Vikings 34, Steelers 27: London Falling

At this point we can probably stop playing the, “Well, if the Steelers can win this game the season might start to look different” game.

Following their latest defeat, a 34-27 loss at the hands of the previously winless Minnesota Vikings over in London, the Steelers are off to their first 0-4 start since the 1968 season. That, of course, was the year before Chuck Noll took over. So, yeah, it’s been a long ass time since Pittsburgh has seen a football team like this. And make no mistake, this team appears to be every bit as bad as their 0-4 record.

What makes it even worse is this goes as far back as the middle of last season.

Since the Steelers (barely) beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10 to improve to 6-3, they have put together a 2-9 record in the regular season (just for laughs, they also had an 0-4 preseason record in there, too).

Some stunning numbers to help illustrate how we have reached this point:

Over the aforementioned 11 games the Steelers have turned the football over 32 times (including 11 this season). They have just 11 takeaways (including ZERO this season — they are the only team in the NFL through Week 4 that has not created a takeaway on defense). Their quarterbacks have sacked 36 times (including 15 this season). The defense has generated just 24 sacks (including just four this season).

And that my friends is how you go 2-9 over an 11-game stretch in the NFL. At this point there isn’t one aspect of this team that is even remotely interesting or encouraging. The offensive line is a tire fire where the best player might actually be the guy that was signed off the street in Week 2, the wide receivers can’t get open, and the defense stinks. Even as the offense started to show signs of life on Sunday it still wasn’t enough as the defense allowed a Matt Cassel-led offense put up 34 points. And they were never really a threat to stop them. When the offense isn’t there, the defense is at least OK. When the offense shows up, the defense lays an egg. That is the type of thing that happens when you’re a bad football team, which the 2013 Steelers most definitely are.

I’ve beaten this horse quite a bit this season, but we’re beyond the point of bad luck when it comes to the defense and forcing turnovers. This is something that has been going on since the start of the 2011 season, and I think it directly relates to the declining pass rush that seems to be getting worse by the week.

What makes things even worse is they no longer appear able to stop the run. Adrian Peterson’s 60-yard touchdown run to give Minnesota a 17-7 lead is the play that makes all of the highlights, but check out his second touchdown run from inside the five-yard line. Found this clip on YouTube and it’s amazing how the line just opens up. Every person in the stadium knows he is getting the football here. And he walked through a hole that was so big that just about any person on the planet could have made it through.

I think the most frustrating part of Sunday’s game — for me, anyway — was Emmanuel Sanders stopping his route and allowing Chad Greenway to intercept a pass, and then instead of touching Greenway to stop the play, he instead jumped around and threw a temper tantrum. In hindsight, the decision to keep Sanders and not take the third-round draft pick from New England is looking like a pretty bad move. It’s not that Sanders has been awful (but he certainly hasn’t been great), it’s that 1) The Steelers have a ton of holes to fill and need as many draft picks as they can get, and 2) They’re probably not going to re-sign Sanders and keeping him for one extra year when he isn’t going to be the difference between making the playoffs and missing the playoffs is really shortsighted.

So all of that happened.

The Steelers are now two games behind every team in the AFC North (including the Brian Hoyer-led Cleveland Browns) and can not possibly win their first game until Week 6 of the NFL season.

Strange times indeed.

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  • Rob D

    Sobering stats…that was a good summary and confirms a few things for me.

    On Sanders, I don’t think anyone could have predicted he’d be this much of a non factor. Many were saying we just couldn’t lose him AND WAllace in the same offseason. I still like the guy. I truly believe we don’t have the talent to compete (a lot of the team is young and inexperienced on offense including most of the Oline) but I also believe Haley and Co are not the answer to our problems. NE is getting it done with worse WR’s than us..they have moulded a competent attack after just 4 games and haven’t lost during the training period. That’s coaching..and having Tom Brady. We have a good QB but you have to wonder about the O’s ability to utilize even sub grade talent from game to game.
    I am at the “shrug,,crap happens stage” with this team. They’ve looked just as bad before, in my lifetime. They’ll survive, retool and eventually get back to elite status. But this one might take a while to turn around and Ben’s hopes for another SB are in serious jeopardy.

    • Terribletoweler

      Here’s a good question. If Ben’s chance at winning another SB are in jeopardy and he doesn’t think he can get it done here, does he try to get out? I could see it if after 2 years he doesn’t see the progress to let him finish a season and compete at a high level. Is he selfless enough to sacrifice the remainder of his career in a place if they don’t right the ship? Would fans be justified in asking him to do that? We know they will, after all.

