PHILADELPHIA -- Anyone think the Steelers had a bad day Wednesday when two players were cited for marijuana possession? It only got worse Thursday night.
If the third game is the most telling of the preseason, the Steelers would seem to be in a heap of trouble based on their performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, who beat them handily, 31-21, at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Steelers' offense and defense played so poorly in the first half that coach Mike Tomlin kept deploying them well into the third quarter. It did not get any better for them on defense.
Quarterbacks Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez both shredded the Steelers defense and all of the question marks that have piled up around them. Over on the other side, it took Ben Roethlisberger two series into the third quarter before he and his offense resembled anything like the point machine they hope to be this season.
One no-huddle offense did work well -- for the Eagles. Foles drove two of his first three series to long touchdown drives, and his final one to a field goal. The Steelers had no answer for him or his third-quarter replacement, Sanchez, who guided the Eagles to two touchdowns on the first two drives of the third quarter with his second offense going against the Steelers first defense.
Foles left for the night having riddled that Steelers' defense by completing 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards. His team led 17-0 at halftime.
Sanchez then did his Tom Brady impression against the Steelers first team defense twice in the third quarter, guiding his team to two long touchdown drives of 60 and 80 yards, both ending on 1-yard touchdown runs by Matthew Tucker. Sanchez was 7 of 9 for 85 yards and a 106 passer rating.
Roethlisberger stayed in the game for the first two series of the third quarter, perhaps because he and his offense looked so listless throughout the first half. The quarterback seemed out of sync with his receivers the entire first half. He was intercepted for the first time this preseason on a pass in which he overthrew rookie Dri Archer.
Roethlisbeger completed 8 of 17 passes for just 60 yards in the first half, when he had a 31.5 passer rating.
As promised, the Steelers played both Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount at halfback, one day after they were caught by Ross police smoking marijuana on the way to catch the team charter flight to Philadelphia. Bell carried eight times for 18 yards and caught a pass for three yards. Blount gained 32 yards on seven carries, and 14 more on three receptions.
It took Roethlisberger and his offense two series into the third quarter before they finally played as though they were not in a haze. Eagles coach Chip Kelly complied by running his first defense against the Steelers in those two third-quarter series. Roethlisberger completed all five passes on that drive for 85 yards, two for 40 yards to Antonio Brown, and the final one of 27 yards to Heath Miller.
That touchdown drive lifted Roethlisberger to 15 completions in 24 tries for 157 yards, his first two sacks of the year and a 78.0 passer rating.
Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, 33 yards to Darrius Heyward-Bey and 3 yards to rookie Martavis Bryant to at least make the score respectable.
The Steelers had opened the game in the no-huddle, which Roethlisberger hoped to use extensively on the road for the first time. They quickly abandoned it. That first drive fizzled at the Eagles' 48 on two pass incompletions, the second when Justin Brown appeared to run the wrong route and was told so as he approached the Steelers sideline.
Philadelphia's no-huddle, hurry-up offense worked a tad better on its second series. Foles directed them 80 yards on 11 plays, many of them to LeSean McCoy, the former Pitt star, who made the Steelers defense look silly by taking a short pass and running through them the final 22 yards for a touchdown.
The Steelers abandoned the no-huddle on their second drive and nothing really clicked for them.
Foles took the Eagles on a second long drive, 13 plays over 77 yards for a second score when Darren Sproles ran up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 14-0.
Roethlisberger and Foles exchanged interceptions -- Troy Polamalu picked off Philadelphia's quarterback, who threw only two interceptions all last season. But the Steelers offense coninued its woes and the Eagles polished off a good half for them when Alex Henery kicked a 36-yard field goal with 59 seconds left for that 17-0 halftime lead.
(c)2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services