Win doesn't mask Steelers' problems
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The Steelers didn't so much as beat the San Diego Chargers as they did survive them Sunday.
Their reward is a 7-3 record and sole possession of first place in the AFC North Division. A frustrating two-game losing streak at Heinz Field also has been snapped.
But if this team is destined to contend for the AFC championship, it's going to have to do a whole lot better than 11-10 at home over what's left of one of last season's AFC finalists.
For the record, referee Scott Green's crew admittedly blew the call on the game-concluding, touchdown-that-wasn't by Troy Polamalu.
But even at 18-10, the Steelers would have emerged having improved to 7-3 and having regained first place and having snapped their home losing streak all without the benefit of scoring an offensive touchdown.
The Steelers had a 100-yard rusher (Willie Parker, 115), a 100-yard receiver (Hines Ward, 124) and a 300-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger, 308), and still they couldn't cross the goal line.
That's difficult to do, but the Steelers found a way.
A couple of ways, actually.
One was to muck up another goal-to-go from the 1.
Coach Mike Tomlin could have called timeout after a third-and-8 completion to Nate Washington came up, the officiating crew maintained, inches shy of the goal line.
Tomlin should have at least challenged the spot, which may have resulted in a TD being awarded but at the very worst would have allowed the Steelers a pause to organize themselves.
Instead, they tried to play "beat the play clock", barely avoided a delay-of-game call, ran Mewelde Moore rather than Parker (did I mention he had 115 yards in his return from injury?) and suffered a 1-yard loss for their trouble.
Getting stuffed in such a fashion is becoming habit-forming.
Just as troubling is what the Steelers have become philosophically, which is the type of team they love to defend against.
They throw sideways. They throw underneath. They check down.
Rarely do they attack down the field any more.
Dick LeBeau knows such an approach isn't going to beat his defense, and he coordinates appropriately, believing teams aren't going to be able to go the length of the field and score touchdowns throwing sideways and underneath.
I think LeBeau is onto something.
It's especially difficult to dink and dunk your way to six points when penalty flags are frequently flying.
The Steelers committed a season-high 13 penalties against the Chargers (14 if you include an illegal block flag against James Farrior on an interception return that was offset by an unnecessary roughness call against the Chargers).
Seven of those were against the offense, including three against Ward.
Four of the penalties were assessed against the Steelers' special teams.
Their day also included regaining possession at the Steelers' 6 after the free kick from the opposite 20 that followed the safety registered by James Harrison. Moore didn't field the ball cleanly and Lawrence Timmons committed an illegal block.
And kicker Jeff Reed said he "didn't make myself ready" prior to a missed 51-yard field goal because he thought the Steelers would be punting.
All of the above gaffes somehow were overcome.
None of it is championship stuff.
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