On Second Thought: Steelers @ Eagles


Al Tielemans photo/SI

It’s pretty painful to contemplate this game in any depth. We can just all be grateful we aren’t the ones sitting in the film room, trying to explain to our position coaches what the heck just happened.

Perhaps the best way to think about this game is to look at the last time the Eagles spanked the Steelers in Philadelphia. That would be in 2008.

Coming into the game in Week 3, the Steelers were 2-0. They had beaten the Texans in Week 1 and the Browns in Week 2. The Texans would go on to an 8-8 season, the Browns a 4-12 season. Then in Week 3 the 1-1 Eagles beat the Steelers, 15-6.

Rather like Sunday’s game, a promising opening Steelers drive stalled and the Steelers were forced to kick a field goal. Unlike Sunday, the ball actually went through the uprights. The drive had begun at the PIT 20, but oddly not because of a touchback, but because of a fumble recovery on the Eagles’ opening drive by Bryant McFadden and James Farrior.

The next Steelers drive did not begin until after the Eagles had scored a touchdown, almost halfway through the 2nd quarter. This didn’t go as well for Pittsburgh. During this drive Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times. The Steelers only got a first down because of a defensive delay of game penalty. During the third and final sack Roethlisberger fumbled the ball and PHI recovered at mid-field. They got a field goal out of it.

At 2:24 in the second quarter the Steelers got the ball back, and the drive looked like this:

  • 1-10—sack
  • 2-16—sack, but face mask penalty on PHI
  • 1-10—false start penalty (Willie Colon)
  • 1-15—interception

Luckily for the Steelers Bryant McFadden had come to play, and he intercepted Donovan McNabb, getting the ball back for PIT at midfield with 1:37 left in the first half. Ben was only sacked once, and got the ball far enough downfield that Jeff Reed could kick a second field goal.

The series which began the second half saw three penalties in a row on PIT—Delay of Game, False Start, and Illegal Forward Pass. It ended in a Mitch Berger punt. But Troy Polamalu had also come to play, and intercepted McNabb at  mid-field. (In the interest of historic accuracy, all of the balls I’m calling at “mid-field” were actually at the PHI 49.) The offense went three-and-out, but without a sack, since they actually ran the ball. (One was a scramble by Ben.) Berger punted again.

The following series, which began at 6:23 in the 3rd quarter, featured an actual 1st down which was not due to a penalty on the Eagles. But they had to punt three plays later. The series spanning the end of the 3rd quarter and beginning of the 4th was longer, and Ben was only sacked once, but the end result was yet another punt. After two Eagles punts and another PIT punt, Ben Roethlisberger decided to change it up, and was dinged for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. For what it’s worth he wasn’t sacked.

The series beginning at 5:23 in the 4th quarter was a pretty exciting one, as the Steelers actually made two first downs. Despite this, the Steelers were still only at their own 23 yard line when, on a 3-15, (due to a false start penalty on Chris Kemoeatu), Ben was sacked, fumbled the ball, was injured, was questionable to return—oh, and PHI recovered the fumble.

Ben didn’t return, so Byron Leftwich was handed the ball after another PHI field goal with 2:26 left in the game. He put together a nice drive, only getting sacked once. However, an incomplete pass on 4-10 gave the ball back to the Eagles, and the game ended with the Steelers heading back to Pittsburgh with their tails between their legs.

After this the Steelers would only lose three more of the next 16 games, and the last loss would be in Week 16. They won Weeks 17, had a bye in 18, and won 19, 20, and 21…

But to return to the Eagles game, admittedly they weren’t beaten as badly back in 2008, but the Steelers defense was comprised of a lot of excellent players at the peak of their form. The offensive tally would have been exactly the same in both games had the first field goal not been blocked on Sunday. Happily, the Eagles’ defense only sacked Ben four times this year, as opposed to nine (one of them of Byron Leftwich) in that long-ago game.

But the truth is, we all expected more out of this offense. Honestly, perhaps we were being unrealistic. The offense was definitely missing Le’Veon Bell, and although Sammie Coates had a good game, he still doesn’t quite replace Martavis Bryant. It’s hard to say what we’re missing with Ladarius Green, since we haven’t seen him, but while Jesse James and his gang have stepped it up, they aren’t at the level of what the Steelers signed Green to be.

Of course, the Steelers got Markus Wheaton back. Ah yes. There is much one could say about that, little of it fit for a family-friendly website. But let’s be charitable. His shoulder may be better, but for whatever reason the rest of him clearly wasn’t ready. The box score records his one catch for two yards, but fails to mention the several dropped passes which would have at least somewhat changed the course of the game.

The first was, of course, a touchdown, except that apparently Wheaton thought the sole purpose of the defensive back waiting there was to congratulate him on the catch. In the event the DB was not so accommodating, and in one fell swoop the game went from 6-0 (let’s assume it would have been the PAT which was blocked) to 0-0. That second zero didn’t stay that way for long.

Which is not to put the loss on Markus Wheaton. He is just the low-hanging fruit. There was plenty of blame to go around. What ever happened to attempting to establish a running game, just for one example?

But my purpose here wasn’t to harp on what went wrong. As noted earlier, I expect the coaching staff has that covered. No, it is to say that one embarrassing loss to the Eagles does not a season make. A few more wins in the next few weeks and the sting of this game will fade. I refuse, at this point, to consider the alternative.


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