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Bleeding Black and Gold:

September 29, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: Minnesota 34, Pittsburgh 27

The headline: LONDON MAULING: Stumbling Steelers sink to new low

The bottom line: By now, you’re acquainted with the larger problem: The Steelers don’t have enough good players. So it’s just a matter of what specifically goes the most wrong with each loss. In this one, we’ll take the defense’s horrendous tackling, which allowed three short plays to become three long touchdowns; and the offense being forced to settle for two field goals in two red zone possessions prior to a fateful, final drive.

It was over when: The natural inclination will be say that Ben Roethlisberger’s fumble on the game’s penultimate play sealed the deal, but, in reality, the result was pretty much decided when Pittsburgh sent Mike Adams out to play left tackle. Roethlisberger played the entire day like a guy who only had four offensive linemen (even curling into the fetal position midplay at one point in the first half) and that kind of relentless physical and mental pressure is going to lead to mistakes.

Play of the day: The tone was set midway through the first quarter when Greg Jennings caught a simple, 8-yard dig route and turned it into a 70-yard touchdown after matador tackling attempts by Cortez Allen (who was torched in his first game back from an ankle injury) and Bill Gay.

Hot topics:
+ We’re not going to dwell on how bad Mike Adams was Sunday (and has been pretty much all year), we’ll return to the deeper issue. At some point in the offseason, someone (or a group of someones) made a football decision that Pittsburgh could be a competitive NFL team this year with Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert playing tackle. Remember, at that point it was thought that Gilbert would be the pass-protecting left tackle and Adams would be the run blocking right tackle and then Adams WON the left tackle job in camp. Whatever decision making process took place to decide Adams and Gilbert were ready, THAT is what’s wrong with the Steelers right now. And to make things worse, it’s almost impossible to fix a left tackle problem in the NFL during a season. There is no left-tackle cavalry. Mike Tomlin said after the game that players are going to start losing their jobs, but what’s the option here? Guy Whimper? That fact, more than anything else going wrong with the Steelers, leads us to believe that 3-13 or 2-14 is a real possibility for this team
+ Since suffering a serious rib injury last November against Kansas City, Ben Roethlisberger is 1-7 as the starting quarterback of the Steelers. Obviously, Pittsburgh’s skein isn’t all about their quarterback’s play, but it’s hard to argue that he’s been terrible during the span, racking up big stats, but failing at the most inopportune moments.
+ Perhaps the lone bright spot of the day was the solid NFL debut of Le’Veon Bell. Bell didn’t show eye-popping speed or impressive toughness. Rather, he displayed a wide range of skills – good vision and patience, solid hands, ball security and adequate blitz pickup – that have been sorely missing from Pittsburgh’s offense.
+ It’s been masked by all the larger issues, but free agent signee Zoltan Mesko has looked no better punting the ball than the two terrible punters he displaced.

Zebra hunting:
+ As noted in our pregame blog, when you have a bad team, the bad refereeing seems to matter less. In fact, we thought the Steelers benefitted from what questionable officiating there was. The first instance was a puzzling unnecessary roughness call on the Vikings on a hit against Jericho Cotchery (by three players at once) that was clearly before the whistle and below the helmet. The second instance was the game’s final drive when Adams bear hugged or hooked Jared Allen at least five times without drawing a single holding call.

Game mismanagement:
+ For at least the fourth time in the past two seasons, the Steelers wasted downs late in a game (in this case, three downs) spiking the ball to stop the clock when there was absolutely no need to do that. The first spike came at the 32 with 1:32 left in the game. The second came at the 20 with 1:02 left. The third and fatal spike came at the 6 with 0:24 left. In each instance, there is plenty of time on the clock to call a play at the line and run it and still have enough time to score. In case of first spike, enough time left for 15 plays. Second spike, enough time left for 10 plays. Final spike, enough time for four plays. More than anything, this illustrates the great fault of Mike Tomlin as a head coach. Mistakes like this are not being corrected.

In the booth:
+ In all seriousness, Phil Simms has totally lost his ability to analyze football. Whether you want to start with his assertions that at least 6 different Steelers “are playing well” this year or go with the contention that he’s seen more creativity in Pittsburgh’s offense this year than in previous seasons or note that he never specifically mentioned how badly Mike Adams was whooped in that game, it’s clear he can’t be taken seriously. When Simms said in the third quarter, “Everything that I said before, forget that I said it,” truer words were never spoken.
+ Jim Nantz got in one of his patented snide anti-Steelers comments with a “They called that?” on an obvious illegal fair catch violation in the first quarter.
+ Someone at CBS decided the Big Ben thing was NOT played to death and did a highly informative “Big Ben vs. Big Ben infographic” that contributed mightily to our enjoyment of the game.

Sweet tweet: “@KelbiBerg: Stupid.” Blogger’s note: It’s only a little ironic that this tweet applied to nothing in particular and just about everything involving the Steelers on Sunday.

Next week: The bye week mercifully arrives next week, but as many have pointed out already, what the Steelers really need during this break – a bunch of full-contact workouts in full pads – is not allowed under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

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Blog Photos

Vikings ball carriers shedding Steelers tacklers was a common sight Sunday in London.