Ron Cook: Bad signs much more ominous for Steelers defense



Mike Tomlin was only partially correct when he said the Steelers-Philadelphia Eagles game Thursday night made for lame television. It wasn't much fun to watch in person, either, for a couple of reasons. Even Eagles fans were ticked off for much of it, and their team looked like a Super Bowl contender, spanking the Steelers all over the Lincoln Financial Field lawn.

There was absolutely nothing good for Steelers fans on a night their team was slammed, 31-21. The first offense needed eight possessions and three quarters to score its only touchdown. The first defense gave up touchdown drives of 80, 77, 60 and 80 yards, the final two to the Eagles' second offense led by backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. The special teams committed two penalties and Shaun Suisham missed another field goal.

It was only an exhibition game, but the Steelers couldn't have looked worse.

"It was unacceptable," Tomlin said.

The offense will get things together. That's if Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount stay straight, of course. Ben Roethlisberger is too good not to bring the offense back. There will be more no-huddle once the regular season starts. The offense will be just fine.

The special teams also will figure it out. It can't be that hard to stay onsides on a kickoff, right? The punting is worrisome, but it's always been worrisome under Tomlin. Suisham might not miss two more field goals the rest of the season.

But the defense? It wasn't nearly good enough the past two seasons when the Steelers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs each year. It might be younger and faster, but it hasn't shown in this exhibition season that it's going to be good enough again. New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings ran for a 73-yard touchdown on the Giants' fourth play of the first exhibition. The Buffalo Bills controlled the ball for almost 21 minutes of the first half of the second game. The Eagles ripped the Steelers first-team defense for 402 yards and all of their points, doing most of the damage without running back LeSean McCoy, the best in the business. McCoy left after the second series with a thumb injury, but not before running for gains of 15 and 13 yards and catching a 22-yard touchdown pass.

"Obviously, we weren't able to stop them," Tomlin said.

Obviously.

The Steelers are so desperate that they have brought back a big, heavily bearded mountain man from Wyoming. Brett Keisel still has game and surely will put his hand in the pile, but is it fair to him to expect him to clean up the mess? Jason Worilds and Cam Heyward have to do that. Both left against the Eagles with injuries, although neither is believed to be serious. Mike Mitchell has to do more. He was the team's big free-agent pickup in the offseason, but he has been a disappointment. Jarvis Jones, who didn't do much against the Eagles, has to be much better. Troy Polamalu ...

Polamalu did have an interception Thursday night that was set up by pressure from blitzing William Gay. But Polamalu wasn't happy during or after the game. At one point, he and Gay pointed and screamed at each other on the field. Polamalu also was involved in an animated sideline conversation with the whole defense. Dick LeBeau's once-proud bunch might not be in complete chaos, but it sure looked like it.

"We're very disappointed," rookie hotshot linebacker Ryan Shazier said after being schooled by the Eagles just a few days after he played so well against the Bills. "You never want anyone to score 31 points against you. It was like they were doing what they wanted to do."

You would think Eagles fans would have loved every second. They did enjoy the beating, but they weren't thrilled by the officiating. Who was? Who possibly could be?

During the offseason, for some inexplicable reason, the NFL instructed its officials to crack down on contact between defensive backs and wide receivers. The game was broken? Really? What the new rules have done this exhibition season is make a great sport virtually unwatchable. A total of 14 penalties were called on the two teams in the secondary Thursday night, including two offensive pass interference penalties against the Eagles. It was almost comical. The Steelers were penalized 17 times -- including two defensive holding calls on the same play -- for 92 yards with four of their penalties declined by the Eagles. The Eagles were penalized 14 times for 110 yards.

"It probably was an ugly game to look at from home," Tomlin said.

Probably?

At least those in their family room could grab the remote and click to repeats of "The Simpsons." Those at the game weren't so lucky. That includes Tomlin, his coaches and players.

"We'll take a look at the video and look at our technique and make the appropriate responses," Tomlin said.

Does that seem like cruel and unusual punishment or what? Tomlin and the others not only lived through the Philadelphia nightmare. They had to re-live it on tape the past two days.

Oh, to be able to switch to Bart and Homer.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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