PHILADELPHIA – On the occasion of a similarly disappointing performance by the Steelers a few days before a mandatory roster cut-down, Chuck Noll was asked whether what he had just seen would make the paring of the roster more difficult.
Photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers Preseason Week 3 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
"Cutting won't be a problem," said Noll. "Stopping will."
In the preseason game most closely resembling a dress rehearsal for the upcoming regular season, the Steelers turned in their worst performance of the summer. It was difficult to watch – because of the overall sloppiness and the 27 accepted penalties – and it was disappointing in that it represented a regression in their play that was frightening to behold.
The final score was 31-21, but don't let those numbers fool you. Fourteen of those Steelers points came in garbage time. When the Steelers' first units called it a night, the Eagles had a 31-7 lead late in the third quarter. That's a more accurate portrayal of what happened last night at Lincoln Financial Field.
And that's the image General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin will have when they begin the process of cutting down the roster to the mandatory limit of 75 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 26. And what they saw on Thursday night here makes Noll's statement easy to understand.
The Steelers lost the coin toss, and then they couldn't match the Eagles intensity early. They made some mistakes and lost the battle on third downs both offensively and defensively. Throw in some timely and costly penalties, and the deficit began to mount. What started at 7-0 became 14-0 and then 17-0 by halftime.
Then in the second half, it became somewhat embarrassing. It's one thing to have Nick Foles directing the Eagles offense down the field and into the end zone, but Coach Chip Kelly went to backup Mark Sanchez to start the second half, and even he was able to put together two long touchdown drives against the Steelers first-team defense.
That Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Heath Miller in between Sanchez scoring drives of 60 yards in nine plays and then 80 yards in nine plays was only window dressing. The Eagles were in complete control, even when their backups were on the field against the Steelers' starters.
"I'm not going to predict the future whether we are ready (for the regular season) or not," said Troy Polamalu, who was visibly upset on the Steelers' sideline midway through the third quarter with the defense's performance. "If you look at today's performance, you know you could say that we definitely are not. If you look at last game's performance, we would say maybe we have a shot. We'll see how things fare when week one comes along."
It's certainly dangerous to put too much stock into the results of preseason games, but it was disappointing that the Steelers played their worst against what was the best team they had faced so far. It was disappointing that they weren't as ready to play as their opponent.
It was disappointing that they failed so miserably to give Tomlin what he was seeking this week, which was a team effort in which all three phases worked in harmony toward a victory. In fact, the case can be made that all three phases worked in harmony to create what turned into a decisive defeat.
"I'm looking for the proper response to this performance," said Tomlin. "Moving forward, I think that this journey, this football season, will not be without its bumps and bruises along the way. I'm interested in seeing how this group responds to our performance tonight. So we'll challenge them in that way. Challenge ourselves, coaches and players alike and hopefully get better in an effort to not put tape out like that on a consistent basis. It's unacceptable."
A lot of attention will be paid to the incident involving Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, in which they were charged with possession of marijuana after a traffic stop on their way to the airport to catch the team charter to Philadelphia for this game. As Tomlin said, "Obviously that conduct is detrimental to our efforts. They'll be dealt with appropriately."
But using that to explain the game's outcome, that would be giving them the easy way out. This loss wasn't because of some distraction. It was because the Steelers got handled on both sides of the ball.