Pittsburgh Steelers: 2013 Week 8 PIT at OAK

Special teams a black hole for Steelers

October, 27, 2013
OAKLAND -- Shaun Suisham hit the mark on at least one thing before embarking on what had to be the longest plane ride of his life: his culpability in the Pittsburgh Steelers' third consecutive loss in Oakland.

“Look it’s no secret, the impact my missed field goals had on the game,” Suisham said after the Steelers' 21-18 loss. “I should have been better today and we lost because of it.”

The cruel irony for Suisham: the native Canadian is a huge hockey fans and his uncharacteristic misses gave the Steelers a dubious hat trick as they lurch toward the halfway point of the season,

The offense and defense had each lost games earlier this season. Special teams joined those units Sunday in a game that the Raiders seized control of early and then tried to give back to the Steelers in every way imaginable.

Oakland ultimately did not cough up the game because the Steelers’ special teams provided the Raiders with just enough cushion to move to 3-4 this season in spite of themselves.

Both of Suisham’s missed came inside of 35 yards. Zoltan Mesko bobbled a snap that resulted in a partially blocked punt and led to the second of Oakland’s three touchdowns. Suisham's onside kick at the end of the game bounced right to Rashad Jennings, who earlier had partially blocked the Mesko punt.

The sequence that best summed up the Steelers’ dismal special-teams play came near the end of the first half.

Mesko boomed a 30-yard punt that put Oakland in position to add to its 18-point lead. A Cortez Allen interception gave the ball right back to the Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger drove to the Raiders’ 16-yard line.

But Suisham pushed a 34-yard field goal attempt just right when the Steelers needed points in the worst way.

The Steelers couldn't even claim to be lucky rather than good Sunday on special teams.

Far from it, in fact.

A Mesko punt appeared to bounce off Jacoby Ford in the second quarter as the the Raiders wide receiver was falling backward while trying to avoid fielding the ball. Shamarko Thomas came up with the loose ball, and his fumble recovery would have given the Steelers the ball at the Raiders’ 28-yard line.

Officials, however, ruled that the ball glanced off Antwon Blake's finger before it touched Ford and whistled the play dead.

Coach Mike Tomlin challenged the call but it was upheld.

The call, right or not, would have been a moot point had Suisham played anywhere close to the kicker who entered the game 14 of 14 on field goal attempts and made a 47-yarder before his two misses.

“I told him to keep his head up,” Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “He’s been leading us all year and don’t hang his head now. We’ve got to continue to stand by his back because we know in this league everything is not always going to be perfect.”

The Steelers didn't need their special teams to be perfect on Sunday. An average showing by those units probably would have led to the Steelers returning to Pittsburgh with a 3-4 record.

Instead the Steelers are 2-5 with a trip to New England next on the schedule. And the one thing we've learned about this team two months into the season is that it sure can find ways to lose a game.

Deconstructing Pryor's 93-yard TD run

October, 27, 2013
OAKLAND -- The Raiders struck a first blow Sunday that was as stunning as it was spectacular when quarterback Terrelle Pryor kept the ball on a read-option and raced 93 yards for a touchdown.

There were several factors behind how Pryor ripped off the longest run by a quarterback in NFL history, starting with his fake to running back Darren McFadden.

“I saw D Mac carrying out the fake and I heard the crowd screaming and I was trying to figure out what they were screaming about,” Raiders safety Charles Woodson said, “and all of sudden T. Pryor is at the 50-yard line running the ball.”

The Steelers bit on the fake, though left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley carried out his assignment when he went after McFadden and buried the seventh-year veteran.

That left strong safety Troy Polamalu as the key guy once Pryor kept the ball instead of putting it in McFadden’s belly.

“I was saying in my head Polamalu has to get blocked,” Pryor said.

Wide receiver Rod Streater took care of that, tying up the Steelers’ best defensive player and allowing Pryor to flash through an opening on the right side and into the open field.

Polamalu couldn’t shed Streater’s block, but he didn’t get any help from the back end of the Steelers’ defense either.

“I should have been a little patient in the middle of the field so if things broke down I could kind of overlap,” free safety Ryan Clark said.

The Raiders pulled a guard to help sell a hand-off to McFadden, but the Steelers were also guilty of overpursuing on the play.

“Even if you’re excited about stopping McFadden, you have to understand the beast that’s playing quarterback,” Clark said. “Once a guy like him gets a in front of the whole defense, he’s a legit 4.4 (speed in 40-yard dash). It just looks slow because he’s 6-6 but he was moving.”

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Oakland picked that play to open the game as a way of easing Pryor into action against his hometown team.

Pryor’s touchdown set the tone for the Raiders, who gashed the Steelers for 197 rushing yards en route to their 21-18 victory. But, said Polamalu, “We had 59-and-a-half minutes to come back. We had our opportunities. We just didn’t seize them.”

Locker Room Buzz: Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 27, 2013
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Observed in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders:

Taking the blame: Give Shaun Suisham credit for one thing: the veteran kicker at least answered questions after his two misses from inside of 35 yards cost the Steelers dearly. “We would have won the football game today if I was better,” said Suisham, who entered the game 14-of-14 on field-goal attempts and made a 47-yard before his two misses.

On the mend: David DeCastro, on the other hand, did not feel like talking and cut a postgame interview short after just two questions. DeCastro’s pain emanated from more than just the Steelers’ loss. The right guard hurt his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return to the game. He and Guy Whimper (knee) are slated to get MRIs after the Steelers return to Pittsburgh.

