LONDON – For the first time this season, the Steelers played with their complete offense. All the starters were finally healthy Sunday.
The offense wasn’t bad – with a few notable exceptions.
Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, seeing his first action after suffering knee and foot injuries in the preseason, looked like everything the Steelers thought he’d be when they made him the second running back selected in this year’s draft. He displayed the power and shiftiness the Steelers expected, scoring a pair of touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings.
Tight end Heath Miller returned last week after suffering a torn ACL last December, and while he hasn’t looked completely healthy, he’s contributing.
Now, however, about that offensive line. When Max Starks and Willie Colon headed off into the sunset as free agents after last season, the Steelers knew there would be issues with the line, which is the youngest the team has started since the 1950s.
But Pittsburgh hoped that a line short on experience would quickly gel and allow this team to be a winner.
That’s still a work in progress.
It didn’t help that center Maurkice Pouncey, the team’s lone Pro Bowl linemen, was lost for the season eight plays into the first game, forcing the Steelers to change plans.
Pouncey’s injury, however, has nothing to do with the struggles of left tackle Mike Adams, a second-round pick in 2012. Adams has struggled while attempting to learn on the fly.
In Adams’ defense, it’s not exactly like he’s still playing at Ohio State. In the last two weeks, Adams has faced Chicago’s Julius Peppers and Minnesota’s Jared Allen, two of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Both had their way with Adams.
Peppers didn’t record a sack against last week, but he created enough pressure that it was highly disruptive to the Pittsburgh offense.
Allen was a one-man wrecking crew, sacking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times in the first half alone in Minnesota’s 34-27 victory at Wembley Stadium.
Pittsburgh planned to rotate Adams with Kelvin Beachum, but that plan was crapped when guard Ramon Foster suffered a chest injury in the second quarter. Beachum had to play guard and the Steelers were forced to run about seven different players to Adams’ side of the line to help him block Allen.
Linebacker Chad Greenway lined up over Adams in the third quarter with Allen moving to the inside. Adams was so focused on Allen that he allowed Greenway to shove him aside on his way to a sack.
Adams’ struggles, and an ineffective defense, doomed the Steelers to yet another loss that dropped their record to 0-4 in a season that has quickly gotten away from them.
So what can they do about this situation?
Nothing at this point.
The Steelers knew there would be a learning curve with the young offensive linemen. They’ll take their lumps this season.
Adams isn’t a lost cause. Plenty of young offensive tackles have struggled in the NFL. And the Steelers don’t have many other options at this point. There’s no guarantee that Beachum will be any better, and Adams beat out right tackle Marcus Gilbert for the starting job on the left side during training camp.
Can Adams fight through those struggles and become a player the Steelers can count on?
That’s what they’ll spend the rest of this season attempting to find out.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org