Tuesday, November 20, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Either Sunday was just one of those days for the Steelers, or they're in big trouble.
"Over the course of 16 games, you're bound to have one bad game," is how Hines Ward put it.
Yet it's one thing to lose in Arizona or Denver by one score, or to escape a scare at home to Cleveland. It's something else to get outhit, outrun, outsacked, outfooled and ultimately outscored by one of the NFL's losingest teams as they did on Sunday at Giants Stadium.
Monday had to be a big, bad News day for coach Mike Tomlin, who likes to present the facts to his players after watching video of their game the previous day. That video should be popular viewing also for their upcoming opponents because not only were the Jets the first team to run substantially on the Steelers in two years, they halted the NFL's No. 2 run offense and harassed the NFL's second-leading passer.
"You win together, you stink it up together," was how Tomlin put it Sunday.
No team has stunk it up more than the winless Miami Dolphins this season but when they play the Steelers Monday night in Heinz Field, they might have a glimmer of hope.
Ricky Williams, who led the NFL in rushing in 2002, could play in the NFL for the first time in two years Monday night after commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated him. Williams certainly has fresh legs -- he has not played in the NFL since 2005 and his brief turn in the Canadian League ended with a fractured forearm in 2006.
If Thomas Jones of the Jets was capable of rushing for 117 yards and thus becoming the first back to top 100 against the Steelers in 35 games, Williams at least has the resume to do so.
A few of Jones' runs came when the Steelers had their passing defenses on the field, but most of his yards were the old-fashioned way against their No. 1 rush defense.
"If we're going to be in dime and stuff, I'm sure teams are going to see this," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "So I'm sure we'll see it again. Teams know how to copy in this league. I'm sure we'll see many more runs now."
Their streak of not allowing a 100-yard runner in 34 consecutive games was a badge of honor for the Steelers' defense, although still short of Baltimore's 50-game streak from 1998-2001. The Philadelphia Eagles' streak of 53 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher from 1989-1992 is the longest since the NFL merger in 1970.
Only one runner gained 100 yards against the Steelers (Edgerrin James in 2005) in their previous 59 games before Jones broke through Sunday.
"I'm disappointed that got broke but we need to forget about it and move on," Keisel said. "It was something we prided ourselves on up front -- not just up front but the whole team. We consider ourselves a team defense where we have 11 guys coming to the ball, wherever the ball is."
Often on Sunday, it was racing past them in the form of Jones, bursting through arm tackles.
"I know a lot of guys -- speaking for myself -- missed tackles that allowed him to get extra yards that we're not used to allowing running backs to get," cornerback Deshea Townsend said.
And even Joey Porter might be licking his chops after watching the Jets sack Ben Roethlisberger seven times Sunday. He has been sacked 30 times this season, on pace for 48 sacks or even more than last season's head-popping 46 -- the most of a Steelers quarterback since Cliff Stoudt was sacked 52 times in 1983.
"Sacks always sit on our shoulders as offensive linemen but there are a lot of things that go into sacks," guard Alan Faneca said. "It's not all of us, but some of it is us. We'll carry that burden.
"No matter what, you look at it and we probably should have given him more time."
Roethlisberger, though, attributed some to "coverage sacks," which is a nice way to say there were no open receivers.
As Tomlin said, they could not run, could not protect the quarterback and could not stop the run. If it goes deeper than being just one of those days for his Steelers, there will be more of them.