One game a season does not make. That is unless that one game is one of the ugliest “efforts” ever put onto the field, not to mention one that has season long ramifications. Losing two key, if not vital players threw even more salt onto Sunday’s wounds which grow more painful every time we revisit it.
Only an eternal optimist could find much of anything positive to say about Sunday’s game. I will say I think Jarvis Jones is well on his way to being something special.He flashed glimpses of his potential all throughout preseason and it continued against the Titans. I’m sure DC Dick Lebeau will use every opportunity to place Jones all over the field in an effort to make plays. The defense as a whole played their usual solid game. However, when we dig a little deeper, there are still some troubling facts. Keeping with the theme from last year, against the Titans, the Steelers D was STATISTICALLY stout, as they held Tennessee to a net 225 total yards in offense. However, they did not force a single turnover and could only generate one sack.
With all the talk about creating more turnovers and sacks, the Steelers defense was beyond futile in this department. I think Steeler fans need to stop thumping their chests how they Pittsburgh had the number one defense last year (statistically speaking by the way) and start looking a little closer.With Larry Foote lost for the year, it’s time for Lawrence Timmons to insert himself into a position of leadership. Foote’s injury will also provide special teams ace Kion Wilson and rookie Vince Williams with a chance to prove their worth. I like Wilson, but I’ve been saying all summer I think Williams could be a hidden gem and now he needs to prove it.
When looking back at Sunday’s game. in my opinion, there are two people to place the blame for the debacle squarely on: Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Haley’s hiring, and I’ve tried to keep an open mind on him. When Haley was brought on, the Steelers had evolved into a more vertical attack offense under Bruce Arians (who we knew was destined to be a head coach), while Haley brought more of a west coast, ball control feel in an effort to keep Ben healthy and bring some balance to the offense. And while Roethlisberger was having a nice season last year, he did wind up missing time due to injury. All season it looked like the QB and his OC could never quite get on the same page. Fans and observers alike were wondering how the Haley-Roethlisberger marriage was going to work, and let’s just say, unless things improve, it’ll be over soon.
The team’s best deep threat, the eternally pouting Mike Wallace left for south Florida in the offseason and rookie Markus Wheaton was drafted with the idea of taking Wallace’s role as the speed guy. Much like Jones on defense, Wheaton did flash his big play potential in the preseason. However, against Tennessee, he was a non-factor, and in fact none of the team’s young receiving corps did much of anything against the Titan’s secondary aside from veteran Jerricho Cotchery.
Aside from losing their best player (Pouncey) off of their worst unit(the OL), the offense could only generate thirty-two net yards rushing for the day and did not have a single first down via the ground attack. They were 30% on third down conversions and could only muster 195 net yards of offense. Coupled with the fact that they gave up five sacks, someone explain how Haley’s hiring has been a plus. No, he’s not out there blocking and running, but under his leadership, the Steelers have regressed offensively. In all honesty, unless drastic improvement comes, I’d be shocked if Haley makes it through the season.
Which brings us to the man most responsible for Sunday’s effort: head coach Mike Tomlin. Back in the summer, I pitted Tomlin against former coach Bill Cowher to see who I felt was a better fit for what the Steelers identity is supposed to be. Upon picking Cowher, I received an avalanche of replies that were…well, generally not positive. After sunday’s game, I am becoming more and more convinced that Tomlin just isn’t right for this team. We keep hearing about “the standard is the standard” and all about “the Steeler way”, but what is it? It makes for nice bumper stickers, but what is the Steeler way? What is the standard? Guys, be honest here, Tomlin won his first Superbowl with a team that was 85% Cowher’s players, and made his second Superbowl with a team that was still 60% assembled under the former head coach.
This is now chiefly Tomlin’s team with players assembled under he and GM Kevin Colbert (who is not innocent in this either)and they have been on a steady slide talent and effort wise since losing to Denver in the playoffs two years ago. And while Cowher was not the best at making in game adjustments, Tomlin is downright horrid. If it wasn’t for Lebeau’s defense, this team would have no identity at all. While I’d love to slip on some rose colored glasses and look at things that way, I can’t.
When I previewed the Steelers 2013 season game by game in the summer, I didn’t pick them to beat Tennessee. The Titans are one of those teams (along with Oakland,) that seem to have Pittsburgh’s number. But I expected a much better effort than what we got. The bright spots were few, the trouble spots numerous. I look for them to have a better effort against a potent Bengals team Monday night. There are times when Pittsburgh seems to be playing to the level of their competition.
Against the Bengals they must create turnovers, stretch the field with Wheaton and find some semblance of a running game, but most of all, keep Ben upright and healthy. 0-2 is a tough but not impossible hole to claw out of, but Monday night’s game will go a long way in telling all of us what kind of Steeler team we have. No, they aren’t done, but with Chicago, Green Bay, New England, and Baltimore(twice) still to play, Monday becomes nothing less than a need- to- win.
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