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What started out so good ended so badly. It was 2006 all over again.
The first play of the game between the long-time rivals Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders resulted in a Raiders turnover as free safety Ryan Clark with the interception. It was looking good.
The Steelers went for for it on 4th-and-1 from the Raiders' 27 and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger moved the chains by throwing to wide receiver Mike Wallace for 19 yards. Then, for the third straight game, tight end Heath Miller scores the Steelers first touchdown. He was wide open for a 5-yard touchdown throw from Big Ben.
The Beaver County Times Mike Bires tweeted from his personal Twitter account that, "When I asked Roethlisberger about Heath Miller on Wednesday, he said 'We want to get him to the Pro Bowl.'" It was looking very good.
Then it became clear that the Black Hole would become more like the Twilight Zone.
In three plays the Raiders tied it up in an improbable way. Darren McFadden broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run. It was improbable because the Steelers rarely give up yards on the ground in such a manner. Improbable also because McFadden had rushed for only 54 yards in the Raiders first two games.
The Raiders sealed off the backside linebacker and it was up to the safety. Brett Keisel should've spiked inside. Lawrence Timmons had a terrible first read, Casey Hampton made a horrible effort, and Ryan Mundy lost his socks on McFadden's shoulder shake...just terrible defense on that touchdown run.
It has become an all-too-common situation now with the Steelers defense. They're either caught out of place, they don't play their gaps and they can't get stops when needed. Whether it's scheme, alignment, coaching, players or a combination of all of the above, the defense is offensive.
Want proof? In the last 10 road games the Steelers defense has recorded all of 10 sacks. The Steelers are 5-5 in those games. The vaunted Blitzburgh has been Splits-burgh.
Want more proof? Historically the Steelers don't allow 100-yard rushers. From 2005 to 2010, six years that included three Super Bowl appearances, the Steelers defense allowed four such games by running backs. They've allowed four in the last 19 games going back to week one of 2011.
Plain and simple, the defense, or lack thereof, is a concern. - http://tinyurl.com/9ush4xd
Back to the game specifically, an amazing 73-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown was nullified by two flags on the Steelers on the play. TD negated. Game changed.
The Steelers were flagged 10 times for 81 yards with only three flags being called on the Raiders. No excuses being made this week either. The penalties were mostly correct. The refereeing was horrendous around the league yet again, so there's no point in dwelling on the referees.
You can't win playing such poor defense and stopping your own drives with penalties. Those were only two parts of the triad of problems causing the Steelers loss today. The third made this eerily similar to the last trip to the Twilight Zone...er uh...Black Hole.
Turnovers plagued the Steelers again in this trip to Oakland. In 2006 there were four interceptions by Big Ben Roethlisberger, two of which returned for touchdowns. One of 24 yards by Nnamdi Asomugha in the first quarter and the backbreaker being of 100 yards by Chris Carr in the fourth quarter.
Sunday the turnovers were by all but Big Ben. Antonio Brown had two of them, one of which he miraculously recovered for a touchdown. The other wasn't and led to Raiders points. Jonathan Dwyer coughed up the other fumble that wasn't recovered by the offense. Turnovers lead to points that ultimately lost it for the Steelers.
"We expect more and better from ourselves," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "We turned the ball over. We can't do that..." - http://tinyurl.com/9az2pfm
He also mentioned special teams. Tomlin fired former special teams coach Al Everest right before the season. Amos Jones was promoted.
More first downs then and now, more turnovers then and now, more yards then and now...oh, and more penalties then and now.
How can a team that allowed Mike Wallace to be so wide open be the same team that played playoff defense down the stretch?
Spreading the wealth again by Big Ben, who was the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, was the only bright spot in the game, as he connected with 10 different receivers again. He went 36-49 for 384 with four (maybe 3) TDs.
This wasn't on the implementation of the offense at all. Yes, it was questionable and even stagnant at times, but it's still a work in progress. That work in progress scored 31 points and could've (read: should've) scored more.
This was about lack of execution/penalty miscues on offense and poor play on defense. A defense that has secondary and pass rush issues. Issues that won't be solved with the return of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison respectively, either. They are issues that have been on the horizon for some time.
Still, it's early enough in the year where we don't think there's reason to panic. We predicted a 10-6 season anyway and still believe that's possible. Games will be won that should've been lost and games will be lost (ahem) that should be won.
Most importantly, none of the rest of them will be played in the Twilight Zone.