View From 522: Steelers vs. Titans

Since Gretz is a season-ticket holder, he’s going to take a look at the debauchery and insanity that takes place in the Heinz Field stands after every home game he attends.

There were a lot of questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the 2013 season. Perhaps the biggest one had to be the depth of the roster at several positions and what might happen if they lose a starter or two.

It took one game to find out, and the early returns are not pretty.

Not only did the Steelers lose to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday — rather embarrassingly, I might add — by a 16-9 margin that wasn’t really as close as the final score would indicate, they also lost two starters, perhaps for the season, at the two positions (outside of quarterback) that they could least afford to lose a starter: center and middle linebacker.

Maurkice Pouncey left in the first quarter when right guard David DeCastro rolled into his leg. He was immediately taken for an MRI. It was revealed after the game that Larry Foote suffered a ruptured bicep. That’s bad. And even worse when you consider just how thin the Steelers are.

Look at it this way: Not only did they enter Sunday’s game with Kelvin Beachum as the No. 1 backup at every offensive line position, he actually started the first quarter lining up as a tight end. That is a testament to the lack of depth not only on the offensive line, but also at tight end. When you add in the question marks surrounding the rest of the offensive line, the loss of Mike Wallace, the absence of Heath Miller, and the revolving door of mediocrity at running back you have an offense that is probably going to have some problems.

And oh boy did they have problems.

How bad was it? The highlight of the day for the Steelers came on the opening kickoff and it didn’t involve a single member of their team doing anything other than kicking the football. On the ensuing drive after Darius Reynaud’s bizarre safety, the Steelers actually managed to move the ball a little and put themselves into position to take a two-score lead before the Titans offense even touched the field.

Instead of finishing the drive with a touchdown, Isaac Redman kicked off his one-man wrecking crew and fumbled at the five-yard line and, if you can believe it, it was all downhill from there. The Steelers were never a threat to score until the final minutes in garbage time when the Titans were sitting in a prevent defense, holding on to a two-score lead.

My preseason pick for the Steelers was somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8, so I came into this season with no expectations. But this game, at home to open the season against one of the worst teams with one of the worst defenses in the NFL, was supposed to be one of the ones that went into the win column.

If you can’t beat that team, and you can’t generate offense against that defense, how many wins are really sitting on that schedule?

It’s only one game, but I have concerns.

1) How does Felix Jones not touch the football one time on Sunday? Isaac Redman carried the football eight times for nine yards. At halftime he was actually averaging negative yards. He also fumbled twice, including the aforementioned drive killer on the opening possession.

Following that abysmal performance the Steelers decided to change things up in the backfield and turned the game plan over to Lerod Stephens-Howling. Like, all of it. Here are the first seven plays of the second half:

- Pass to LeRod Stephens-Howling for four yards. Following the catch, Stephens-Howling fell over his own two feet.
- Run to LeRod Stephens-Howling for four yards.
- Incomplete pass to LeRod Stephens-Howling. Incomplete after the pass bounced off his his face mask and harmlessly fell to the ground.
- Run to LeRod Stephens-Howling for four yards
- Run to LeRod Stephens-Howling for three yards
- Sack
- Pass to Lerod Stephens-Howling for seven yards

He was injured on the last play (and as it turns out, he too is out for the year after suffering a torn ACL). Things brings up many questions, with the No. 1 question being why is there ever a seven-play stretch in an NFL game where LeRod Stephens-Howling touches the football (or is targeted) six times? I’m not even sure the Minnesota Vikings involve Adrian Peterson on six of any seven plays.

Steelers running backs carried the ball 14 times on Sunday for a total of 28 yards. They caught four passés for 18 yards. Redman finished the day with nine yards on eight carries with a long of eight. That means his other seven carries resulted in a net gain of one yard. One damn yard.

I know the offensive line, especially without Pouncey, is a raging dumpster fire that somebody poured gasoline on, but there is no way you can convince me that Jones would have actually done worse than that. Jones isn’t great by any stretch, and he isn’t as fast as he used to be, but he was still a very effective player in the passing game last season (Football Outsiders metrics had him as the best pass-catching running back in the NFL last season) which the Steelers probably could have used, especially as Ben Roethlisberger spent the day running for his life.

2) All preseason and all through training camp Markus Wheaton was receiving rave reviews. There were even some people in the media that tried to sell the idea that he was already a better route runner than Mike Wallace. On the pre game show heading into the game one analyst said that by the end of September he would be the Steelers’ No. 2 wide receiver.

He hardly saw the field today. If he played 10 snaps on offense I’ll be shocked. He not only did not catch a pass, he was not even targeted on one.


