The Steelers left London in a fog, and for the next fortnight it will continue to hang over them.
After traveling to Europe in search of their first win, the Steelers didn’t just return with an unsightly 0-4 record, they came back with more questions than solutions, and they will have to wait two weeks for answers with their bye coming up this week.
By then, there might be new faces in the mix.
“We’re going to focus on getting better,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “That’s what’s going to change the outcome of these football games. And those that don’t, ain’t going to be a part of us.”
Is it an empty threat? I don’t believe so.
Who is he referring to? The veterans? The younger players expected to step up? Or is he specifically calling out left tackle Mike Adams, who looks like he’s stuck in cement on every play? Or everyone who missed a tackle Sunday?
One thing is for sure: The Steelers are not getting better, not as a whole. Seeking progress heading into their bye week, something to feel good about for two weeks, the Steelers got the opposite: They regressed.
Everyone knows the defense doesn’t yet have a takeaway through four games, but that’s just one of the problems. Pittsburgh has four sacks in as many games, a total Minnesota topped Sunday with five sacks of Ben Roethlisberger.
Sacks kill drives, and the Steelers aren’t getting enough of them.
Think back to the second quarter of yesterday’s game. The Steelers put together their longest drive of the season and reached Minnesota’s 3-yard line. On third down, Roethlisberger was sacked, and Shaun Suisham trotted out for a short field goal. The sack saved the Vikings four points. And it proved to be the difference between the Steelers needing a touchdown or a field goal in the final minute.
Worse yet, the defense has been giving up big plays with increased frequency: a 61-yard pass against the Bengals; a 55-yard run and a 41-yard pass against the Bears; and three more plays of 50-plus yards in Sunday’s loss, including two that went for touchdowns.
Pittsburgh’s offense, heavily criticized and questioned after scoring just 19 points in the first two games, has performed better in the past two weeks, averaging 25 points per game.
The Steelers have shown signs of life, though they’re having most of their success in the no-huddle offense or on quick-hitting passing plays on which Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball within two seconds of the snap, taking some of the pressure off the beleaguered offensive line.
The addition of players like Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell is making a difference.
Bell looks like the real deal. In addition to scoring the Steelers’ first two rushing touchdowns of the season, he showed a variety of his abilities that have him projected to be a No. 1 back.
Miller and Roethlisberger know each other well. They know each other’s instincts; they know what each other’s tendencies are and they can anticipate one another’s actions. That’s overlooked sometimes, but it’s just as important as X’s and O’s in an art so dependant on timing as passing is in today’s NFL.
That type of communication, or the lack thereof, led to an interception Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, the most critical piece of their offense, the offensive line, is running out of healthy bodies and is easily the weakest link of the unit.
The offense can’t truly expect to have success when the quarterback is under duress every time he steps back to pass the ball.
Things are so dire that Pittsburgh doesn’t even have enough linemen to replace a guy like Adams, who has no business seeing the field.
Tomlin had no choice but to leave Adams in Sunday’s game to protect Ben’s blind side because Kelvin Beachum was pressed into action next to Adams at left guard following Ramon Foster’s pectoral injury.
Adams hasn’t had a good game yet, and Sunday he was the butt of a joke on a national TV broadcast. His play is getting beyond unacceptable, which could explain Tomlin’s stern post-game message.
Tomlin might be changing his tune two weeks after saying he believed the answers for a Steelers turnaround were in the Steelers locker room.
It appears he’s ready to call for more reinforcements.
Either way, it’s going to be a long two weeks for the Steelers.