The Steelers are 1-2. The sky is falling.
Blame has been widespread. People are already wanting to make widespread changes. I’ve read lots of theories why the Steelers aren’t winning football games. Lots of people know how to fix this team:
Fire Mike Tomlin. Fire Bruce Arians. Bench Limas Sweed. Bench Willie Parker. Abandon the running game. Use a fullback every down. Blitz more.
Whatever. Maybe these people are right. But I have a much simpler solution to fixing the Pittsburgh Steelers: play better football.
I know, Captain Obvious reporting for duty. But I don’t think that the Steelers need to implement any widespread or radical changes at all. They just need to execute better.
Hit read more to see why the Steelers aren’t that far from being 3-0 and why things should improve in the near future for the black and gold…
The Steelers offense has been more than good enough so far this season. Except when it comes to scoring points. The Steelers are 12th in the NFL in yards per game right now. Not great, but solid by Steelers standards…especially when you consider how poor the running game was during the first two weeks.
But while they are 12th in actual yardage, they are 25th in points per game. Yikes.
To make things even more interesting, the Stees are in the top 10 in 3rd down conversion ratio.
To me, this says that there isn’t anything fundamentaly wrong with the offensive gameplan. The Steelers are able to move the ball with ease more often than not. They just have trouble in the redzone and with mental errors.
Week one: Hines Ward is on his way to the winning score when he gets the ball knocked out of his arms. A clutch drive late in the game goes to waste.
Week two: Jeff Reed misses two field goals deep in Bears territory. A possible 14 points turns into zero just like that.
Week three: Reed makes two field goals from inside the 10 yard line, turning 14 points into 6. He also misses a field goal and the Steelers fail on a 4th down try. Oh, and Limas Sweed drops a TD pass. I’m not even going to try to count how many points the Steelers left on the board in this one.
More likely than not, I have to believe a certain amount of this is just bad luck. It’s rare for an offense to be dominant and this incompetent at scoring for an entire season. The coaching could definitely be a little better on this side of the ball too.
On the other side of the ball, the vaunted defense has become swiss cheese when the game matters most.
Let’s get one thing straight: Troy Polamalu’s absence should not make the defense this bad. There are tons of other great football players on that defense, including a reigning DPOY and several Pro Bowlers. Polamalu is the easy excuse, not the real reason the team is struggling.
As much maligned as the Steelers defense has been, they are still a top 10 unit in points and yards per game. With the guys getting older, a few new starters, and Polamalu’s injury I don’t think that they are actually giving up too many points. A reasonable hope for this unit as it stands now is probably around 5th best in the NFL, give or take.
The defense is failing because they aren’t enough of what Mike Tomlin calls “splash plays.”
These Steelers have only 1 interception so far this season, tied for second worst in the NFL. They have only 5 sacks, which is about the league average, but for this system, that is not acceptable.
I fully expect Dick LeBeau to make some adjustments and for the players to start making more “splash plays.” The amount of late game drives the defense is giving up is also startling, but I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of big plays they are producing. If Carson Palmer has all day to sit back and pass, no secondary will be able to cover those receivers.
I think LeBeau needs to think about blitzing early and often. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley simply aren’t getting the job done. One of the reasons the Steelers secondary was so great last year was because of this pass rush. The entire “Blitzburgh” defense is based around pressure to the quarterback.
I think, at this point, people need to lower their expectations for the 2009 Steelers defense though. Last year’s unit was historically great and that kind of defense just doesn’t come around often. The unit is due to regress a bit, but they’ll still be a top five or ten defense.
Maybe I am still a little bit in denial, but I think a lot of the Steelers problem are a combination of failed execution and plain bad luck.
Call out whoever you want, but if Jeff Reed makes one field goal in week two, it’s a Steeler win. If James Farrior is a half-step closer to Brian Leonard or Limas Sweed catches that ball in the endzone, the Steelers win.
I don’t think there’s any need yet to fire anybody or bench a ton of guys. The players we have out there just need to focus and execute for 60 minutes. This is still a solid football team and if they come to play, they’ll win a lot more often than not.