Mehno: Steelers have a lot of problems

PITTSBURGH – You turn the page on the preseason, of course.

Doesn’t matter. They’re exhibition games, designed with a dual purpose – let coaches evaluate players in scrimmage situations, and separate ticket buyers from more of their cash.

So what did it really mean when the Pittsburgh Steelers lost all four of their preseason games?

Turns out it may have been an accurate view of a team that has some problems.

The Steelers lost their opener 16-9 to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field on Sunday. Don’t let that score fool you because it really wasn’t that close.

The Steelers finally broke the plane of the goal line with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter, the first time the operator had to fiddle with that side of the scoreboard since the game (and the season) was three seconds old and the Titans gifted the Steelers two points by making a boneheaded play on the opening kickoff.

The sun was shining, but it was a miserable day on the North Side. The Steelers couldn’t run the ball (32 yards on 15 carries), they couldn’t protect Ben Roethlisberger (five sacks for a loss of 28 yards), and they couldn’t stay on the field (4-for-13 on third down), all of which left coach Mike Tomlin biting off his words the way he does when he’s really mad but doesn’t think he’s showing it.

“Unacceptable performance,” was one of the first things he said.

He got into some of the specifics after that, but “unacceptable performance” was really a pretty accurate way to sum up the day.

The odd thing about it was it seemed as though the Titans were setting themselves up for disaster by making a huge mistake with the opening kickoff.

You’ve heard about how the kickoff return is all but out of the game? Not this time. Shaun Suisham, who was dealing with a bad hamstring, booted a very returnable kick to the goal line.

Perhaps this surprised the Titans’ Darius Reynaud, who didn’t know whether to run the kick out or simply take a knee. So he decided to do both.

Bad move. He’d already left the end zone, the so retreat and kneel down cost the Titans a safety. The Steelers not only had two points, they got possession of the ball on a free kick.

But that was pretty much the end of things going the Steelers’ way.

In short order, center Maurkice Pouncey, the anchor of a shaky offensive line, was leaving the field on a cart, his right knee wrecked. It was 1:18 p.m. when he disappeared into the tunnel, probably not to be seen again until the 2014 opener.

Later, Larry Foote, the team’s senior linebacker, ruptured a biceps muscle. Perhaps he can room with Pouncey at the hospital, since Tomlin said both are headed for surgery.

Tomlin is famous for his “the standard is the standard” stance, which means that injuries just create an opportunity for someone else.

But the reality is the Steelers don’t have players as good as Pouncey and Foote to fill those positions, and they know it.

The starters are the starters because they’re better than the backups.

The injuries just added to the insult of an overall poor performance that allowed an inferior team to come in and win a game.

But here’s the nagging question: Are the Titans really that inferior?

We’ll have the answer shortly before New Year’s Eve, when the regular season comes to an end.

But on this sunny day in September, the Steelers were clearly the lesser of the two teams on the Heinz Field turf.

Mehno can be reached at