Streicher / USA TODAY Sports Images

Long look in mirror should help Steelers

Jim Wexell with many thoughts following the Steelers' dismal showing Sunday in Philadelphia

From the notebook of a sportswriter who's glad he didn't make the road trip for this one:

* Even the guy we had in the locker room, pro reporter Dale Lolley, kept hearing the same response from everyone: "We sucked."

* Mike Tomlin was asked after the game if the margin of defeat mattered, and he predictably said it did not. But I think he's wrong. I think the huge deficit matters to the players, the fans and the media. The latter two components will force the players to look into the mirror and thus begin the actual process of getting better.

* Of course, the players were looking in the mirror following Sunday night's shower anyway.

* There are individual performances that need to be discussed and some injuries that could further deplete the lineup, and there are players returning who will no doubt improve things. But one philosophical issue must be addressed: the defensive line.

* We've gone back and forth on social media about this through the end of the Dick LeBeau era, through last season and again throughout this past offseason, but this line is too  light for what it wants to do.

* The Steelers continue to count on 3-4 OLBs to play 4-3 DE and 3-4 DEs to play 4-3 DT. They might be a faster unit, but very little of that speed is showing up in the quarterback's face.

* The continued hope through the draft process was a 1-tech who could get after the passer and play the run in his rare 0-tech appearances in the 3-4 Okie. The fact that wasn't addressed -- and that's a difficult acquisition at where they draft in the first round anyway -- was overshadowed by the drafting of Javon Hargrave in the third round, a good value pick, no doubt, but not someone who's going to preoccupy the two highest-paid Pro Bowl linemen on the other team, still create havoc, and allow the other pass-rushers the freedom and space to cause their own havoc against lesser blockers.

* Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was doing that against David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey in the first half of Sunday's game. And when Pouncey turned his attention to the left, after injured Ramon Foster was replaced by B.J. Finney, who was playing his first NFL game, Cox destroyed DeCastro one-on-one.

* Cox, of course, was the 12th pick of a draft, the same draft in which DeCastro was the 24th.

* But the Steelers have a pair of 5-techs, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, trying to become that player. With their sack totals last year, we thought one, even both, might make a jump this season, but it hasn't happened.

* Heyward's high ankle sprain certainly hasn't helped him early this season. He still shows enormous flashes, as does Tuitt, but neither is the handful for a pair of Pro Bowlers that Cox was yesterday.

* The hope is that Bud Dupree returns from IR after mid-season to become an elite pass-rushing defensive end, but the hope that either Tuitt or Heyward moves to DE with Hargrave as a tackle seems to be just talk from DC Keith Butler, who still believes that any four-man front must have ends with the ability to drop into coverage.

* Philosophically, that issue of versatility would remain a problem, regardless. Having a natural-born 5-tech with the ability to play that kind of DE, along with the versatility to play DT in the nickel, just seems unfair to that 5-tech who either has to lose weight or gain weight to play either of those positions like a Pro Bowler.

* Still, inserting Hargrave and moving one of the 5-techs to end in a 4-3 look would be something I would try after this thrashing.

* Anyway, that's a lot of jibber-jabber, but I believe it's at the core of the problem for a 3-4 team that doesn't actually play the 3-4 anymore. Thus, the pass rush is suffering greatly.

* Blitzing more wasn't the answer against a quarterback who got rid of short passes so quickly and accurately, even if that quarterback was a rookie.

* Some rookie QBs are just great. Ben Roethlisberger beat the defending NFC champion Eagles 27-3 in his rookie season. The comparison to him for Carson Wentz continues to be very real.

* Perhaps this stomping was the price the Steelers had to pay for Wentz not ending up in Cleveland, where he, like Roethlisberger before him, appeared destined to play.

* The Eagles were still being dismissed as a mediocre team on social media by angry Steelers fans after the game, and I have to disagree. They have the QB, the offensive line, the lightning-quick back, a good tight end, a stud D-lineman to foster a pass-rushing atmosphere, and a defensive backfield that refused even Antonio Brown much separation.

* We saw that secondary taking shape in the preseason as well. Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins look like Pro Bowlers to me, and even injury-substitute Jalen Mills, the rookie I liked very much in the draft, the rookie who fell to the seventh round probably because of a domestic violence issue in his past, played very well Sunday.

* The Eagles are a bit light at WR, but have quality in Jordan Matthews and intriguing potential in Dorial Green-Beckham. They're a very good team.

* If Jim Nantz relayed the story of his conversation with Tomlin correctly, the most talented Eagle didn't even play. Nantz said he asked Tomlin which player he would take first if Tomlin took over a merged Steelers-Eagles team like what had happened in 1943. Unbelievably, according to Nantz, Tomlin said tight end Zach Ertz first, followed by Cox and pass-rusher Brandon Graham.

* I never really have been a fan of Ertz, but perhaps Tomlin was announcing the Steelers' greatest team need at the moment.

* Give me a defensive line with Cox, Heyward and Tuitt and I'll figure out my philosophy later.

* And throw to Jesse James now.

* We also talked at draft time about how another big body up front would help protect Ryan Shazier, who was once again in and out of the lineup with injuries. Lawrence Timmons is hurt, too.

* At one point in the game, when the Steelers were looking their absolute worst as Arthur Moats was being ragdolled and the Eagles were running at will, rookie inside backer Tyler Matakevich was put into the game. Just thought that was kind of interesting.

* Waiting on word about Mike Mitchell's knee injury as well. Mitchell is a guy the Steelers just can't lose. Robert Golden of course is a loss at strong safety, but Sean Davis could step in there with William Gay moving to the slot and Artie Burns going to Gay's outside spot. But losing Mitchell would take away the glue for these young defensive backs.

* And just to state the obvious: Davis and Burns need to tackle better.

Markus Wheaton needs to catch better, but I'm surprised he not only saw so much action with the first team on the first series but that he had so many targets so early. He struggled last week upon his return to practice from injury. I don't know whether he was still hurting or was lacking in his conditioning.

* That the Steelers felt the need to force-feed Wheaton early in the game says what must be said about the WR spot opposite Brown: Sammie Coates still isn't the all-around receiver they need him to be, Darrius Heyward-Bey still drops passes and Eli Rogers is still a novice.

* The Steelers needed Wheaton, and he literally dropped the ball.

* I expect him to play better next week.

* As I expect from the entire team.

* Just to keep things in perspective, the 1997 team lost a game by 30 points and still ended up in the AFC Championship Game, and should've beaten the team that won the Super Bowl.

* That team had a big issue at quarterback. The 2008 Steelers team that won the Super Bowl after getting hammered in Philadelphia had a big issue with its offensive line. This team has an issue with its pass rush. No team is perfect.

* Well, yeah, but the '72 Dolphins brag about it too much.

* I liked Tunch Ilkin's pistachio nut theory following the game. Tunch said on the radio that this loss is like the taste in your mouth after eating a bad pistachio nut, and that drinking water doesn't wash it away. He said the only thing that makes the bad taste go away is eating a good pistachio nut.

* Perhaps that will happen Sunday night at Heinz Field against the Chiefs. I do expect a long look in the mirror to help in that regard.


Steel City Insider Top Stories