When a defense set to tackle the catch and prevent big plays ceases to tackle the catch and gives up multiple big plays, there's a problem.
That roughly sums up the Steelers' defense against Minnesota, and to a point, against Chicago the previous week. While the Steelers only really gave up two big passing plays - a touchdown in the corner of the end zone to Earl Bennett and a 41-yard gain to Brandon Marshall, the Bears used those seven points to drive the dagger nearly to the fatal point. A Ben Roethlisberger fumble on the ensuing drive flatlined them.
Against the Vikings, big plays came a plenty. A 70-yard waddle-after-catch from Greg Jennings, as Cortez Allen gave a slow chase through the thick grass of Wembley Stadium. A 60-yard run by Adrian Peterson, who was not slowed by the grass and appeared to be coated in some form of grease, judging by the amount of Steelers bodies and hands that slid off him en route to his first of two touchdowns on the game.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark was either a participant in those plays, or curiously absent from the camera frame. He recognized the poor start, but doesn't think all hope is lost.
"Are we a bad football team?" safety Ryan Clark asked after the game, as qoted by Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac. "I don't think so. Our record indicates that, and we have to own up to it."
He told Steel City Insider's Jim Wexell the Steelers aren't that far off, either.
"I think as long as we still have that feeling as a team, that we feel we can overcome most things to win, things will start changing."
To some degree, Clark may be correct. If you take away the fact the Steelers - as a team - gave up 40 and 34 points in their last two games (Chicago's defense scored twice and had 17 points off five Steelers turnovers), and have yet to notch a takeaway in four games, perhaps they're not a bad team.
Pride plays a big part, and that's a good thing. Not to ridicule quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who recently said "you could say we're the worst team in the league," but perhaps Clark's message stands in contrast just in the sense of perspective.
Clark is saying the Steelers should be better. Roethlisberger is saying they aren't. Both could be right to varying extents, but as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is saying - and both Clark and Roethlisberger appear to be re-stating - if players on this team don't start believing they are better than this, they won't be on the team.
Except, to whom do the Steelers turn? While the return of Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers rookie running back who appeared to be as good as advertised Sunday with 84 total yards on 20 touches with two touchdowns, will definitely be a boost, the only other player the Steelers don't have who will play yet this season is tight end Matt Spaeth.
And TE David Johnson has been perhaps the team's biggest surprise thus far. Johnson and Heath Miller coming back off significant knee injuries suffered in 2012 helped save an offense that managed just 17 points on their own in the team's first two games.
It's not everything, obviously, and the offense isn't nearly as much the problem right now as the defense is. And there is no replacement for Vince Williams - a rookie who was abused by the Vikings' power run game in Week 4. Unless you consider Kion Wilson to be an adequate replacement.
Maybe Clark is right; this team is better than their record says they are. Maybe Roethlisberger is right; they're the worst team in the league (all rhetorical emphasis added). The Steelers have a week to rest up and see if those messages will only speak for the first quarter of the season, and not the rest of it.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers Postgame News, Updates and Analysis
- Report: Foster initially suffered chest injury in Week 3
- Ben: 'You could say we are the worst team in the league'
- Steelers defense just may lack talent
- It's time for the Steelers to make a change at left tackle
- Antonio Brown among statistical leaders
- Johnson, Heyward score highest grades
- Four things we learned in another Steelers loss
- Lost in the loss was an impressive debut for Le'Veon Bell
- Postgame injury report: Foster left with chest injury
- Twitter reaction to 0-4 start
- Steelers vs. Vikings final score: Minnesota paced by five sacks in 34-27 win over Pittsburgh
- Winners and Losers in Steelers loss to Vikings