Bad signs everywhere for 1-2 Steelers as team heads into bye week
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, 7:20 p.m.
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.
Signs the Steelers' troubles can't be fixed merely by the return of Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, whenever that occurs.
Signs that this 2012 season has already taken a sharp and perhaps irreversible turn for the worse. Signs that the problems — and they are many — might not be fixable this season.
Bad signs, too, especially for a team that, after coming out of its bye week by facing Philadelphia at Heinz Field on Oct. 7, plays three of its next four on the road. The Steelers (1-2) have lost four of their past five away from home.
One half isn't enough
The defense, statistically the NFL's best last season, can't get off the field in the second half. The Broncos and Raiders had eight meaningful second-half drives between them. The result? Eight scores. The Steelers have been outscored 44-37 in the second half despite a 14-0 edge over the Jets on Sept. 16.
“We've got to close out,” Mike Wallace said. “If we want to be a playoff, Super Bowl-caliber team, we've got to be able to close out games.”
One-dimensional won't work
Ben Roethlisberger is off to the best start of his nine-season career, playing at a level only the megastars do; he is 82 of 120 for 904 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 109.2 that was 120-plus the past two games. Three receivers already have 15 catches or more.
But the running game (195 yards in three games) is abysmal. And when was the last time a Steelers coach tried three different running backs in the same game in an effort to generate yardage, as Mike Tomlin did Sunday by using Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch?
Mendenhall appears to be close to returning. For this running game, it can't occur soon enough.
“The more we run the ball, the better we'll get,” an optimistic Willie Colon said.
Whose plays are these?
Roethlisberger made the surprising comment that he called some pre-Todd Haley plays while running the no-huddle during the 34-31 loss in Oakland on Sunday. Was it the levity a player of Roethlisberger's skills is permitted? Or a yearning for the Bruce Arians days?
“There were plays out there that I called that weren't in our playbook,” he said. “I know it sounds crazy; things we've had from years past that guys were on the same page with and it worked.”
Maybe it's not the schemes
Several Raiders players said the Steelers' blitzes and pass coverages were predictable at times. But maybe it's not the schemes, maybe it's the players carrying them out. The Steelers have only five sacks, and the pressure has been nonexistent at times.
Lawrence Timmons isn't making the impact predicted of him. LaMarr Woodley is seeing more double teams than Randy Moss in his prime. The defensive linemen aren't getting penetration, as evidenced by their zero tackles for losses.
Old, slow and done
Warren Sapp's prediction a year ago that the Steelers were past their prime didn't hold up in 2011. But the defense is built around players who started for them five years ago. In the NFL, that's an eternity. And as the long-time starters leave (James Farrior, Aaron Smith), the replacements to date haven't played up to their level.
The Steelers' worst two seasons since 2003, 2006 (8-8) and 2009 (9-7), were punctuated by losses to bad Raiders teams. The Raiders and Broncos have won only two of their past six games since late last season; three of those four wins were against Pittsburgh.
Third and long (drives)
Opponents have converted on 16 of 33 third downs. That kind of consistency keeps drives going, and keeps the defense on the field too long.
There's still time to get it done; 13 games can be an eternity. But what the Steelers haven't shown is that the players are here to get it done, except in the passing game. And that might be the most troubling sign of all.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley
- Kovacevic: Big Ben’s contract clock ticking
- With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft
- Steelers defense doesn’t make the grade in 2013 review
- Keisel might be at end of Steelers career
- Steelers’ Worilds signs transition tag
- Steelers create cap space by re-signing Polamalu, Miller
- Steelers restructure Brown’s contract to become salary cap compliant
- 6 players the Steelers will be watching at NFL Combine
- Steelers use transition tag on LB Worilds