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Steelers lose to Patriots, need better backup plan at quarterback

The Steelers have had a hard enough time beating Tom Brady and the Patriots with Ben Roethlisberger.

So with Roethlisberger sidelined Sunday, the Patriots’ 27-16 win at Heinz Field isn’t exactly a jaw dropper.

Landry Jones did his best. So maybe, as Stuart Smalley would say, the Steelers’ latest loss to the Patriots is “OK.”

After all, how should a team be expected to win without its starting quarter …

Wait a minute.

The Patriots started the season 3-1 with Brady serving his Deflategate suspension. The Steelers are 2-3 in their last five full games without Roethlisberger going back to last season. Sunday’s loss was their second straight.

If the Patriots can keep their season on track without their starting quarterback, why can’t the Steelers?

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Dolphins 30, Steelers 15: Steelers full report card

Where have we seen this before?

Once again the Steelers laid a big egg against an NFL weakling, falling to the Dolphins 30-15 Sunday.

Unless the Dolphins (2-4) really are as good as the Steelers made them look Sunday, this will be the fifth straight year the Steelers (4-2) have lost to a team that finishes 5-11 or worse.

This time, there’s an extra layer of concern because assuming this loss does fall into that category, it’s the first such loss that has come by more than seven points. This didn’t come down to an unlucky bounce. The Steelers were beaten soundly.

The good news is the Steelers don’t face a bad team next week. They host the Patriots. The bad news is they won’t have Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee and was scheduled to have surgery Monday morning.

The Steelers have a bye in Week 8 and go to Baltimore in Week 9. Roethlisberger could miss just one game since Pro Football Talk is reporting that his surgery will only be a “cleanup” procedure. Just when the Steelers were starting to look like one of the best teams in the AFC, their season hinges not only on Roethlisberger’s knee but finding a way to handle teams they’re supposed to beat.

QUARTERBACK

Ben Roethlisberger has been a different quarterback on the road since 2014. He’s thrown 51 touchdown passes at home since then and only 18 on the road.

He went 59 minutes without throwing one Sunday before feeding Cobi Hamilton for his career touchdown. It turned out to be too little, too late.

Roethlisberger completed 19 of 34 passes for 189 yards, just 5.6 yards per attempt. He temporarily left the game with the knee injury, and CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots said that it affected his accuracy after he returned. But his two interceptions were more about poor decision making. He threw both into double coverage.

Landry Jones failed to complete his only pass when he subbed for Roethlisberger.

Grade: D

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Five takeaways from Steelers’ 31-13 win over Jets

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers worrying about the Jets in Week 17 this year.

The Steelers delivered another blow to the staggering Jets Sunday, beating them 31-13 at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes and he’s thrown nine in the last two games without an interception.

The Jets could have made the playoffs last year, but instead let the Steelers in when they lost at Buffalo in Week 17. If the Steelers (4-1) keep playing the way they did Sunday, they won’t be doing any scoreboard watching on the last day of the regular season.

The Jets aren’t a bad team

This might sound like an observation more fit for a preview of the game, but part of the reason the Jets are 1-4 is their brutal schedule. They split their first two games, losing at home to the Bengals and winning at Buffalo. Then they lost at Kansas City, at home to Seattle and Sunday in Pittsburgh.

When the Steelers fell behind 13-7 in the second quarter Sunday and struggled to pull away early in the second half, there were grumblings on social media that they were in danger of losing to an inferior opponent like they’ve done a few times in recent seasons. Every year since 2012, they’ve lost at least once to a team with a 5-11 record or worse. The 2016 Jets might fall short of the playoffs, but they’re better than the 2015 Ravens and the 2014 Buccaneers.

The point is that the Steelers revealed some character in this win. Not everything went their way early in the game like it did last week against Kansas City, but they still won comfortably the way good teams do.

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Breaking Down The Steelers Season Through Four Weeks

Four games into the season and the Pittsburgh Steelers sit near the top of nearly everyone’s power rankings. The Steelers have scored the 6th most points in the league, trailing the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers with 108 points scored. With a 3-1 record, the Steelers are tied with the their rival Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North lead. The AFC is loaded, with one 4-0 team in the Denver Broncos and five 3-1 teams in the New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Ravens, and Steelers.

In their first primetime game of the season, the Steelers’ offense showed how potent it could really be. After serving a three-game suspension, Le’Veon Bell came back without any sign of rust, totaling 178 yards on a very good Chiefs defense, with 144 on the ground and 34 through the air. Ben Roethlisberger put the 34-3 Eagles loss behind him real quick, throwing for 300 yards and five touchdowns as he shredded the Chiefs in a 43-14 victory.

