It was a less-than-uplifting couple days for the Pittsburgh Steelers. One day after running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were involved in a traffic stop that reportedly will result in them facing citations for marijuana-related offenses, the Steelers played Thursday night at Philadelphia in the third preseason game that serves as the primary dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Bell and Blount played in the game, but that did the Steelers little good. Their starters were overrun by the Eagles, who raced to a 24-0 lead on their way to a 31-21 triumph.
“We’re not gonna make an excuse for that performance,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said at his postgame news conference late Thursday night. “We’re gonna own that. What happened [Wednesday] or whatever had nothing to do with how we performed tonight.”
The Steelers are attempting to bounce back from consecutive 8-8, non-playoff seasons and become the sort of relevant, contending team that they have been for so much of their glorious history. But this week, they were newsworthy for the wrong reasons.
According to police, an officer found a 20-gram bag of marijuana Wednesday afternoon in a car driven by Bell, with Blount and a woman riding as passengers. Bell is to be cited for driving under the influence of marijuana and all three are to be cited for marijuana possession, according to police, with official notification of the misdemeanor charges expected to come by mail.
“That conduct is detrimental to our efforts,” Tomlin said late Thursday night. “They’ll be dealt with appropriately. From my perspective, in terms of their participation tonight, I didn’t view it as punishment to send them home, to be quite honest with you, to not play in this preseason game. I’d rather them play more than anticipated than to remove them from the game. So that’s why we took the stance that we took tonight. Obviously we’ve got some things to do regarding the matter moving forward. But [there’s] not a lot to say regarding it as this point in time.”
The NFL is expected to review the incident and the players could face potential disciplinary measures.
The Steelers expect Bell and Blount to be a productive duo to help Ben Roethlisberger, the franchise’s two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, in the team’s bid to return to the NFL’s upper echelon. Bell ran for 860 yards and eight touchdowns last season for the Steelers as a rookie. Blount, signed as a free agent in the offseason, rushed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the New England Patriots. He was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie in 2010.
The Steelers’ on-field problems against the Eagles were widespread. Roethlisberger faced plenty of pass-rush pressure and made a number of inaccurate throws. The Steelers were shut out in the first half and their starters scored only after Philadelphia’s first-team defense exited the game. Roethlisberger connected with tight end Heath Miller for a touchdown pass late in the third quarter.
The Pittsburgh defense, meanwhile, had few answers for the Eagles’ fast-break offense. Linebacker Jason Worilds emerged from the game with a knee injury, the severity of which was not immediately clear.
“Defensive football is simple at times,” Tomlin said. “You know, it’s about defeating blocks and making tackles. It didn’t appear that we were coming off enough blocks consistently enough to shut down their running game. So that’s my knee-jerk response or a simple answer to your question, if you will. But I’m sure when I look at the tape there’ll be more complex issues regarding it. But it’s in a nutshell — not enough guys coming off blocks making tackles.”
The Steelers have a few more weeks to iron out their problems before their Sept. 7 regular season opener at home against the Cleveland Browns. That’s a highly winnable game for the Steelers, especially given how Brian Hoyer has played so far this preseason on his way to being chosen as the Browns’ starter at quarterback over rookie Johnny Manziel. But the Steelers must play a Thursday night game at Baltimore four days after the opener. In all, four of the Steelers’ first six regular season games are on the road. So if they want their season to get off to a positive start, they’d better play far better than they did Thursday.
“It’s not shocking,” Tomlin said. “Obviously we don’t want to play like that under any circumstances. But we did. So we’ve got to own it and … it’s more important about how we move forward and make the proper corrections in all three phases so that that doesn’t happen again.”