The scoreboard told the story in Philadelphia.
The sideline provided the necessary perspective regarding how the Steelers’ defense felt about being scorched repeatedly in what became a 31-21 preseason loss to the Eagles.
The defense huddled around coordinator Dick LeBeau after the Eagles had increased their lead to 24-0 on their first possession of the third quarter. Safety Troy Polamalu was in the middle of that gathering initially. He stormed out of it at one point, stormed back into it at another and eventually had to be removed from the group via a bear hug applied by safety Will Allen, who wasn’t in uniform.
LeBeau spent some time seated next to Polamalu on the bench once the huddle had finally broken up.
Safety Mike Mitchell returned to the bench after the Eagles upped what had been a 24-7, third-quarter lead to 31-7, took off his helmet and slammed it into the ground without letting go of it three consecutive times. The third time Mitchell’s helmet met the turf, the facemask snapped off (Allen eventually collected it).
Mitchell and rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier also had to be separated at one juncture.
From all of the above we can conclude the Steelers’ defenders are mad as hell.
We’ll find out soon enough if they’re not going to take it anymore.
“I’m sorry, if you want to talk about the game we can talk about the game,” Polamalu said when questioned in the immediate aftermath about his emotional outburst. “But what happens on the sidelines is, I guess, maybe seen publically but internally between this team.”
Shazier expressed no lingering hard feelings with Mitchell (it’s uncertain whether the same can be said for Mitchell’s mangled helmet).
“We’re alright,” Shazier said. “He was telling me what I need to work on. We’re all good, though. Us as a whole, as a defense, we just have to do better.
“We were all in there. It was a little chippy but we’re all good.”
“Chippy” isn’t a term that’s often invoked to describe interaction between defensive teammates in the preseason.
But it’s also atypical for a defense to perform as poorly across the board as the Steelers did in what’s traditionally perceived as the preseason’s closest approximation of a dress rehearsal.
The good news is what happened against Philadelphia was being interpreted as unacceptable even as it was happening.
The bad news is it’s going to take more than an emotional outburst or three to fix what ails the Steelers’ defense.
And the clock is ticking.
“Man, just passion,” cornerback Ike Taylor offered regarding the sideline subplots in Philadelphia. “Just passion, love for the game. It’s like that sometimes, just guys showing passion for the game, nothing wrong with that. During the heat of the battle, man, that’s how it is sometimes.
“We all care. So when you care and it’s not going your way you get frustrated. We’re all together, though.”
The Steelers have that much going for them on defense.
They have until Sept. 7 to figure out the rest.