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Now that I've had a day to sit on this, I think I can make some slightly more objective commentary about the Steelers 24-20 loss to the struggling Colts game Sunday.
Forgetting about the fact that they lost for a moment, I think it is noteworthy to focus on how they lost. In what looks like a trend with the Steelers (6-3), they outgained the Colts 326-290, had more passing yards (271-228), had a greater time of possession (34:05-25:55) and were penalized less.
All sounds good, right? Good enough to win, certainly. So...what happened?
Two important, Steelerific things did not go their way.
One - They had less success running the ball (26 attempts for 55 yards, as compared to 19 attempts for 62 yards). And I don't think the inclusion of Willie Parker would have made much difference here. Simply put, their injury-challenged offensive line cannot produce the chunks of yardage to which Steeler Nation is accustomed. Doing without Alan Faneca doesn't help either.
Two - Big Ben. Three picks - one of these, of course, is the end-of-game-what-did-you-expect-desperation-interception - and 42 pass attempts. Sure, 30-of-42 passing looks efficient, but it isn't what the Steelers are supposed to be doing.
The Steelers also weren't helped by a tipped ball that landed right in Reggie Wayne's hands and another ball that bounced off a Steeler helmet - again into Wayne's waiting hands.
But give the Colts credit. They have All-Pro caliber players like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne and they did what they needed to do - take advantage of Steeler blunders and make enough good plays on their own merit - in order to secure the team's first win in Pittsburgh since 1968.
That said, let's compare this game (42 passes, 26 rushes) to the 38-17 opening day win over the Texans. I can't speak for Steelers Nation, but I'd rather have 18 passes and 39 rushes - and the no-doubt-about-it win.
The 15-6 loss to the Eagles featured 32 passes and 19 rushes.
Of course, this little observation is not an absolute. The Stillers had 28 rushes and 31 passes in the 38-10 win over the Bengals. The numbers were 26 and 41 in the 26-21 win over Jacksonville.
The main differences? No picks against Cincy and only one pick against the Jaguars....and a total of three sacks. As opposed to the 1 pick and 9 sacks Pittsburgh gave up to the Eagles. In my humble opinion, out of their losses, the Eagles were the only team that truly outplayed the Steelers.
So what's the answer? If Mike Tomlin asks, I'll happily tell him what I think. Clearly, I'm sure he's spent a great deal of time trying to answer this very question. I won't pretend I have an answer.
The AFC North used to be the Steelers division to lose. Now that Baltimore has pulled even with them, they could be in trouble. If they have any more losses in winnable games, that would certainly minimize my optimism for a prolonged playoff run - assuming the Steelers get there.
In the first 6 weeks of the season, that looked like a foregone conclusion. Now...not so much.
One thing to note is that there is a lot of press talking about Ben Roethlisberger and his injured shoulder. I seem to reemember that he had suffered some malady once before and was pressed into action. I believe that was in 2006, Bill Cowher's last season, and a season in which the Steelers were 8-8.
I'm thinking that if Ben really is hurting, would it be the worst thing in the world to start Byron Leftwich? Might as well give it a shot, right? If he throws three interceptions and the Steelers lose, is that any worse than the Colts game? That is why they signed him, isn't it?
Let Ben get a few games where he isn't getting hit by 350 pound behemoths. Then he'll be healthy for that stretch run and the playoffs. That's really when we want him to be healthy, right?