Where We Go From Here

(Wanted to mention that Armageddon is upon us: I talked to Ray Rice yesterday for CBSSports.com. I asked him about facing the Titans and the Steelers, and what Tennessee might try to do against Pittsburgh. It’s the first segment and runs about 10 minutes.)

Welcome to the fork in the road, people. It’s only been a month, but we’re at the point in the season where the Steelers’ plans for January and beyond could very well be decided in the coming days — if they haven’t been already based on personnel decision and, to a larger extent, luck.

We like to think of ourselves as eternal optimists here at Steelers Lounge, but after the Texans game — and the subsequent recap podcast reliving the horror — we got comments, emails and tweets all saying basically the same thing: “Wow. We were depressed on Sunday but felt somehow worse after listening to you guys talk about it.”

Of course, the news only got worse on Tuesday when Mike Tomlin announced that James Harrison, Aaron Smith, Jason Worilds, Jonathan Scott and Mewelde Moore were all out for Sunday’s game against the Titans, and a whole cast of characters were questionable. It would’ve taken less time to name the guys who were healthy enough to suit up.

But here’s the thing: it’s barely October. The season is four games old, and the Steelers — warts and all — are 2-2. More than that: Big Ben is still upright, if barely, but as long as he can limp, he can play. And as long as he plays, Pittsburgh has a chance.

Now we wouldn’t be in this predicament if the offensive line wasn’t somehow worse than we imagined.

(I know, I know: losing 60 percent of the opening-day starters certainly didn’t slow the Texans’ pass rush. And even if Colon, Legursky and Scott were in tip-top shape, there’s still an average bunch. That, coupled with Ben’s style invariably means that Roethlisberger will be banged up. The only question is when. In a season full of questions, at least we have some certainty there: “Week 4, Ben sprains foot, breaks out the other Frankenstein boot.”)

So what happens next? I have no idea. Max Starks is back in the building, but I have a hard time believing that re-signing a guy nobody wanted for two months will suddenly fix everything. Max doesn’t stop the run or make tackles and, honestly, despite all the o-line shortcomings, the defense is the biggest reason Pittsburgh is 2-2.

Tomlin insists that it’s all fixable and doubling up this week on practicing in pads will expedite the process. We’ll find out soon enough; Chris Johnson’s coming to town and after a slow start, he cruised to his first 100-yard game last week against the Browns. Tomlin’s track record suggests he knows what he’s doing. But this is the NFL where, to use his own Tomlinism against him, there’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes.

Bill Cowher was in Pittsburgh for six seasons before the Steelers had a losing record, so maybe Tomlin’s due. Or maybe it’s just a rough patch. Despite our pessimism following the Texans’ debacle, I’m leaning toward the latter.

Either way, here’s to hoping this is the week we’ll look back on in some months and say, “Yep, that was the turning point.” Otherwise, there’s the very real danger that Tomlin starts talking about “unleashing hell” up in here. And, really, no one wants that.

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  • DJAnyReason

    “…the defense is the biggest reason Pittsburgh is 2-2.”

    Really? Not the 7 turnovers against the Ravens? Not the 10 points against the Texans?

    Or, perhaps you mean allowing one 10 offensive points against the Colts while getting a fumble recovered for a TD is the biggest reason why the Steelers are 2-2 instead of 1-3.

    Yes, the defense isn’t as good as it’s been in recent years, especially the run D.  But to look at this team and think the biggest problem is on the defensive side of the ball is crazy.

    Numerical support: Steelers D is 4.8% DVOA (positive is bad), league average after 4 weeks is 4.725%.  Steelers O is 0.8% DVOA, league average is 5.9%.  We rank 18th in offense, 12th in defense.  The D isn’t our biggest problem.

    • GlennW

      Yep.  It’s a closer call than one might have thought though, per DVOA.  Only the special teams have been “good”, and one huge penalty is responsible for that.  We need improvement in all areas, just as the coach and the team have been saying.

      This Titans game will be very interesting.  The Titans have played very well so far and do not appear to be the pushover that we might have thought going into the season.  This game is a big test of who and what is for real.

