Week 1 Recap: Several Question Marks Surrounding Pittsburgh Steelers

At day’s beginning, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers appeared to have the stars align for a great start to the season. With all three AFC North rivals dropping their contests, and with the mediocre Titans in town, the Steelers seemed poised to seize control of the division and start the season on the right note.

That stroke of luck carried over into the start of the game, where in the blinks of an eye, the capacity crowd in attendance at Heinz Field witnessed the quickest score in NFL history—a miscue by Titan kick returner Darius Reynaud.  With a lightning-quick 2-0 lead over the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers appeared as if they would make this one a blowout—then the 59:57 remaining ticked off the clock.

After a major gift from Tennessee’s special teams unit, the once-vaunted Steelers squad seemed determined to outdo the Titan’s mistake—putting together a performance that even the 0-16 Detroit Lions would have found embarrassing. Instead, the Steelers struggled on both sides of the ball in a very inauspicious style of play that was anything but Steeler-like. Sunday’s loss was the first home opener that the team had lost since 2002, reminiscent of the 26-23 defeat suffered at Tennessee’s LP Field last season.

The season-ending injury to center Maurkice Pouncey could be devastating to a rebuilding season in Pittsburgh.

Though Pittsburgh did struggle, the team was without two of their impact players in offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote—both have been ruled out for the rest of the 2013 season. Pouncey suffered an ACL/MCL injury after being rolled up on by fellow teammate David DeCastro. Foote was diagnosed with a ruptured bicep. Kelvin Beachum, a former 7th-round pick from SMU, will take over for the Steelers at the Center position.

Beachum, who took over for Pouncey in the first quarter, struggled to connect with Ben Roethlisberger on a few snaps and clearly did not have the same effect on making the impact blocks that the more athletic Pouncey brings to this offensive lineman unit. After Pouncey’s departure, Big Ben was sacked five times—a telling sign that the new blocking schemes of Jack Bicknell Jr. will not work without Pouncey in uniform.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin came away more than displeased with his team after an apathetic start to the season.

“Obviously it was a disappointing opener,” said Tomlin. “Enough misery to go around in all three phases. Unacceptable performance. I won’t accept it. This team better not accept it. We’ve got some work to do. We sustained some injuries in the game but really not an excuse. The guys that played had opportunities, and we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t coach well enough.”

Steelers Ben Roethlisberger 350
Steelers Ben Roethlisberger

One of those guys Tomlin might be alluding to would be Isaac Redman. Rather than coming out with a chip on his shoulder after a poor rushing season in 2012, Redman did little to show the coaching staff that he can be relied upon to carry the load in Pittsburgh—including a costly fumble inside the Titans 5-yard line. In total, all Steeler runners combined for 32 yards on 14 carries, only emphasizing the necessity for Le’Veon bell to recover from his foot injury.

For the Titans, it was not exactly a dominating performance either. But on this day, they didn’t have to. Rather than get out of their comfort zone, the Titans executed their game plan and worked Johnson and Battle persistently to maintain the clock. The Titans held the ball for over 34 minutes in this one and merely hoped quarterback Jake Locker would avoid making mistakes.

Locker completed just 11 of 20 passes for 125 yards, but led Tennessee on a lengthy scoring drive early in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory.

If there is one encouraging note for Steelers fans, it is that the defense looked to create havoc like the Steeler D of old. Troy Polamalu looked to return to his Pro Bowl form and rookie Jarvis Jones made a bone-chilling hit on Chris Johnson to pump up the home crowd. Although Dick LeBeau’s squad is not as dominant as they once were, they do appear to be trending in the right direction. Mike Tomlin and company are hoping that the offense can lead a balanced attack to take pressure off of a veteran defense—one that cannot be relied upon to win a game like in previous seasons.

Overall, it was an underwhelming performance in what should have been a very winnable contest. The woes continue for a Pittsburgh squad that went 0-4 during the Pre-Season. Fortunately, all three AFC North foes lost as well. However, the number of crucial injuries sustained, and obvious lack of a run game should be worrisome to the devoted followers of Steeler Nation. If the offensive line cannot make up for the loss of Pouncey’s production and if Bell cannot ail the Steeler rushing woes, it could wind up being a long season in the Steel City in 2013.

But cheer up Steeler fans! If the Steelers continue to slump early on, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be playing in the post-season for the first time since 1992.

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