      Hey, too many what-ifs. But really, I find it entertaining to ask them, and it is a break from analyzing a bad team.

      • Eric

        It won’t happen and I don’t think I’d want it to but I was actually thinking about whether it would be rationale to tear the sucker down. You look at a team like the Texans with a strong run game and defense. They just need a quarterback. How much would they give up for Roethlisberger? The Steelers have all kinds of salary cap issues and a lot of our best players are nearing their downsides. If the Steelers aren’t going to be competitive for 2-3 years, could you trade Polamalu and Roethlisberger for enough picks to justify it? It would solve salary cap issues and potentially give you enough picks to rebuild in a year or two.

        • Cols714

          Nope. You don’t trade away Hall of Famers who are still capable of playing at a high level. Ben and Troy are not the problem and things in the NFL change so quickly. There is no reason this team can’t contend again as soon as next year. It happens all the time.

      • David

        You know what? I was thinking about that the other day. I mean, Peyton’s out of Indy, so you never know.

        I think our FO would not cave into steep demands by anyone. If he wants to go, he’ll probably get his wish, b/c as Eric says below, teams like HOU (or JAX or CLE or even MIN) would offer premium $$ for Ben. Franchising him would cost us dearly.

        But for now, our FO has to decide on our UFAs for next year: Clark, Redman, Sanders, Keisel, Hood, Worilds, Cotchery, Velasco.

        • Cols714

          Re-sign Velasco and move Pouncey to LG.
          Let Redman, Keisel, Worilds, and Cotchery go
          Sign Sanders and Hood only at team friendly prices
          Sadly I think we should probably let Clark go as well

          • Eric

            Other than being skeptical of Pouncey wanting to move to G, I agree.

            It’s also depressing to be talking about offseason moves 25% into the current season.

        • Terribletoweler

          It isn’t out of the question. And really, I think he’s a great QB. Essentially, irreplaceable without winning the lottery.

          Redman is gone. Sanders too. Keisel will retire or move on. They’ll resign Hood, maybe Velasco. Cotchery is replaceable. At least that’s my opinion/unreliable prediction at this point in the season. My take isn’t far off of Cols on this one, though I think they’ll resign Hood as a priority because they won’t be able to find better as a plug and play lineman who doesn’t have to learn the system. Odd prediction: Hood gets overpaid.

          • Intropy

            Your prediction can be restated as “Hood will make above vet minimum next season.”

        • Intropy

          Peyton didn’t leave Indy, though. Indy dumped him.

  • Cols714

    What’s strange about all of this is that the Steelers front office seemed to diagnose their problems a few years ago correctly. They knew that their OL stunk and that the defense was getting older and needed a talent infusion at LB and DL.

    So they drafted a bunch of DL and OL and LBs. Which was absolutely the correct move. The problem is that none of those DL, OL have been worth first round picks.

    They identified the problem correctly but then in a very un-Steelers like way, they blew the draft picks.

    • drobviousso

      Totally agree. In a mirror world where those first and second round draft picks play like early Colbert era first and second round draft picks turn out, we are talking about a pair of dominant lines.

      • Cols714

        The thing that really sucks is that they were pretty non-controversial picks. Ziggy was thought to be a good pick even by Ted. Heyward was considered a no-risk type of guy. DeCastro and Pouncey we were thrilled with, and Adams and Gilbert seemed like perfect 2nd round tackles that we could expect at least one to be something close to very good.

        We didn’t miss on all of these guys. Hood is decent, Heyward is getting better, DeCastro and Pouncey are average to slightly above. But none of these guys turned out to be stars or even top 5 at their positions (exception to Pouncey, he’s probably a top 5 center).

        The good thing is that they are all young enough that they can improve. Will they improve enough? I’m pretty doubtful on that.

        • Terribletoweler

          I hope that the problem is that they haven’t learned to play well together as a team yet. A lot of new faces. The line plays differently, bringing more of a pass rush than we saw with Hampton in there.

  • David

    Cols, I agree completely. Our FO knew/knows the problem and tried to solve it the way we always have–the draft. Those picks, esp. Adams, failed.

    Another good point by Adam is that our D, O, ST are not consistent (and by consistent here, I mean C/C- territory) on the same day. Like yesterday, our O and running game were decent, but the D left a lot to be desired (to put it mildly). Different units and subunits taking turns being piss-poor each Sunday is the sign not of a bad team, but a real bad team.

