It’s been less than two hours since the Steelers dropped a tough game to the Minnesota Vikings in London, and it will be at least two more weeks before they can try to get their first win in 2013.
It’s gotten so bad in the ‘Burgh that I can’t even find the joy in the Baltimore ravens’ loss to the Buffalo Bills. I’m happy the ravens lost, but I simply can’t enjoy it because of how bad this season is going for the Steelers.
It’s been 45 years since a Steelers team started a season 0-4. In 1968, the Steelers went 0-6 before finally winning the only two games they would win in weeks seven and eight.
To be fair, the next year, 1969, was actually worse when the Steelers won in week one, and never won again, finishing 1-13, but this is an historically bad start for a team that has grown used to winning over the last 45 years.
And, it’s not even that they are losing. It’s how they are losing. The Steelers are the only team in the NFL not to produce a single turnover this year. If I had told you on Aug. 15 that the Steelers would not create one interception or recover a fumble in four games, you would have first called the men in the white coats, but then you would have told me, “Yeah, I bet they lose those games.”
The genesis of this disturbing, dubious statistic can be traced back to 2012, when the Steelers were tied for 25th in the league in takeaways per game.
This is a team that has always thrived on the defense getting the ball from the other team, giving the offense short fields to work on. Those plays simply aren’t there and haven’t been in a while.
Add to that the almost inexplicable number of times the offense is giving the ball away, and you have the makings for an early pick in the 2014 draft. It says a lot about this team and their ability to take care of the ball that the two turnovers they committed against the Vikings is actually an improvement over their season average of 3.0/game.
Too many mistakes
During the game against Minnesota, I saw some of the worst tackling by a Steelers team that I can recall. I have to give credit where it is due. RB Adrian Peterson of the Vikings is an incredible back. It is impossible to arm-tackle him. The Steelers seemed to have never watched any film of Peterson, though, because they kept taking bad angles at him, and trying to get him down using only their arms. On his 60-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, he ran through at least three would-be tacklers.
Before that happened, however, WR Greg Jennings foreshadowed how it might be a long day for the Black and Gold when he turned a 7-yard out route into a 70-yard touchdown, breaking tackles along the way.
There were gashing runs by Peterson, and receivers carrying Steelers defenders down the field. If you didn’t know better, you might have thought the laws of gravity had been suspended for the Vikings.
And then there was the play of the offensive line, which was – to coin a phrase – truly offensive. QB Ben Roethlisberger was under duress for a majority of the game and added to his sack total with five more today. That makes 15 on the season, which means Ben is now on pace to be sacked 60 times. For a quarterback who had already spent too much time in his career getting up from the turf, this is the last thing he needs.
This line is porous, and that is putting it gently. They seem incapable of keeping defenders off Ben, and there were too many times when rookie RB Le’Veon Bell was having to dodge defenders from the moment he touched the ball.
The most critical error of this loss, however, was the fumble at the end by Big Ben. I always like to say that no one play wins or loses a game, but this is as close as it might come. With a tying score mere yards away, Ben was hit and coughed up the ball, cementing the win for the Vikings.
They might have still lost the game in overtime, but a touchdown there would have given the Steelers and their faithful a lot of hope heading into the overtime session and the bye week.
There are precious few silver linings to the dark clouds hanging over the Steel City, but the play of three men does bear mentioning. Bell made his professional debut after missing the first three weeks with an injury, and he looked good.
No one is confusing Bell with the second coming of Walter Payton, but he did seem to find a way to make something out of nothing several times against the Vikings, and he found the end zone twice. He also caught four balls for 27 yards.
WR Antonio Brown is starting to play like a number one receiver, making the tough catches to keep drives alive and picking up yards when the Steelers most need them.
And TE Heath Miller seems to be back to his old self, finding holes in the defense and giving Big Ben a much needed security blanket.
An honorable mention should go to WR Jericho Cotchery for picking up 103 yards and a touchdown on five receptions today.
Aside from those guys, and a couple very good throws by Ben into tight windows, the only other positive is that the Steelers cannot lose next week.
Call it what it is
It’s time to say what we are all thinking: This team is not a winner. They lack the talent on both sides of the ball, most of it lost to free agency or injuries, to be really competitive.
With the rest of the division at 2-2, the Steelers would have to create more history to find their way into the playoffs, and frankly, I just don’t think they have it in them.
I’d never suggest they throw the rest of the season to get a higher draft pick, but I would be willing to bet someone out there is thinking it.
The simple fact is that this is going to be a very long season for the Citizens of the One and Only Sports Nation, the kind of season the Steelers suffered for more than 40 years from their inception until they learned how to win.
And that, my friends, is not history we want to repeat.