The Cincinnati Bengals held serve Monday night, beating the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10. The victory was remarkable for how unremarkable it was. It gave the nation three hours to watch just how many problems the Steelers have.
"There's a certain amount of misery with the position that we're in," coach Mike Tomlin said after the game about his 0-2 squad. "We'll wear it. We don't like it. We'll wear it."
Here's why the Steelers are wearing it:
Run blocking: The Steelers were forced to start recent pickup Felix Jones after Isaac Redman was hurt on the opening kickoff. Pittsburgh wound up with 44 rushing yards. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has more rushing yards on the season than the Steelers.
A team, once built on a pounding running game, got no push up front despite many early draft-pick investments at the position. The Steelers started the game with three consecutive runs, which gained a total of 5 yards. Their protection of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was no better.
Lack of depth: Every team has injury problems. The Steelers have more problems than most, but their utter lack of competent replacements is killing them. Jones probably would be out of the league if the Steelers didn't pick him up, and now he's starting. Kion Wilson, who was out of the NFL last year, started at inside linebacker. Lumbering David Paulson started at tight end. Jerricho Cotchery has way too big of a role at wide receiver. The Steelers have too many borderline NFL players in key spots.
Missing front-line talent: Roethlisberger had a mixed performance Monday. Some penalties by teammates and other mistakes like a Paulson fumble killed drives. But Big Ben missed some throws and couldn't create his usual improvised magic.
At least Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown can make plays. The roster on the whole sorely is lacking difference-making talent. Chris Wesseling wrote about it during the offseason: The team has just five players with more than 10 career starts from the draft classes of 2008 to 2012. The defense remains solid overall, but the once-proud talent pipeline has mostly run dry. The young talent has vanished.
Sure, the Bengals' excellent defensive line deserves credit for making Roethlisberger's life difficult Monday night. Rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert helped Cincinnati's offense produce despite uneven quarterback play from Andy Dalton.
The Steelers' recent history under Tomlin is too strong to count them out, but there are no easy answers here. They don't look like an underachieving team. They just might not be very good.