SL Roundtable: Biggest Surprises, Disappointments Four Games In

The Steelers are a quarter of the way through the 2010 season. Their 3-1 record is wholly shocking, even if Mike Tomlin said during the Tuesday presser that he thought Pittsburgh would be 4-0.

Whatever, it’s a Steelers Lounge roundtable. The topic: the biggest surprises and disappointments through four games. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Biggest Surprises

Ryan: I would say the quarterback play, but when you think about it, outside of the Bucs game, the QBs played about like we expected: average to below average. Which made the success of the running game sorta shocking since everybody knew that’s all a one-dimensional Steelers offense could muster. And while Rashard Mendenhall has been a beast, a lot of the credit has to go to the rotation of fat guys in front of him.

I know the offensive line hasn’t been perfect — or, hell, much more than mediocre — but given the absurdly low expectations most of us had for this bunch heading into the season, they have been a huge surprise. In addition to the running game doing most of the heavy lifting in the first four games, Charlie Batch often had plenty of time to throw while standing in the pocket against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Yes, he usually faced four-man pass rushes, but this is the same o-line that regularly struggled to block anybody in recent seasons. (Side note: it’ll be interesting to see how the o-line performs with Ben back out there holding the ball for 15 seconds at a time.) That they have been able to hold it together with Flozell and Legursky (not to mention appearances by Jonathan Scott, Ramon Foster and Tony Hills) is mind blowing.

Ted: Yes, the o-line and its impact on a successful rush offense despite having no passing threat was a major and pleasant surprise. But I would rank the quality play of the special-teams coverage units and cornerbacks ahead of the o-line as the most surprising parts of the 2010 Steelers.

As bad as the Steelers’ offensive line has been in recent years, it was actually better in 2009 than the Super Bowl championship team in 2008. However, last year’s kick-coverage unit was the worst in modern NFL history (giving up five kick returns for TDs) and the Steelers’ corners may have been the worst in the NFL.

This fall, however, the additions of Will Allen, Arnaz Battle, Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds have greatly improved the special-teams coverage units.

Furthermore, Ike Taylor is again (like 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008) playing at a Pro Bowl level and may actually get there this year, because he held onto an interception, which may have been the biggest surprise of all. Moreover, Bryant McFadden and William Gay are playing as well as the No. 2 and No. 3 CBs as they did in 2008, with the last minute of the Baltimore game an exception.

Adam: How about William Gay? This guy was abused by opposing offenses, fans, media … hell, everybody last season and he’s come back in this year in a smaller role and looks like a really solid player. As I’ve said a couple of times over the past couple of weeks, he might be the new Deshea Townsend, and that’s not a bad thing.

JJ: Rashard Mendenhall and the offensive line have showed that Pittsburgh is a more balanced team than recent years. Even with Roethlisberger back, I think we can all be excited about the idea of a team that can run the ball with a fourth quarter lead. Mendenhall has been able to do this against solid defenses that knew that he was getting the ball, I’m excited to think what he should be able to do now that teams can’t walk a safety up on every first down.

I’ll also throw out that Sean Kugler and Al Everest look like a very good pair of assistant coaching hires.

Biggest Disappointments

Ryan: Skippy. He’s missed four kicks in four weeks, and as Gretz mentioned in our last podcast, yes, it’s not uncommon for NFL kickers to honk 45-plus-yarders. But if we’re starting from that premise then Reed is expendable.

Think about it this way: if Jeffy weren’t struggling you could make a half-decent argument that special teams has been the Steelers’ strongest unit the first quarter of the season.

Ted: Reed has to go No. 1 here and it is not even close. But this may sound unduly harsh, but I saw the play of Dennis Dixon as disappointing.

Yes, he was 2-0 as a starter against two quality opponents. However, I strongly advocated for him to start the first four games all offseason but now believe that either Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch would have been better choices. I literally was frightened that Dixon would throw a pick-6 on any outside pass after the first quarter of the Atlanta opener.

While he was not bad, Dixon did not exhibit the NFL starting potential many of us had hoped/expected and the Steelers will not be getting a second-round pick in return for his services this offseason. Tough to find any real disappointments on this team thus far beside Skippy. But I am holding off judgment on a receiving corps that I expect to miss Santonio Holmes’ productivity and proclivity to come through with game-changing clutch plays.

Adam: Just to go in a different direction than Jeff Reed, but how little the Steelers were able to get Heath Miller involved over the first four games. I don’t mean that to sound like Miller hasn’t played well, because he really hasn’t had a chance (and he’s caught 10 of the 11 passes he’s been targeted on). I just figured with the quarterback situation being what it was the sure-handed tight end that’s a monster in the middle of the field would have been a nice security blanket for the trio of backup quarterbacks, but it never really happened. That said, I expect him, and everybody else in the passing game to be significantly better going forward.

JJ: It’s hard to complain too much when the three teams the Steelers have beaten without Roethlisberger are 10-1 in their other games. But I still worry about whether Antwaan Randle El is a good fit as a No. 3 receiver in this offense, even with him having a solid game against the Ravens. But in his (and the rest of the WRs) defense, we’ll get a much better feel for the passing game and its potential now that Big Ben is back.

