STEELERS – TITANS REACTIONS
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It would have been difficult for the season to begin any worse for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost offensive captain Maurkice Pouncey and defensive leader Larry Foote to season-ending injuries and then dropped a 16-9 decision to the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Pouncey, the only true center on the roster, suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee due to a careless play by guard David DeCastro. The Steelers signed center-guard Cody Wallace one week ago, but he was deactivated for the game. So, multi-purpose lineman Kelvin Beachum had to play center.
Foote, a veteran inside linebacker, suffered a torn right bicep. Both his injury and Pouncey’s will need surgery to repair the damage. Pouncey’s replacement will be determined this week, while Kion Wilson replaced Foote Sunday and could continue in that role. Rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams was deactivated Sunday, so Wilson could play special teams. Wilson had been Foote’s backup.
“Obviously, a disappointing opener,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Enough misery to go around in all three phases. Unacceptable performance. I won’t accept it. This team better not accept it. We’ve got some work to do. … We’ve just got to understand what the standard is, and that’s not up to the standard.
“We better work to play to it. We’re capable. We’re good enough to win football games. We’re good enough to win that game today, not taking anything away from the Tennessee Titans. They did a great job, (and) we did not.”
Tomlin was correct in one aspect. There were issues in all three phases for the Steelers. First, there’s the offense. Without Pouncey, and certainly with some effort by the Titans, the Steelers could not run the football. Isaac Redman was horrendous. Stumbling into the line or going wide for not much yardage. And then fumbling twice. Those were inexcusable.
The first one cost the Steelers points and smacked momentum from their side to the Titans. He also fumbled the next time he came in the game, which thwarted a Steelers drive. It wouldn’t have hit the field again except that LaRod Stephens-Howling (right knee) got hurt as well. His status was up in the air, but will be determined after an MRI. A right knee sprain forced him to miss three weeks during the preseason, so it likely is at least that bad.
“We had a miscommunication in terms of the personnel group,” Tomlin said about the initial fumble. Once we got an understanding of what the issue was, we realized it was irrelevant with regard to the play. But, obviously, we didn’t execute the play well. So, not good.”
Ironically, Felix Jones and Will Johnson both dressed, but neither was used much at all. Jones was in for a couple plays, but he had no carries. And Johnson played only on special teams. He never hit the field on offense.
“We just didn’t get enough going with any of the running backs,” Tomlin said. “The game circumstances dictated that we do some things, no-huddle and so forth. (Jones) has been here for a short period of time. That maybe had an effect on our utilization of him, particularly down the stretch.
“(Johnson) was available to us. By the time we determined he was available, it was the latter part of the week. We had a plan kind of in place. He was there if we needed him. Obviously, due to the game circumstances, we didn’t get a chance to utilize him much. He did participate on special teams.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 21-for-33 for 191 yards and one touchdown with five sacks and one interception. Wideout Emmanuel Sanders was targeted the most, 12 times, and he had seven catches for 57 yards. Antonio Brown (5-for-71) and Jerricho Cotchery (4-for-34, 1 TD) were the only other wideouts to touch the ball. Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye did not get a chance. Stephens-Howling and Redman caught passes out of the backfield, and tight end David Johnson had one catch for 11 yards.
“Not good enough,” Roethlisberger said when asked to discuss his performance. “No excuses. I don’t make excuses. It just wasn’t good enough. I didn’t play good enough. … We (moved the ball) late, but we couldn’t do it early enough. It was just little things here and little things there, just never quite got it going.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes in this game, a play or two (goal-line fumble).
“Turnovers kill you. That’s why we can’t have it. They were my fault. … I thought about calling a timeout, because we had the wrong personnel in. The thing was the play was going to Isaac Redman the whole time. He was in, and he knew the play. So, I didn’t feel it was necessary to burn a timeout when we had the guys in (the game) to run the play.”
Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley had a sack, while he and defensive end Brett Keisel had one quarterback pressure each. And rookie Jarvis Jones had two stops behind the line.
“As a defense, we want to go out there and cause some turnovers and not allow a team to run the ball so we can get after them in the pass rush a little bit,” Woodley said. “We didn’t do that today as a defense.”
“This is very disappointing,” Keisel said. “You want to win at home anytime you step out there. So, it was disappointing, but hopefully this team can bounce back and show some fight.”
Incredibly, the Steelers are tied for first place in the AFC North, because all four teams have started the season with an 0-1 record. The Steelers visit Cincinnati next Monday night.