    We may be drafting 3rd just like USA Today projected (although I still have hopes of winning several games–hell, we had Bubby Brister and a porous D and still won 9 games one yr).

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    With only 16 games per year, wins and losses end up magnifying teams’ strengths when they are winning and their weaknesses when they are losing.

    That said, the sample size does seem big enough to say that our D is usually going to be fairly solid (yesterday’s terrible pass defense was unusual), but it can’t create enough pressure to force turnovers. That gives the O a chance to win but also puts a lot of pressure on the O to be very good, because they have to drive 80 yards to score most of the time. The below-the-line play of the OL makes this hard to do, even when we get good play from some of our skill players on O as we have the past few weeks.

    Yesterday highlighted something that has been bugging me for a while. After starting his career as one of the best crunch time QBs ever, it seems like Ben really has regressed in those situations. It has been a looong time since I felt confident that he’d lead a late comeback to win. I’d be interested in whether the stats on 4th quarter comebacks back this up.

    All that said, there is a difference between having flaws and saying there isn’t even one remotely interesting or encouraging thing about the team. We do deserve to be 0-4 as we’ve come up with both old and creative new ways to lose each week. But there are many pieces of the team that have played very well at times (Bell’s debut yesterday, for example was certainly encouraging), even though the collective whole has been losing one. This is not one of those no-talent old Bucs teams or Matt Millen’s Lions or something. We haven’t been embarrassed the way the Giants have in the last few weeks, either.

    Last year, at the beginning of the season, our offense started pretty well but our defense was pretty bad. Then our defense stepped up and our offense crapped the bed down the stretch. This year, our offense was the main reason we lost the first three games, with the D playing well enough to win. We lost yesterday for a variety of reasons, but I’d say that if our D played the way it did in the first few weeks, we would have won. We have not put together a consistent stretch were both O and D played well together, and that makes it hard to win consistently.

    • Eric

      Well said.

      - Our defense is setup to take away the big play. That’s why the corners play far off and have to be able to tackle. The idea being that teams won’t be able to drive 80 yds consistently. However, that strategy fails when the defense can’t generate pressure. Which they haven’t been able to do reliably.

      - I also don’t the “not interesting” bit. I remember vividly the 90s era teams with inept quarterbacking and stacked opposition run defenses. If those teams fell behind by 10 pts it was over. At least this team can generate enough offense to make a comeback possible. In back-to-back weeks they nearly came back from ~20 pt deficits. I know they didn’t complete the comebacks but the odds of that big of a comeback are really small.

      - Realistically this team has almost no chance to make the playoffs. I just wish people wouldn’t lose their shit about it. This team has been consistently good-to-great for decades. Kids that can’t drive yet have seen two Superbowl victories. Let’s try not to prove every ugly Steeler-fan caricature true in one month.

    • Terribletoweler

      I think our pass defense suffered from Allen coming back. Too much rust, and it forced Gay back into a role he hadn’t performed much in a while. They work as a unit, and he threw some wrenches into their gears.

    • Intropy

      What did you see from Bell that encouraged you? I saw a small sample of JAG-level play. Nothing really stood out one way or the other except that one play where he quickly diagnosed an outside lane established by Miller caving in that side of the line.

      • EasyLikeSundayMorning

        I was in a car for most of the game, so I’m relying on the ESPN radio announcers for all but the 4th quarter (I plan to watch the recording this week, as painful as that sounds). Bill Polian, the former Colts GM, was repeatedly effusive about Bell, saying he made the most out of many plays and has a good size/speed combo. From the few plays I saw of him, he seemed to be fluid in catching the ball and turning well and also stick his nose in on blocks. The comments on BTSC also suggested he played well. Were you discouraged?

        • Intropy

          I was by no means discouraged; I just didn’t see much stand out either way. He had some nice runs, and he had some where he didn’t do much with the ball. And like all our runners, he had a lot of runs where the line made it a struggle for him to do anything at all. He looked just like an average guy out there to me.

          It’s his first game, and he hasn’t had a chance to put much on tape. I hear a lot of hype for him without a lot of data, and it strikes me as so much wishful thinking. It’s a heavy burden of expectation to put on the rookie.

  • Cols714

    For a more optimistic take, see Dale Lolley over at NFL from the sidelines.

    The most relevant part (to me) is below:

    “It’s easy to single out Mike Adams for the poor game that he had Sunday in London. Jared Allen has done that to a number of tackles in the NFL.

