Steelers exposed by Eagles' defense

By John Harris
Monday, September 22, 2008
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PHILADELPHIA -- Clueless confusion.

Sunday wasn't the best of times for the Steelers' moribund offense. It started early and ineffectively when Willie Parker rushed for minus-1 yards each time on three of his first four carries. It ended painfully late with a harried Ben Roethlisberger departing after hurting his throwing hand and leaving backup Byron Leftwich to clean up what was left of a 15-6 thrashing at the capable hands of the Philadelphia Eagles at raucous Lincoln Financial Field.

It was the Steelers first loss of the season, and it was as ugly as the final score was deceptively close.

Steelers' players, particularly Roethlisberger and members of his offensive line, wore the same deer-in-the-headlights expression that was last seen two years ago when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott planted Roethlisberger in the turf following a vicious sack.

Not since the 2006 season have the Steelers appeared so thoroughly incapable of preventing the other team from pounding their quarterback or producing anything remotely resembling a legitimate NFL offense.

Indeed, it was the worst of times for the Steelers offense.

Nine sacks, only 180 total yards, no touchdowns and a lot of tough talk in the locker room about this maybe being the best thing in the long run for the Steelers.

"We're going to build on this game. Just watch," said Parker, who was held to 20 yards rushing after producing back-to-back 100-yard games to open the season.

No loss is ever a good loss. Not even when the Steelers defense played another strong game and gave the offense a chance - albeit a slim one -- at victory in the fourth quarter.

That's all that a team can ask. But it was too much to ask from the Steelers offense.

"We knew coming in what kind of game it was going to be," Parker said. "We just didn't stand up. We didn't do nothing well at all."

If you're Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, the scary thing about yesterday's performance was that the Steelers appeared to lose their poise for the first time under his watch.

Tomlin wasn't around for the debacle in Baltimore two years ago. This was his first true glimpse at how his team performs under serious duress on the road. And it was his first look this season at how the Steelers responded to an opponent with a winning record.

For all of the hype surrounding the Steelers' first two victories, these facts are irrefutable: The Houston Texans, the Steelers' Week One victims, are 0-2.

The Cleveland Browns, 10-6 losers to the Steelers last week, are 0-3.

Following yesterday's win over the 2-1 Steelers, Philadelphia is 2-1 with a close loss to Dallas blemishing its record.

On the road, against a winning team, all of the Steelers' warts were exposed for the entire NFL to probe and examine under a Petri dish.

Yesterday's performance may indeed only be a blip on the radar. A turnaround win next week against Baltimore and this loss to the Eagles will be buried and forgotten, as it should be.

Time will tell if yesterday's setback was an aberration or a true barometer for how the Steelers will perform against the better teams in the league. With many of the league's elite teams on their schedule in the coming weeks, the Steelers will find out soon enough exactly where they stand.

John Harris is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at [email=""][/email] or 412-481-5432.