An Historic Loss Makes Steelers Ill

Dale Lolley returned from New England with a behind-the-scenes look at the "physically ill" Steelers after a 55-31 loss to the Patriots.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are losses, bad losses and then there's what happened to the Steelers here on Sunday.

Wide receivers running free down the middle of the field, running backs bursting through the line untouched for 10 yards; it was just an all-round ugly day for the defense.

The word embarrassed was thrown around a lot.

"We just didn't play very well defensively as a secondary, myself, more than anything," said Ryan Clark in what was perhaps an understatement. "I am the hub of communication and I need to make sure everybody's on the same page and that everyone knows the call, so I put that on me.

"When you're the leader of the secondary and it's your job to make sure everyone's assignment is sound, you have to do that, especially against a guy like Tom Brady. He had it working today. He hit all the spots he was supposed to. If there was a weakness in the defense, Brady found it."

To be frank, any quarterback in the league would have made a lot of the plays Brady did on Sunday, especially when the running game produced 197 yards on 35 carries.

It seems the Steelers have a bunch of nice complementary players, particularly on defense, but nobody who's a lead dog, at least not anymore.

LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Clark, Ike Taylor, etc. They're all complementary players if somebody else is making the big plays.

Troy Polamalu can still make a play here and there, as he did early in the second half when he forced what appeared to be - at least at the time - a game-changing fumble. But it's obvious that even he's trying to do too much right now.

And that's part of the problem. While Clark and others keep talking about players trying to do too much, others, such as team captain Brett Keisel, said following this game that everyone on defense needs to do a little more.

"Everyone needs to do more," said Keisel. "Everyone needs to be better in all areas. It's the National Football League. All losses are the same. If we would've lost by one, it would have been the same. This one stings. We've got to dust ourselves off and get back to work."

And therein lies part of the problem. These guys are grasping at straws and nobody really knows what the answer is to what's ailing this team.

A bad defensive effort one game, a bad offensive effort the next, a special teams meltdown here or there added in for a little flavor; it all adds up to 2-6.

@ As bad as the defense was, this was something of a coming out party for the offense, which was actually pretty good.

The line played pretty well, despite Ben Roethlisberger being sacked five times.

At least four of the five sacks were on Roethlisberger, who held the ball too long several times.

@ Mat McBriar looked like an actual NFL punter, averaging 46.7 yards per kick, including a booming 50-yarder out of the end zone.

But the game really did turn on a punt return by Julian Edelman late in the third quarter.

After the Steelers fought back to tie the game at 24-24, Brady led the Patriots down for a field goal on a drive that ended with a Jason Worilds sack.

A bad return by Felix Jones - rarely do good things happen when you run horizontally at your own 10 - preceded a 9-yard run by Le'Veon Bell and a 16-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery. But Roethlisberger overthrew a wide-open Heath Miller at midfield.

McBriar's worst punt of the day, a 41-yarder with no hang time, was fielded by Edelman at the New England 23 and he took off right through the middle of the coverage units for a 43-yard return before being run down from behind by Worilds.

Brady finished the Steelers off with a back-shoulder throw to Aaron Dobson that put the Patriots ahead by 10 points early in the fourth quarter. And the rout was on.

@ I don't understand the need for the coaching staff to keep throwing Jones a bone and using him a series at running back each half.

Bell needs to be out there and continue to be out there until he can't be out there any longer.

@ I passed Dick LeBeau in the locker room. He looked sick, literally physically ill following that performance by his defense.

The basis of LeBeau's defense is to stuff the run, keep the passes in front of you, and tackle.

The Steelers have struggled to do that all season, particularly the stuffing-the-run part of the equation.

Steve McLendon isn't the prototypical nose tackle, but he's capable and makes some plays, such as his great penetration on New England's second try from the 1 on fourth-and-goal in the first quarter.

The Steelers would be better suited, though, if he was the backup and they had a consistent run-stuffer at nose tackle.

The missing ingredient seems to be at the buck linebacker position currently being manned by rookie Vince Williams.

Who'd have known the Steelers would miss Larry Foote so much?

But back to LeBeau. He's still got plenty on his fastball. He's still capable of coming up with winning schemes on defense.

He just doesn't have the right pieces in place right now.

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