Steelers searching for answers

September 30, 2013
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is sacked and fumbles the football on the Steelers’ final offensive play Sunday in a loss that dropped Pittsburgh to 0-4 for the first time since 1968. - Associated Press

LONDON – Traveling to another country to play a game didn’t change the Steelers’ fortunes.

Now, with a bye coming off a trip to London’s Wembley Stadium and a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Steelers get a full two weeks to stew about their 0-4 start – their first since 1968 – and come up with a solution to what has ailed them.

“We are going to focus on getting better,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “That’s what’s going to change the outcome of these football games. Those that don’t, aren’t going to be part of us.”

At this point, even Tomlin admits there aren’t a lot of options.

Left tackle Mike Adams struggled Sunday against Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen. The Steelers had planned on alternating Adams with Kelvin Beachum, but a pectoral injury to left guard Ramon Foster in the second quarter ended that plan. Beachum spent the remainder of the game at guard, leaving veteran Guy Whimper as the only backup.

“Anybody else we would have put in there would have been below the line of preparation, so there’s no answers in that regard,” Tomlin said.

Despite Adams’ struggles, the Steelers scored a season-high 27 points, gaining more than 400 yards for the second-consecutive week. Coming off a 406-yard passing game against Chicago, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 383 yards against the Vikings. It was the first time in his career he’s thrown for more than 375 yards in consecutive games.

But those efforts have been wasted by a defense that has suddenly started to hemorrhage big plays. After allowing a 55-yard run and 41-yard pass in the 40-23 loss to Chicago – two plays that accounted for 37 percent of the Bears’ offensive output – the defense was even worse against Minnesota. The Vikings had pass plays of 70 and 51 yards, and a 60-yard run by Adrian Peterson. Those three plays accounted for 46 percent of the Vikings’ total offense.

Missed tackles were a huge problem, particularly on the 70-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by wide receiver Greg Jennings on what was a five-yard pass.

Cornerback Cortez Allen, returning to the lineup after missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury, missed two attempts to bring Jennings to the ground.

“We’re missing tackles as individuals, and we’re not there to support when someone else misses one,” said safety Ryan Clark. “We’ve got to try to put that fire out, get more people to the ball.”

Even at 0-4, the Steelers are hardly out of contention in what has proven to be a mediocre AFC North. Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore each are 2-2.

Some are looking at the bad start as just that, a bad start – something the team can turn around.

“We had a bad first quarter,” said tight end Heath Miller. “We’ve got three more quarters to go.”

If the Steelers truly believe that, then changes have to come, if not in personnel, then in overall play.

“It’s disheartening to be in the position we’re in,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We’ve got to find a way to turn it around. We’ve got to continue to play. We can’t buy into the odds. We got to stay wired in and focused to get this turned around.”

The team’s veterans will hold a meeting Wednesday to talk just about that.

In previous years, Tomlin would use the bye week as an opportunity to get the younger players more work in practice.

But with so many young players contributing – running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and linebackers Vince Williams and Jarvis Jones, all rookies, started Sunday – the veterans might be more involved when the Steelers practice Wednesday and Thursday.

“We have to believe we are part of something special,” Roethlisberger said. “If you don’t believe it, you don’t belong here”

Odds and end zones

Wheaton suffered a broken pinky on his right hand but stayed in the game and had three pass receptions – the first three of his career – for 26 yards. … Bell, who was returning after missing the first three games with a mid-foot sprain, had 57 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes. Bell said he did tweak the foot injury but did not come out of the game. … Tomlin has coached 100 regular-season games, leading the Steelers to a 63-37 record.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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