Monday, November 10, 2014

Steelers slip back into old habits

New York Jets tight end Jace Amaro (88) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Mitchell (23) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After today’s debacle in New Jersey, there is legitimate reason to wonder if this year’s Steelers ever were any good.

There’s also legitimate reason to wonder if Mike Tomlin can ever get the Steelers back to where he once had them. Because it happened again.
Coming into today’s game, the New York Jets had the NFL’s second-worst record at 1-8. They beat the Steelers, leading them by three scores at the end of the first quarter. The Steelers clearly underestimated their opponent and were wholly unprepared to play. Nonchalant. Not gutless. Brainless.
Either that, or Justin Bieber attending the team’s Bible study Saturday night invoked the Book of Revelation. MetLife Stadium = fiery lake of burning sulfur.
More likely, it was just a Mike Tomlin team doing Mike Tomlin things.
The Steelers played Tampa Bay at Heinz Field on Sept. 28. The Buccaneers were winless … until that day. The Steelers visited Jacksonville Oct. 5. The Jaguars were winless. The Steelers barely escaped with an eight-point win.
In 2007, Tomlin’s Steelers lost to the 1-8 Jets. In 2009, they lost to 1-11 Cleveland, 2-7 Kansas City and 3-8 Oakland. In 2012, they lost to 2-8 Cleveland. Last season, they lost to 0-3 Minnesota. Tomlin loses to the dregs all too frequently.
The Steelers are 8-10 against teams with losing records (at the time the Steelers played them) since 2012. Tomlin should bear the brunt of the criticism, but the players are far from blameless. A lax attitude obviously prevails from top to bottom.
CBS analyst Rich Gannon said, “It’s not lack of focus. The Steelers got off to a bad start.” Uh, Rich … what do you think causes bad starts?
The schizophrenic Steelers rediscovered the personality that suits them least.
Their defense combined minimal aggression with lots of cushion to permit the Jets a 14-play, 72-yard drive that knocked 7:52 off the clock to open the game. The Jets only got a field goal, but the tempo was set.
That tempo was accelerated dramatically on the Jets’ next possession when they went 67 yards on one play, a touchdown pass from Mike Vick to T.J. Graham. That only took 10 seconds. The Jets were decisively in control.
Early, when the Steelers had the ball, Ben Roethlisberger dinked and dunked. The screens were back. The need to be clever returned.
Roethlisberger completed five of his first six passes, but netted just 13 yards. Three of those completions got negative yardage. Wherefore art thou, vertical passing game?
If you didn’t know better, you’d think the Steelers’ coaches tried to prove they know better. That their vast wisdom supersedes the results of the previous three weeks.
James Harrison at fullback: Revolutionary! Harrison, 36, was retired seven weeks ago. Now, he’s playing both ways.
The Steelers’ offensive line got shredded. Roethlisberger only got sacked twice thanks to his quick feet, but was constantly under siege.
Vick is 34. Washed up. The Steelers still couldn't contain him.
Yesterday was no fluke. The Steelers deserved to lose. System failure. Even MVP candidate Roethlisberger had a bad day.
Before yesterday, the Jets had allowed 24 touchdown passes and collected just one interception. But Roethlisberger dented them for just one TD toss, throwing two picks.
Local math majors have already computed that the Steelers are still in the thick of the wild-card race, and the AFC North chase. But if the Steelers can’t beat the hapless Jets while riding the crest of a three-game winning streak, they don’t deserve to make the playoffs. And probably won’t.
Perhaps the Steelers can unleash hell in December.
More important: Antonio Brown’s streak lives! Five or more catches…or maybe five catches exactly…for 50 yards, or…wait, it might be six for 60 yards…look, the point is, he did it. Yahoo.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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