The Steelers might want to send their script back for a rewrite.
Pittsburgh’s third preseason game Thursday night at Philadelphia was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
But after a 31-21 loss in which the first-team offense and defense struggled, the game raised more questions about how prepared the Steelers are to open their season Sept. 7 against Cleveland at Heinz Field.
“I’m not going to predict the future whether we are ready or not,” said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who had an interception. “If you look at (this) performance, you know you could say we definitely are not. If you look at the last game’s performance, we would say maybe we have a shot. We’ll see how things fare when Week 1 comes along.”
Less than a week after leading the Steelers to touchdowns on two of three possessions in a 19-16 victory against Buffalo, Ben Roethlisberger struggled against the Eagles. The Steelers gained just 96 yards on six first half possessions.
Roethlisberger was just 8 of 17 for 60 yards with an interception in the first half and didn’t lead the team to a score until Philadelphia put its second-team defense into the game in the third quarter.
As poor as the offense looked, the defense might have been worse.
Pittsburgh forced the Eagles to punt on their opening possession, but then allowed four touchdowns and a field goal in the next seven possessions. More troubling was that two of the touchdowns came in the third quarter with Pittsburgh’s No. 1 defense facing Philadelphia’s backups.
“There’s no pointing fingers right now,” said defensive end Cameron Heyward. “But as a defense, we’ve got to step it up. We need more energy and a sense of urgency. We’ve got one preseason game left. I don’t know how much guys are going to play, but we’ve got to know that when Cleveland comes, they are going to bring the full shed on us. They’re not going to mess around. They are going to see what we did wrong and continue to learn from it.”
Two players the Steelers hope learned from a mistake are running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.
Bell and Blount were issued citations by police in Ross Township for possession of marijuana Wednesday while on their way to the airport for the team flight to Philadelphia. Bell, who was driving, also was charged with a DUI.
Both running backs played into the fourth quarter after many of the other regulars were pulled from the game.
“That conduct is detrimental to our efforts,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “They’ll be dealt with appropriately. From my perspective, in terms of their participation (against the Eagles), I didn’t view it as punishment to send them home. … to not play them in a preseason game. I’d rather them play more than anticipated than to remove them from that game. That’s why we took the stance we took.
“We have some things to do regarding the matter moving forward.”
Bell and Blount apologized for the incident and potential distraction it caused their teammates, but declined to speak further on their expectation of potential punishment.
At least publicly, their teammates said the issue wasn’t a distraction.
“Not at all,” said Heyward, who suffered a minor ankle sprain during the game. “That’s the last thing on our minds. It’s two football teams out there playing, and you’ve got to give Philadelphia a lot of credit. But we shot ourselves in the foot, too.”
Odds and end zones
The two teams combined for 27 penalties, 14 by Philadelphia, 13 by the Steelers. … In addition to Heyward, linebackers Sean Spence and Jason Worilds left the game early with knee injuries. Spence, who missed the last two seasons with an injured left knee, suffered a PCL injury to his right knee. Worilds appeared to suffer a bruised knee. … Tight end Heath Miller led the Steelers with five receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. … Philadelphia ran 79 plays compared to 54 for the Steelers, outgaining Pittsburgh, 482-309.