The Pittsburgh Steelers stunning 26-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night can easily be chalked up to the string of injuries that have plagued them. However, the reality is that despite the injuries, it’s painful to watch Ben Roethlisberger and Co. succumb to lesser competition. It is time to push the panic button.
The Steelers, who have been stellar at home, continue to play woeful when away from Heinz Field, especially in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh lost its third straight road game this season and the fifth in six games dating back to last season, despite Roethlisberger throwing for 363 yards and becoming the Steelers’ all-time passing leader.
They should have defeated a subpar Oakland Raiders (1-3) team that lost its other three games by an average of 20.3 points. And they should have beaten a Titans team that gives up more points than any squad in the NFL, at 36.2 points per game. And let’s not forget how Peyton Manning picked apart the Steelers defense in his debut in Denver to lead the Broncos to a 31-19 victory on opening day. But Pittsburgh (2-3) failed to finish two struggling teams on the road and as a result has more cause for concern than falling two games behind the AFC North-leading Ravens, who boast a 4-1 record.
Big Ben entered Thursday night’s game with 27,703 yards, 286 yards shy of Terry Bradshaw’s franchise record. Roethlisberger was 24-ofo-40 and passed Bradshaw with a 17-yard pass to Heath Miller late in the third quarter of his 119th game. He also threw an 82-yard touchdown strike to Mike Wallace, but in the end his efforts weren’t enough to lift Pittsburg out of its slump on the road. “We’re not scoring enough points, and we’re not making the play when we need to,” Roethlisberger lamented to reporters. “We put Shaun Suisham in such a long field goal. I have to complete one more pass just to make it easier on him.”
If the Steelers can’t beat the Titans –and Raiders– how can they have any confidence going on the road to challenge the Bengals, Ravens and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants? The Titians rank 26th on offense and 29th on defense. They’re the second team in league history to give up 30 points in their first five games.
Coach Mike Tomlin and his players deserve some props for not using injuries as an excuse for their road woes. Their top two running backs got hurt –Rashard Mendenhall injured his Achilles’ Heel and Isaac Redman hurt his ankle– and they had to go without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley on defense. But the real problem is the Steelers aren’t getting enough production out of their starters. Cornerback Ike Taylor is getting beat in coverage or racking up penalties. Cornerback Keenan Lewis dropped an interception that could have ended the Titian’s touchdown drive that tied the game at 23 in the fourth quarter. And Roethlisberger, who carried Pittsburgh to victory five days ago, was throwing behind his receivers and overthrowing them at times at crucial moments.
Even if the problem is injuries, there is no timetable for when the Steelers will become healthy again. They must play through and forge ahead. The only positive coming from this loss is that Pittsburg will have 10 days before heading to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. The bye week should give them enough time to rest up and figure out how to win on the road.