FOXBORO – No one’s going to mistake them for Terry Bradshaw’s Pittsburgh Steelers, the ones that won four Super Bowls in six seasons more than 30 years ago.
One has to wonder if these are still Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Once perennial contenders in the NFL, the Steelers head to Gillette Stadium for this Sunday afternoon’s game with the Patriots in last place in the AFC North, in danger of suffering the franchise’s first losing season since Bill Cowher’s 2003 team went 6-10 and heading toward the first back-to-back non-playoff finishes of the Roethlisberger era.
The 2013 Steelers are putting the terrible in the “Terrible Towel.”
The Steelers kicked off the year with a home loss to Tennessee and suffered double-figure setbacks to Cincinnati (20-10) and Chicago (40-23), but reached new depths with a 34-27 loss to the dreadful Minnesota Vikings in London that sent them reeling into their bye at 0-4.
Since then, however, the Steelers have done something the Patriots couldn’t do, defeating the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, 19-6.
They followed that by returning home to beat Baltimore, 19-16, before, well, allow Dan Patrick to explain.
“Just when you thought the Steelers had turned things around,” Patrick, the host of NBC’s ‘Football Night In America,’ said last Sunday night, “they forgot to watch game footage of Terrelle Pryor at Ohio State.”
Pryor’s 93-yard touchdown run (the longest by a quarterback in NFL history) on a read option (not much danger of Tom Brady doing that this Sunday) on the first play from scrimmage exceeded his 88 yards passing in the game as the Oakland Raiders defeated the Steelers, 21-18, last weekend.
At 2-5, the Steelers already find themselves 31/2 games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals1/2.
The Steelers’ problems are numerous, even encompassing their special teams where old friend Zoltan Mesko, a Patriot from 2010-2012, was released on Tuesday, after compounding matters (he ranked 31st in the league) by having a punt blocked last Sunday, spotting the ball on the 26 for the five-play drive that put Pittsburgh in a 14-0 hole.
At times, Roethlisberger has resembled a quarterback who’s trying to do too much: his seven interceptions and four lost fumbles are the major contributors to the team’s minus-9 in turnover differential, a category where only Houston (minus-11) and the two New York teams (each minus-12) are worse in the NFL.
With 64 carries for 208 yards and three TDs, second-round draft pick Le’Veon Bell has emerged as the leading ground gainer in a weak ground game (30th in the NFL; 68.7 yards per game, 3.3 per carry) that’s running behind a line that’s missing a pair of 300-pounders (center Maurkice Pouncey and tackle Levi Brown are both on the injured reserve list).
Defensively, the Steelers, featuring linebacker LaMarr Woodley and his five sacks, and a secondary comprised of Ike Taylor and William Gay at the cornerbacks and Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark at the safeties, have been solid against the pass (second in the league; 181.0 yards per game) but weak against the run (27th, 121.9 yards per game).
The “Steel Curtain” they ain’t.
Nope, no one’s going to mistake this team for Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers.
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