Saturday, October 13, 2012

Latest Meltdown Exposes Steelers Many Flaws

After letting Thursday night's loss sink in a little bit, I realize two things: by no means should the Steelers have allowed it to happen, and we all should've seen it coming.

On Thursday Night Football the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Tennessee Titans by a score of 26-23, following yet another late-game collapse. One thing was made very apparent. That being that the 2012 version of the Steelers just aren't very good.

For the fourth time this season, they allowed a team to come back on them, and for the third time, they lost. They've also allowed 47 points through five games in the fourth-quarter after allowing all of 68 in the combined first three quarters. This abomination of a defense has taken the blame for it. -

Speaking on this moth-eaten steel curtain, ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl and Super Bowl quarterback Ron Jaworski was on PTI last week and offered up his assessment.

"I watched the game last week against Philadelphia, and I did not see the dominant interior defensive line. And when you play that 3-4 defense, those guys down in the trenches, that 3-gap on that tackle, that nose head-up on the center, they must make plays," Jaws said.

"I didn't see Casey Hampton being very active," he continued. "I didn't see Keisel making plays. I didn't see Hood making plays....You need that defensive line to have impact for the Steelers. I haven't seen it yet. I'm not going to throw the age card out there just yet, but maybe it's creeping up."

Fine, the Polish Rifleman won't, but we will. As we've said and quoted from Steel Curtain Radio before, the young guys have to become the guys. The jury is still out on Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward needs to see the field more and we've sung Steve McLendon's often. He absolutely needs to be used more. Much more.

But, other, more distressing problems are now evident also.

We at If It Ain't Steel recently suggested a lack of conditioning, which was denied by head coach Mike Tomlin. While the jury is still out on that issue, two other problems are painfully obvious: a lack of leadership and a lack of mental discipline/toughness.

As to the mental discipline and/or mental toughness aspect, veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote was all too willing to express his feelings on the matter.

"We’re not strong mentally,” Foote told 93.7 The Fan. “We don’t look like a championship team right now. Everybody here’s been knocked down, everybody’s had doors shut in their face, everybody’s gotten beat.”

Foote, who has never endured a losing season as a starter in a Steelers uniform, went on. "You can't have mental breakdowns. That's what gets you beat in this league. That's what happened to us in the fourth quarter. But it's only five games. We're 2-3 but our goals are still reachable. So, 10 games from now when we get this thing corrected, who's going to remember the first five games? So, we're going to see what we're made of."

What they're made of, indeed. Can Ike Taylor stop getting worked like a part-time job? Is he able to focus enough to stop the penalties? Is Hood even able improve on his stat line of zeros across the board? Is Lawrence Timmons able put a string of games together?

Because this is systemic and therefore goes beyond just dealing with the absence of an elite defensive player or two. Especially considering one of those players will be absent a little longer.

Mike Prisuta of WDVE Radio said during the pregame radio show of the Titans game that he'd heard that Troy Polamalu is expected to miss four weeks of action after re-injuring his right calf against the Eagles. That's three more weeks. In other words, after Halloween.

Trick or treat.

So, with Polamalu sidelined for that much longer, the Steelers are minus a player of sound mental character and strength, but also minus a leader on the field. Which brings us to the other obvious problem: a lack of leadership.

If It Ain't Steel said in the offseason that leadership can't necessarily be found in the draft. -

Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly sees and has said the same thing regarding the lack of leaders on this team. -

A shortage of vocal leaders means that men you'd expect to step up and rein in players like Ike Taylor and work with Mike Wallace on his hands aren't doing so. Because this reflects on Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel and, yes, even Ben Roethlisberger. They MUST take Foote's cue and speak up. Remember when Joey Porter called out everyone, including Big Ben?

Speaking of Big Ben, he's the only reason the Steelers have the two wins they do. Can you imagine how bad the Steelers would be if Big Ben, the Steelers Digest Player of the Week and all-time Steelers passing leader, wasn't there? I don't even want to imagine it.

Regarding leadership again, that must extend beyond the field and into the locker room. From respected players as well as coaches.

From the standpoint of the coaches, that can simply mean putting players in the best positions possible to win. They didn't do that against the Titans.

Though we disagree with some of the points he attempts to make, Dejan Kovacevic calls out the coaches brilliantly in the article he wrote Friday regarding the ills of the confusing passivity of the coaches' play calling. -

Despite these three major problems, there are correctible measures that can be taken to salvage the season. -

The question, however, is, "Will they?"

As Alan Robinson, staff writer for Trib Total Media, wrote: "They can’t rush the passer. [Defense] They can’t hold a lead. [Mental Discipline/Toughness] And when it’s over, another apparent victory now lost, they can’t find a reason for it." [Leadership]

Those are a lot of flaws to overcome that few will admit that they, that we, should've seen coming.