Lack of pass rush holding back Steelers

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said he felt “sick” after a come-from-ahead 27-24 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

It wouldn’t make Mitchell feel any better to know that there was an undeniable symmetry between the resplendent day that the Steelers insisted on marring with penalty after penalty and the last time a journeyman wide receiver named Louis Murphy ruined a lot of Sundays in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Murphy burned the Steelers for 128 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Oakland Raiders’ 27-24 upset of Pittsburgh in 2009 at Heinz Field. Murphy’s 41-yard catch-and-run late in a game that the Steelers were determined to blow led to the same final score on Sunday -- and ultimately the same questions that dogged the 2009 team as well as the other Mike Tomlin-coached teams that have failed to make the playoffs.

The overriding one is why have the Steelers developed a habit of losing to lesser teams they should beat when they have a chance of stringing victories together.

It happened too often in 2012 and 2013.

It happened again on Sunday -- and against a team that had lost its previous game by 42 points.

Forget for a second that Mike Glennon’s easy throw to Murphy in the middle of the field, which set up his game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds to play, appeared to be the result of linebacker Lawrence Timmons not taking a deep enough drop with the Steelers in a zone.

That pitch-and-catch between a quarterback who had been a backup through the Buccaneers’ first three games and a wide receiver who had been on the street until last week was a symptom of something larger that ails the Steelers.

They simply cannot generate enough pressure on the quarterback to cover for a suspect secondary.

Not even close.

While the Buccaneers were dumping Ben Roethlisberger five times, including one that led to a key turnover early, the Steelers rarely got to Glennon or even made the second-year man uncomfortable in the pocket.

The Steelers sacked Glennon just one time and hit the slender 6-foot-6 signal-caller only four times.

The Steelers got all of two quarterback pressures from their outside linebackers, which was a main reason why Glennon looked like a seasoned pro in throwing for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns and needed just 33 seconds to march the Buccaneers 46 yards for the winning score.

The reality, a quarter into the season, is that the Steelers are probably going to have to outscore a lot of teams to win 10 games and avoid sinking into a cycle of mediocrity.

They almost did that Sunday after spotting the Buccaneers an early 10-0 lead.

Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were magnificent, and the Steelers win the game if Brown doesn’t drop a perfectly thrown deep ball off a flea flicker in the fourth quarter – or if Big Ben doesn’t overthrow the two-time Pro Bowler on a key third down later in the drive.

“I think every man in that locker [room] feels like we could have done something different to affect the outcome of the game,” Brown said.

The shame of it for the Steelers if they would have held on to beat the Buccaneers is their schedule set up nicely for them to go on a run. Now they are back to wondering which team will show up on a weekly basis.

“We’ve got to get off this up-and-down roller coaster ride,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “It’s unpleasant for everybody. We’ve got to be a straight line. We’ve got to get better.”