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Steelers are wrestling with why they struggle versus poor teams

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reacts after being sacked during the fourth quarter against the Jets on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Just as there are must-win games in the NFL, there are must-not-lose games. And the Steelers keep losing them.

So instead of immediately focusing their attention on their next game, against the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers (6-4) chose Monday to look into their rearview mirrors. The sight they saw was familiar.

“You definitely have to go back and look at this because there’s a lot of stuff out there we could have prevented,” left guard Ramon Foster said of the 20-13 loss Sunday to the New York Jets. “It’s not one of those things where they just outplayed us. … You can’t be a pro team doing the stuff like (the Steelers did).

“We’re going to look at it and slap ourselves in the head because there was so much left out there. You can’t make excuses for it.”

They didn’t try to, either. If only because they realized there was no excuse losing to the Jets (2-8), who were on the verge of the franchise’s first nine game-losing streak. Just as there was no excuse for losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8) six weeks ago.

“You’re holding your hands like how? Why?” said Foster, who is as perplexed as anyone about the Steelers’ inability to beat poor-record teams. “Honestly, I have no answer for how it unfolded. I’m still speechless about it myself.”

Of the four worst-record teams, the Steelers lost to two (Jets, Bucs) and barely beat a third, the Jaguars (1-9). Mercifully, the NFL spared the Steelers from playing winless Oakland (0-9), perhaps because the Raiders beat them the past two seasons when Oakland had records of 0-2 (2012) and 2-4 (2013).

“This is the NFL: If you don’t show up ready to play and play your type of game, you’re going to lose,” wide receiver Lance Moore said. “Any team is capable of beating any team. This game is a perfect example of that. We’re hot, we came in, we’re high and mighty, and a team came in and played better than us. That’s the NFL.”

It’s certainly the Steelers’ way. In 2012, they lost to teams that were 1-4 (Titans), 2-8 (Browns) and 4-8 (Chargers). Last year, they lost to the Vikings when Minnesota was 0-3.

“We’ve definitely got to evaluate this one,” Foster said. “This was a tough one … in the sense of you’ve got to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.”

However, if there’s any concern that Jets coach Rex Ryan’s defense offered a way to slow an offense that threw 12 touchdown passes and piled up more than 1,000 yards the previous two weeks, it’s not showing up.

Moore blames the four turnovers, running only seven offensive plays before the Steelers fell behind 17-0 and running only 25 plays overall in a disjointed and error-filled first half.

“They gave us a bunch of different looks, but I’m not going to say they reinvented the wheel on defense,” Moore said. “They did some different things, but if we’re not holding onto the ball, it doesn’t really matter what happens.”

Le’Veon Bell remains third in the league with 747 rushing yards, but he has been limited to 21 carries for 56 yards the past two weeks. He ran only 10 times against the Ravens because the passing game was working so well. His 11 carries against the Jets resulted from the Steelers falling behind early by three scores.

“I go out there and do what I can when the opportunity is given to me. I’ve been used a lot in the passing game so that substitutes for the carries, I guess,” Bell said. “We were playing catch-up, so we couldn’t run the ball as much, but I can’t put a finger on (why he got the ball so little).”

Bell isn’t the only one searching for answers. The Steelers have six games to play and no clue as to which team will show up. Will it be the record-setting Steelers who can’t be stopped, or the recalcitrant Steelers who can’t stop from losing to bad opponents?

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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