PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers have just over two weeks to get ready for the regular season.
At the moment, it hardly looks like enough time.
Pushed around by the starters and knocked over by the subs, the Steelers were no match for the Philadelphia Eagles in a 31-21 exhibition loss on Thursday night.
The Eagles raced to a 24-0 lead, piled up 482 yards and were rarely challenged by a team that appeared to be a toxic mix of disinterested and disorganized.
"Everything went wrong," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "Missed tackles, execution, a lack of energy. On top of that we played terrible on the defensive side."
It was the third straight week of indifferent play by a defense eager to wash away the memory of a 2013 in which it finished outside the top 10 in yards allowed for the first time in 14 years.
The starters gave up a 73-yard touchdown run to the New York Giants in the preseason opener, allowed the Buffalo Bills to roll up over 200 yards in one half last week and did little to slow down Chip Kelly's hyperkinetic offense.
"There's a lot of room for improvement," safety Troy Polamalu said. "Whether or not we improve, time will only tell."
It's unlikely the bold-faced names will get much of an opportunity to make amends when the Steelers (1-2) face Carolina in the exhibition finale next Thursday. The finale is a game where the first string typically stands on the sidelines in baseball caps while the players fighting for the final roster spots take the field.
Then again, there were moments on Thursday when the line between starter and scrub was hard to distinguish. Four Philadelphia quarterbacks completed 31 of 43 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown while only getting sacked once.
Coach Mike Tomlin stressed his team had to "own" its lackluster play while refusing to look for excuses. The poor showing came barely 24 hours after running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were cited on drug charges in a northern Pittsburgh suburb while driving on their way to meet the team plane.
Bell and Blount played on Thursday, combining for 55 yards on 16 carries. Both players offered apologies to the coaching staff and their teammates in the aftermath but declined to elaborate.
The running backs face a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession while Bell has also been charged with driving under the influence.
"What happened (Wednesday) or whatever had nothing to do with how we performed," Tomlin said.
Pittsburgh's issues were more widespread than the running game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger - so crisp a week earlier in a win over the Bills - failed to get into a rhythm. He finished 15 of 24 for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The score came against Philadelphia's backups in the third quarter with the game already well out of hand.
"I feel like that we have a lot to work on as far as our pass game and our run game, just our offense in general," Blount said. "We are going to go back, we are going to evaluate the film and we are going to work on it and we will definitely get better."
The defense will get a shot of leadership when it returns to practice on Saturday. The Steelers signed veteran defensive end Brett Keisel earlier this week. The 35-year-old traveled to Philadelphia with the team but did not play.
"I'm glad to have him back in the fold," Tomlin said. "We'll hammer that out as we get him up to speed in terms of game readiness. He's in great shape. We'll see what the football looks like."
It likely can't look much worse than it did for long stretches on Thursday. Yet the Steelers aren't alarmed, merely concerned.
"I'm not going to predict the future whether we are ready or not," Polamalu said. "If you look at (Thursday's) performance, you know you could say that we definitely are not. If you look at last game's performance, we would say maybe we have a shot. We'll see how things fair when Week One comes along."