Gene Collier: Same problems for Steelers, so much for a turnaround

So many problems, so few to count on



OAKLAND, Calif. -- Total Panic II: There and Back Again.

Not exactly the sequel you've been waiting for, I know, but all it took was a gloomy Sunday in Alameda County for the Steelers to stagger all the way back to their 2013 roots.

After winning two games in a row and at least getting to their knees after an 0-4 start, the team that took the stage against the Raiders here Sunday was again shockingly bad, immeasurably bad and perhaps irredeemably bad.

Steelers Report: Raiders 21, Steelers 18

Steelers beat writers Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers' loss to the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum. (Video by Peter Diana 10/27/2013)

But you'd never know it from a quick postgame survey of the losing locker room.

"This is no step back for us; we're still movin' forward," said linebacker LaMarr Woodley, whose movements seemed almost designed to avoid tackles in a 21-18 loss to an almost equally dreadful football team. "We just had some mistakes out there and the Raiders capitalized on it. So, we're still a good football team, but we gave up some big plays. That's the only thing you can really look back on. You gave up some big plays.

"I wouldn't question us as a football team."

Ex-squeeze me?

Woodley's main contribution was losing contain so spectacularly on the first play from scrimmage that Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor took off like a deer through a stunned Steelers defense and didn't stop for 93 yards, the longest touchdown run by an NFL quarterback. Later, Woodley danced around in the backfield with Darren McFadden without managing to lay a glove on him as the Raiders galloped off to a 21-3 halftime lead.

But it wasn't just the Pro Bowl linebacker who had a generally positive, or at least benign, reaction to the fifth Steelers loss in seven games.

"I think we can take a lot of positives out of this," said receiver Antonio Brown after another spell of the "84 dropsies" helped derail a second-half comeback. "We've got to definitely get better. We can't turn the ball over. And we've got to start fast.

"We had a lot of opportunities so this kind of hurts a little bit worse."

Several of Woodley and Browns' teammates expressed a sincere interest in looking at the film of this one, and when they do, they should be careful not to miss the forest for the trees. They should try to identify, in the moment, somebody they can count on, anybody they can count on, because I'm not seeing that person.

Even Heath Miller, as reliable a Steeler as has come down the road in years, is fumbling the ball in 2013, failing to hang on to passes in big situations, and the list of the irresponsible grows predictably from there.

Ike Taylor was scalded repeatedly by non-descript wideout Denarius Moore. Emmanuel Sanders conjured up a false start on a critical third-and-5 in the first half. Ben Roethlisberger had his worst passer rating since December while he watched his record against Oakland drop to 1-4. Le'Veon Bell managed 24 yards on 13 carries, a sorry performance not even the devilishly clever "wildcat" package could save.

Even if this nonsense were producing anything -- and it's not -- offensive coordinator Todd Haley should drop the wildcat attack just for its obvious pitfalls. Splitting Roethlisberger out from the formation makes the offense play 10 against 11, and isn't the quarterback already plenty vulnerable enough in the traditional set-up? He was sacked another five times Sunday, 27 times this season.

Mike Tomlin, who had no trouble reminding us again in the postgame who's ultimately responsible for all this (Mike Tomlin), at least had a closer relationship with reality than some of the athletes.

"Had we pulled the game out, I still would have been disappointed in the quality of the play in the first half," said the head coach. "The quality of the performance aside, we came to win and we weren't able to do that."

Not even Shaun Suisham, the reigning AFC special teams player of the week, could save the day when so many around him were losing their heads and the football. Suisham missed two makeable kicks in a three-point loss, but Sweezy's so far down the list of this team's troubles that it's barely worth pressing charges.

Trouble's just about everywhere you look on this roster.

The Steelers allowed three rushing touchdowns, the third time this season they've allowed two or more in a game. In all of 2012, all of 2011 and all of 2010, the Steelers never allowed more than one rushing touchdown in a game.

Even more ominous for what remains of a long season, this is a team that has scored only 11 touchdowns in 28 quarters. The offense was 0 for 7 on third down in the first half, 4 for 15 when it ended.

"We didn't throw the ball well enough, we didn't block well enough, we didn't catch well enough, we just weren't vigilant today," said Roethlisberger. "We got behind early, tried to get out of it, but we made too many mistakes."

Mistakes were made, the leaders say when this kind of thing happens.

But the biggest mistake was probably external. It was by the people who mistakenly thought the Steelers were moving steadily toward competence.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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