    But it’s way too early to give up on Adams. It’s easy to forget that he was making his eighth career start Sunday against the Vikings. And it was just his fourth start at left tackle.

    Was he bad? Absolutely.

    But there have been other tackles who have struggled – who can forget John Jackson vs. Pat Swilling of New Orleans? – and turned into solid players.

    Jackson was so bad in the aforementioned game that he was yanked mid-series. And after the game, he was walking around the locker room wishing teammates luck because he thought he would be released.

    He went on to have a long and illustrious career.

    Adams was also much better in the second half. The Steelers got him some help more consistently, but there were times when he was blocking Allen one-on-one and got the job done. In fact, Allen was practically invisible in the second half.

    @ On the other side, Marcus Gilbert played a very solid game.”

    • Terribletoweler

      I almost can’t believe that Adams is playing so bad that no one says a word about Gilbert. I’m not sure that is an endorsement of Gilbert so much as an indictment of Adams. I’ve been watching Adams more–so I guess Gilbert has been pretty solid. He hasn’t rolled up on anyone recently at least.

  • David

    To keep your mind off the London failing, here’s one of my favorite Lite beer commercials:

  • Cols714

    Do you know what’s annoying? Fans of the Steelers who feel that the reason the team is losing is because of heart and attitude. It’s talent and turnovers, not effort that’s doing the team in.

    Optimistically, the offense has looked much better since week 1.

  • David

    Still reeling from the game. Watching MNF and have three thoughts:
    1. If there’s any coach I’d want for us, if worst comes to worst for Coach T, it’s Gruden
    2. Keenan Lewis and Wallace are matched up vs. each other; both on undefeated teams
    3. Mike Tirico annoys Gruden (and me) and I expect him to get backhanded anytime now

  • djanyreason

    “Over the aforementioned 11 games the Steelers have turned the football over 32 times (including 11 this season). They have just 11 takeaways (including ZERO this season — they are the only team in the NFL through Week 4 that has not created a takeaway on defense).”

    So -10 over the last 7 games last year (just under -1.5/game – skewed by the Cleveland fumblefest), and -11 over 4 games this year (-2.75/game)

    “Their quarterbacks have sacked 36 times (including 15 this season). The defense has generated just 24 sacks (including just four this season).”

    Or, in other words, over the last 7 games last year the Steelers were sacked 21 times (3/game) and sacked their opponents 20 times (just under 3/game). This year they have been sacked 15 times (3.75/game), and have sacked opponents 4 times (1/game).

    Trying to stretch the end of last year into this year doesn’t really work.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Good news: we can’t lose a game in the next 12 days.

    Non-sarcastic good news: we have two weeks to reflect on how to change direction, either for this season or next.

    Probably pollyannish good news: we’re still only 2 games out with 75% of the season to play. And the none of the AFCN seems likely to pull away from the pack. If Bell can play the way he did yesterday and Cortez can play like he did at the end of last year and Jarvis starts to rush the QB well, we could be a very dangerous team (and not just dangerous to the heart health of Steelers fans).

    • Randy Steele

      What we as fans have to do right now is hang fire and let the players play through this. If they have the mind and body to succeed at the NFL level, these four games will just be an ugly memory. If they don’t, we’ll get new players with what we hope are better skills and try again.

  • Terribletoweler

    I’ve got to say, I am watching the Saints dismantle the Dolphins, and there’s a world of difference between that offense, head to toe, and ours. Apples to oranges. BUT, they execute the plays in concert working together. You can just see the difference in almost every play.

    • Rob D

      Particularly notable with SEan P. calling the shots again. They are back to that precision passing game with hardly a foot put wrong for 4 quarters. Nice run game mixed in too. They get the matchups they want over and over and over again. And…WE are in Jurassic Park by comparison. I know that a lot of the high flying passing teams have failed in the postseason, including one manned by Peyton Manning in 05. But the trend isn’t going to hold, IMO, given the routine 400 yard passing days being put up by QB’s. What was Brees tonight..30 of 39..4 TD’s, 0 INT’s..over 400 yards ..I mean..they are clearly heads and shoulders over a young promising Dolphin team but how long do you think most D’s are going to hang with that kind of attack? And you can’t hit or intimidate anymore..the middle is easy pickings now. It’s not a game I enjoy much, but that’s the reality of today’s NFL.

      • Terribletoweler

        This passing game has succeeded before though–before bounty gate. Their defense is suspect, but their offense scores even when they lose. I think the trend does hold, honestly. The game is QB centric more than ever. Defenses have adjusted, and this is the result.