Back To Drawing Board For Steelers

It took eight offensive snaps and 10 plays overall for the air to be removed from the Steelers' 2013 balloon ...

When Maurkice Pouncey went down and stayed down as Isaac Redman was in the process of losing 2 yards on second-and-6 from the Tennessee 21-yard line on the first offensive possession of the season, a significant portion of all that had taken place since the draft, since reporting day at training camp and since the preseason was rendered moot.

What matters now is this: The Steelers have to find a way to move the ball and generate points with no semblance of a running game and with Ben Roethlisberger taking his life in his hands every time he holds the ball for any length of time in the pocket.

They never did in Sunday's season opener, falling 16-9 in a performance so disheartening it almost defied description.

"Just not acceptable," Mike Tomlin assessed.

Losing Pouncey is apparently that much of a deal-breaker.

At least it was initially.

In the wake of what was revealed against Tennessee the Steelers are going to need more than the eventual returns of Heath Miller and Le'Veon Bell to survive.

They're going to have to get creative in Pouncey's absence.

And they're going to have to be much better on defense and on special teams than they were for openers at Heinz Field.

With the offense in a confused state minus Pouncey, the pressure is on those two units.

That means the defense has to generate turnovers, something the defense had intended to do all along this season.

The best it could manage on Sunday were a couple of near misses on diving attempts to snare the caroms of passes that had been defended by William Gay, and a forced fumble that wasn't recovered.

But the bigger issue against Tennessee was the run defense.

On the 12-play drive that provided the Titans with what felt like an insurmountable 7-2 lead late in the second quarter, Tennessee ran the ball 11 times, including four times in succession after reaching the Steelers' 17.

Three plays before that sequence commenced the Titans faced a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers' 26. Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons got penetration and had shots at blowing up Jackie Battle in the backfield but couldn't. Eventually, Battle pushed the pile forward and moved the chains.

Had the Steelers gotten the stop there … they probably still would have lost.

But that doesn't make the Titans shoving the ball down the Steelers' throats at that juncture any easier to swallow.

As the second half wore on the Titans found more and more cracks against a defense that was on the field for almost 20 minutes (19:43), enough to tack on three field goals. Tennessee ran the ball 24 times over the final two quarters on the way to game totals of 42 attempts and 112 rushing yards.

That's a pretty good way to compensate for the disparity at quarterback when your guy is Jake Locker and the other team's guy is Roethlisberger.

"They were able to run the ball at times on us, especially in the red area," Tomlin lamented.

The second of those three second-half field goals occurred on the fourth-quarter drive that knocked Larry Foote out of the game (ruptured bicep) and presumably ended Foote's season.

Markus Wheaton's subsequent kickoff return produced all of 12 yards, to the Pittsburgh 7.

That was fairly representative of a Pittsburgh return game that netted 1 punt return yard and 78 kickoff return yards on four attempts.

The Steelers are going to need much more tilt-the-field stuff from their special teams in Pouncey's absence than they got against Tennessee.

The special teams also contributed two of the Steelers' four penalties (Jason Worilds and Shamarko Thomas on returns).

None of the above excuses the offense for absolutely crumbling as fast as Pouncey did after being inadvertently hit by David DeCastro.

But the offense had plenty of company in an overall performance that was alarmingly lacking.

"Enough misery to go around in all three phases," Tomlin declared.

That's about the only thing anyone in Black & Gold got right all day.

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