I’m not at all surprised the Steelers are 2-2 at the one quarter mark of the season, so I don’t find the actual record to be that big of a deal. In fact, when the schedule came out I had the Week 1 game in Baltimore, as well as Sunday’s game in Houston, as games that could be penciled in as losses. After a potential 2-2 start I figured the Steelers would close out the season on a 9-3 or 10-2 run to win the division.
And that’s still possible. But they’re going to have to play a lot better than this.
What I didn’t expect at this point is for the Steelers to look completely awful in three of the first four games, with the only impressive showing coming against a team that is playing for the right to pick Andrew Luck next April. And don’t let today’s reasonable seven-point margin take away from how awful the Steelers played. This was a team that was given way more opportunities than it deserved. Every time they screwed up, and every time Houston made a play (like blocking a field goal at the end of the half and running it back for a touchdown, only to have some block Shuan Suisham in the back… or turning a pick-six into a roughing passer penalty… or any of the other 46 penalties Houston had on its 19-play opening drive of the game) there was a flag or something crazy to make it go away and give them mulligan after mulligan.
The record doesn’t really concern me, but the way they’ve reached it does.
1) When it comes to offensive line play the past two games have looked like that 2008 Week 3 game in Philadelphia. Jail. Break. I’m not sure you should expect anything different with an offensive line that includes Trai Essex starting at left tackle (or Jonathan Scott a week ago) and a rookie second-round pick starting at right tackle, not to mention the revolving door of interchangeable parts at the two guard spots.
Not even center Maurkice Pouncey is immune from criticism in this game, as he was guilty of a personal foul penalty late in the first half, negating a 14-yard run by Mewelde Moore that would have set the Steelers up first-and-goal at the four. Instead, they were pushed back to the 20, failed to move the ball, and had to settle for a field goal attempt that was blocked. Underrated play in this game that was a potential game-changer.
Ben Roethlisberger took a beating — again — and left the stadium on crutches and his foot in a protective boot.
Charlie Batch might refuse to go on the field next week if he has to start. And I wouldn’t blame him.
2) JJ mentioned it last week, but if the defense doesn’t stop the run, then the whole thing just doesn’t work. In years past it never mattered who the running back was, nobody ran on the Steelers. This year, it still doesn’t matter who the running back is, because everybody is running all over them.
Consider this comparison:
– 2011 through four games: opponents rushed 100 times for 478 yards (4.7 yards per carry).
– 2010 through four games: opponents rushed 95 times for 249 yards (2.6 yards per carry).
Nobody saw that coming. And that pretty much tells the story.
In 2011 the primary backs against them were Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Joseph Addai and Arian Foster.
In 2010 the primary backs against them were Michael Turner, Chris Johnson, Legarrette Blount and Ray Rice.
If the Steelers aren’t stopping the run, they’re not forcing teams into second-and-long and third-and-long situations, or obvious passing situations, and even when they are, the pass rush has been invisible and they’ve forced just one turnover.
Again, through four games:
– In 2011 the Steelers have forced one turnover through four games and have seven sacks in 126 opposing drop backs (one sack every 18 drop backs).
– In 2010 the Steelers forced 12 turnovers through four games and had 11 sacks in 164 opposing drop backs (one sack every 14 drop backs).
Five of those sacks this year were against Seattle, while the turnover came against Curtis Painter.
– Vince Wilfork, a 370-something defensive tackle for the Patriots: two interceptions this year.
– The Pittsburgh Steelers entire defense: zero interceptions this year.
Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and James Farrior have been great Steelers for a long time, but so far they have looked like everything Warren Sapp accused the Steelers defense of being. And as a fan you hate to see that. And it’s also hurting the team. It’s time for more Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward and Steve McClendon up front, and, well, I’m not sure what you do with Farrior, because Larry Foote isn’t a much better option at this point.
It’s also time for LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons to start picking it up.
3) If you suggest the Steelers struggles, particularly those of Roethlisberger, are because he got married this summer (and believe me, people are saying this) I don’t have anything to say to you.
4) All of that said, the Steelers still play in the AFC North, and the AFC North still has Cleveland and Cincinnati, and a Baltimore team that had its quarterback go two complete quarters without completing a pass on Sunday night (allow me to say this: that Jets-Ravens game was the worst quarterback play I have ever seen in the NFL between two starting quarterbacks).
I’m not saying the Steelers can’t — or won’t — turn this thing around and run off nine or 10 wins the rest of the way, but there’s been some pretty concerning things through the first four games. Some of them (the offensive line) we expected. Others (the run defense) we did not. As Van Hagar would say, it’s time to turn this thing around. Right now.
(Yes, I’m aware of how awful that last line was, but I love that video and was looking for an excuse to play it. So there.)