Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.
For about as long as the NFL has existed, the Pittsburgh Steelers have prided themselves on being a tough, physical, in-the-trenches football team. Something has gone terribly amiss this season.
The Steelers are not just struggling along both the offensive and defensive lines -- they're getting hammered. Baltimore punished Pittsburgh in a 35-7 Week 1 rout; Indianapolis ripped the Steelers' O-line to shreds in Week 3, nearly pulling off an upset; and Houston put its foot down and made a statement early against the defending AFC champs.
Houston's first drive in a 17-10 win Sunday lasted 19 plays and took up 10 minutes and 55 seconds of game time. The Texans ran 13 times on that possession, with two carries negated by penalties.
Pittsburgh simply could not get off the field.
The Texans converted on 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-2 in the drive, which ended with a Matt Schaub-to-Owen Daniels touchdown pass.
After the Steelers' Week 1 debacle in Baltimore, I wrote that it was too early to be concerned about the defense. Ample time has passed now to express some worry.
The Steelers are not getting any push at the line of scrimmage, whether they play straight up or blitz. That's why Pittsburgh had no sacks Sunday and part of the reason that, remarkably, its defense has forced just one turnover in 2011.
The photo below is from the next-to-last play on that epic opening drive by the Texans Sunday. It's 2nd-and-4 from the Pittsburgh 6, and the Texans lined up with just one wide receiver -- Andre Johnson -- and everyone else in tight. It was a run formation on a run down.
This is what happened:
The defensive line is getting mauled -- Arian Foster actually has two huge lanes to scoot through -- and several Steelers appear to have overpursued to Foster's right. The Texans RB wound up gaining five yards on the play, down to the Pittsburgh 1, to set up the Daniels TD grab.
Plenty of times in the past, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense have been able to cover up when the vaunted defense stumbles. But the Steelers' offensive line is having the same problems. Take a look at this play from Pittsburgh's first drive:
Roethlisberger started that play, a 3rd-and-10, in the shotgun. Houston showed blitz but rushed just four, while the Steelers kept seven in to block, slipping tight end Heath Miller out late. No less than three Texans managed to converge on Roethlisberger, who was sacked and fumbled.
An illegal contact penalty downfield on the Texans negated that outcome, but the Steelers had similar issues all day. Houston wound up sacking Roethlisberger five times and hitting him countless others. Roethlisberger left the stadium on crutches with an injured foot and his status for Week 5 is now in question.
Pittsburgh wound up allowing 155 yards rushing to Foster -- no one on the Steelers topped 40 yards, though an injury to Rashard Mendenhall hurt. But the Steelers' problems are bigger than one player right now. It's a team-wide epidemic. Just ask James Harrison:
"People are getting beat. You have to come out there and work the man who's in front of you, and we're not doing that right now ...
"I haven't seen it like this, maybe a preseason game here and there, but not like this the way it's going right now."
Pittsburgh is closing in on crisis mode here. It's difficult to make too many substantial personnel changes in-season, so the answers are going to have to come from the players already in place.
In a lot of cases along both lines, those players have been around Pittsburgh for some time. They've seen what it looks like when the Steelers are playing their hard-nosed game.
Right now, that's not the case.