Monday, September 26, 2016

Steelers looked far from a trendy Super Bowl pick vs. Eagles

Jeremy Fowler Staff WriterSeptember 26, 2016
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Pittsburgh Steelers' Markus Wheaton (11) cannot hold onto the ball as he battles Philadelphia Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
PHILADELPHIA -- No way the Pittsburgh Steelers are this bad.
That doesn't make it any easier to shrug this one off as a sluggish road performance.
The Steelers' sheer scope of awful play in Philadelphia was so broad, so uncharacteristic, that at least some lingering questions will be justified.
The words repeatedly sputtered out of defensive end Cam Heyward's mouth postgame: "We got our asses kicked."
Don't book those flights to Houston just yet. Super Bowl LI is still months away.
Though the Steelers won't be written off for the 34-3 beatdown by Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles, the loss was arguably the franchise's worst in nearly 20 years and raises concerns about the complementary passing game without Martavis Bryant and the defense's ability to handle speed.
At least the return of Le'Veon Bell in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefsshould distract from what could serve as an offensive anomaly.
The last time the Steelers trailed by 31 points was Week 1 of 1997, when theDallas Cowboys held a 37-0 lead. The Steelers' streak of not trailing by 30-plus points was the longest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
That's what makes the lopsided loss so curious, no matter how phenomenal the Eagles were.
The Steelers' defense was so fired up by all the missed tackles Sunday that a few players were overheard in the postgame locker room saying the unit needs to watch the game film as a group Monday, not by positions as normal.
Nothing -- and I mean nothing -- worked on this night.
Getting blown off the ball.
Eagles offensive linemen parting the Steelers' defense like a hipster haircut.
Struggles covering the screen game, which coach Mike Tomlin said has been a problem for three weeks.
A successful running game held to 29 total yards.
Ben Roethlisberger (24-of-44, 257 yards, one interception) missing throws he usually makes.
"There's a lot of thumb-pointing to go around," Roethlisberger said. "It starts with me."
Several starters were in and out of the game, particularly on defense with linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons and safety Robert Golden. Clearly, the lineup shuffling threw them off. But a unit that had held up well without sacks showed its vulnerability when it couldn't apply pressure. The Steelers made the Eagles' screen-passing game a point of emphasis and still couldn't stop it. Then, with a hefty lead, the Eagles went to work on the ground. The inability to create turnovers will be a point of emphasis in the future. The Steelers have two interceptions and a fumble recovery through three games.
On offense, the Steelers faced questions about the lack of a legitimate No. 2 receiver with Bryant suspended. They made it work through the first two games, but that absence was pronounced Sunday. Returning from injury,Markus Wheaton had the chance to make multiple plays and couldn't, including a costly drop of a would-be touchdown on the game's first drive that set an ugly tone. By late in the game, Antonio Brown was the only pass-catcher with more than three receptions.
Heck, Brown might have been the only bright spot with 12 catches for 140 yards. Eighteen of Roethlisberger's 44 targets went Brown's way. The duo said the offense saw a variety of coverage looks, but the Eagles could sell out on the pass because the Steelers couldn't run the ball.
Bell's presence will be a welcomed one. But they need at least one more receiver to emerge as a consistent threat.
This was apparent on the Steelers' early third-quarter drive. Down 20-3, the Steelers were driving to midfield. Then, Roethlisberger and the offense missed on four straight passing attempts, two of which could have been intercepted. Not sure if the timing was off, but the offense left a ton of opportunities on the field.
Asked to describe that drive, Big Ben said, "We stunk." Asked to clarify, he said, "We all stunk."
As "Fly Eagles Fly" blared through the Lincoln Financial Stadium speakers, it's hard to know where the Steelers will fly to next.
Not Philly, where they haven't won since 1965.
They'll have to correct the mistakes back home.

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