Pittsburgh Steelers: 2013 Week 4 PIT at MIN

Defense abandons Steelers in loss

September, 29, 2013
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.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Sang TanThe 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.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 34, Steelers 27

September, 29, 2013
A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London.

What it means: Four games into the season, the Steelers have all but played their way out of postseason contention. They are 0-4 to start a season for the first time since 1968, and fans will start turning their attention to the 2014 draft. The Steelers are making a dubious run at a top-10 if not top-5 pick. Maybe they will use it on a left tackle, as Mike Adams continues to look overmatched there. A playmaker for a defense that is in serious decline is also an option. As well as the Steelers’ offense played Sunday, it couldn’t bail out the defense. And a turnover doomed the Steelers at the end. They are now minus-10 in turnover differential.

Stock watch: This loss was all on the defense, which turned in a simply unacceptable performance. When was the last time the Steelers gave up two touchdowns of 60 or more yards in one half, let alone one game? The Steelers’ tackling was horrendous, and they didn’t put any pressure on Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel. The turnover issue has become laughable, as the Steelers have not forced one in four games. What should have been a fumble recovery by Jarvis Jones after a LaMarr Woodley strip-sack turned into a Vikings first down when Jerome Simpson came up with the loose ball.

Bell tolls in London: Le’Veon Bell showed why the Steelers missed him so dearly in the the first three games of the season. The rookie had 84 total yards rushing and receiving yards and two scores, and he looked every part the feature back. His first NFL touchdown was a thing of beauty, as a nifty cut by Bell and a crushing block by tight end Heath Miller sprung him for an early score. The Steelers’ running-back-by-committee setup has been put out of its misery.

What’s next: The Steelers have their bye this week, which will give them a couple of extra practices to work on fundamentals such as tackling. They never imagined they would go into their bye week winless, and all eyes will be on the Steelers to see whether they start coming apart at the seams.