“This team relies heavily on this offence, and that’s been different than in years past,” veteran receiver Steve Smith said. “And yet we haven’t done anything consistently that would help our defence stay off the field. All we’ve done is kind of been middling around a little bit and been real lethargic and left (the defence) out there on the field longer than they should be.”
Steelers (2-3) at Bengals (3-3)
The Steelers can’t be accused of that; their offence has been very protective of the ball (only four turnovers) and quite productive through the air, ranking seventh in yards passing. But Pittsburgh (2-3) has the appearance of a team in transition, particularly on the offensive line and everywhere on defence, where injuries have been damaging — star safety Troy Polamalu won’t play Sunday night.
“It comes down to playmaking,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “and we haven’t made enough significant plays.”
When they head to Cincinnati (3-3), the Steelers will find an AFC North rival that is reeling. The Bengals flopped against Miami at home, then in Cleveland, handing the Browns their first win. Their big-play defence has yet to materialize.
“It’s not time to jump ship,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “We’re 3-3 just like everybody else in our conference. At the end of the day, it’s not about wins and losses, it’s about who makes the playoffs.
“Our goals are all still right there in front of us. Somebody that’s 3-3 has to go win some games and get in the playoffs. Why not be us?”
Tennessee (2-4) at Buffalo (3-3)
Yet two more teams that had high expectations for this season, the Titans hoping to build off their surprising 9-7 record of 2011, the Bills believing their retooled roster was ready to carry them back to the playoffs for the first time since Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Marv Levy — well, not quite that long ago, but you get the picture.
Tennessee hasn’t played since rallying to upset Pittsburgh in a Thursday night game, and will go with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback with Jake Locker still sidelined by his dislocated left shoulder. Hasselbeck has been sacked eight times, and Buffalo finally discovered a pass rush in its overtime win at Arizona, knocking down Cardinals QBs five times.
The Bills lost consecutive games by a combined 97-31 before beating the Cards. Coach Chan Gailey doesn’t believe there’s an ounce of satisfaction after that win.
“I have not sensed anything different and, to be honest with you, I do not want to,” he said. “I still want them to be hungry. I still want them to be mad. We need to have the mindset that we have to go out and have something to prove every week. Just because you won one ballgame and got back to .500, that is nothing. We are nowhere right now.”
Arizona (4-2) at Minnesota (4-2)
The banged-up Cardinals go back to John Skelton at quarterback after Kevin Kolb hurt his ribs. Arizona has lost two straight as its offence stagnated: After scoring 91 points in its four victories, Arizona has 19 in its successive defeats.
Minnesota might not be the best place to get things straight. The Vikings, one of the most pleasant surprises in the league, seem to be getting their pass rush on track and Arizona has yielded 28 sacks, 22 in the last three games.
“They’ve struggled a little bit up front,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “They’ll have a different quarterback this week so that’s going to change things a little bit. We’ll have to study John and get a better feel for him, but whether that improves the offensive line or not, we’ll find out. We really have to do a good job up front on our end.”
Minnesota has done a very good job at home, going 3-0.
New York Jets (3-3) at New England (3-3)
One of football’s most bitter rivalries, and with the Jets coming off a lopsided victory and the Patriots blowing a lead in Seattle to lose, New York has taken the offensive — verbally.
Hard to imagine with coach Rex Ryan, isn’t it?
“I want them to know, and they know, that I think we’re going to beat them,” Ryan said. “I don’t buy into all that other stuff. Look, I recognize they’re a great football team and (Bill) Belichick’s a great coach. I’ve never once said he wasn’t, OK, but we’re not going to back down or concede anything. They’re going to get our best shot. We know we’re going to get theirs. It doesn’t matter who says what, because we’re going to be ourselves. We’re coming up there to take our swing. We’ll see if we land that punch to win the game.”
Although the Jets have tried to emphasize a “Ground and Pound” running game, it’s the Patriots who have been more successful. New England is averaging 4.2 yards a carry and has 10 touchdowns rushing. New York is at 3.8 with four TDs, all by Shonn Greene, who ran for a career-high 161 yards and three touchdowns against Indianapolis.