Good news! The Steelers offense wasn’t completely awful on Sunday. They had their moments, of course, turning the football over three more times and missing a couple of plays here and there, but they still managed to put 31 points on the board. Sure, it was against a mediocre New England offense that was missing three of its best defensive players, but 31 points is still 31 points and 31 points should be enough points to win an NFL game, yes?
Unless your defense gets lit up to the tune of 610 yards and 55 points and sets new franchise records in defensive futility.
My goodness was that a mess. Tom Brady is one of the NFL’s all-time greats, and he has torched the Steelers before. Three of his 15 best passing days in terms of yardage have come against the Steelers. The only other team in the top-15 that appears more than once is the Buffalo Bills, a team that Brady gets to play against twice a year.
I sat in Heinz Field and watched him throw all over the Steelers defense in the 2004 AFC Championship game. The same thing in 2010 when a then-rookie Rob Gronkowski beat William Gay for three touchdowns. There was the Anthony Smith game in 2007. All of those Patriots teams were great offenses with big-time talent all over the field. Randy Moss. Wes Welker. Deion Branch. Aaron Hernandez (ugh). Gronkowski.
But this Patriots team. This Patriots team wasn’t supposed to be able to do this. They came into this game with a mediocre offense (not only by their standards, but by league standards). Brady was having the worst season of his career to this point. The wide receivers are nowhere near what they used to be.
Didn’t matter. Guys were running free through the secondary all day long. Brady couldn’t miss. The Steelers couldn’t get to him. They couldn’t stop the run. It was a complete massacre.
And that’s with the Steelers finding a way to claw back into the game and tie it at 24 midway through the third quarter. And they still ended up losing by 24 points.
I’ve written about the defenses problems before. They don’t force turnovers. They no longer have any sort of pass rush that strikes fear into opposing quarterbacks. They’re nowhere near as dominant against the run. All of that was clear today. This team doesn’t just stink because the offense stinks, it stinks because the defense stinks, too. And the defense might even be worse than the offense, if you can believe it.
Cam Heyward was the only player on the defense that seemed even somewhat competent on Sunday, continuing his recent resurgence from disappointing first-round pick to possible fixture on the defensive line.
Like the offense, it’s mostly a matter of talent.
The guys that have it appear to be finished (Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Brett Kiesel). The rest? It just doesn’t seem to exist. It’s too soon to call Jarvis Jones a bust — and I’m not going to do that — but the first eight games of his NFL career have been underwhelming at best, and terrible at worst. What’s especially frustrating about that is that he came from a 3-4 defense in college and isn’t learning a new position. At the very least you would think there would be some sort of a pass rushing threat off of the edge, but there’s been nothing. The running game and pass coverage are even worse. Jason Worilds is a better player at this point, and it’s not even close. And that’s bad, because Jason Worilds is nothing special.
When the offense has been good enough to win this season, the defense has been lousy. When the defense has been good enough to win, the offense has been lousy. That’s what a bad football team does, and make no mistake, this is one bad football team.
Pittsburgh football fans haven’t seen a team like this in a long time. Since 1989 they’ve won fewer than seven games in a season just two times, and have never won fewer than six games over that stretch.
I’m not sure this team has four more wins on the schedule.