OAKLAND – Mathematically, it's just one game in the standings. That's the difference between 2-1 and 1-2, but anyone who watched the Steelers' loss here to the Raiders last Sunday knows it's about more than just one game. It's about some of the bad habits the Steelers are developing just three weeks into this 2012 season.
On the surface, the 34-31 loss to the Raiders that came on a 44-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski as time expired doesn't much resemble what happened a couple of weekends earlier during Peyton Manning's return to the NFL. But many of the deficiencies in the Steelers' game that night in Denver traveled to meet the team last weekend on the West Coast, and when stuff starts happening more than once during an NFL season spanning only 16 games it has the makings of a trend.
And for the Steelers, that trend is disturbing.
Consider the easy touchdowns being allowed.
Against the Broncos, it was a simple sideways pass to a wide receiver standing at the line of scrimmage that turned into a 71-yard touchdown, that energized a slumbering opponent and electrified a capacity crowd itching for something to scream about. Against the Raiders, it was a simple handoff to a running back that turned into a 64-yard touchdown, that energized a slumbering opponent and electrified a crowd not exactly sure the home team was good enough to win the game.
When the Steelers defense is playing well, and it has been playing consistently well for just about a decade now, it simply does not allow big plays. Yards can be gained, even in chunks, and points can be scored. But big plays for touchdowns rarely happen.
Get the guy on the ground. Defend every blade of grass. Those are the mottos of the Steelers defense, but this season, so far, the unit has done neither.
Consider the penalties.
Through three games, the Steelers have been penalized 28 times, or more accurately, opponents have accepted 28 of the penalties called on the Steelers, because sometimes there are multiple fouls on the same play – such as the illegal block and the holding during what could have been a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown – and the opponent gets to accept only one.
By the way, that could-have-been touchdown by Brown came on the second play of the second quarter with the Steelers already holding a 14-7 lead. Think 21-7 right there is what puts a crimp in the confidence of a Raiders team that came into this not only winless but also having spent the week signing cornerbacks and offensive tackles off the street? Me, too.
Consider the turnovers.
This issue is something of a late addition to the list of maladies. Outside of one Ben Roethlisberger interception in the last gasp of the opener, the Steelers had not turned the ball over. But that changed dramatically in Oakland, in the timing of the turnovers as opposed to any sheer volume.
Minus-1 in turnover ratio is not necessarily a death sentence for an NFL team, and that's what the Steelers were in Oakland, but the timing magnified the impact.
The sum total of it all is the Steelers are 1-2 and heading into their bye, and they do so with more obvious questions than apparent answers.
It's not over. But it is disappointing.
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