An Ugly Loss Has Steelers Reeling

The curse of 6-2 continues.

A year ago, Pittsburgh was 6-2 before a five-game losing streak destroyed what had started out as a promising season.

There’s no reason to think that the Patriots’ 39-26 embarrassment of the Steelers will send this team into a similar spiral, but it was a scary sign that Pittsburgh could be manhandled on their own field.

This wasn’t your normal loss–Pittsburgh hadn’t suffered through a loss like this in years. As bad as 2009 may have been, every loss was close–Pittsburgh never loss by more than one touchdown. You have to go back to the 2008 season and a 31-14 loss to the Titans to find a game where Pittsburgh was equally blown away.

If there is a bright spot in a loss like this (and I’m not saying there is), it’s that hopefully it exposes weaknesses that have to be addressed in a way that’s it impossible to discern when winning. And we definitely saw some weaknesses for the Steelers.

1) Get healthy. It’s not an excuse–the Patriots would have likely won this game if Pittsburgh had everyone healthy. But if Pittsburgh is going to go deep in the playoffs, it has to be a healthier than the one that limped off the field Sunday night.

Pittsburgh finished the game without their left tackle (Max Starks), left guard (Chris Kemoeatu), top wide receiver (Hines Ward), starting defensive ends (Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel) and top inside linebacker (Lawrence Timmons). Starks is done for the season, but the rest of that laundry list of bumps and bruises should be back in either the next week or two (everyone by

2) Fix the nickel back problem. After a loss like this, there’s always a danger in being too quick to call for changes on a team that is still 6-2. But in the case of William Gay, it seems like it’s time to see what second-year corner Keenan Lewis or rookie Crezdon Butler can do. Gay was beaten for what appeared to be three touchdowns passes on Sunday. That came a week after he was beaten by Terrell Owens for a touchdown (although it appeared to be zone coverage) against the Bengals. The Steelers have given up 11 passing touchdowns this season, Gay has been responsible, as best as I can tell, for five of them. Of course, to be fair, it’s worth mentioning that starting cornerback Bryant McFadden has been beaten for four himself.

3) Get the rush going. We mentioned on the preview podcast that the big difference between when the Steelers have beaten the Patriots (a la 2004 and 2008) and when they have been beaten badly largely depends on whether then can generate pressure on the Patriots quarterback with four pass rushers. Pittsburgh didn’t make Tom Brady sweat on Sunday night. And as a result, he picked the defense apart.

4) Pray for Ben Roethlisberger. I’ll have much more on the offensive line’s play in the near future, but this was definitely a game where Roethlisberger kept the line from even more of a disaster than the five-sack debacle that it was. And a week after the Browns ran all over the Patriots, Rashard Mendenhall gained only 50 yards. Mendenhall had one carry for 34 yards and 10 more carries for 16 yards. A lot of that had to be blamed on the line.

5) Find the real Jeff Reed. Sure he’s crazy and he doesn’t exactly boom kickoffs, but Reed’s calling card has been his ability to make Heinz Field look like a reasonable place to kick field goals. Now he’s shanking extra-point length field goals. Coming into the game, Reed already was leading the NFL in missed field goals. Sunday night just made that worse.

The Steelers are still 6-3. That’s a place where most teams in the NFL would like to be. And one blowout loss doesn’t really mean much of anything–New England played equally poorly last week. But right now, Pittsburgh has some things to fix.

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  • Ted

    That Titans game is not a fair comparison. That game was very close for a half and then a worn out Pittsburgh team wore out in the second half. We were beaten soundly, but still thought we had the better team.

    In contrast, the Pats dominated this game from the first play to the last and the score made it look much closer than it was. The 2008 Steelers never lost a game where they were dominated in every facet of the game despite playing the hardest schedule in NFL history based on teams’ records from the previous season.

    But that was a Super Bowl championship squad. This will not be. If the Steelers can beat Oakland next Sunday, I think this team will go to the playoffs. But if Oakland beats us again in Pittsburgh, I predict another collapse and a 9-7 finish, which is actually what I picked at the beginning of the year when I thought this team would go 2-2 or 1-3 without Roethlisberger.

    As for losses, the three biggest for tonight’s game were Starks, Colon and Santonio Holmes, and none are coming back this year.

    • Cols714

      I agree. The Titans game was right after Pittsburgh played a series of emotional games, culminating in a very physical Ravens games.

      Tom Brady owns us. This does not look like a Super Bowl caliber team at this moment. But maybe they’ll improve in the 2nd half of the season.