Mike Tomlin has to be happy with his offense so far. DeAngelo Williams was terrific filling in for Bell, rushing for 258 yards in three games as the Steelers’ primary running back. Williams’ mindset does not change, no matter how many snaps he gets. Williams has said, “There is no mindset change. I go in and work my ass off to be productive always. I was working just like I would be if I was the starting tailback, so nothing changed for me. When my number is called, nobody cares if I am a starter or not. You have to understand that in this league, we are all one play removed from being the starter or being the backup in any game.”

This is DeAngelo Williams’ 11th season in the league, and at 33-years old, he is defying the odds by producing this late in his career as a running back. Williams is able to produce in one of the best offenses in the league. Ben Roethlisberger is tied with Matt Ryan with 11 touchdown passes and now gets the luxury of throwing against the shaky New York Jets’ secondary.

Antonio Brown is once again proving he is one of the best receivers in the game. His numbers rank high amongst the league: he is tied for first with four touchdowns, his 45 targets are second behind Mike Evans, his 28 receptions are good for third, and his 369 receiving yards rank sixth. With the way Big Ben is slinging the ball, Antonio Brown is well on his way to another Pro Bowl season.

Mike Tomlin’s defense is playing better than their numbers indicate. They may rank 27th in total defense with 1,579 yards allowed, but they are helping support the Steelers’ point differential of +28. They have only allowed 313 rushing yards in four games, second fewest for teams that have been played four games. The Steelers need to vastly improve their pass-rush, as their five sacks ties for second to last in the league.

You can’t just discount the 34-3 trashing the Eagles handed to the Steelers, but other than that game, the Steelers have outscored their opponents 105-46. The next four opponents will be against AFC opponents, starting with the Jets at home, then visiting the Dolphins, followed by the Patriots at home in what could be a AFC Championship preview, and then their first matchup with the Ravens in Baltimore.

Every Steelers fan has to be very happy with the way the Steelers are playing. If everyone stays healthy on offense, they have shown they have the potential to be the best offense in the NFL.

 

Eagles give Steelers a beating for the ages

It would be cute to say that the Steelers suffered their first crack of the 2016 season in the home of the Liberty Bell.

But the Eagles inflicted a hell of a lot more than a crack in their 34-3 win Sunday. So many young, innocent Steelers fans have never seen their team beaten so badly in their lifetime.

It’s fitting that in a city so rich with history the Steelers suffered a such a historic defeat.

Grizzled Steelers fans aren’t surprised that the Steelers (2-1) took their first loss at Philadelphia. They’re 0-9 there since 1965. Hey, Super Bowl-winning Steelers teams have had their unbeaten records spoiled visiting the Eagles, but not like this.

The 1979 Steelers were 4-0 and lost 17-14 at Veterans Stadium. The 2008 Steelers were 2-0 and fell 15-6 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Those were tolerable, hard-fought losses. The stink from Sunday’s loss, however, won’t go away any time soon.

The Steelers were supposed to average 30 points a game this season, not lose by 30.

In the first two weeks of the season, the Steelers averaged 31 points. On Sunday, they lost by 31.

In the first two weeks of the season, the Steelers mirrored the 2010 team, the last one to make the Super Bowl. They beat the Redskins by their widest road margin since 2010 and started 2-0 for the first time since that season.

On Sunday, the “first time since” nuggets drew some dubious historic parallels.

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Six takeaways from Steelers’ 24-16 win over Bengals

The Steelers defeated the Bengals 24-16 Sunday on a relatively peaceful, if rainy, afternoon at Heinz Field.

With Vontaze Burfict far outside Pittsburgh’s city limits, a shouting match between Antonio Brown and Karlos Dansby was about as heated as Sunday’s game would get.

It was so civil, in fact, that one of the teams could have called a radio station and dedicated “See You in September” to the other.

Even though these AFC North rivals play each other twice a year, this was just their fifth September meeting since 1993. The Steelers broke a streak of three straight September losses to the Bengals.

That quirky piece of historic data has little bearing on the fate of the 2016 Steelers, but among the takeaways from Sunday’s game is another parallel that just might be a sign of good things to come.

The Steelers are 2-0 for the first time since 2010

It’s going to feel weird not agonizing over a must-win game in September.

In four of the last five seasons, the Steelers entered Week 3 at 1-1 and needing a win to get over .500. In 2013, after a Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, they were desperately trying to climb out of an 0-2 hole.

This year, however, the Steelers checked off another box on the “Not Since 2010″ list by improving to 2-0. Last week, they turned in their largest margin of victory on the road since 2010. Now, they’re the first Steelers team to start a season 2-0 since the last Steelers team to reach the Super Bowl. The last Steelers team to win a Super Bowl, the 2008 squad, also started 2-0 but lost in Week 3 at Philadelphia.

