Where to begin with a Steelers team that embarrassed the once-proud brand of some of the greatest defensive units in NFL history?
It was the Philadelphia Eagles bringing the Chip Kelly offense-of-the-future to full force against the
Dick LeBeau defense-of-the-past. The results, as might be expected, were ugly.
The first-team Eagles offense had its way against the first-team Steelers defense for 17 first-half points as quarterback Nick Foles, running back Shady McCoy and a platoon of get-free-at-will receivers moved almost easily up and down the field. But that wasn’t the worst.
With the Steelers first-team defense still on the field, the Eagles subs, directed by New York Jets reject Mark Sanchez, made it look even easier, scoring touchdowns on their first two possession of the third quarter as they marched up and down the field with the greatest of ease -- nine plays, 60 yards, nine plays 80 yards.
Sanchez completed 7-of-9 passes for 85 yards and had a 106 passer rating.
With reserves on the field for both teams, the Steelers scored twice in the final 6 minutes, 12 second to make the score respectable, 35-21, but make no mistake: This was a one-sided rout.
The outcome of exhibition games are not supposed to be fully accurate barometers of the upcoming season. The Steelers can only hope that to be true. But there is ample evidence to indicate the defense will a negative even Ben Roethlisberger at his best -- and he was far from that last night -- cannot overcome.
If there were any doubt about how much the Steelers were hurting on defense, it came when they signed end Brett Keisel on Wednesday. No disrespect to Keisel, a classy veteran of three Super Bowl teams. But after playing out his contract with the Steelers last season, he was not offered a deal by any team -- not in the prime free-agent signing period, not after that period, not when training camps opened and not when the first exhibition game was played.
Thirty-two teams had said no to Keisel for the longest time. The desperate Steelers finally said yes.
Keisel will be joining a defensive unit that has two other starters on the distinct downside of their careers -- Ike Taylor and the great Troy Polamalu. Taylor, for sure, is in his last NFL season and the same might be true of Polamalu.
So there you have it: The starting defense has three players wheezing toward retirement. What kind of plan for the future is that? This doesn’t fall on LeBeau; it falls on the people above him who are making draft day and other personnel decisions.
If it were just three old-timers manning key positions, the situation would not be so gloomy.
• Steve McLendon seems entrenched at nose tackle. If he’s not, Cam Thomas, 15 starts in four NFL seasons with San Diego, will start. The Steelers defenses were great when the likes of Joe Greene, Fats Holmes and Casey Hampton were dominating the middle. McLendon dominates no one. He is, at best, a journeyman.
• Likely playing on one side of McLendon will be Keisel, who is 35 with 144 NFL games behind him. How much can be expected from him?
• No position has been more important in the Steelers' 3-4 defense than outside linebacker where players like Greg Lloyd and James Harrison have set the tone. The starters this year are Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Worilds, in fairness, was a dominant player in the second half of last season. But never before that in a career that began in 2010. Jones, the team’s No. 1 draft choice in 2013, had one sack in eight starts.
• The secondary will be counting on Polamalu, Taylor, Cortez Allen, a fourth-year player to whom the Steelers have yet to offer a second contract, and Mike Mitchell, a free-agent who started in one of his previous five NFL seasons.
In allowing 35 points and 372 yards in almost three quarters, the Steelers defense put little pressure on Foles and came up with one turnover, an alert interception by Polamalu on a busted play.
The offense wasn't much better. Against the Eagles' first team in the first half, the Steelers managed 96 yards and no points. When the Polamalu interception gave the Steelers the ball on the Eagles' 31, Roethlisberger threw three incompletions before Shaun Suisham missed a field goal.
With the first team still on the field, KDKA-TV color analyst Edmund Nelson, a former Steeler who is not a harsh critic, had the unkindest cut: ''Really not seeing much effort here.’’
The NFL season begins in 16 days. Get ready, Pittsburgh.
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