I don’t think either of these changes would have led to a different result because, well, hell, did you see that offensive line? But not only were Redman and Cotchery not doing anything, they were pretty much negatives all day long.

And this brings me to my biggest concern about the offense, and the one that has bothered me the entire offseason. Who on this offense is going to make the big plays? Where are the “splash” plays going to come from? Who is going to haul in the 60-yard touchdown or, if nothing else, make the big play to help flip field position. The Steelers spent the entire day in their own end of the field, messing around with terrible runs and bubble screen passes to wide receivers that went nowhere. On the rare occasion they tried to go downfield the receivers failed to gain any sort of separation and create space.

Toward the end of the game the guy a few seats down apparently heard enough of us complaining about the offense and reminded us that there was no Heath Miller to “open things up in the middle,” and responded to my brother’s complaint about not using the most talented running back on the roster today (which, in his opinion, was Felix Jones) that Le’Veon Bell is the most talented back on the roster and that there were just too many injuries to overcome and that things will be better when Miller and Bell return.

That’s all fine and good, but the Steelers offense wasn’t that great to begin with and they will still be lacking any sort of a big play threat.

Heath Miller is great, but if you’re counting on a 30-year-old tight end coming off of a brutal knee injury and a rookie running back that has appeared in one preseason game (and touched the ball three times) and already suffered two different leg injuries to correct your offense, there’s a good chance that your offense is already screwed.

Some other stuff…

1) The Steelers have added a lot of bells and whistles to Heinz Field this season. We’ve already discussed the fog entrance and the drum line, but they’ve now added a giant steel mill whistle that blasts when they come on the field and after touchdowns.

2) After my 500th complaint about Isaac Redman the guy in front of me turned around and asked if I even liked the Steelers. He left before the half.

3) Zone blocking scheme be damned, the Steelers should be on the phone with Max Starks right now.

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  • ryan

    At several points during this debaclement, I thought, “Man, poor Gretz. He’s actualy sitting through this POS in person.”

    Also, more bad news: We can add LaRod Stephens-Howling to the list of Steelers lost for the season. He suffered a torn ACL. Maybe Kelvin Beachum can play RB too.

  • David

    Prediction #1: We sign Max Starks this week
    Prediction #2: We sign Dwyer this week
    And to quote Lloyd Bridges on Airplane: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quite smoking. So Prediction #3: I’ll fire up a Cohiba Oct 13th after our first win.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I’ll be the contrarian and look at the bright spots.
    1. I watched Beachum on a bunch of snaps and I never saw him beaten. I did see Jim moving his man several yards past the line. Yes, having guy Whimper as our next backup is vomit-in-the-mouth bad, but Beachum could be a passable center.
    2. Troy and LaMarr look healthy and fast.
    3. Once Ben’s accuracy gets back to normal, there will be more of a passing game.
    4. Zoltar looks pretty good.
    5. Vince Williams is a tackling machine and I predict big things for him. We’ll miss Foote’s leadership, playcalling and steady play.
    6. The DL looks pretty deep. Ziggy, Heyward and Woods all showed flashes of promise. McClendon is not Casey against the run, though, which is both obvious and unfortunate.
    7. Jarvis Jones is a monster. He’ll start immediately and be an impact player for a long time.
    Yes, 4 of those 7 contrarian silver linings had caveats.

    The last thing I’ll say is that it is week 1. The Ravens gave up 35 points in a half and the Pats almost lost to the freaking Bills. So I’m going to wait a few weeks to hit the panic button.

    • Randy Steele

      Or, as Mike Tomlin would say,”…tomorrow is a new day. It’s the top of the week. We’ll make the best decisions for us, globally speaking. “

  • Intropy

    Well, plusses in some speed stats I guess:
    1. The Steelers will now hold the record for the fastest score in NFL history forever since you literally cannot beat one second.
    2. JJ will have something nice to talk about when he does his fastest sacks column. Counting frames I get just under a third of a second for Polamalu’s.

  • Randy Steele

    Have you heard about the new recipe for the Rothlisberger sandwich?

    Scramble together five offensive linemen.
    Toss in a handful of running-back mincemeat.
    Drop the mixture on the floor several times.
    Serve on toast.

  • Randy Steele

    Art Rooney and his staff, seen here, auditioning for a new running back.

    • ryan

      I have to laugh to keep from crying.

    • Rob D

      23!!! Skidooooo…

      I’m going with “other teams sucked in their first game too” world view. I’ll be in my room if anybody needs me.

  • ryan

    Eddie B tweets that the Steelers will sign Jonathan Dwyer. Next up: Max Starks, followed by 15-0 run to playoffs.

    • Rob D

      And Skippy!? Please say it’s so!