Guess where the Steelers are going next week.

The Steelers haven’t won at Philadelphia in eight tries since 1965. In their most recent attempt, they lost 15-6 in 2008. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times that day. That’s not likely to happen Sunday, which brings us to our next takeaway.

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Steelers rout Redskins, provide reason to believe Super Bowl hype

There are so many interesting ways to slice and dice the Steelers’ season-opening 38-16 win over the Redskins Monday night in Washington.

It was the Steelers’ sixth straight win over the Redskins. The last time the Redskins beat the Steelers was 1991, the year of their last championship.

It was the first time the Steelers won a prime time opener on the road since beating the Browns 43-0 in 1999. They had been 0-3 in such games since then.

It was just the Steelers’ second Week 1 victory in the last six years, and the first time they started the season with a convincing win since beating the visiting Texans 38-17 in 2008.

That was the year of the Steelers’ last championship. Of course it’s way too early to reserve rooms in Houston for Super Bowl LI, but so far there’s little reason to dispute the prognosticators who are picking the Steelers to get that far.

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Predictions (and quirky facts) for each 2016 Steelers game

It’s been almost eight months since Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble cost the Steelers a chance to go to New England for the AFC championship game.

After his team came within three minutes of beating the eventual Super Bowl champs without Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and full use of Ben Roethlisberger’s right arm, Mike Tomlin was upbeat. In the immediate aftermath of that excruciating 23-16 playoff loss at Denver, Tomlin was looking forward to scouting and preparing for the draft.

It’s been an offseason full of optimism for the Steelers, and now the countdown to the season can be measured in hours rather than months, weeks and days. So let’s predict the outcome of each game on the Steelers’ 2016 schedule (with a few “Did You Know”s sprinkled in) as well as playoff games if they get there.

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Steelers’ odds for each playoff seed in 2016

With no more preseason games standing between them and the real games, the Steelers can put behind them a summer of buzzkill developments that has somewhat quieted the Super Bowl buzz that surrounded them.

First Martavis Bryant was suspended for the year. Then Ladarius Green, the Steelers’ biggest free-agent signing, was nothing more than a model for the Steelers bucket hat in training camp and will start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Then Le’Veon Bell was suspended for the first three games.

According to ESPN.com, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Steelers at 10-1 odds to win Super Bowl LI as of Aug. 29. They opened at 8-1 after coming within three minutes of beating the eventual Super Bowl winners last year without Antonio Brown, Bell, DeAngelo Williams and a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger.

Before we start talking about the Stairway to Seven, however, the Steelers have to earn one of the six AFC playoff spots. Let’s put odds on each seed, from the least likely to the most likely.

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Steelers need strong rookie seasons from Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave

The Steelers confirmed in Friday night’s 27-14 preseason win at New Orleans that their offense is primed for the 2016 season.

The defense still could use a little work, but the good news is that the Steelers could be getting their biggest rookie contribution on that side of the ball in 15 years.

Third-round pick Javon Hargrave had a sack and a batted pass against the Saints and appears to be ahead of Daniel McCullers, who didn’t play, in the competition to start at nose tackle. The massive McCullers, who has shown little in two seasons, doesn’t have Hargraves’ playmaking ability.

Second-rounder Sean Davis was beaten for a touchdown Friday but still made an impression. Although safety is his natural position, he’s also been working at nickel cornerback. He’ll be needed there because the depth chart looks scary behind starters William Gay and Ross Cockrell.

Donald Washington, a 30-year-old who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2012, heads a motley crew of backup cornerbacks that also includes Montell Garner, Kevin White and Al-Hajj Shabazz.

Right now, Senquez Golson looks like a wasted draft pick. Last year’s second-round pick, Golson missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury and could miss his sophomore season with a foot injury. Artie Burns, this year’s first-round pick, has missed practice time because of a quadriceps injury and still hasn’t played in a preseason game.

The Steelers are so desperate that they took at look at Keenan Lewis, who played for them from 2009 to 2012 before signing with New Orleans. But the 30-year-old’s hip is so bad they decided he can’t help improve the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense.

That secondary could get worse if Davis doesn’t help out right away. His ability to learn two positions as a rookie is a feather in his cap. The Steelers need Davis to make some big hits, create turnovers and in their wildest dreams maybe even cover a tight end.

Hargrave’s job is to help the Steelers move on from Steve McLendon, who signed with the Jets as a free agent.

If Davis and Hargrave check all those boxes, they would combine to form the Steelers’ best defensive rookie class since 2001.

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