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.
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.
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.