Demoralizing loss: He had almost a hurt look in his eyes and his voice was softer than usual, which is saying something for strong safety Troy Polamalu. It was also telling about the number of opportunities the Steelers squandered in falling to 2-5. “I guess maybe that makes it more disappointing,” Polamalu said. “They made more plays, their defense played better than we did.”

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 27, 2013

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few observations from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum.

What it means: The Steelers’ season is back on life support after everyone, as coach Mike Tomlin might say, had their hand in the pile in the team’s third consecutive loss in Oakland. The defense allowed a 93-yard touchdown run by Terrelle Pryor on the first play from scrimmage. The Steelers' offense managed just 3 yards shorter than Pryor’s jaunt, the longest run by a quarterback in NFL history, through the first two quarters. The special teams were simply awful, and Tomlin did not put on a clinic, either, as the Steelers fell to 2-5.

Stock watch: The good times for kicker Shaun Suisham and the Steelers’ offensive line lasted exactly one week. Suisham, the reigning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, missed a pair of field goals from inside of 35 yards after making his first 15 kicks to start the season. The gaffes turned out to be huge after the error-prone Raiders insisted on keeping the Steelers in the game. The offensive line, meanwhile, is all beat up after starting guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro left the game with a concussion and ankle injury, respectively, and did not return. Guy Whimper, who replaced Foster at left guard in the first half, was also knocked out of the game when he injured his left knee.

Inconsistency still an issue: Zoltan Mesko's days in Pittsburgh could be numbered. Mesko bobbled a snap that was partially blocked in the first quarter and set up the Raiders’ second touchdown of the season. He managed just a 30-yard punt near the end of the half and received an earful from Tomlin after he walked to the Steelers' sideline. Tomlin said last week that Mesko needed to eliminate the “junior varsity” punts from his game and become more consistent. Mesko was really good at times against the Raiders -- his 56-yard punt in the third quarter pinned the Raiders inside their 1-yard line -- but there was no middle ground for the punter who was already on shaky ground.

Next up: It doesn’t get any easier for the Steelers as they visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next Sunday in Foxborough. Brady rallied the Patriots from a 17-3 halftime deficit in a 27-17 win over the Dolphins on Sunday as New England improved to 6-2. The Steelers haven’t been good enough on the road -- or good enough period -- to think they can hand the Patriots their first home loss in five games.

Steelers had interest in Terrelle Pryor

October, 23, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A meeting between Terrelle Pryor and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in August 2011, could have resulted in Pryor living a boyhood dream and playing for his hometown team.

But Pryor said he took a pass on Tomlin’s offer to draft him because he wanted to get away from the kind of distractions that would hinder his development as an NFL quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Ben MargotTerrelle Pryor turned down Pittsburgh's offer to be drafted by the team.
Pryor still remembers what Tomlin told him after the two all but mutually agreed that the Steelers would not take the former Ohio State star in the NFL supplemental draft.

“He said ‘When the time comes and we play you I’m coming after you, I’m blitzing you,’ ” Pryor said.

That time comes Sunday, and Pryor said he and Tomlin are sure to share a laugh about that conversation before the game. After the opening kickoff, though, it is all business as Pryor tries to lead his team past the Steelers. The Raiders have beaten Steelers in their past two meetings in Oakland.

Pryor is in his first full season as a starter, and he has shown promise but also experienced growing pains for the perpetually rebuilding Raiders. He said playing against Pittsburgh will be “surreal” but that he won’t get too caught up in the moment since he has watched enough film to equal five games against the Steelers.

When asked who won those games, Pryor said, “I can’t tell you that. I always win in my mind though.”

That confidence as well as off-the-charts athleticism and limitless potential made Pryor one of the most intriguing prospects in years when it came to the supplemental draft. The Steelers knew about Pryor’s legend from when he starred in football and basketball at nearby Jeannette High School, and they hosted him for a visit shortly before the draft.

How serious where they about drafting Pryor?

“Mike said, ‘Hey, I’ll draft you if you want to play here,’ ” Pryor recalled. “But he gave me a story about when he was in Tampa Bay about a quarterback and he ended up being in the same hometown as the NFL team and it was just hard for him because of all the distractions around him.

“I don’t know what the guys up top were thinking and whether they wanted to take me or not. [Tomlin] gave me an opportunity to say if I wanted to [play for the Steelers] or not and I ended up saying no because at a young age I didn’t want to be near home and have distractions around me.”

It turned out to be the right choice.

Pryor always made it clear that he wanted to play quarterback in the NFL, and he said the Steelers’ interest in him was “100 percent” at the position and not another one.

He never would have gotten the opportunity in Pittsburgh that he has in Oakland because of Ben Roethlisberger.

Pryor has not yet established himself as the kind of quarterback the Raiders can build around, but he at least gives the organization some hope at the position. He has completed 64.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,061 yards and five touchdowns and five interceptions. His 285 rushing yards not only leads the Raiders but also all AFC quarterbacks.

And coach Dennis Allen likes the maturity and mental fortitude Pryor has shown so early in his career as a starter.

“I think every time that he’s had a little bit of a setback he’s always responded,” Allen said. “The results will take care of themselves if he does the things that are necessary for him to play well.”