No Fire, No Pride

I've seen this before during a Bill Cowher preseason game. The Pittsburgh Steelers came out flat. The Detroit Lions were running around making all the plays, dominating the Steelers 26-13. Things are not as bad as they seem, but citing the Steelers for poor play is not strong enough.

If you have been reading or hearing about the problems on the offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers, you saw an eyeful today to back up the concern. The announcers kept talking about LT Marvel Smith screwing up (he did have a false start), but they had the wrong guy. Smith was fine. RT Oliver Ross was not and RG Keydrick Vincent was awful, and offensive line coach Russ Grimm was really letting Vincent have it.

Pittsburgh's quarterbacks were sacked 5 times by the Detroit Lions defense. QB Tommy Maddox was sacked for a safety in the first quarter, which was Vincent's fault. Oliver Ross let Robert Porcher by for the first sack of Maddox and got called for holding in the process. That's impressive, holding the pass rusher while letting him get the sack. Ross can't block even when he's cheating.

Jeff Hartings was struggling to handle Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton's former teammate at Texas. As a result, the running game with Jerome Bettis had difficulty getting started. The first team offensive line would eventually settle down, but the offense was out of sync.

All too familiar problems plague the Steelers. Plaxico Burress still has great difficulty using his height to make plays. An illegal formation penalty inside the red zone hampered the long scoring drive that sputtered at the end with Jeff Reed clanking a short field goal off the inside of the left post. Pittsburgh takes the lead over Detroit, 3-2.

Detroit wanted to win this one and left their starters in longer, as well as the second team. But that's no excuse for the lackadaisical play of the Steelers. The defense looked okay, but is still having problems pressuring the quarterback. Aaron Smith was the lone bright spot on the first team and Mike Logan provided the hardest hit of the day on run support.

Kendrell Bell really struggled in coverage, getting beat on a few occasions, and is not a force at RDE. While the Lions had trouble scoring, the defense hardly dominated play. For the most part, there was a grave shortage of intensity.

That lack of fire really became obvious when Pittsburgh started exploring the depth chart. Cowher chewed out the defensive line for not holding their rush lanes. However, if you are going to make mental errors at least play with some passion. The Lions made plenty of big plays and built some confidence. Most of the Steelers on second and third string looked like they didn't care and were thinking of a place they'd rather be.

The second string offensive tackles, Mathias Nkwenti and Josh Burr, were beaten badly and often. Burr was very disappointing considering he could catch on somewhere else if the Steelers cut him.

Rookies Alonzo Jackson and Ike Taylor were not impressive. Taylor is often turned around in coverage and didn't show much at all in his return game. He still looks lost out there. Zo does not impress me at all. He had a few opportunities to make big plays, but did not deliver. He is having major problems adjusting to life beyond the glory days of college. He talks the talk, but does not walk the walk. His big mouth reminds me of Troy Edwards. Even Troy Polamalu made a mistake, biting on a pump fake while covering a tight end. He seems to be doing more thinking out there than playing.

After watching the rookies for the New England Patriots light up the stadium in their first preseason game, I was very disappointed in what the new Steelers brought to the table. This year's class is not sure how to fit in yet. They are students of the game, watching instead of playing.

While I would call the Steelers' first time back in action since losing to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs a bust, a few players stood out.

Brett Keisel was hustling and making plays on special teams and on the defensive line. He had the lone sack for the Steelers and showed the fire that his teammates lacked. He's definitely following in the path of Aaron Smith, who was the best player on the first team defense today.

Fullbacks Dan Kreider and J.T. Wall played really well. Wall had his best day as a Steeler, sealing blocks on two Detroit players on the 4th-and-1 TD run by Dante Brown to the outside.

The special teams as a whole has made some progress. Josh Miller was superb punting the ball, perhaps making coverage look better than it really was. Jeff Reed also provided plenty of distance on his kickoffs, though an offside Lee Mays, who the announcers said was coasting on the coverage, negated his best one. Mays apparently hurt his shoulder some time during the game and had it packed in ice.

Mays coasting or Jackson sucking air typified the effort put forth by the Steelers. Cowher stated at the half, "Right now they're beating us at the line of scrimmage." Simply put, Detroit was beating up Pittsburgh in the trenches.

What does this game tell us about the final roster?

The Steelers will shake up the depth chart quite a bit, but there won't be much personnel movement compared to last season. Rodney Bailey looked tired and slow, particularly compared to Keisel. Verron Haynes was getting a long look, which I take to mean the coaching staff is trying to decide what to do with him. Fu looked better than Haynes today and I believe Verron is destined to be cut. Wall certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Jason Armstead is elusive, but does not show that burst that generates long kickoff returns. He looks more like a punt returner than a kickoff return man. I don't think he'll force the Steelers to carry a sixth wide out, at least based on today's game. The Steelers are still hunting for a weapon, which doesn't seem to be Ike Taylor either, for their return game.

There was a botched snap with Randle El holding. Antwaan did a great job recovering and Reed put the ball through easily on 43-yard effort. I'm not sure who was long snapping on the play, but that is worth a follow up.

Overall, I'm disgusted with the Steelers right now. I thought they would show a little more heart. However, this seems to happen every preseason under Cowher. The team is much better than they are showing right now. The main concern has to be the new infusion of youth. These are players fighting for jobs, but you couldn't tell that today. You could if you were a fan of the Detroit Lions.

Jim Russell

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