Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Pittsburgh Steelers [Print without images]

Sunday, September 29, 2013
Defense abandons Steelers in loss

By Scott Brown

The Minnesota Vikings looked like they would blow a late lead for the third week in a row. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense refused to let that happen.

And now the Steelers are winless through four games for the first time since 1968, and about to set a new record for the longest flight ever from London to Pittsburgh.

Forget for a moment that Ben Roethlisberger’s sixth turnover in the last two games ended a furious rally at Wembley Stadium in the 34-27 loss to the Vikings. This Steelers’ defeat was all on the defense as it dug too deep a hole for Big Ben to shovel out of while in the shadow of Big Ben.

Adrian Peterson
The Steelers' defense appeared incapable of stopping Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.
The Steelers allowed touchdowns of 60 and 70 yards in the first half alone. They could not put any pressure on Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, and through one-fourth of the season they are still without a takeaway.

The defense's wretched play through the first three quarters Sunday was the reason Roethlisberger's inspired play in the fourth quarter couldn't bail out the Steelers.

And blame could be passed around as easily as fish and chips.

The tackling was atrocious, and other than Troy Polamalu no player consistently flashed on defense.

The linebackers apparently didn’t make it through customs on the trip over, and for those who want to blame the cracks in the defense on age, well, the younger players didn’t exactly shine either.

Cornerback Cortez Allen took a horrendous angle on wide receiver Greg Jennings’ 70-yard catch and run for the first touchdown of the game. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was nonexistent – except for when he failed to cover up a loose ball near the end of the first half.

No play is a better metaphor for Pittsburgh's bumbling ways than when a strip-sack that should have given the Steelers their first turnover of the season instead resulted in a Vikings first down.

The Steelers are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and they would need to go 8-4 the rest of the season just to finish at. 500 – the same mark that was deemed unacceptable at the end of the 2012 season.

This team has lost 11 of the last 12 games it has taken the field, proving that the preseason isn’t always a meaningless gauge for a how a team will perform after the dress rehearsals have ended.

The offense is coming around, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley suddenly looks like a lot smarter with tight end Heath Miller and running back Le’Veon Bell at his disposal.

But now the wheels have come off a once proud defense that can’t even scare the likes of Matt Cassel anymore.

The Steelers can’t get to the quarterback, and blame for that has to fall on defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as much as it does the players. LeBeau’s blitzes don’t seem to confuse anybody these days, one reason why Cassel walked off the field at Wembley with very few grass stains on his uniform.

What is even more disconcerting about the decline of the defense is that help isn’t on the way, as was the case for the offense when Miller and Bell were out with injuries.

The Steelers can’t clone Polamalu. They can’t even guarantee he will stay healthy for an entire season given his style of play. Imagine the Steelers’ defense without Polamalu.

Perhaps more depressing for Steelers fans is watching the defense flounder even with Polamalu playing as well as he has since 2010. Polamalu was the NFL defensive player of the year that season and the Steelers went to the Super Bowl, but that seems like ages ago.

They have a better chance of hitting the Powerball than they do getting back to the Super Bowl this season.

Which is why the flight back from London will be as quiet as it is long.