Labriola on loss to Titans

Of course, any serious list has to start with 51-0 vs. Cleveland in 1989. Another one that has to go right up near the top is 37-7 vs. Dallas in 1997. The 16-0 vs. the Ravens in 2000 may not have been a big margin, but it did have the air of a game that was going to be a shutout regardless of how long it lasted.

Last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans belongs on the list, too.

Disappointing and deflating. Disturbingly inept. And costly. All of those descriptions apply to the Steelers' 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field that sure stuck a pin right into the ole' optimism balloon on the opening weekend of the 2013 NFL season.

Of course, what makes a loss in the first of 16 games to be played over the next four months really costly, what makes a loss that didn't even knock the Steelers out of a four-way tie for first/last place in the AFC North really tough to swallow, comes directly from the knee injury to Maurkice Pouncey and the biceps tear to Larry Foote. In a sport where the victors most often are the winners of the war of attrition, the Steelers lost a couple of critical components their first time out of the box.

That's what was costly about this, and whether the Steelers have enough to overcome the personnel price tag of this loss to the Titans isn't easily answered in the affirmative. When this preseason ended, there were more ifs and hopes associated with these Steelers than there were facts and proof in the first place, and after the showing against the Titans and the thinning of the ranks of the individuals who were so closely tied to those hopes, well, there isn't exactly a sunny aura surrounding Pittsburgh's professional football team.

Again, no takeaways by the defense. A couple of almosts, but still no takeaways. Again, penalties by the special teams that put the offense in a bad spot to start a possession. Only two penalties, but two too many. Again, fumbles by the starting running back. Not Jonathan Dwyer, but Isaac Redman, and every bit as damaging to the cause.

The Steelers finished 8-8 last season as the result of many of the same holes in their game that they put on display against the Titans last Sunday. They were a minus-2 in turnover ratio, below the line in third-down conversions and in the red zone, allowed more rushing yards than they gained. Their defense was stingy early, but without an efficient offense backing it up or takeaways getting it off the field, it eventually wore down. And don't forget the injuries. More injuries. Pouncey and Foote are expected to be lost for the season, with a late and unconfirmed report that LaRod Stephens-Howling will join them on injured reserve with a torn ACL.

Too much of it is the same, and don't believe for a second that opposing teams aren't catching on and adjusting how they attack the Steelers as a result. Knowing that balls are unlikely to be intercepted, for example, gives opposing quarterbacks the confidence to take chances. Knowing that the Steelers are not an explosive offensive team, for another example, allows opponents to be conservative in their own offensive approach and thereby not take the kinds of chances that can blow up in one's face.

This week promises to be a trying one for the Steelers, and it will end with a tougher challenge – a Monday night in Cincinnati against the Bengals – than the one they failed so miserably to meet last Sunday against the Titans.

It doesn't look good right now. It looks the same.

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