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

      DJ,

      Fair point on the turnover-tastic offense. What I was trying to convey (and it’s something JJ brought up on the podcast) was that the defense’s performance has been a much bigger shock than the o-line’s. We knew about the latter; the former sorta came out of nowhere. As Gretz put it after the Texans game, Vince Wilfork has more interceptions than the Steelers.

      • bengt

        I tend to agree more with Ryan. The turnovers on offense are singular events, and they are mostly attributable to an expected cause for concern, the OL; whereas the generally low level of quality from the defense is a much bigger surprise and is caused by underachieving players that were expected to carry the team.

        • Anonymous

          But I think Ryan overreaches when he calls it a bigger reason for our current predicament than the offense. Steeler identity for years has been built around defense, and we were frankly spoiled by last year’s incredible effort. It’s a bit much to expect a historically good run defense every year. So yes, the defense slipping into mediocrity is a shock – but the OL is a far bigger actual problem. 

          The whole NFL is seeing a defensive collapse, brought on primarily I think by the lockout and the new practice rules. Tackling across the league is very poor, and likely to stay that way – if you don’t practice tackling, it’s not going to improve. Practicing tackling during full-contact drills is pretty much out the window now. This is probably a good thing for player health, longevity, and the league’s ratings as offense goes through the roof, but not a good thing for defenses.

    • JCRODRIGUEZ

      The Ravens game was out of reach thanks to the offense, the texans, thanks to the Defense. There was only one moment during the whole game when the Steelers could be in position to go ahead on the scoreboard, and the defense promptly collapsed and allowed the back breaking Fosrter’s TD.

      Like so many have mentioned before, if the Texans did not scored more offensive points, it was becaused they decided to play low-ball. even before the Johnson’s injury. They were happy to have marathon like drives running, screening and using the TE’s to move the ball.

      I really need to see something diferent from our D-Line and our LB’s, they were abused last sunday.

      By the way, I was at Reliant last Sunday, and a solid 20% of the crowd were Steelers, amazing. Their biggest crowd ever,  thanks to Steeler Nation. And, just as a interesting note, the Texans were talking all week that this could be THE most important victory on their franchise hystory, so, they were ready for this, at least for them, defining moment.

      • EasyLikeSundayMorning

        So, our two losses came against a team that treated a week 1 game like a
        Super Bowl and the other that saw a week 4 game as the biggest win in
        franchise history.  Maybe we need Joey Porter to get into a pre-game fight or something. 

        The Texans entered the league in 2002.  Since then, we have won 11 postseason games and 2 Super Bowls.  In other words, we are all really fortunate to root for the Steelers. 

  • Anonymous

    Do you do these podcasts regularly? Please, link them if you do.

    Also Cam Newton a lock for rookie of the year? If the season ended today, Von Miller should receive that honor, and something tells me his play quality is more sustainable.

    • Cols714

      I don’t know. Cam Newton has two 400 yard passing games and one 300 yard game in 4 games this year. The other one was played in a monsoon. These aren’t normal rookie numbers. These aren’t even normal QB numbers.

      Von Miller has also been fantastic. But he’s more in line with a normal good rookie than what Cam Newton is doing.

      • Anonymous

        That’s totally fair. My opinion is that Von Miller has been more impressive, but Cam Newton has been excellent as well. But, as you said you “don’t know” which I would say means nobody is a lock. But really  pay me no mind; I’ll dispute any point just because I like to argue.

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

      Intropy, will do. Also worth pointing out: my CBS broadcast partner Will Brinson is a huge Cam homer. 

  • Cols714

    I’m normally pretty optimistic about the Steelers and I remain so today. However, a loss in the next three weeks verse the Titans, Jacksonville or Arizona and I think we can safely say that this year is just not going to be the year.

    Unless of course we make up for it by beating NE.

    • Anonymous

      I’m not expecting good things this week. The Titans appear to be a good team this season. If the Steelers take care of them, then there’s cause for optimism.

    • Anonymous

      I’m not expecting good things this week. The Titans appear to be a good team this season. If the Steelers take care of them, then there’s cause for optimism.