Steelers diversified offense not enough; Ravens pulling away in AFC North

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Could this be a replay of what happened after Pittsburgh’s last Super Bowl? They finished the season at 8-8. However, they had a good excuse that season because of the many injuries. What is the excuse this year?

The Steelers dropped their second game of the season to the once lowly Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in a game they should have won. After once again building a big lead—13 points—they faltered again in the second half. They don’t have much time to figure this problem out because they will face the high-powered San Diego Chargers Sunday night on NBC.

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UNDER PRESSURE—Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes under pressure from Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom (98) in the first half.

The Steelers offense was the most diversified it has been in two years. They ran the ball, they passed the ball and they even threw the ball to Willie Parker (two catches for 36 yards and a touchdown). But most of this occurred in the first half, and even then they had problems in the red zone. This team is great from the 20 to the 20, but once they hit the red zone they become one of the worst teams in football. If they are to advance to the playoffs this year, this problem has to be solved.

Parker had his best game of the season with 93 yards on 25 carries but did nothing in the fourth quarter. For the second week Rashard Mendenhall didn’t touch the ball. The offense needs all its weapons if they are going to pull themselves out of the hole they have dug for themselves.

In the passing game, Ben was solid between the 20s, going 22 of 31 for 276 yards, one touchdown and one interception, with Hines Ward being Hines Ward with four receptions for 82 yards. But Santonio Holmes didn’t show up. He had one catch for 18 yards and at least two drops. Rookie Mike Wallace solidified his spot as the third receiver with an outstanding game, seven receptions for 102 yards. However, Limas Sweed put himself deeper in the dog house with a drop in the end zone that would have been a sure touchdown.

The defense bears some fault in this defeat. The Bengals looked like the Indianapolis Colts at times in the way they moved the ball. But in all fairness to the defense when Carson Palmer is healthy this team has one of the best passing attacks in football, but now they have a running game with Cedric Benson, who had 76 yards on 16 carries and a solid defense.

The Steelers don’t have that killer instinct of putting their opponent away once they get them down, unlike the Baltimore Ravens, who increased their AFC North Division lead with an impressive 34-3 victory over the winless Cleveland Browns.

This is a very impressive Ravens team as second year quarterback Joe Flacco has this offense on a roll as he went 25 of 35 for 342 yards and one touchdown. And the two-headed running attack of Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, combining for more than 100 yards, kept the defense honest.

The defense headed, as usual, by Ray Lewis, continued to look impressive as they totally controlled the game. The Browns change of quarterbacks didn’t help them.

The Chargers, 2-1, have been under-achievers the past two seasons and cannot afford a loss that will drop them to 2-2. They will be on the edge just like the 1-2 Steelers. They are coming off a 23-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins in which Phillip Rivers had another outstanding game going 18 of 33 for 303 yards in the air while Darren Sproles subbed for LaDainian Tomlinson. It’s still not clear if Tomlinson will play this weekend. The defense will also have to contain Antonio Gates, who is recognized as one of the two best tight ends in the game. He had five catches for 64 yards against the Dolphins.

A win puts the Steelers back in the hunt at 2-2 but a loss will just about write them off, even though it’s still early. The Ravens will finally be tested next week when they face a fired up New England team. A win will put them in the driver’s seat at 4-0, but a loss, along with a Steelers and Bengals win, will tighten up the AFC North, with the Bengals moving into a 3-1 tie for first. The Bengals must first get past the 0-3 Browns, which shouldn’t be a very hard task.

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