Mehno: Steelers at least show signs of life
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers lost again, and they’re 0-3.
Those are indisputable facts.
But if you’re looking for some consolation – and why wouldn’t you be? – it’s this: For the first time this season, it looked like the Steelers at least had a pulse.
The difference in Sunday night’s 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears at Heinz Field was turnovers. The Steelers didn’t generate any (again) and they were sloppy with the ball, helping the opportunistic Bears to too many points.
It started well enough, with Felix Jones running for 11 yards on the first play. That was quite an accomplishment for a team that had managed only 75 rushing yards in its first two games.
Then Ben Roethlisberger found Heath Miller for a short gain, and the crowd got to chant, “Heeeeath” for the first time this season. Miller’s return to the lineup after knee surgery was the first of two-part adrenaline shot to help an offense that needs it. (Still waiting on running back Le’Veon Bell).
But things turned sour on the third play, when a blitz went unrecognized or unblocked, and Roethlisberger fumbled the ball. Who knew that would set a tone for the night?
When the Steelers were making legitimate noise about coming back at the end, there was another rush that wasn’t handled. That led to another Roethlisberger fumble, with this one turning into a game-sealing touchdown by Julius Peppers.
If Mike Adams didn’t have nightmares about Peppers last night, his subconscious doesn’t know much about football.
You want the good from this? Antonio Brown did a Mike Wallace imitation, consistently getting open and gaining 196 yards. He even made a spectacular one-handed catch on a touchdown pass.
Maybe that helps Roethlisberger develop some confidence that he has a receiver capable of getting open, catching the ball, and putting points on the board.
Miller didn’t do a whole lot, but that was to be expected. This was his first action since he was helped off the field last December with a wrecked knee. He warned during the week that he wouldn’t be in midseason form, and he wasn’t.
But he’ll get there, and that will help the offense.
Jonathan Dwyer, who played his way off the team in training camp, did a good job of picking up pass rushers and protecting Roethlisberger. If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound like much, you’re ignoring the woeful job Isaac Redman and now-sidelined LaRod Stephens-Howling have done with that basic task.
There’s this, too. Beleaguered special teams coach Danny Smith came up with a plan to neutralize Devin Hester, one of the most dangerous kick returners in the NFL.
This much has become clear: For all the noise about keeping Roethlisberger safe, this line isn’t capable of that responsibility. He’s going to be running for his life on too many plays. That could be what led to his two fumbles. You could argue he didn’t adequately protect the ball, but it’s also likely that constantly feeling the swarm approaching could divide a quarterback’s attention.
The defense got some pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler, but again failed to take the ball away. Until they do that, things will be difficult.
Ike Taylor did a solid job against Brandon Marshall, right until the time that Marshall gained a slight positional edge on Taylor’s tight coverage and grabbed a pass that covered 41 yards.
The bottom line on this game is the bottom line on the Steelers: They’re 0-3 and they’re headed across the ocean for a London game against an equally-mediocre Minnesota team.
The good news? That’s followed by an open week that offers a chance to regroup and get Bell on the field, followed by a game against the New York Jets.
At least there was a pulse there Sunday night. Can they translate that into a genuine heartbeat?
Mehno can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org