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Steelers News: Tight ends continue to hurt the Steelers defense, and Gronk is looming

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Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they are currently experiencing. The black-and-gold have dropped three straight games, after losing to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders in consecutive weeks. Now they turn their attention to another AFC opponent, the New England Patriots, in Week 15.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how the Pittsburgh defense continues to struggle with covering tight ends. As the fan base watched Jared Cook run all over the Steelers’ linebackers, safeties and cornerback...you have to wonder what Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have dialed up in Week 15.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers can’t find formula to stop Raiders tight ends in 24-21 loss

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Oakland Raiders exploited a weakness on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense Sunday afternoon by continually getting the ball into the hands of their tight ends.

Sound familiar?

The strategy came one week after the Los Angeles Chargers took advantage of a mismatch by getting wide receiver Keenan Allen continually open against Steelers linebackers. In that loss, the Steelers didn’t have safety Morgan Burnett available for sub-package situations, leaving linebackers to cover Allen, who had 14 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown.

Burnett returned Sunday, but again it was the linebackers who were continually challenged by Raiders tight end Jared Cook, who had seven receptions for 116 yards.

“(Cook) is their leading receiver. We knew that going into the game and whoever was on top of 87 was in the hot seat,” safety Sean Davis said. “We didn’t make enough plays.”

That was evident on the opening drive of the game when Cook got behind linebacker L.J. Fort for a 30-yard gain and linebacker Jon Bostic for a 19-yard catch.

Not to be outdone, backup tight ends Lee Smith and Derek Carrier had short touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter, with Carrier’s 6-yard TD catch on fourth down giving the Raiders a 24-21 lead with 21 seconds remaining. “They had three different tight ends and all had different personalities,” slot cornerback Mike Hilton said. “Eighty-seven is a downfield, athletic guy, 86 (Smith) is a mix and 85 (Carrier) is a blocking guy. They found a way to get them all involved.”

Reeling Steelers vow to ‘see what this team’s made of’

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

After one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ clumsiest performances in recent memory, coach Mike Tomlin exposed the team’s scars that he knows can’t be hidden any longer.

Tomlin rattled off all the areas where his team needs improvement -- every one but quarterback, basically. He promised the Steelers would “look at all aspects of what we’re doing” to redirect a three-game slide that’s jeopardizing a fifth straight playoff berth.

“I take responsibility for everything we do -- good, bad and indifferent,” Tomlin said from the podium after a 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Having a kicker who’s falling apart and a backfield of Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley struggling to average 2 yards a carry against the league’s worst rushing defense is a good place to start.

And Tomlin had his own issues Sunday, such as the surprising admission that he could have played Ben Roethlisberger, who was sitting out with a rib injury, a series or two earlier. Roethlisberger mysteriously missed 25 minutes of play, and that decided the game. The offense was unrecognizable without him. Tomlin also left the stadium with a timeout in his pocket despite the Raiders scoring with 21 seconds left.

Losing three straight raises questions across the locker room, and a brutal upcoming three-game stretch to close out the season raises even more.

At least Tomlin is prepared to bring an edge.

”Redemption Sunday is coming. We better be prepared for it,” Tomlin said.

Kevin Gorman: Steelers slip sends season into a slide

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

That the Pittsburgh Steelers stared into the Black Hole and slipped served as an ending that was perhaps the perfect metaphor for their season, one that is showing to be a sleight-of-hand.

After an unimaginable 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders, whose only previous victories came in overtime against the Cleveland Browns and on a last-second field goal at the Arizona Cardinals, it’s time for the Steelers to start living in their fears.

The season is sliding out from under them, just as Chris Boswell’s plant leg did on his 40-yard field-goal attempt with 5 seconds remaining that could have tied the score and forced overtime.

Not that it ever should have come to needing a fourth-quarter comeback, let alone a last-second field goal to beat the Raiders on Sunday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

“Tough outcome, but it’s nothing mystical,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s not something that happened to us. It’s something we created, and we take responsibility for that.”

That responsibility starts with team president Art Rooney II playing hardball by forcing the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell and not signing him to a long-term contract. It extends to general manager Kevin Colbert failing to address the loss of Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker and to Tomlin for relying too much upon players who aren’t getting the job done.

The Steelers need to take responsibility for this loss from top to bottom, especially after they took a 14-10 lead into halftime and deep into the fourth quarter only to allow touchdown drives of 73 and 75 yards in the final 5:20. But it wasn’t just the Steelers defense that disappointed.

Tomlin’s admission that Ben Roethlisberger “probably could have come in a series or so sooner, but we were in the rhythm and flow of the game” after returning from a rib injury was nothing short of negligent.

Josh Dobbs started in the second half, and the Steelers sandwiched a pair of punts around a turnover on downs and an interception. The Steelers showed about as much rhythm as someone doing the robot dance.

The Steelers continue to rely on Roethlisberger to rescue them, believing that they can win with offense even when the defense doesn’t deliver. Big Ben led another storybook comeback, returning to complete 6 of 6 passes for 70 yards and throw the go-ahead touchdown for a 21-17 lead.

But the Raiders responded with a 75-yard scoring drive of their own, punctuated by a fourth-and-goal play at the 6 with 25 seconds remaining. Derek Carr threw a touchdown pass to tight end Derek Carrier for a three-point lead with 21 seconds left.

“As a defense, those are the moments you live for, when it’s all on your shoulders and you want to get the stop,” Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “We’re just not getting it. This has happened multiple times, and we’re not coming up in clutch moments.

“Man, we’ve got to get a stop. You have to collect that as a defense. You’ve got to think, ‘If we get a stop, we end the game.’ Our quarterback just gave us the lead, and we’re not getting it. Simple as that. We’re not holding up our end of the deal.”