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Bleeding Black and Gold: OOOPS

October 12, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: Tennessee 26, Pittsburgh 23

The headline: BUTTERFINGERS: Dropped fourth-quarter interceptions propel Titans comeback

The bottom line: Injuries or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not a very good football team right now. Their proven veterans have slipped. Years of poor drafting has provided no new stars. And injuries have made a slightly above average team into a below average one. With the meat of the schedule looming, Pittsburgh is looking at its first sub-.500 season since 2003, the 6-10 season that heralded in the Ben Roethlisberger era.

It was over when: ...the Titans picked up a third-down blitz and Matt Hasselback found Jared Cook in single coverage with James Harrison for a big gain to set up Rob Bironas’ game-winning field goal.

Play of the day: The Steelers had just taken a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter on Shaun Suisham’s 52-yard field goal when Hasselbeck threw behind a receiver near midfield and directly into Kennan Lewis’ chest. Lewis’ drop spelled doom before the ball hit the ground. To complete the karmic curse, Ike Taylor let a potential 100-yard interception return go through his hands at the goal line and directly into the hands of Kenny Britt for the tying score.

Hot topics:

+ Lost in the concern about Troy Polamalu’s absence is the question of how the Steelers could continue to be to unprepared to deal with that absence. Obviously, you can’t replace what he provides athletically, but you can do better than Ryan Mundy and Will Allen.

+ Along the same lines, how did Pittsburgh end up with so many defensive backs with zero ball skills? One or two is a coincidence, but aside from Polamalu, the Steelers don’t have a guy who can hang onto the football. It would seem it’s not a skill that’s valued in the draft process.

+ We really wonder how much of Taylor’s pass-interference problems are psychological and linked to the debacco (<-----worse than a debacle) in Denver in last year’s playoffs. Taylor seems to panic any time the ball is in the air near him and grabs whatever he can on the guy he’s supposed to be defending. A lot of playing corner in the NFL is technique, but an equal part is confidence.

Game (mis)management: We’re not going to kill Mike Tomlin on the decision to go for the 54-yard field goal because there was no easy option there. But we will say, that of the three options: Go for it on 4th-and-7; punt it; or attempt the long field; we think the field goal was the least appealing. Would you rather have the game on Shaun Suisham’s foot and your defense’s back or have it ride on one play with the ball in Ben Roethlisberger’s hands? We think that’s a simple question.

In the booth:

+ We think Brad Nessler was trolling us personally with all those references to how well Steelers fans travel, of which we counted four.

+ How good is Mike Mayock? That’s rhetorical. First, he clearly explained pregame why Chris Johnson isn’t the same back he once was and then watched at Johnson reinforced the point about 10 times in the game. And on one of the real critical plays of the game for the Steelers, he noticed right away that Baron Batch missed the hole on his last carry, which likely turned out to be the difference between a 54-yard field goal that was two yards short and 50-yard game winner.

Zebra hunting: Ed Hochuli was in charge, but understated, and his crew called the cleanest game we’ve seen all year. So nice to not have to write much in this spot.

A word from our sponsors: Just when I thought I couldn’t hate the NFL’s disingenuous violent hits initiative any more, along comes that smarmy safety-of-the-game spot with Tom Brady and Ray Lewis. I love how the dude makes it sound like they’ve got research scientists in the lab coming up with revolutionary new rules.

Sweet tweet: @TomScrapBradley: How long before the Steelers figure they better start dressing 8 OL?” (Editor’s note: Mike Tomlin is asked about it all the time, says he doesn’t see a need. It’s another example of Tomlin either ignoring a problem or flat out refusing to adapt.)

Next week: The Steelers get a 10-day mini-bye before returning to national TV on Sunday night at Cincinnati. We’ll tell you right now, Pittsburgh will need to score 30+ to win that game because there is no way their secondary (without Polamalu) can slow down A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins.

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