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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cold Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-2. Following last night’s 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, the Steelers find themselves in a very difficult hole. For a team expected to compete for a Super Bowl every year, having appeared in three of the last eight and winning two, the red flags are waving in the Steel City. Historically, the prospects are grim for teams starting 0-2.

Tough times for Big Ben 1

The season is only two weeks old and there is a possibility of a legitimate “yeah, but” for a rough start after just two weeks. Tough opponents, a road schedule, division opponents, bad breaks in close games, injuries lingering from the prior season, contract holdouts of key players, and any combination of the aforementioned could sink a potential Super Bowl champion in back-to-back weeks at the start of a season. However, the Steelers don’t have much in the “yeah, but” department.

The Steelers lost at home to the Tennessee Titans, 16-9, in a game in which they never seriously threatened to take the lead. The Steelers offense did not score a single point until the final two minutes of the game and never drove deep enough into their opponents’ territory to attempt a field goal. Last night, the Bengals dominated the Steelers in the second half without much doubt about the outcome by the middle of the 4th quarter.

The Steelers have several problems, but the giant red flag is the absence of anything resembling a running game. The Steelers are built to be a run first team with a quarterback whose skills are best utilized when the run sets up the pass. Pittsburgh has a running back-by-quartet arrangement of Isaac Redman, Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones, and Jonathan Dwyer. That quartet is completely out of tune.

The Steelers have failed to run for 50 yards as a team in either of their first two regular season games. Jones is the team’s leading rusher with 37 yards. As great of a quarterback as Ben Roethlisberger is, he is not the type of QB who succeeds when he has to throw the ball over 30 times per game while trailing without a credible running threat to keep the defense honest. Big Ben has thrown 70 passes in the first two weeks of the year.

The Titans served up the hits and Isaac Redman served up the ball. 2


The Steelers’ defense is as problematic as its offense. The Steelers, throughout their modern existence, have been built on defense. This current team is no exception. However, the Steel Curtain is a little tattered. As a unit they are long in the tooth.

Three of their four starting defensive backs, safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor are age 32 or older and two of their starting linebackers – outside LB Lamarr Wodley and inside LB Lawrence Timmons – are over 27. The Steelres sent their most healthy (albeit most combustible) aging defender, 35-year-old former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, to the Bengals. I would say he’s having the last laugh this morning, but I’ve never seen Harrison smile.

While Harrison is bringing toughness and experience to a Bengals defense that is off to another solid start, the Steelers have coughed up nearly 250 yards on the ground in two weeks. The Steelers are in the top 10 in the league in total defense and points allowed, however they have trailed for most of the entire season. An opponent with a lead that can run the ball effectively does not need to take the risk of throwing the football, especially late in games. The Steelers weakness against the run has to turn around as long as the offense continues to struggle. Otherwise, the losses will continue to cascade upon the Steel City.

I'd imagine that this is as much of a smile the public will ever see from Harrison, probably having a silent, sadistic thrill watching rookies go through the "HOLY CRAP" experience of their first training camp. 3


The possibility of the Steelers starting 0-4 is not far-fetched. It would also be a disaster for them. Their next game is against the Chicago Bears, who are 2-0 and whose offense is performing at a high level thus far. Their fourth game is in London, England against 0-2 Minnesota, who was in the playoffs last year and have the best running back in the league. As a team with multiple issues and a weak run defense, a game against a probable future Hall of Fame runner at the peak of his career is not what the doctor ordered.

The Steelers could possibly find themselves in a position in which they haven’t found themselves in years – rebuilding. Other than Roethlisberger, almost every player is subject to reevaluation at the end of the season if the Steelers miss the playoffs for a second year in a row with lackluster performances.  The modern NFL allows teams to turn their fortunes around quickly through free agency. The Steelers, however, are a principled organization that prefers to grow through the draft and home-grown players. In the salary-cap era, good drafts, each year, are a formula for long term success, not quick turnarounds. Tough times may be ahead in Pittsburgh.

I wonder if Ben would have rather been on the a golf course in Hawai'i last night, like his wife, Ashley, pictured above (circa 2012 Pro Bowl). 4

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