Steelers RB Felix Jones earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin after Monday night's game.
Stuck in neutral: The Steelers’ running game is a mess, and coach Mike Tomlin said no one is above blame for the team's 75 rushing yards in two games and its paltry 2.4 yards per carry average. The offensive line has to win more one-on-one battles, and the running backs have to take better advantage of the creases they do get. Tomlin did not say who will start Sunday at running back against the Chicago Bears, but he strongly indicated that Felix Jones will get the nod. Jones rushed for only 37 yards on 10 carries at Cincinnati, but Tomlin liked the decisions the sixth-year veteran made while running against one of the better front sevens in the NFL. “I was encouraged by some of the things Felix Jones was able to do,” Tomlin said, “and will be able to do moving forward.”
Biding their time: Running back Jonathan Dwyer received just one carry against the Bengals, a team he gashed for 122 rushing yards in the AFC North rivals’ first meeting last season. Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton also played sparingly on Monday night, and the third-round draft pick is still in search of his first NFL catch. Tomlin said the limited roles had little to do with Dwyer and Wheaton and could be mostly attributed to the Steelers running 55 plays compared to 79 for the Bengals. More than 20 of those plays came when the Steelers ran their no-huddle offense, which doesn’t allow them to substitute. As a result there were very few opportunities left for reserves such as Dwyer and Wheaton. “We’re just not getting enough snaps,” Tomlin said.
Staying within yourself: Free safety Ryan Clark did not sugarcoat the Steelers’ first 0-2 start under Tomlin. On the contrary, Clark said the Steelers won’t win a game this season if they don’t get better. What troubled Clark after the Steelers gave up more than 400 yards of total offense against the Bengals and did not register a sack or force a turnover is that the defense got away from the disciplined approach that has been vital to its success. The concern moving forward is that the offense’s struggles will put even more pressure on the defense and that some players will take it upon themselves to try and make something happen. “Once you start doing that then you get out of position, you leave a gap and they get four yards on first down,” Clark said. “For us it’s about doing what we’re taught no matter the score. We can’t scoreboard watch.” Said Tomlin, “We’re capable of fixing these things. We can’t overreact.”
Not all was bad: Special-teams play, shaky during the preseason, was an unequivocal bright spot for the Steelers in their loss at Cincinnati. Jones and Antonio Brown turned in long kickoff and punt returns, respectively. The Steelers' kick coverage teams, meanwhile, bottled up Brandon Tate and Adam Jones, allowing a total of 44 return yards. Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has been a beast on special teams. He and the rest of the Steelers' special-teamers will be tested Sunday night. Chicago’s Devin Hester is one of the best kick returners in NFL history.