After one of their more gruesome openers, the Pittsburgh Steelers hit the road hoping to both redeem themselves and find themselves when they play in what has been cozy Cincinnati for them.
They have two new starters at center and inside linebacker because of season-ending injuries to Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote. And they recalled halfback Jonathan Dwyer because of a season-ending injury to LaRod Stephens-Howling.
It was a rough start, a 16-9 loss at home to Tennessee, their first loss in a home opener in 11 years. Now they play a much better team on the road, a division rival who beat them out of a playoff spot last season.
“No, it’s not confidence-threatening,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times. “We lost a game in week one. Yeah, we didn’t play very well at all on offense, but there’s no time to panic right now.”
They will start either Kelvin Beachum at center or newly signed Fernando Velasco, the Tennessee Titans starting center in 2012. They signed Velasco on Monday. Pouncey may be the second-most valuable player on offense behind Roethlisberger, making him among those they could least afford to lose.
How that offense that produced only 32 yards rushing, allowed five sacks and lost two turnovers will improve against a better defense is anyone’s guess, but built mostly on blind hope that Roethlisberger can somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat.
They already are missing their receptions leader and team MVP in tight end Heath Miller, who does not appear ready to return to play from his triple knee ligament injury in the 15th game of last season. Also not ready to return is the halfback they planned to help resurrect their running game, Le’Veon Bell.
“I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good offensively, but to strike a balance,” Mike Tomlin said. “We haven’t been able to do that to this point. Obviously, we are working hard to do so.”
They also are concerned about protecting the quarterback. Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked five times because he was trying to extend plays. The pocket collapsed. It’s why they’d like to have Velasco at center and use Beachum to help the tackles block at tight end.
“We didn’t play well,” Tomlin said. “Not only in the offensive line, butjust as an offensive unit or as a football team. Obviously, losing Maurkice Pouncey was a blow to the group, not only in terms of what he’s capable of, but emotionally, the manner in which it happened.
“Hopefully, we’ll put those things behind us.”