      I still think we really really miss Santonio.

      • countertorque

        Santonio would not have stopped the Pats from scoring 39 points. Certainly he would have performed better than ARE.

  • David

    If we were perfectly healthy, we still would’ve lost. Too many holes in the secondary and Troy guessing wrong too many times. Our only player tonight was Juan, and he got knee’d in the kidneys.

    Also, no WR smarts. ARE cost us many plays tonight. In retrospect, he should’ve been released instead of releasing Gibson.

    Skippy, well, there went his lucrative FA contract.

    And BB, well, he missed or overlooked wide open receivers, and when he did connect at crucial times, they were dropped.

    We’ll end up 10-6, 11-5, make the playoffs. No AFCN championship, no SB.

    • Anonymous

      “ARE … should’ve been released instead of releasing Gibson. ”

      Someone here said that then. Don’t recall who.

    • C_golden07

      Good point on Ben, he was pretty inaccurate early in the game. I thought if he’d have hit a couple of guys who were open earlier in the game, we could have kept it close game and not completely abandoned the running game.

  • Weee

    Secondary,year after year it’s the secondary…..
    The Pats knew that years ago….
    The Steelers still haven’t learned it.

    • countertorque

      I’m not sure I’m following you here. The Pats secondary is traditionally bad and this year is no exception. Why do you think they had Troy Brown playing back there in previous years?

  • David

    I predict that record b/c we still play only 3 teams with winning records. And I don’t think we’ll collapse like last year.

    If our team has any heart, we’ll come out on fire and destroy the Raiders 30-10. Unleash hell in Nov.?

  • Anonymous

    I left for synagogue right after the Emmanuel Sanders touchdown made it 23-10. Missed all the action.

  • RoB D

    I don’t know if Brady has ever played better against us. He just carved us up..it was pitiless. It’s like every bad loss we suffered against the Pats in one bite sized segment. I hated watching the garbage time portion where the Steelers finally showed something…like they were alive for one. But I didn’t watch to the end. Humiliating. Congrats to the Pats though. To come into Heinz after their disaster last week against the Browns and totally dominate both sides of the ball..considering how many young players/rookies they have now…it more than impressive.

    I don’t know if its fair..and I am not sure I really care but I was disgusted with Tomlin tonight.He stood on the sidelines with a stunned look on his face and looked out of it and disengaged. Where’s the freaking fire? Your team is getting HANDLED and you just stand and stare. He lost a ton of points with me tonight (like he should care) and I have never missed Cowher more. He wasn’t the greatest coach in terms of strategy and x and o’s but this team would have come out with fire in their belly and ready to run through walls if he was in charge tonight. It was evident from the get go that they weren’t ready to play IMO.

    It’s just one game. Everyone loses games like these this year…I know…I am not overreacting. I am genuinely concerned that Mike T doesn’t understand that part of his role is to instill FIRE in a team.

    OK..enought of that little rant. Oakland is not an easy out anymore. I hope we have a better week of practice that yields some football we can be proud of. This was one of the most embarassing games to sit through in quite some time. I hope they hurt as much as some of us fans do after this one. They deserve it.

  • eddie

    first, what the hell with the helmet to helmet? hines gets a concussion on that play, not from falling to the ground, but from the helmet to helmet shot. no way he wasn’t defenseless. so, i’m thinking the whole time, the ref looking under the hood better be disgusted because while he could see the drop, he also had to see the helmet to helmet. they should make helmet to helmet reviewable.

    second, my wife was cussing and throwing things, but (for once) i was calm. i don’t know why. but i kept saying out loud that i’d rather lose this game in november and learn from it and beat them in january (like the colts on the way to sb XL).

    third, i’m not looking forward to the raiders coming in to town, if only because i have moron raiders fans sitting all around me. unleash hell indeed… it’s going to be hell for me all week.

  • Anonymous

    Same weaknesses as ever, the OL and the defensive backfield. But let’s not forget that a good deal of this has to come down to scheme – we played a lot of soft zone tonight, but had no plan to get pressure on Brady, and got carved up as a result. Gay played terribly, but any defensive backfield is going to look awful when Tom Brady has 4-6 seconds every down to throw the ball.

    • David

      Exactly. Brady had time to cook a turkey in the pocket.

      Gay was in good position on the 1st TD, and he barely missed the ball. I told my wife afterwards, in 10 throws, 2, maybe 3 are TDs there.

