LONDON -- It would be easy to suggest that the Steelers lost their defense somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on their way to another embarrassing defeat.
Except that they looked as stiff and motionless Sunday as a Buckingham Palace guard against the Minnesota Vikings.
The demise of the defense has been gradual, going back at least a year, and the Steelers did nothing to stem the slide in their 34-27 loss to the Vikings. Rather, they did everything to highlight how far they have stumbled in a short time and returned home to figure out what has gone wrong.
"Are we a bad football team?" safety Ryan Clark asked in the locker room.
"I don't think so. Our record indicates that, and we have to own up to it."
Indeed, the Steelers are 0-4 for the first time in the past 45 years, one of four winless teams in the NFL.
Worse, the defense that finished No. 1 in total defense and pass defense and No. 2 in rush defense in 2012 is giving up big plays and a lot of points in alarming fashion.
They have allowed 94 points in the past three games and 110 for the season.
The previous time they allowed that many points in the first four games was 1968, Bill Austin's final season, when they allowed 151.
Two years ago, the Steelers allowed 227 points for the entire 2011 season -- slightly more than double where they are after four games this season.
What's more, Dick LeBeau's No. 1 mantra -- prevent the big play -- frequently has been ignored.
The Steelers already have allowed five plays of 51 yards or longer, three of which came against the Vikings.
After allowing a league-low two passes of 40 yards or longer all last season, they have allowed three in the past three games -- the longest of which was Greg Jennings' 70-yard catch and run for a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 10-0 lead.
"It's tackle the catch and tackle the run," said nickel back William Gay, repeating LeBeau's oft-delivered message to his players.
Tackling either was something the Steelers didn't do against the Vikings, not on Jennings' touchdown or on Adrian Peterson's 60-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a play in which he broke three tackles.
It was the focus of blame among the players in the locker room, just as the five turnovers against the Chicago Bears were to blame a week earlier.
The Steelers already have allowed six rushing touchdowns.
Two years ago, they allowed seven all season. In 2012, they yielded five.
"It's just coming down to fundamental football," Gay said. "We're missing tackles. That's how big plays happen. It's something we don't do.
"We're not playing up to our standards."
"We just got to tackle," said safety Troy Polamalu, who had two tackles, one for a loss, against the Vikings.
Asked if it were as simple as that, Polamalu said, "No. But that's the gist of it."
Actually, the issues are wide spread.
The defense has yet to force a turnover, the only team in the league not to have a takeaway after four games.
They have four sacks -- three by outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley -- half the total they had last year after four games (8) when they finished with 37.
On top of that, the combo of rookie Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds has yet to produce a sack at right outside linebacker, a drought not many envisioned after the departure of James Harrison.
"I can't put my hands on it," said cornerback Ike Taylor. "We're just not getting the job done. You got to accept reality, and the reality is there are two or three games you're going to get your butt whipped in a season.
"Of course, you don't want it to happen; you want to be dominant. But I know going into the season there are going to two or three games where an offense really gives it to us, and [Sunday] was one of those days."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published October 1, 2013 4:15 AM