Diner morning news: Steeler shocker

QUOTE: “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” -- Norman Vincent Peale

On Sunday, the Chiefs beat the Steelers -- now that’s one I never saw coming. But when a team gives up its fourth touchdown on a kickoff return, something is wrong. The Steelers have allowed a return touchdown (special teams, fumble or interception return) in eight consecutive games -- longest streak in NFL history. This is two weeks in a row a team has taken a kickoff back for a touchdown, and the Steelers have to figure a way to get this problem fixed. Normally, long returns come from missed tackles or poor angles, and Sunday it looked like they missed a few tackles. But what was most alarming about the game was that the Chiefs pressured Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offensive line looked like it did last year. So much for their outstanding execution during the second half of the Broncos game, which now seems long ago.

Speaking of the Broncos, they’ve lost their stride. Teams have figured out how to play their offense, and their defense seems to not be as effective. The Broncos have lost their last four games by a combined score of 117-37 and have not been able to protect the ball and be consistent in any phase of their offense. I’m not sure why you would start Chris Simms if Kyle Orton was healthy enough to play, which he did in the second quarter. The Broncos had nine penalties in the game to the Chargers’ one, and clearly since the last time they played, the Chargers have improved and the Broncos have struggled.

The Giants got a win, but it was hard fought, and the Falcons would not go down easily. Fighting back after being down by 14, the Falcons got the one stop they needed on defense to tie the game. Both teams were excellent on third down, and both teams threw the ball effectively all game. The Falcons are just not good enough on defense to be serious playoff contenders, and after yesterday, I’m not sure the Giants are either. Like the Bears, the Giants have placed a huge emphasis on their defensive line, but they don’t seem to dominate in games, and when they don’t, their weak secondary gets exposed. The Giants won and have to build on their momentum, but they have me worried.

Random thoughts…

1. When Peyton Manning throws two interceptions in the first half and your team still trails in the game, winning might not seem possible. The Ravens played well, but to beat the Colts, the red zone is the key on both sides of the ball. The Ravens failed to score in four red-zone trips.

2. It might have been ugly on offense for the Cowboys for the second week in a row, but a win is still a win. They must find a way to get tight end Jason Witten more involved. He’s the key to their overall offensive success.

3. I know Marion Barber had 99 yards on the ground, but to me, he doesn’t look like the same back running through the hole — and neither does Felix Jones since the injury. Barber’s toughness is one of many reasons the Cowboys can win a game like Sunday’s. That was a hard-fought game, and the Cowboys demonstrated a toughness to keep playing even when they were not playing well.

4. The Bears have to be honest with themselves about their personnel and how it relates to the rest of the league because they’re not going to the playoffs. For a team that has so many resources in their defensive line, it can’t control the game at any point. Donovan McNabb had time to throw when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, and Bears had just one first down in that quarter. They had chances to extend their lead, but they couldn’t move the ball effectively and had three three-and-outs in the fourth. The Bears have no identity on offense, and Devin Hester is not the player he once was when he just returned kicks. He’s clearly not a productive wideout.

5. In Detroit, 43,170 NFL fans got to see an entertaining game as the Lions had an incredible come-from-behind win over the Browns. Matthew Stafford looked sensational, and so did Brady Quinn. The challenge now is for both teams to mirror their performances against some of the league’s better defenses. Both teams had more than 400 yards of offense.

6. On the Cardinals’ first five drives of the game against the Rams, they fumbled, punted and then scored three touchdowns in a row. They were perfect in the red zone, going 3 for 3, and for whatever reason, this team is sensational on the road (5-0). Winning on the road is much easier when a team is effective in the red zone.

7. Mark Sanchez is a rookie and played like one against the Patriots. Every time he faces a team a second time, he needs to ramp up his game -- and right now, the game is moving too fast for him. The Jets defense is not the same as it was early in the season, giving up over 400 yards to New England. They’re now 1-6 in their last seven games, and since starting 3-0, they’ve allowed an average of 26 points in their six losses.

8. How about those Raiders? The Bengals never seem to play well on the west coast and were not able to put the Raiders away. Too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities in the red zone (2 for 5). To win on the road against a lesser opponent, a team must execute in the red zone or else the game is too tight.

9. Does anyone realize the Jacksonville Jags are 6-4 and are a wild card team right now? They might win ugly, but they’ve been able to rebound from their disaster in Seattle and have quietly put themselves in the playoff race. Now they return to the west coast next week to play the 49ers. Can they maintain their level of execution?

10. Speaking of Seattle, the Seahawks are just a bad team whenever they put on their road uniforms. All their problems are magnified on the road because they’re not physical in either of their lines. A top-10 draft pick awaits them.

Much more in the Tavern later today.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

To read more about the skidding Denver Broncos, check out this piece from Bleacher Report.

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