomenal?
Did I mention the Steelers don't score enough? They're ranked 26th in points per game and only that high because the defense scored one of their six touchdowns. They have cracked the top 10 in scoring once in coordinator Bruce Arians' five years, tying for ninth in 2007.
That was supposed to change, dramatically, this season. One local columnist (I have no idea who) predicted this would be the highest-scoring team in franchise history.
This was supposed to be a high-octane — sorry — high-scoring outfit that could torture teams any way it pleased. Roethlisberger had settled into such a groove during a turnover-free preseason that he was practically ready to call games on his own.
Here's the quote: "I would feel comfortable with Ben calling the plays in all phases, not just the spread offense," Arians said before the Steelers lit up the Falcons in an exhibition game.
Another quote from camp: "We know we can be really good," receiver Mike Wallace said. "Great, actually."
Finally this from Roethlisberger: "We have relied for such a long time on this defense to kind of carry us. As an offense, we want to score a lot of points and make it easy on our defense."
Easy? Roethlisberger & Co. have cannibalized their defense by committing turnovers like the Buffalo Bills in a Super Bowl. Roethlisberger, playing the role of Jim Kelly, has seven all by himself.
Incredibly, the Steelers have had two games (out of three, remember) during which they turned it over on three straight possessions and committed turnovers ON CONSECUTIVE SNAPS. Forget the Bills in a Super Bowl. I'm wondering if the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers could boast of such comic ineptitude.
Even in a 24-0 victory over Seattle, the offense looked sickly near the goal line. In his six carries inside the 5 that day, Rashard Mendenhall gained five yards.
Last we saw these guys, they were scoring two second-half field goals against a ravaged Colts defense that couldn't stop the Cleveland Browns a week earlier.
Yeah, the line is beat up and below average. Fall's here, too. Deal with it. The Steelers have stubbornly refused to dial up reinforcements, the way Baltimore did with Bryant McKinnie, so they must believe in their people.
Roethlisberger does. He was asked yesterday how the offense might react to a Texas shootout.
"We'll be ready," he said.
The line proved it could protect Roethlisberger during a 10-point, 177-yard first quarter Sunday. But that was before Roethlisberger got careless, allowing Robert Mathis time enough to take five laps around the stadium and crash into his back, forcing a fumble that gave the Colts life.
Two turnovers later, Indy had a halftime lead.
Roethlisberger hasn't been the only problem:
>> Mendenhall needs to stop tap dancing and start running with the ferocity we saw in the AFC Championship Game.
>> Emmanuel Sanders killed a possible touchdown drive Sunday with a drop, evoking his critical drop last year at Buffalo. Weslye Saunders bobbled a sure first down to ruin another drive.
>> Arians needs to turn his playbook to the page titled "Bubble Screen to Hines" and light it on fire.
>> Jonathan Scott needs to play within the rules. As NBC noted, he is tied for NFL's most-penalized player since midway through last season. And that was before he was flagged for lining up in the Steelers' backfield.
Hey, how come Dwight Freeney wasn't penalized for that?
Finally, this offense needs to find its personality. Seems obvious the quarterback and coordinator want to be a passing team. So be one. Break out the no-huddle attack that sped 60 yards for the winning field goal Sunday.
Don't abandon Mendenhall. Run to complement the pass, the way Green Bay does.
Or go out and get somebody like Vonta Leach and smash people's faces in all day. I don't care. Just score.
'Cause you know the Texans will.