Sloppy Steelers defense lights fire under Polamalu

Troy Polamalu did not need to watch the video of Thursday night's embarrassing performance in Philadelphia to know this much about the Steelers.

"We're lucky last week wasn't Week 1," the eight-time Pro Bowl safety said.

Two days after the Steelers starters were overwhelmed on offense and defense in a 31-21 preseason loss to the Eagles, Polamalu was back to his calm, reserved, soft-spoken self.

But he wasn't often that way on the sidelines at Lincoln Financial Field after the first-team defense allowed 24 points in a little more than two quarters and the Eagles finished with 482 yards and a whopping 36 first downs.

Such an animated display is a rare departure for the 12-year veteran and points to some level of either displeasure or concern he has for the defense.

"Hopefully that's not a telling story of how we'll be this year," Polamalu said Saturday before the team reviewed video of the loss to the Eagles. "Hopefully we'll be able to learn from these mistakes and get better."

Polamalu was seen several times on the sideline voicing what appeared to be his displeasure with the defense to defensive end Cam Heyward.

"It just shows he cares," Heyward said. "You can appreciate that. I hope everybody appreciates it, because you don't hear from him that often. We got guys who really care about this defense and been in this defense. It's up to everybody to play with that sense of pride to go out there and do it."

The Steelers are trying to rebound from back-to-back 8-8 seasons and the defense is trying to regroup after a season in which it allowed an average of 115.6 yards rushing per game and gave up more scrimmage plays of 50-plus yards (11) than any team in the NFL.

Three games into the preseason, there isn't much evidence to show that problem has gone away.

The Eagles rushed for 182 yards, averaged 5.2 yards per carry and had five runs of 14 yards or longer, not counting a 70-yard touchdown run that was nullified by penalty.

The Steelers also allowed 309 yards passing and even made backup quarterback Mark Sanchez look like Tom Brady.

Asked if the Steelers game-planned for the Eagles, Polamalu said: "Not really. Not that if we did, I don't know if it would have mattered anyway."

He added: "You can see a team during the season get blown out one week and make a run to the Super Bowl. This game is humbling, of course. But this game is not predictable, as well."

Despite his status as one of the best safeties in the league and a revered player on the team, Polamalu has never been viewed as an emotional leader who delivers rah-rah speeches. And that is not likely to change.

However, what he did Thursday night in Philadelphia should make other players take notice of his passion and desire to be better.

"When someone steps on you that way and wants more from you, the whole defense has to step up," Heyward said. "If anybody is going to do that, I appreciate Troy doing it. He's been in this. It's not like he's going to take time off or take plays off. He wants to be great right now. Everybody should want to be great right now."

NOTES -- Inside linebacker Sean Spence, who sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Eagles, does not need surgery and should recover with rest and rehab. He could be out 2-4 weeks. ... There was no update on outside linebacker Jason Worilds (knee), but his injury is believed to not be serious. ... Heyward (ankle) said he's not allowed to talk about his injury, but said, "I'm just working toward playing this week." ... The Steelers must cut 15 players by Tuesday, but those moves will likely be made before the team returns to practice Monday. The players are off today.

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