During a cameo on Monday Night Football this week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger demonstrated again to the national audience that he can keep a play alive, but, after the first two preseason games, large pockets of Steeler Nation have begun to wonder whether he can keep himself alive.
Such is the state of the Pittsburgh's pass-blocking, so far anyway.
Against the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, Mike Tomlin's team allowed nine sacks, more than they allowed in consecutive real games at any point last year or the year before that or the year before that.
For this, there has been an array of reactions, so Wednesday I thought I'd sample some from a couple of locales, the range being the depths of my e-mail to the far corners of the Steelers locker room.
Here's an email:
"AAHH! AAH! AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"
No, that's not from Roethlisberger.
Nor is it typical, really. A more typical missive would be this, which arrived the morning after Redskins 24, Steelers 13.
"Gene, trivia question; does two inept assistant coaches from KC equal one good one for the Steelers? We'll know the answer by week12 of the season. But as of now the answer is NO! Not just a bad O-Line. It's bad coaching all around . 4 handoffs in a row ?? Gee is the pass blocking that bad? ... YES! It's taken 2 whole games for Tomlin to realize , Quote; "we better get better in a hurry"! Who the h@ll is analyzing the talent? The three blind mice? Oh and by the way will someone please tell our new O-Line Coach to tell his Linemen that it's illegal to push your hands into the face of the defensive linemen! You can lose all the preseason games you want ,BUT when the fundamentals are lacking your (sic) not just going to turn them on like a light switch because the regular season has started!!"
No, that's not from Dan Rooney. Some gentleman in Rochester, actually, and it's been edited for, um, politeness.
But there is real displeasure afoot, as Steelers fans have apparently been unable to let the Pirates' success calm their football nerves, particularly concerning Roethlisberger's health in an offense that went 1 for 13 on third down the other night. Exacerbating the situation is the approaching Saturday date with the Kansas City Chiefs, inventors of last fall's biggest culinary hit, the Roethlisberger sandwich.
Still lurking there in the Nation's mental refrigerator is the meeting of Chiefs linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston at or near Big Ben's throwing shoulder, which at that moment became the intersection of a promising 6-3 season and five playoff-preventing losses in the next six games.
Hali and Houston remain at the top of Kansas City's depth chart for the preseason's main Heinz Field dress rehearsal, but if the specter of that moment last November was spooking anyone at Steelers practice yesterday, it wasn't apparent.
"We just have to get back into the lab and take care of business," said 306-pound utility blocker Kelvin Beachum, who started the last five games a year ago but hasn't yet returned to the starting lineup. "There are things we can work on. Minor things. But those minor things show up big when you make mistakes."
Beachum represents perhaps the lone viable alternative for any kind of offensive line shakeup as the regular-season opener moves within two weeks of Sunday.
He's built more like a guard or center than a tackle, but it was at tackle where Beachum got his first pro start last December in Baltimore, and the Ravens quickly found he was no day at the Beachum.
The Steelers won that night behind Charlie Batch, 2012's one final shining moment. In the eight months since, left tackle Marcus Gilbert has been flipped from left tackle to right, right tackle Mike Adams has been flopped from right tackle to left, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster have nailed down starting guard spots almost without portfolio, and Maurkice Pouncey has returned at center, where he couldn't handle the pass rush of Washington's Barry Cofield the other night any better than Adams could handle Darryl Tapp's.
Neither handled either at all.
Beachum might not be a better choice at any of those spots, but as a former All-Academic choice who got a master's degree at SMU and gave the commencement speech to the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, I imagine he can keep track of the assignments.
"I'm not about over-thinking it or under-thinking it," Beachum said. "I'm just holding myself accountable for the reps I'm getting It's more about learning the tricks of the trade and then, when my number's called, being ready to contribute."
I asked Beachum if the O-line has been made any more uncomfortable by an unusual amount of public squawking through the first couple of games.
"We're not too worried about what the media has to say, not really lookin' at it," he said. "Like I've said over and over, if we can control the things we can control, we won't have too much to worry about."
I suppose it really is a control issue, because for the moment, the opponents' pass rush is -- how should we put this? -- out of control.
First Published August 22, 2013 4:00 AM