Steelers struggle in 31-21 loss to Eagles



PHILADELPHIA — Anyone think the Steelers had a bad day Wednesday when two players were stopped for marijuana possession?

It only got worse Thursday night.

If the third game is the most telling of the preseason, the Steelers would seem to be in a heap of trouble based on their performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, who won the game, 31-21, at Lincoln Financial Field.

The offense and defense played so poorly in the first half that coach Mike Tomlin kept deploying them well into the third quarter.

It did not get any better for them on defense.

“I’m looking for the proper response to this performance ... hope we get better,” Tomlin said.

Quarterbacks Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez shredded the first-team defense and all of the question that have piled up around them. On the other side, it took quarterback Ben Roethlisberger two series into the third quarter before he and his offense resembled anything like the point machine they hope to be this season.

One no-huddle offense did work well — for the Eagles. Foles led Philadelphia on long touchdown drives in two of his first three series and to a field goal on his final one.

The Steelers had no answer for him or his third-quarter replacement, Sanchez, who guided the Eagles to touchdowns on the first two drives of that quarter with Philadelphia’s second-string offense going against the Steelers’ first defense.

Foles left after riddling that defense for 19 completions in 29 passing attempts and 179 yards. The Eagles led, 17-0, at halftime.

 

Sanchez did his Tom Brady impression against the Steelers twice in the third quarter, guiding his team to long touchdown drives of 60 and 80 yards that both ended on 1-yard touchdown runs by Matthew Tucker.

Sanchez wound up completing 7 of 9 for 85 yards with a 106 passer rating.

The Eagles ran for 182 yards and a 5.2-yard average, much of that also coming against the Steelers’ first team.

“I think everybody’s [ticked] off,” defensive end Cam Heyward said.

“If you’re not [ticked] off, you shouldn’t be on this team. There is a big level of disappointment.”

Roethlisberger stayed in the game for the first two series of the third quarter, perhaps because he and his offense looked so listless throughout the first half.

The quarterback seemed out of sync with his receivers the entire first half. He threw his first interception of the preseason on a pass in which he overthrew rookie Dri Archer.

Roethlisberger completed 8 of 17 passes for 60 yards in the first half, and had a 31.5 passer rating.

As promised, the Steelers played both Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount at halfback, one day after they were caught by Ross police smoking marijuana on the way to catch the team’s charter flight to Philadelphia. Bell carried nine times for 23 yards and caught a pass for 3 more. Blount gained 32 yards on seven carries and 14 more on three receptions.

“I didn’t view it as punishment to send them home,” Tomlin said as to why he chose to play both one day after their incident.

He scoffed at any residue effect the whole scenario might have had on his team Thursday night. “We’re not going to make any excuses for that performance. We’re going to own that.”

It took Roethlisberger and his offense two series into the third quarter before they finally played as if they were not in a haze. Eagles coach Chip Kelly complied by running his first defense against the Steelers in those two third-quarter series. Roethlisberger completed all five passes on that drive for 85 yards, two for 40 yards to wide receiver Antonio Brown, and the final one of 27 yards to tight end Heath Miller.

That touchdown drive lifted Roethlisberger to 15 completions in 24 tries for 157 yards but he also endured his first two sacks of the year and a had a 78.0 passer rating.

Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, 33 yards to Darrius Heyward-Bey and 3 to rookie Martavis Bryant to at least make the score respectable, if not the play of their first units for much of the night.

The Steelers opened the game in the no-huddle, which Roethlisberger hoped to use extensively on the road for the first time.

They quickly abandoned it after the first drive fizzled.

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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