Last night’s humbling game was well, embarrassing. I am no fan of Thursday night football because I feel the lack of practice reps during the week makes for sloppy play on the field and sloppy play on the field could lead to more injuries and most obviously, a loss. While we are all reeling from the experience, we are lashing out at who we think are at fault. Well, who is at fault? Is it the players? They certainly made a lot of mistakes, from Ben Roethlisberger on down. Is it the oft-criticized Todd Haley? After all, the offense did put up just 6 points, the fewest the Steelers have had under Haley. Is it the venerable Dick LeBeau? After all, the defense allowed the Ravens to go up and down the field at their leisure, giving up over 150 yards of rushing in consecutive weeks. The defense also got zero hits on Joe Flacco, which has to be a first and a rock bottom moment for a terrible defense. Are the fans to blame? It seems perhaps some in the fanbase are delusional and unrealistic. Many thought that the Ravens dealing with the barrage of questions about the Ray Rice incident, would crumble under the national television spotlight. Instead, the Ravens looked like a team galvanized by a singular goal. The Steelers looked like a team dealing with a scandal.
The good news is the Steelers will play better, perhaps even in 2014. Thursday night football will give the team a few extra days to reflect on what happened and what needs to change. But perhaps what needs to change isn’t necessarily the coaching staff or philosophy. What needs to change is attitude with a slight mix of personnel. Perhaps our expectations need to change as well, especially on the defense. As for the offense, I will chalk last night’s game as an off-night that was exacerbated by three back-breaking turnovers (two of them inside the opposing 20) and a terribly inaccurate Ben Roethlisberger. Hey, it happens every once in a while. Now if it happens again and again, well, that is a discussion for another day.
For one, the defense must tackle better. In one article I saw this morning, there was something about the short passes killing the Steelers. These short passes have ALWAYS killed the Steelers as far as I could remember, but the difference was that the Steelers had great tacklers at linebacker and secondary positions. Now the team has a group of subpar tacklers, some of whom would rather go for the big hit than wrap up the ball carrier properly. Those short passes last night were a problem but during one particular drive, I saw Troy Polamalu make a stop on a short throw for a loss, then stops made by a few others for short gains. Newly extended Cortez Allen whiffs a lot, so does new free agent signee Mike Mitchell, but especially troubling is seeing Troy Polamalu whiff way too often as well. If the team tackles better, those 2nd and 1 or 2 becomes 2nd and 7 or 8, putting the onus back on the opposing offense. The team overall must tackle better period.
As for Coach Dick LeBeau, he has faced the ire of the fanbase for the last several seasons now. Many are calling him too old and the game has passed him by. Personally, I feel that the game has never passed by Coach LeBeau. The team just isn’t as good as some of us thought they were, especially on defense. We have to face facts. We don't have a lot of good players on defense anymore and they are all at various stages of their careers. The ones that used to be good are way past their prime (Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel), the ones that could be good are really young and inexperienced (Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, maybe Daniel McCullers, Shamarko Thomas, Sean Spence), the ones we think are good are not really that good (Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Steve McLendon), and there are others who just flat out aren’t good (Cam Thomas). It is too early to make a judgment on Mike Mitchell but the early reports are not encouraging. The best defensive player through two games thus far has been nickelback William Gay. That is never good at all.
I believe the defense will be better by the end of the season when Shazier and Mitchell learn enough of the defense to be in the right positions to make plays. But for the next few weeks, it is probably going to be real painful to watch, especially for those of us spoiled by witnessing past defenses that would constantly get pressure on the quarterback and force other offenses into careless mistakes. The defense will continue to be bad until the defensive line remains status quo. Perhaps it is time to make a move and bench Cam Thomas in favor of Stephon Tuitt. It does not matter if Tuitt is a rookie or not. He possibly can’t play worse than Thomas has. Thomas looks like the worst free agent signing since Todd Fordham.
Whatever happens, the time for patience has to end sometime. I would never put Mike Tomlin on the hot seat unless he goes 3-13 this year but right now, things look bleak. There is nothing more helpless that a terrible defense and personally I feel that is why the ire among the fanbase is even stronger now because most of us are experiencing something that we never really had to before, which is the Steelers having an atrocious defense. The team must make some changes fast. I know Coach Tomlin is capable and willing to make personnel changes. Let’s see if he will right the ship again before it is too late.