By Jeremy Hritz
It’s agonizingly difficult to find a silver lining in Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, and even upon an extremely close analysis, there may only be a thread of optimism that can be found, and that is in the fact that there are still 15 games left to play.
An effort can made to minimize the loss, but it was a home game season opener in which the Pittsburgh Steelers are normally money, against a team with a defense that in 2012 gave up points in bunches, and the Steelers could only manage to score nine.
Maybe the atrocious 0-4 preseason carried more meaning than I wanted to give it credit for, because the performance on display today in Pittsburgh, at least offensively, was, well, offensive.
The running game only mustered 32 yards, and was spearheaded by Isaac Redman, who carried eight times for nine yards. La’Rod Stephens-Howling didn’t produce any better, only adding 19 yards on six carries. And for all of the praise that Mike Tomlin heaped upon Felix Jones, he didn’t see a single rush, though he was on offense for a handful of snaps. Rather than trying to get a spark from their newly acquired runner, the Steelers stuck with Redman, who while did not benefit from any semblance of effective blocking, looked like a slower version of Rashard Mendenhall, dancing and moving east and west rather running decisively.
Le’Veon Bell has to return, and in a big way if the Steelers are going to get a jumpstart their running game, and with the injury to Howling, Jones will most likely see a few carries against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
The offensive line continues to suffer from bad luck, as the injury gods deemed that it was time for Maurkice Pouncey to go down with a knee. If there was one lineman that the Steelers could not afford to lose, it was Pouncey. Now, the Steelers must find some kind of serviceable solution, and it sounds as if they will do just that as Mike Tomlin did not sound certain in his post-game that he was conformable with Kelvin Beachum as his starting center for the season.
The receivers were OK, but none of them made any splash plays that changed the course of the game, though Emmanuel Sanders had a perfect opportunity on a beautiful bomb that slipped through his hands from Ben Roethlisberger in the opening drive. The bottom line is that great receivers make those types of catches.
Defensively, the Steelers were stout, though they gave up too many first downs to the running game. However, when your defense is on the field for 34 minutes, only giving up 112 yards rushing is somewhat of an accomplishment.
The pass rush was minimal, outside of the sack from LaMarr Woodley, and all in all, though they only gave up 229 total yards, but again, it was to a Titans team with an average offense.
Maybe the biggest play on defense was Jarvis Jones’ hit on running back Chris Johnson, but after that, Jones disappeared.
At the end of the day, the 2013 season opener was 2012 all over again, except that this time it was worse: three season ending injuries in Pouncey, Stephens-Howling and Larry Foote, two turnovers, an awful running game, and a franchise quarterback getting hit form all angles.
It is only one game, and yes, anything can happen, but unless the Steelers make some enormous strides in between now and next Monday night, it could be the start of a painfully horrific season.
The only thing that Steelers Nation can do right now is keep the faith.
*The Steelers are 40-23 overall on Monday night, but only 16-18 when they play away.
*And lastly, in every Super Bowl win or appearance that the Steelers have ever made, they have never lost the season opener.