In hindsight, the result was so very predictable. The clues were all right there in black and white on the first page of the game summary, under the heading "Did Not Play."
For the second straight week of this month-long preseason, Coach Mike Tomlin made a tactical decision involving his offensive stars, and for the second straight week of this month-long preseason the Steelers offense reacted to his decision in the only way it could. Among the names listed under the heading "Did Not Play" were Ben Roethlisberger, Markus Wheaton, Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell, Roosevelt Nix, Marcus Gilbert, Ladarius Green, and Antonio Brown.
Some of them are injured and others are too valuable to risk in the games that get played in August, but if you want to know why the Steelers were shut out by the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-0, at Heinz Field last night, just skip back to the above paragraph and re-read those names. Winning in the NFL is accomplished by having the better players on any given Sunday and Monday and Thursday, and the guys who give the Steelers a real chance to have the better players on any given Sunday and Monday and Thursday were spectators last night.
Landry Jones can expect to be roasted on social media by fans incensed over the four interceptions he threw, the first of which was returned for an Eagles touchdown, while two more came in the end zone on plays that could have ended as Steelers touchdowns. Maybe it doesn't matter that Sammie Coates may have run a sloppy route on the one, and Jesse James couldn't control the pass-rusher he was assigned to block on another. Or maybe that sounds too much like excuse-making.
Everyone is entitled to choose a villain, and if pinning it all on Landry Jones helps you get through this, have at it. The Steelers couldn't overcome the turnovers and the end result was yet another preseason loss in yet another difficult to watch three-hour block of live television.
When it was over, Coach Mike Tomlin recited what so many in his job have said in similar situations. About how this can be a teaching tool, and that there were some positives floating in the sea of negativity, but that the turnover total trumped it all, as it always does. In that respect, football is a very simple game. Lose the battle of the turnovers, and losing the game follows right along more often than not.
But going back to the first page of the game summary, up there in the top left corner is this: "Date: Thursday 8/18/2016." That can explain a lot, too.
The 2016 Steelers are going to have to be a team that relies on its stars, especially the ones on offense who are proven veterans and have the added benefit of working together as a unit for some years. Tomlin has chosen to protect those stars through this stretch of August football, and the tactic easily can be defended. The Steelers' stated goal is to compete for a championship, and that doesn't have a chance to happen over the next several months without major contributions from those offensive stars throughout the regular season.
It might be different if any of those stars had arrived at training camp planning to utilize the time at Saint Vincent College to get their body into shape for professional football. It might be different if they hadn't looked consistently sharp in those daily practices on campus. But that isn't what happened, and that isn't their truth.
That brings the narrative to the midway point of a preseason in which watching the Steelers lose back-to-back home games to the Lions and the Eagles has been some combination of frustrating and annoying. The offense has been incompetent. The defense unable to make plays on the ball. And special teams already allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. What are they going to do about this?
A goodly portion should take care of itself, what with rosters to be cut almost in half in less than three weeks. Game-planning will help some, too. But any belief that cutting some guys and devising a game plan alone are all that stand between these Steelers and competing for a championship is pie-in-the-sky.
Game day prep and pregame warm-ups from the Pittsburgh Steelers' second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The offense still needs more consistency from some of the younger players who are going to be counted upon this season, and the defense will not be able to fulfill its potential if the injured No. 1 draft picks – Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree , and Artie Burns – don't return to practice soon and don't start stacking practices in a manner allowing them to accelerate their development.
The rest of this preseason can be utilized for that, to provide more playing experience for Jesse James and Sammie Coates and Alejandro Villanueva. To get Burns and Dupree and Jones back on the field. To provide more clarity for Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert as they make decisions on the shaping of the initial 53-man roster. To give the defense time to determine who fits where and then provide the opportunity for all of those whos to develop a feel for playing as a unit.
Use the rest of this preseason for that. Just leave those offensive stars where they are. Under the heading "Did Not Play."