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  • Cols714

    I don’t know why people are worried about Heath Miller not getting the ball enough. The guy set a record last year for TE receptions. The only reason he’s not getting thrown to a ton is that nobody is getting thrown to a lot because of Big Ben reasons.

    • matt

      Actually, it’s my understanding that on most pass plays, the Steelers are having Miller help Flozell. Adams can’t handle speed rushers around the edge.

      I expect that to change with Ben back. Not because Flozell will magically get better (although I think he is going to improve and get more comfortable), but because Ben is good enough to see the blitz and know where he’s going to go with the ball.

  • guest

    i think that roethlisberger’s style of play just isnt conducive to solid o-line play. or, like jj said, sean kugler is a very good coach

    • Anonymous

      You know it may be that Roethlisberger’s style is not a good match for CONVENTIONAL line play and that Kugler is good enough to figure out what are the specific qualities the Steelers will need.

      Time will tell on that. Meantime, he has done well with the interim quarterbacks’ requirements.

      Max Starks was saying the other day that Ben’s OL has a disadvantage in that the rushers can see where the quarterback is going, while the OL has to take their cues from the guys they are trying to block. Coaching that requires something different from ordinary OL coaching.

      False starts, on the other hand, are false starts. JJ, what are stats on that compared to the last few years?

  • Ergomesh

    Mewelde Moore. Looks patetic in blitz pickups and i think he has – yardage on the year.

    If we aren’t getting anything out of him lets get Dwyner in to pound the rock, wear out the defensive lines so Rashard can tear it up in second half.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    Ergomesh,

    Good call. I was talking to Gretz about MeMo during preseason and he made the point that while he knew it wouldn’t happen, he’d be fine with the Steelers cutting him to keep Dwyer. I called him crazy but you know what? He was right. Moore has looked slow and old through four games. I can’t imagine he’ll be back next year if Redman continues to improve.

  • Anonymous

    Remarkable how we take Pouncey for granted.

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    Biggest surprise: Special teams’ play. On both video and stats (FO’s stats) they are one of the Top Units in the NFL. Not that bad at all. All the fears and sweaty palms caused during every punt or kick last year are long gone. Coach and players

    Biggest disappointment: I’d go with Game Planning. In specific, I expected a different approach from Arians. I feel that the offense basically gave up and defelected the whole responsability to our Mighty-D. Of course, how can you challenge a game plan that sets you at 3 and 1.

    But hey, you asked me how I feel, I tell you how I feel, hope you are not going to toture me with that.

    • Cols714

      Really? You’re going to ding Arians?
      I swear, no matter what that guy does steelers fans are going to hate him. Win a Super Bowl? Arians sucks. Have two 1000 yard WR, a 1000 yard RB, and a 4000 yard QB? Arians sucks, he passes too much. They then go 3-1 while mainly running the ball with a QB that wouldn’t have made the roster had everyone stayed healthy. Guess what, Arians sucks.

      The guy is a good OC. Yeah, he makes some bonehead calls and there are two games, the Cleveland game and the Philly game of 2008 where the offense didn’t look like it had the right game plan. But overall he’s been a pretty good OC for the Steelers, whether you look at stats or wins, the guys has done a good job.

  • Anonymous

    Is it possible that Reed’s work on his kickoff length is affecting his FG accuracy? I read a story about how Everest has improved his KO length by getting him to use a different method than he uses on FGs, so maybe the two different motions are getting his muscle memory confused. Anyway, it’s too small a sample to be too worried; one of the misses was a 55-yarder that hit the upright with PLENTY of leg to spare, so I thought that was actually encouraging.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    I swear Ike Taylor looked as surprised as I felt when he actually caught that ball.

  • RoB D

    Pouncey, to me, is the biggest story of the year. He is probably the best center drafted in recent years. I was totally bummed out when the Steelers didn’t get a C in the Alex Mack/Eric Wood/Max Unger 2009 draft.I know it’s early but I wouldn’t trade him for any of those guys. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s smart and he holds up very well against the big NT’s like Ngata.

    2nd place goes to ST”s coverage. It’s hugely improved. I think the hiring of Al Everest was obviously a masterstroke. That..and they drafted a lot of guys who excel at ST’s. But you see a whole lotta “want to” on the units this year. Quite a noticeable difference.

    Biggest disappointment…Hmmmm..I think Jeff Reed gets 2nd place in that contest. I think the STeelers put him in some pretty impossible situations and he almost made that 50 yarder in windy conditions at Heinz. Still, its a zero sum game with kickers. He needs to get a consistent run together so we can all breathe easier. Given the fact that they let go their best and most clutch WR for basically nothing..I don’t think they would hesitate to dump Reed if he continues to miss kicks, no matter the circumstances. He doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room, considering his arrest record etc.

    First place would go to Mwelde Moore. He looks, as Ergomesh and Ryan noted below, a day late and a dollar short. He’s going to have to really pick it up as we need his contributions. I think both ARE and MM will greatly benefit from the return of this BB guy at QB.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Farrior looks slow. And Foote hasn’t shown much. Those are quibbles, though.