      The second was the worst. He bit on the run, and got beat to the pylon. I told my TV afterwards, why bite on the run! There going to pass, pass, pass!

      The third was a great route, great pass in stride, and great protection.

      He has overachieved this year. He will be OK as the nickel back.

      That being said, we still need a cover CB (and a buttload of O-lineman).

  • Cols714

    That sucked. The Steelers looked like an overrated team last night. The defense did nothing, the offense looked terrible. Ben looked confused and completely out of sync. The WRs dropped passes. Ward looked old and slow again.

    William Gay needs to be replaced. And Troy needs to stop guessing wrong.

    Awful awful awful loss.

    • Steeler Stan

      Its kind of hard to blame Ward. He played what, 3 plays?

      • Cols714

        I’m not blaming Ward, I’m just saying that in the last 3 three games he’s looked slow and old.

  • matt

    Im just gonna say what is missing from these comments:

    Fire Bruce Arians.

    You want to see the difference between BA and a good offense? Tom Brady doing play fakes and throwing 4 yards to a guy who then zips for 10 more. Easy passes, quick decisions.

    I think we should let Ben go Jim Kelly and call his own plays. When he runs the no huddle, we move the ball, which is what happened in the 4th quarter. BA is not in that. To those that point out our offensive stats last year, most of that yardage was racked up at the end of the 2nd quarter and the 4th quarter, when Ben did the calls and the magic.

    The patriots defense has been crappy all season, and we made them look like Super Bowl gods. Blame the OL as much as you want, but I blame the man that can’t scheme better to minimize their mistakes. No screens to mendenhall? Pfft.

    And I saw at least 3 helmet to helmet hits from Pats to Steelers players in that game, and not a single flag. W. T. F.

    • Cols714

      Sure
      But I’m starting to think that it’s more Big Ben than the OC. He just isn’t that great at three steps and fire like Tom Brady is.

      • David

        Cols, I agree. He missed the correct throws on many occasions. It was a bad game for him. Inaccurate. Hit the checkdown when a WR was open in the middle. Took too many critical sacks. His stats were greatly padded by vanilla Pats D in garbage time.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonArmes Jason Armes

    You could just tell last night in the first series how the pats dominated the line of scimmage. We were never on there side of the ball and they were always on ours.

    You could tell when the pats were anything longer then 10 yards from a 1st down we would almost always give them fits. But 10 yards or less, 1st down, 1st down, etc…

    Also, is it me, but does the D-line we have out there now just seem really slow. LIke some of the stunts they ran, they looked like they were running in quicksand.

    Oh well, bring on the raiders. Gotta beat them.

    Jason

  • Darren Guillaume

    The Steel Curtain has turned into the Shower Curtain. Big Ben has to survive Seymore’s pass rush from the Raiders in 1 week. Injuries, are injuries, but without players stepping up, next week will be ugly.

  • David

    Whoa, so EB is reporting that the reason Hines COULDN’T return was the new NFL policy on concussions? I didn’t think the policy affected in-game decisions???

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    To my eyes, Ben’s decision-making and accuracy were weak last night. He did have 3 TDs dropped, though.

    The most troubling thing to me was this combo: no pass rush + weak coverage. I can live with 3-5 yard dink and dunk completions, but these were often 10-15 yarders. Thanksgiving came early, and our D was the turkey getting carved.

    Are we allowed to say that LeBeau got outcoached without being hit by lightning? He knew exactly what was coming, having seen similar scripts from the Pats before, and he had no answer. If we’re allowed to rip Arians for a weak O, we should be able to point out the rare instance when LeBeau doesn’t do his job well.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    David, didn’t see your turkey comment until after I posted. Funny that we both though of the same word. Or not so funny.

  • Rich

    This starts in the draft folks. We needed to be drafting CBs and OTs/OGs right from jump-street this year, and instead we draft 127 LBs. It’s no longer good enough to get a CB in the 5th round and hope he can eventually be a nickle. No, we need to spend a 1st round pick on someone who has the potential to be a shutdown corner. We knew about these holes before the draft and we failed to address them.

    This team has had, and will continue to have mighty problems stopping very accurate passing QBs who don’t sit around and wait for the big play. New Orleans killed us. New England killed us. Warner lit us up in the second half of the SB. I mean, these are the same problems we’ve had for years because we continue to believe that DBs, for w/e reason, aren’t worth high picks, even though this is clearly a passing league.

    If we make the playoffs and run into either Manning or Brady (or even Rivers), I have very little faith this team can win the game.