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Steelers running on empty

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 10:47 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Titans' Chris Johnson stiff-arms the Steelers' Ryan Clark during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Jerricho Cotchery was among a handful of Steelers still hovering around the locker room that quickly emptied after a disheartening 16-9 defeat to the underdog Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Heinz Field.

Cotchery sat on a stool near his locker pondering how the team's plans to right their wayward ship went awry during the team's first home-opening defeat in a decade. Admittedly, the answers were bountiful in the aftermath of an uninspiring performance that silenced a usually vociferous home crowd.

The veteran receiver, who scored the only points for a beleaguered offense with a 4-yard reception from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the waning minutes, said the Steelers' problems weren't simply a matter of a flawed game plan.

Rather, he focused on the Steelers' inability to create game-altering plays.

“At the end of the day, we have to get something going,” Cotchery said. “We have to make some plays and get in a groove. It's tough watching the defense come off the field after playing as hard as they did. Those guys were tired because we couldn't get anything going.”

The defense has been the focus of criticism the past two seasons for not forcing more turnovers. But Cotchery said the offense has to shoulder much of the blame, considering it generated only 195 yards, including 32 rushing.

However, safety Troy Polamalu wouldn't let the defense off the hook. He said the defense, which has been No. 1 in the NFL the past two seasons, again failed to deliver a momentum-shifting turnover to help out a struggling offense.

“We had few opportunities, but we did have opportunities,” said Polamalu, who had six tackles but couldn't come up with a tipped ball in the first quarter. “We just didn't capitalize on our chances. There were definitely a lot of mistakes we made that we have to improve on as a team. Our success this year depends on whether we can correct those mistakes.”

Unlike the Steelers, the Titans delivered, mostly in the run game, including a back-breaking 12-run drive that culminated with Tennessee's only touchdown, a 3-yard run by Jackie Battle. If nothing else, the Steelers' game-day film gives Cincinnati something it might exploit Monday night.

“It's tough to make splash plays if teams are going to commit to the run game,” Polamalu said. “We know there has to be ebb and flow in the game, whether it's stuffing the run or forcing second- or third-and-long situations. It's hard to force turnovers when they can run the ball.”

The Steelers wanted to run the ball, too. It was part of the preseason plan, but it blew up as the offensive line imploded before and after center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a season-ending right-knee injury.

“It all works together. If we hold the ball more, the defense is fresher,” Cotchery said. “Everybody can look at something they feel can help this team to create some momentum.

“Tennessee is a good football team, but I feel we are, too. We just have to get it done. Every man has to look at himself to see what he can do better to help this team. It's the approach we have to have if we're going to win.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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