Collier: Steelers have mountain to climb
Share with others:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With 40 percent of their starting offensive line gone by halftime, maybe the Steelers didn't figure to run up the customary 36 points that their hosts had so graciously been allowing as a four-quarter average.
Two-thirds of that would have been nice though.
It didn't seem all that unreasonable either, especially after Ben Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace for 82-yards and a touchdown on the Steelers' second possession, erecting at the time a 10-3 lead with less than 10 minutes having elapsed from the game clock.
Todd Haley's offense still had all night to build that into a typical Tennessee thumping, but a thumping never came, as did little else of real use from this doggedly mysterious "attack" that seems to defy logic and sometimes even design.
It looks like what iconic defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan once derisively called the Run 'n' shoot, namely the Chuck 'n' duck.
Center Maurkice Pouncey hurt himself on the first offensive play. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert joined him on the sideline in the second quarter. Neither of those medical events did anything for offensive continuity, but neither did Roethlisberger's occasional overthrows, underthrows and especially his second-quarter bullet right into the hands of Titans corner Jason McCourty, who otherwise pretty much couldn't get out of his own way.
Rashard Mendenhall, whose return just days before got hailed as a watershed moment for a one-dimensional offense, might as well have stayed in Pennsylvania with his feet up for this one. Haley had no evident interest in him, unless you count two handoffs in the first quarter and a handful thereafter.
The Steelers had five first downs at halftime, and Mendenhall was hurt soon thereafter.
When they helped Isaac Redman to his feet and led him on a wobbly trip to the bench late in the third quarter, more than the last remnants of what was once a proud running game was lost.
Redman was more than just the only remotely effective substitute for Mendenhall. He was a viable weapon in the passing game, and he happened to be the most recent Steelers running back to gain 100 yards in a game since January.
That's right; here we are almost halfway through October and no Steeler has been a 100-yard rusher this season. Furthermore, don't hold the breath you can see as the frost forms on the pumpkins waiting for one.
The Titans used Roethlisberger's lone interception as the jumping off point for the working theory that this really wasn't the Steelers' night, promptly stringing together a 10-play scoring drive on a circuitous route to a jarring 26-23 victory Rod Bironas got them with his fourth field goal of the game, a 40-yarder as time expired.
But this third Steelers loss in five games was generated from all kinds of unflattering angles, not just the desperate spectacle of an offense trying to figure out how to find the end zone by relying in no small part on Baron Batch and David Paulson, neither of whom could be picked out a lineup by a half dozen terrible towel twirlers among the thousands in the middle of Tennessee.
Special teams set up a generally horrid Titans offense at a place from which it could probably score -- the Steelers 1 -- just as the second quarter began. Former Penn State linebacker Tim Shaw slipped through a gap in the middle of the punt formation and blocked Drew Butler's kick. McCourty flopped on it three feet from the goal line and Jamie Harper gave Tennessee its first lead.
"Things went our way and we were long overdue for a break or two," said Titans coach Mike Munchak. "This finally felt like we played a real game for four quarters. It's only one win, but we really wanted to show people what we're all about."
What the Steelers are all about, most alarmingly, is allowing tons of fourth-quarter points, 47 now in five games, and blowing fourth-quarter leads, a malignancy now present in three consecutive games.
Thursday night's last-minute atrocity came when Matt Hasselbeck, looking over a third-and-5 from midfield at the clock hit 0:39, flipped an inexcusable easy pass to Titans tight end Jared Cook, who was sweeping left-to-right across the formation with only James Harrison to chase him in the open field.
Cook curled leisurely down the right sideline for 25 yards to the Steelers 25, and Bironas was not going to miss from anywhere in that vicinity.
The Steelers missed an opportunity to poke themselves above .500 for the first time this season, and that's starting to look like a steeper mountain that it ought to be.
First Published October 12, 2012 1:37 am