Mike Tomlin asked for it one week ago today when he beseeched those at his news conference to keep hammering away at the oldest defense in the NFL.
"Keep talking about how old they are," Tomlin begged his audience last Tuesday. "I appreciate that. You make my job easy."
It doesn't look quite so easy today, not after his defense looked even older after absorbing a 35-7 thumping Sunday at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. No matter how many reminders are issued the next few days about that old Steelers defense, their job won't be so difficult this week because they play the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field. Think of the Seahawks as soothing ointment for old muscles.
But the game against the Seahawks might be a temporary fix if what everyone saw Sunday in Baltimore wasn't just some blip, an out of control bus that no one could stop. More tests are on the horizon, if not the Peyton Manning-less Colts in Indianapolis in the third game, then at Houston in game No. 4. Somewhere, Tom Brady lurks near Halloween, followed the next week by the rejuvenated Ravens.
The Steelers do not have a difficult schedule this season; they may be playing their toughest one in their own locker room this week.
"I got confidence in every guy in this locker room, every guy on defense, I'm not worried about nobody," Casey Hampton insisted shortly after the Ravens dropped 35 points, 170 yards rushing and three touchdowns passing on them Sunday. "The answer is with us. The answer is not outside this locker room, the answer is with us, so that's the good thing."
He tried to explain.
"I know what we're capable of doing when we play like we're supposed to play. I'm not taking nothing away from them because they whupped us but I know the answer's with us so that makes me feel good about it."
They were a dominant defense last season, so there is reason to think that Hampton is correct. But they weren't a dominant defense against Green Bay in the Super Bowl and they've now allowed an average of 386 yards in each of their past two games. They also have changed no starters since last season and have two veterans back at full strength, end Aaron Smith and safety Troy Polamalu.
Those are two of the eight starters on defense in their 30s, and one year older than last season too. With no intention to make Tomlin's job any easier, the fact is this defense is the oldest of any in the league over the past decade, according to the research blog Football Outsiders. That does not mean it will continue to look like Billy Gardell chasing Usain Bolt, as the Steelers looked against the Ravens.
But, as Tomlin would say, it's on video, and it's the only thing anyone has to go by.
A few Steelers sounded some warning signals in the locker room Sunday, as if sending messages to their teammates.
"Last year doesn't count," safety Ryan Clark said. "That's what we have to realize and that's the thing we have to focus on. What we did last year doesn't count. What we did three years ago and won the Super Bowl doesn't matter. This is 2011 and in 2011 we're a very bad football team, we're 0-1 and it wasn't close, it wasn't close at all."
Polamalu tweeted on Saturday after signing his $36.5 million contract that he was happy he would retire as a Steeler and then on Sunday made it seem like it might be sooner than that contract's end in 2014. Polamalu offered some curious comments after the shellacking about his team needing to be humbled.
"It's incredibly humbling which, obviously, we needed at this point. ... It'll be interesting to see how we persevere. This is a big step toward humility."
Don't know about any steps toward humility, but the oldest defense in the NFL looked much older than advertised Sunday in Baltimore. Maybe that sentence will help make Tomlin's job easier this week.
Emmanuel Sanders combined with kicker Shaun Suisham to score the only points of the game when he improvised to catch an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter. It cut the lead to 14-7, the last time they would cut into the Ravens lead.
"I was running a corner," Sanders said of the original route that took him to the back left corner of the end zone. "I saw Ben scrambling and I rolled back away from the coverage and he ended up seeing me."
Sanders scraped back along the end line to catch the touchdown pass wide open in the back middle of the end zone. It showed a moment of mature play on his part in an otherwise disastrous go-round for the offense Sunday.
Sanders, who has overcome two broken feet and slow healing on one of them, looks to have come all the way back, and he says the offense will too.
"You can't have seven turnovers and expect to win. Everyone knows how explosive this offense can be, we just have to put the pieces together.
"We just didn't bring our 'A' game. The good thing about this league is, this is just the first game. This is not going to make or break our season, it's not going to make or break who wins the title in the AFC North. They still have to come to Pittsburgh."
The Steelers signed former Pitt player Dorin Dickerson to their practice squad and released fullback/tight end Jamie McCoy. Dickerson, a wide receiver in Houston last season, is listed as a tight end by the Steelers. He graduated from West Allegheny High School.
• Tackle Willie Colon has a torn triceps and is "likely" to go on injured reserve, ending his season.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 13, 2011 4:00 AM