Lopsided loss to Eagles shows Steelers have issues aplenty

| Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

They're supposed to be faster, but they couldn't begin to keep up with the Philadelphia Eagles' super-fast tempo.

They're supposed to be deeper, but coach Mike Tomlin couldn't find reliable performers no matter where he searched on a depth chart that's about to start thinning.

They're supposed to be better, but even Steelers players were questioning afterward whether they'll be ready to play the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 7.

“There's got to be a sense of urgency going into the season, and if we don't step it up now, Cleveland is going to come into our house and beat us,” defensive end Cam Heyward said following a 31-21 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

No matter where the Steelers looked, there were troubles.

The no-huddle? It couldn't begin to match the Eagles' pace, and it was gone in about 60 seconds' worth of on-field time. And the supposedly upgraded run game was outrushed 182-58, even as Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount stayed on the field for nearly 60 minutes — something starters almost never do in the preseason.

The Steelers fell behind 31-7 before Tomlin pulled his defensive starters. But from the way Tomlin and some of his players talked afterward, it was obvious this counted for something.

“I'm not ready to predict the future, whether we are ready for the season or not,” said safety Troy Polamalu, who clearly was troubled by the defense's letdown. “If you look at (this) performance, you could say we definitely are not.”

The offense was so inefficient, and the defense was so deficient, it might force Tomlin to put his starters back on the field Thursday night when the Steelers close out the preseason against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. Last year, Tomlin rested most of his key starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“I don't know how much guys are going to play, but we got to know that when Cleveland comes, they are going to bring the full shed on us,” Heyward said. “They're not going to mess around. They're going to see what we did wrong and continue to run it.”

So what's to blame?

The distraction caused by the Bell/Blount marijuana fiasco before the team plane left Wednesday?

A short week of rest following a Saturday night game and a long training camp, plus a warm and humid night?

A bad start on both sides of the ball that couldn't be corrected as, linebacker Ryan Shazier said, the Eagles “ran up and down?” An unexplained lack of focus? Or, as Heyward said, “a lack of energy?”

Or was it merely a precursor to more of the same maladies that troubled the Steelers during their 8-8 seasons of 2012 and '13?

“I'm not sure,” wide receiver Markus Wheaton said. “Obviously, it looked bad.”

“If we don't correct it, guys are going to run the same plays over and over until we get sick of it,” Heyward said.

What is especially troublesome to the Steelers is that Week 3 is the only preseason game that replicates a regular-season game.

“We're going to challenge ourselves, coaches and players alike and hopefully get better in an effort to not put tape out like that on a consistent basis,” Tomlin said. “It's unacceptable.”

It certainly was to Heyward, who is emerging as a leader on the defense.

“I think everybody's (mad),” he said. “If you're not (mad), then you shouldn't be on this team. … You best believe that when we get to practice, stuff better be handled or we're going to be in for a long season this year.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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