Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin began his weekly press conference on Tuesday by echoing a sentiment that has already been made strikingly clear in wake of Pittsburgh's 34-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We got our butts kicked," Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday. "Usually when the game unfolds in the manner in which it did, that is the case."
In addition to handing Pittsburgh its worst loss since 1989, the Eagles bested Pittsburgh in almost every statistical category. Defensively, Philadelphia sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times, forced a pair of turnovers and held Pittsburgh's offense - which entered Week 3 as one of the NFL's top 10 units in scoring and years per game - to just 251 total yards, the Steelers' lowest total output since Week 1 of the 2013 season.
Pittsburgh's defense, inversely, struggled to contain rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and ageless wonder Darren Sproles, who combined for a 73-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that all but decimated any chance of a second-half comeback by the Steelers. Philadelphia's ground attack, meanwhile, was just as prolific, as the unheralded backfield duo of Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood combined for 121 rushing yards on 25 carries and a pair of touchdowns. The Steelers, who entered Sunday's game with the league's fifth-best run defense, had surrendered 100 or more rushing yards just twice in their previous seven regular season games.
In fact, the Steelers struggled mightily in virtually all short-yardage scenarios, as the vast majority of Wentz's passing yards resulted from plays in which his receivers gained yards after the catch. Without Sproles' touchdown, Wentz averaged just over 10 yards per completion in Doug Pederson's newly-implemented screen-heavy offensive attack.
"I thought our tackling was poor," Tomlin said. "It needs to be better. There are more elements to tackling than just the functional (physical) element of it."
Tackling, particularly on screen plays, continues to be an issue for Pittsburgh, which is especially troubling given the Steelers' proclivity for speed on defense. In Week 2, it was missed tackling on a late Andy Dalton dump-off screen to Giovani Bernard that allowed the Bengals to nearly spark a comeback.
Positioning also appears to be a major problem for Pittsburgh, as numerous defenders, including high-profile starters such as William Gay, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, have simply been out of position when it comes to making requisite tackles. This was plainly evident on Sproles' aforementioned scamper, as the veteran running back first evaded Shazier before zigzagging his way past an utterly bewildered Sean Davis on his way into the end zone.
"Those are coachable moments," Tomlin said in reference to the missed tackles and poor positioning on Sprole' touchdown. "Hopefully those things don't occur again."
On to Kansas City
With one of the worse drubbings in franchise history in their rearview, the Steelers will look forward to hosting the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. Kansas City, who joined Pittsburgh in the 2015 AFC playoffs as a wild card team, is coming off a blowout victory over the Jets in which they intercepted six Ryan Fitzpatrick passes.
Second-year dynamo Marcus Peters, a player who many fans and talent evaluators thought would make an excellent addition to the Steelers via the 2015 NFL Draft, already has four interceptions this season.
"(Peters) is a calculated risk taker and intercepting the ball at an alarming rate," Tomlin said.
Kansas City's defense has already forced 10 turnovers this season, which leads the league. Roethlisberger alone is responsible for six turnovers.
Offensively, the Chiefs operate similarly to the Eagles, which is no surprise given Doug Pederson's background as the former offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Like Wentz, Chiefs QB Alex Smith is a game manager who has the ability to deliver quick, pinpoint passes and make plays on the run.
Pittsburgh's recent familiarity with Kansas City (Sunday's game will mark their fifth meeting since 2011), coupled with the tape from Sunday's game, should allow the Steelers to develop and implement a new-and-improved game plan.
Or, for the pessimists, Pittsburgh could be in line for another butt-kicking.
"The juice is loose"
After serving a three-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, All-Pro RB Le'Veon Bell will rejoin Pittsburgh in the starting lineup on Sunday.
"Rest assured, you are going to see Le'Veon Bell, and probably a lot of him," Tomlin said.
Despite missing the final nine games of the 2015 season with a knee injury and playing just sparingly this preseason, Tomlin is confident that Bell will be able to handle a substantial workload against one of the NFL's best defenses, especially given the notoriety of his vigorous training schedule.
Of course, it will be interesting to see how, or more accurately, if, the Steelers continue to utilize 33-year-old RB DeAngelo Williams, who is still the league's seventh-leading rusher despite a 21-yard effort against Philadelphia.