Steel City Stunner: Titans Upend Steelers

It was not a good day for the Steelers offense.

It was not a good day for the Steelers offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans on hand for the season opener against the Tennessee Titans were treated to quite a surprise on Sunday afternoon—and not the good kind. The home team looked hapless on offense and were dominated across the board by a Titans team most aren’t expecting much from this season.

In fact, Pittsburgh was so abysmal and inefficient that Tennessee might want to wait a week before patting themselves on the back for this win because they didn’t look great themselves.

Second-year starter Jake Locker was anything but convincing trying to prove himself worth of franchise quarterback status, going just 11-of-20 for 125 yards and no touchdowns. However, their revamped defense under Gregg Williams looked solid and they looked good on the ground, rushing for 112 yards.

Of course, the real story here is what the Steelers did—or didn’t do, as the case may be.

They didn’t run the ball.

The running game has long been considered the foundation of Steeler football, even if they’ve gone the way of the rest of the NFL and become more pass oriented in recent years. Well…if they had been moving away from running the ball recently, now it looks like they’ve completely abandoned it

Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall was lost to free agency and his absence was felt. LaRod Stephens-Howling was unimpressive with six carries for 19 yards. Of course Isaac “Redzone” (uh…okay) Redman made him look like Adrian Peterson, with his eight carries for nine yards and a costly fumble in the end zone.

They didn’t stop the run.

The Titans had three different running backs gain yards against the Steelers, but it was Chris Johnson and Jackie Battle who carried the bulk of the load.

Johnson rushed 25 times for 70 yards, while Battle had eight carries for 21 yards and a touchdown. Neither were record-setting performances, but they were productive enough to offset Locker’s shortcomings.

Big Ben has reason to be so sad.

Big Ben has reason to be so sad.

They didn’t protect the quarterback.

Try as the might, it’s starting to seem like the Steelers will never put together an offensive line capable of protecting Ben Roethlisberger. And at his age he can’t afford to take the kind of hits he has throughout his career.

Is he always going to take some additional shots by extending the play and improvising on the fly? Yes. Is there any excuse for that line allowing five sacks in the first game of the season? Absolutely not.

They didn’t score until the final minutes of the game.

The only points Pittsburgh had on the board for most of the game came courtesy of an early blunder by Tennessee, which resulted in a safety. Their only score was a four-yard touchdown pass to veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and it came with just 1:23 left in the fourth quarter.

Ultimately it ended up being too little, too late when they failed to recover a very well executed onside kick by Shaun Suisham.

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Jerricho Cotchery is again proving himself a valuable asset.

They didn’t generate 200 yards of total offense.

This one speaks for itself. The Steelers rushing attack combined for a total of 15 yards—so calling it an “attack” is a bit of a stretch. Roethlisberger was serviceable, completing 21-of-33 for 191 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

With the yardage lost on negative plays, they finished the day with just 195 net offensive yards.

They didn’t rush for a first down.

No big surprise considering they didn’t really rush at all.

They didn’t convert on third down.

Pittsburgh was 4-13 on third down conversions, which is the kind of stat you expect from a team that is completely deficient on the ground. They’re one dimensional and the passing game is not nearly capable of making up for it.

The running game was of no threat at all, eliminating any element of surprise in play calling.

Another huge loss for the Black and Gold.

Another huge loss for the Black and Gold.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the bad news doesn’t end there. Which is crazy because how much worse can it really get? A lot worse, apparently.

Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey left the game in the first quarter with a right knee injury. It certainly looked serious at the time, but it turned out to be the worst case scenario. Pouncey suffered a torn ACL and MCL on the first possession of the season, which turned out to be his last possession of the season.

Veteran linebacker Larry Foote is also out indefinitely, but likely for the season, having sustained a ruptured biceps later in the game. Coach Mike Tomlin said the team is operating under the assumption that both starters would be lost for the season.

Speaking of coaches—Steelers second-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley certainly isn’t feeling the love in Pittsburgh these days. He and Roethlisberger have been like oil and water since day one, but obvious sideline tension between Haley and Tomlin reveal a potential growing rift.

It’s no secret that the Haley hire was a decision made above Tomlin’s head by Art Rooney, despite Rooney’s attempt to portray otherwise. And with defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau predating Tomlin’s tenure, you have to wonder how much longer he’ll be willing to shoulder the blame for a staff he has no control over.

Could a storm be brewing in Pittsburgh?

It's going to be a very long season for Steelers fans.

It’s going to be a very long season for Steelers fans.

Obviously it would be ridiculous to write these Steelers off for dead after just one loss. After all, the AFC North went 0-4 in Week 1 —putting them in a four-way tie for first/last place.

But unless they figure out how to fix a lot of problems in a very short period of time, expect Pittsburgh to be picking within the Top 10 of the 2014 NFL Draft.

It’s probably also too early for that to feel like a silver lining.

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