JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The scoreboard doesn’t lie, right?
And if any scoreboard actually were capable of getting away with a lie, it sure wouldn’t be here. Not with the world’s two largest scoreboards having been installed this summer at EverBank Field, one at either end, each absolutely towering above the place at 360 feet long, 60 feet tall.
So, let’s start there: Steelers 17, Jaguars 9
But neither was it a lie in the immediate aftermath when Ben Roethlisberger, sporting a delightful pinstriped lavender suit that was anything but a happy match for his pained expression, spoke these five simple words: “We need to get better.”
And then, after a momentary pause: “That includes me. I need to get better.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Say what you will about the defense bouncing back from the Tampa Bay debacle and at least doing the job against legitimately promising Blake Bortles and the young Jaguars. Brice McCain’s pick-six was the decisive dagger. Cortez Allen, back to competence after a bungling game against the Bucs, had his own interception, seven tackles and three passes defensed. Jason Worilds, back from … I don’t know … the astral realm, recorded a sack and bullied Bortles all day. Lawrence Timmons was everywhere. Brett Keisel had a huge pass block late. They weren’t alone.
“We felt like we did what we were supposed to do,” Troy Polamalu summed it up succinctly.
Say what you will, too, and this on the negative side, about the continuing lack of discipline. The Sunday after the Steelers committed 13 penalties and Mike Tomlin vowed, “I’m going to fix this,” they had seven more for 50 yards at the intermission. To their credit, that was completely cleaned up in the second half, but it’s a problem until it isn’t. And when it’s compounded by a silly scene such as Lance Moore flagged for flipping a football after his second catch all season, then Moore and Tomlin jawing it out on the sideline, you’d better believe there’s work to do.
“I’m pleased the penalties were down,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, there were a couple things we didn’t do right that were addressed.”
Ultimately, though, the performance that mattered most was that of the offense.
And that’s because, at the risk of flogging a familiar drum, the performance that will matter most to these 2014 Steelers, now and beyond, will be that of the offense. That’s where their talent is. That’s where their potential is.
Though once again, you’d have a hard time knowing it.
Facing a defense so horrific it might as well have ranked 33rd in the 32-team NFL — 38 points allowed per game, while the second-highest was Tampa Bay’s 29.8 — the Steelers produced 10 offensive points.
Facing a defense so horrific it had allowed 102 first downs through four games, including a 49.2 percent conversion rate on third down, the Steelers had 20 first downs, their second-lowest total of the season, and achieved the following with their 10 possessions: Punt, punt, field goal, punt, touchdown, punt, lost fumble, punt … and victory formation!
Facing a defense so horrific it had allowed 56.4 percent of its opponents to turn red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, the Steelers went 1 for 4 inside the 20, 1 for 2 inside the 5. The latter saw two sideways passes and a sack.
Facing a defense so horrific it had paved the way for 25 plays of 20-plus yards, the Steelers mustered … um, three.
Facing a defense so horrific, if you add up all the data beforehand, should have offered the Steelers a terrific opportunity to find the consistency they’d discussed all of the previous week during practices. And all it served to do was to underscore that they’re no closer to finding that now than in the second half of the opener against the Browns.
Really, stop pounding the fist for a second and consider this: How is that an offense led by Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Heath Miller, a decent second back in LeGarrette Blount, a gifted deep guy in Markus Wheaton, a veteran slot receiver in Moore and a high-pedigree line isn’t showing the slightest signs of stepping up into a solid collective?
There are a lot of easily explained deficiencies regarding these Steelers. But not that. And man, I sure didn’t didn’t detect any further clarity in the locker room:
If you ask me, and I’ll apologize in advance for the possible oversimplification, I don’t think this coaching staff yet believes in the talent at hand. And that, as with everything on a football team, ultimately is the domain of the head coach.
How else to explain all the east-west nonsense?
How else to explain Brown having only four catches before Roethlisberger and Tomlin agreed to toss him that one last ball to extend his streak with at least five catches and 50 yards to 21?
How else to explain Wheaton being targeted only twice?
I could go on and on here, but then that would resemble one of the countless ridiculous sideways diagrams in Todd Haley’s playbook.
Tomlin loves to say, “I don’t live in my fears,” but then he says stuff like this after this game regarding the Jaguars’ secondary, which I’ll remind here is horrific: “They did a really good job of taking away the deep ball. That’s why the inclusion of the fullback and the tight ends in the passing game was critical to stay on course.”
Pressed further, Tomlin got defensive: “We were trying to win, seriously. We wanted to maintain possession of the ball. We want to run and pass it. We want to win possession downs.”
Wow, no and no.
The objective is to score points. Preferably lots of points. And that objective when facing a horrific defense with children in the secondary that comes out in man coverage … my goodness, the objective has to be to go with your strengths. Strengths which seem so glaringly obvious to all but those calling the signals.
Want more of that cold truth?
Here’s Brown when asked about the lack of anything vertical: “I think we could have attacked a lot more. They came out and were committed to pressing us, playing one on one. I think there were more opportunities for us out there against their defensive backs.”
Some of this is, in fairness, on Roethlisberger. With all the no-huddle, he’s as responsible as Haley for the play-calling at this point, even if it’s still pages out of the same book. Roethlisberger echoed Tomlin, to an extent, in citing Jacksonville rarely blitzing and keeping linebackers back in coverage. But he also appeared to grasp — far better than his coach — that just hanging onto the ball for decent stretches is no way to capitalize on the talent at hand.
“I was a little disappointed in the way I played,” Roethlisberger said. “I have to play better.”
He might also need to install the swagger back into the offense of his own volition.