Steelers seek answers to offensive meltdown
By Scott Brown
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
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Flushed out of a pocket that consistently collapsed Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass after he had crossed the line of scrimmage. Fittingly, the pass that would not have counted even had Santonio Holmes caught it sailed behind the third-year wide receiver.

A Steelers offense that couldn't manage a touchdown in a 15-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles instead produced a comedy of errors. Nothing better illustrated how out of sync and outclassed the Steelers were than the third-quarter play in which they were twice penalized -- left guard Chris Kemoeatu was flagged for holding -- and still couldn't complete the pass.

About the only time the offensive players appeared to be together in Philadelphia was after the game when it came time to assign blame for their dismal performance.

"We all had our hand in the cookie jar," wide receiver Hines Ward said after the offense failed to score a touchdown against a defense that yielded 41 points in its previous game. "We're never going to single anybody out. We have to find a way to rectify it and get better."

And fast.

Roethlisberger is on pace to get sacked a whopping 64 times. Chances are the $100 million quarterback won't make it through the season in one piece if the Steelers don't do a better job of protecting him.

The Eagles blitzed Roethlisberger mercilessly -- he didn't finish the game after getting his hand stepped on in the fourth quarter -- and the Steelers weren't able to counter what Philadelphia did even though coach Mike Tomlin said they made adjustments.

"The only way you get people out of that mentality is you handle it, you get the ball out quickly, you get the ball in the hands of people in open spaces," Tomlin said. "We weren't able to do that consistently. Just did not have rhythm at all."

There was some disagreement over why the Steelers' offense had less rhythm than a dancer with two left feet.

Ward said the Steelers were "very confused" by what the Eagles did defensively.

"We had guys coming scot-free when they should have been blocked," he said.

Right guard Kendall Simmons said simple arithmetic told the story of the Eagles' dominating defensive effort.

"You've got five, maybe six guys (blocking). They're bringing eight," Simmons said. "There's nothing you can do, maybe double up, put two hands on another guy if you can. They weren't doing anything spectacular, but why stop it if it works?"

It worked so well that upcoming opponents figure to borrow heavily from the Eagles' philosophy of how to defend the Steelers. Next up for the Steelers are the Ravens, who don't exactly employ a bend-but-don't-break defense and sacked Roethlisberger nine times in a game two seasons ago.

"When you put a display like that out there," Tomlin said of the Eagles game, "you're going to see it again and again and again until you make the problem disappear."

The struggles the Steelers had in blocking the Eagles seemed to have a snowball effect on the offense.

Roethlisberger did not force the Eagles to abandon or at least alter their approach by finding the receivers left open when Philadelphia came with all-out blitzes. The indecision he showed at times was not helped by a receiving corps that dropped several passes.

Also, the Steelers did not make the kind of commitment to the running game -- Willie Parker carried the ball 13 times for 20 yards -- that might have slowed down the Eagles' pass rush.

When asked if the mistakes they made in Philadelphia can be corrected, Simmons said, "Ain't no ifs, ands or buts about that. If not, then we're in trouble."

Scott Brown can be reached at [email=""][/email] or 412-481-5432.
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