Pass or fail

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Are we seeing the unmasking of Ben Roethlisberger? <br><br> In the past two weeks, Roethlisberger has looked more like Kent Graham than he has Clark Kent.

The Steelers have won both of those games thanks to their suffocating defense and a few key special teams plays. But there is no doubt the offense is going to have to produce more if this team is going to do anything in the playoffs.

Certainly Washington's defense is one of the better in the league, but so were Philadelphia and New England's when the Steelers dismantled them in back-to-back games a few weeks ago.

And after Cincinnati's defense gave up 48 points to the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday, is there anybody who is going to argue their defense has really turned the corner as was said last week after the Bengals limited the Steelers to 10 points on offense?

The Steelers are 10-1, but did they peak too soon?

Maybe those victories over New England and Philadelphia were as good as it was going to get. Maybe defensive coordinators have begun to figure out Roethlisberger. Maybe Roethlisberger has hit the proverbial "rookie wall."

Some will argue that not having Plaxico Burress in the lineup has been the reason for Roethlisberger's struggles the past two weeks, when he has completed 24 of 41 passes for just 269 yards and one touchdown. But lest you forget, he was also 10 of 16 for 134 yards and an interception against Cleveland three weeks ago with Burress in the lineup. It's beginning to look like a trend.

And Antwaan Randle El averaged 18.5 yards on his two catches Sunday, which is right in line with Burress' average per catch for the season. He also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty and had about 10 yards after the catch on his first reception, one on which Burress would have caught the ball and fell to the ground in the fetal position.

All in all, that's pretty much what the Steelers would have gotten out of Burress in this game.

Why? Because for the second consecutive game Roethlisberger was blitzed and hurried into bad passes.

Roethlisberger has now been sacked 11 times in the Steelers past two games. And it hasn't all been the fault of the offensive line. Some have been coverage sacks. And some have just been indecision on Roethlisberger's part.

But they have all been because teams are now going to blitz the kid because they know he'll take a sack rather than throw the ball away or throw it up for grabs and try to allow his receivers to make a play.

Maybe he's been coached up too much to avoid turnovers. And avoiding turnovers is certainly a good thing. But taking 11 sacks in two games kills drives just as much as a turnover does.

The Steelers will need more out of Roethlisberger in coming weeks than just being the guy who hands the ball off to the running backs.
  • Hines Ward likes to proclaim himself the "leader of the wideouts."

    Lately, the leader has been pretty much a follower, looking more like Lee Mays.

    Maybe we've come to expect too much out of Ward, but he has made key drops in each of the past two weeks. When you're not getting many opportunities, you'd better make the most of every one. And Ward hasn't been doing that.

  • Speaking of Mays, the next time he steps onto the field will be too soon. If the Steelers miss Burress, it's because Mays stinks. Most of the time he wouldn't be on the field, but because Randle El had to replace Burress, Mays has been exposed for what he is - a bum.

  • The Steelers have allowed 209 yards rushing in the five games since Casey Hampton was hurt and Chris Hoke became the team's starting nose tackle.

    Coincidence? Maybe. But after five games, it is also starting to look like a trend.

  • When somebody figures out why Ladell Betts had eight carries and Clinton Portis only had six for the Redskins, please let me know.

    Maybe Joe Gibbs thought it was Betts and not Jerome Bettis running over all those guys.

  • Apparently, James Harrison feels it is his mission, no, make that his birthright, to make every special teams tackle.

    Dude had six of them on Sunday and he lost one when one of his teammates was called for a holding penalty.

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