clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Steelers News: How this team responds will be the true test

New, comments

The Pittsburgh Steelers were laughed out of Heinz Field in Week 5, but how they respond might be more important than any X’s and O’s.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

When you lose a game like the one the Pittsburgh Steelers lost in Week 5 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, there’s only so much you can do after the fact. As Mike Tomlin says, you will “chew on it” for a while, but then you’ve got to move on.

The fact of the situation is, although things seem dire right now, the Steelers still have 11 games left on the schedule. No, the season isn’t over after Ben Roethlisberger’s 5 interception day.

One thing any fan of the Black-and-gold should know by now is that Roethlisberger is just as capable of five touchdowns as he is five interceptions on any given day. That hasn’t changed throughout his 14 years in the NFL, and it won’t be changing anytime soon. But this isn’t all about Roethlisberger. The entire team will have to step up their game in Week 6 when they travel to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Kansas City Chiefs.

Time to check out the news on the Steelers outside the walls of BTSC:

The challenge for the Steelers this week will be in how they handle the 30-9 loss Sunday to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Will they brush it aside and move quickly ahead to next weekend's road game at AFC top-seed Kansas City? Or will they dwell on the defeat and let it detract from their preparation?

"We get in the lab (Monday). We get back to work, and we work on our response," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're going to be defined individually, collectively on how we respond to an outing like that. I've been there in it long enough to have that understanding. I think many of the team have. That was relayed to them. We chew it today. We get in the lab tomorrow."

To wide receiver Antonio Brown, that means more action, less talk.

"It's not about what we say," Brown said after collecting 10 catches for 157 yards. "It's about what we do. Today was less than ideal. We weren't the better team. Tomorrow lies another opportunity to be better and to get prepared for next week. It's not about our preparation. It's about us going out and executing."

At a similar crossroads last season, the Steelers lost four in a row after starting with a 4-1 record. This year, they won three of their first four games.

"We always respond well," defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. "I'm not going to worry about our responding. But at the end of the day, we can't keep doing this. We can't keep talking about responding every time we lose. We have too many good players to be saying that."

The game will be a rematch from last year's AFC playoff divisional round. The Steelers won 18-16 at Arrowhead Stadium.

It had been more than 30 minutes after the game, and closer to 40 minutes had passed since Leonard Fournette's final carry of Sunday's game.

“He's probably still running somewhere,” Mike Mitchell said.

A cheap wisecrack — but the Steelers safety's look remained stern. He wasn't laughing.

No one in the Steelers' locker room was laughing after the 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars — especially not those most responsible for the run defense after the Jaguars gashed the Steelers for 231 rushing yards.

The Steelers haven’t allowed a team to rush for more yards than that in 264 games: On Nov. 19, 2000 — also against Jacksonville — the Steelers gave up 240 yards (they also allowed 231 to Cleveland in the 2016 season finale on New Year's Day in a meaningless game in which many starters didn’t play).

“It's unacceptable,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said.

Especially for a team that prides itself on not letting teams run against it. The most recent time the Steelers made the Super Bowl, for example, they had two separate four-game stretches in which opponents did not combine for 231 rushing yards.

That was just seven years ago — but it must seem much longer than that. Sunday marked the second time in a 3-game span a Steelers’ opponent had 220 or more rushing yards.

“You definitely don't want to allow somebody to run for that many yards, have those type of runs and just be able to run the ball down your throat,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said.

“But I know one thing: We are gonna make sure we get this taken care of.”

Strong words. Surely sincere, too. And repeated across the Steelers locker room.

One problem, though. They spent most of the past two weeks echoing similar sentiments after the Chicago Bears had 222 rushing yards while beating the Steelers on Sept. 24 and then the Baltimore Ravens had two long runs of more than 20 yards, albeit in defeat, last week.

Mitchell said the defense was challenged to emphasize being, above all, a run-stopping unit this week.

“We did not meet that challenge,” Mitchell said.

Although the rushing total is demoralizing on its own, some could point out the final 90 came on the final Jacksonville snap of the game when Leonard Fournette burst through a line that was gambling to make a big play and sprinted to the end zone.

To that point, Fournette had averaged 3.4 yards on his 27 carries — an acceptable number for a defense. Fournette did not have a carry that netted more than 13 yards until that point. Most defenses would take that, too.

But what made Fournette's total unsettling was that it was done without any sort of trickery. The Steelers talked all week about how the Jaguars were a run-first team. And once they built a lead in the second half, that was even more so. Jacksonville attempted one pass the entire second half. But it managed 172 rushing yards (and netted just 82 passing yards for the game) anyway.

His post-game comments seemed more sarcastic than serious, but Sunday’s five-pick performance from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, combined with his sub-par play through five games, invites one specific question regarding the current state of his career: If he wouldn’t have owed the Steelers $18.6 million in previously-paid bonus money, would he have retired after the 2016 season?

Of course, Roethlisberger also would have given up $12 million in salary for 2017. But it’s one thing to not earn money you don’t have; it’s quite another to surrender cash that’s already in the coffers. (Anyone who pays quarterly taxes can relate to that remark.)

If it’s a fair question, it’s a question that won’t be going away. If Roethlisberger retires after 2017, he’ll owe $12.4 million. If he retires after 2018, he’ll owe $6.2 million. That’s one of the basic realities of signing a five-year deal with a $31 million signing bonus. It’s not free money. It’s advance pay based on five years of service. If the guy retires before playing the full five years, the team can demand repayment.

The question becomes whether the Steelers would want the money back. On one hand, why wouldn’t they? It wasn’t earned. On the other hand, well, why wouldn’t they? It wasn’t earned.