CINCINNATI – The Steelers were embarrassed by their performance in the opener against the Tennessee Titans.
They also were shell-shocked after losing Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey on the eighth play of the game.
It was a blow the team never seemed to recover from last week in a 16-9 loss to the Titans.
Monday night in Cincinnati, we saw a far different effort offensively, particularly from the offensive line, against a better team than Tennessee.
The Steelers knew they would have issues early in the season offensively until tight end Heath Miller returns from a torn knee ligament. That should happen soon, but in the meantime, there’s just nobody on the roster who can replace Miller’s 71 pass receptions and eight touchdowns from last season. He wasn’t, after all, the team MVP in 2012 for no reason.
The Steelers thought Matt Spaeth could help bridge some of the gap at tight end, but he was injured early in training camp, leaving second-year player David Paulson and David Johnson to carry the load. Neither is going to be confused for Miller any time soon.
But biding your time isn’t good enough in the NFL. And without Miller, or anything close to his kind of talent at tight end, the Steelers are – and this is being kind – average offensively, even with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
They need to rely on Roethlisberger to make things happen, which is not a bad thing in today’s quarterback-driven NFL.
The Bengals are relying on their quarterback, Andy Dalton to get things done. He threw the ball 31 times in the first half of Monday night’s game.
If you had to pick a quarterback to win you a game, you’d pick Roethlisberger every time over Dalton.
But the Steelers have a quarterback advantage over at least 25 of the other 31 teams in the league.
What Roethlisberger is lacking is consistent help around him.
The Steelers and Bengals each played with the emotion of teams not wanting to fall to 0-2. And for good reason. Since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 1990, only 12 teams have recovered from an 0-2 start to make the playoffs.
But the Steelers have accounted for two of those occasions, making the postseason in both 1993 and 2002 after starting 0-2.
It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy, either. You have to show some improvement. The Steelers did that. They showed that their Week 1 showing was more of an anomaly rather than what we can expect to see from them for the remainder of this season.
And with Miller likely to return sometime in the next two weeks and rookie running back Le’Veon Bell to be back soon thereafter, there is help on the way.
With a defense that is again looking solid, despite the losses it’s suffered in the past two seasons, if the Steelers can even be average on offense, they should be in the mix once again at the end of the season.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.