Home > Steeler Articles > Assessments and Observations at the Quarter Mark of the Season

Assessments and Observations at the Quarter Mark of the Season

– The Steelers are sitting pretty at 3-1. The defense has clearly been the story for the Steelers thus far and is pretty much the only reason this team is 3-1. That’s not to say there hasn’t been some bright spots on offense. Rashard Mendenhall is currently 5th in rushing in the NFL and has almost a 5 yard average per carry. Mike Wallace has a 23 yard average per catch and now as the #1 WR is showing that he can still get open downfield with his speed. Hines Ward has 12 grabs. Still, as an actual unit the offense has perhaps underachieved even given the expectations without Ben at QB. The offense is surprisingly ranked 12th in points at 21 but is dead last in passing yards and 29th in total yards.

– Is it finally time the Steelers look for a legitimate backup QB?

If you’re a Steelers fan chances are you’re doing your best to forget what you witnessed at the QB position so far this season. Dennis Dixon is clearly not NFL material, at least on the field against a starting defense. Batch had a few (arguably) lucky passes against the Bucs in Week 3 combined with some legitimately good passes but even so came back down to earth against the Ravens the following week and showed that he is indeed nearing the end of his career. Do the Steelers keep Leftwich or Batch the rest of the way to backup Ben? Does the team keep both players? Here’s an idea, how about going out and signing someone else?

– Let’s not forget that the O-line now has 3 new starters on the team this year. I think this unit can and will get at least marginally better as the season progresses as they get a chance to gel. Some problems will probably persist, though. The Steelers have attempted 81 passes, the O-line has allowed 9 sacks already, which is an average of 1 sack every 9 attempts, not very good. Of course part of the reason for that is QB play and predictability of the playcalling. Pouncey is already an upgrade at the center position and has played very impressively for a rookie. It’s great to see another Steeler rookie given the chance to contribute and in the process make the team better because of it. Kudos to Tomlin for allowing this to happen and breaking away from a dumb recent Steeler tradition of not giving rookies a legit chance to play. Doug Legursky looks to be an upgrade over Essex. It’ll be interesting to see if he improves as the season moves on. Flozel Adams so far looks good on run plays where he can just barrel straight ahead but really struggles at times in pass protection, same goes for Starks at the other end. One has to wonder if Adams was the best available OT in FA this year. I’m starting to doubt that.

– Does Ziggy Hood fit on the Steelers defense? Hard to say, so far he seems to be fairly quiet. Hood is an athletic D-linemen, but not necessarily a great run-stopper. It seems like he would fit better in a 4-3 defense than a 3-4. Maybe Tomlin thought the Steelers were switching to a 4-3 defense when they drafted Hood.

– The Bane of the 10-yard cushion

I don’t think there are too many teams that play off opposing WR’s like the Steelers CB’s do and it could be argued it’s outdated and allowing long drives. The Steelers defense is currently ranked 6th in the NFL in yards allowed but is just 20th in passing yards allowed and opposing QB’s are throwing the ball at a 66% completion percentage. I understand the basic reasoning for the 10 yard cushion (it’s part of the zone blitz Lebeau philosophy) I just don’t like it and think it’s outdated, especially in today’s NFL where teams will gladly take a 5 yard pass if you give it to them everytime. Last week against the Ravens was a perfect example of this. I think half of Flacco’s completions in that game were 5-10 yard out passes where the Steeler CB’s were continually giving up 10 yard cushions on the plays. It’d be nice if Lebeau allowed more press coverage with the CB’s. It could be the difference in some game’s this season.

– Lawrence Timmons has been a man possessed so far in the tackling department with a total of 48 tackles, by far the most on the team and 5th overall in the entire NFL. Can he keep it up? I think so, this kid is so athletically gifted anything is possible. I think we can safely put away any talk of Timmons being a weak tackler, soft in the run game, etc. he has simply exploded so far this year and is easily one of the best players on defense now.  James Farrior got off to a good start this season but has progressively started to show his age once again. In the Ravens game Farrior was tooled on a number of plays early and actually saw some diminshing playing time in the game. What I don’t understand is why do I see Larry Foote out there when Keyaron Fox is clearly a better LB right now? Meanwhile there are a number of very promising rookie LB’s on the bench. Hopefully as the season progresses we’ll get to see more from the youngsters (and Fox) and less of Foote and Farrior.

– James Harrison continues to be one of the best and most consistent LB’s in the league. On the other side, Lamar Woodley will have short stretches of great play but needs to be more consistent than he has thus far this season. It seems like long periods of games will go by and Woodley’s presence will simply not be felt on the field. I’m not expecting him to have multiple sacks every game (although that would be nice) but improving on his run support would be nice.

– The much maligned Willie Gay has actually excelled as a nickel back so far this year. He’s made a number of nice plays and near interceptions thus far. He already has recorded 3 passes defended in the stat category, tied with Ike Taylor and just one less than Bryant McFadden. Gay seemed to be singled out last year and labeled a failure as a starting CB, but the truth is no one looked good last year in the secondary with Troy being injured. That includes Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark.

– Speaking of Ike Taylor, he needs to be more consistent as the mainstay at CB for the Steelers defense. At times he looks great, at other times he looks undisciplined and sloppy with his coverage and tackling. Combine that with some real bone-headed moves after the whistle and it’s clear he needs to step it up considering how long he’s been a starter on this team. On the bright side Taylor already has an INT and if he can keep up that average (1 INT in every 4 games) he’ll break his single-season record of INT’s. Pretty incredible that someone as athletic as Taylor only has 3 INT’s as a career-high in a season.

– Special teams have been a mixed bag thus far. The usual reliable Jeff Reed hasn’t made a FG past 40 yards so far, missing on all 3 attempts. Daniel Sepulveda has averaged 48 yards a punt which is 2nd best in the NFL right now, but he needs to improve on getting his punts inside the 20, he only has 2 so far (tied for worst in the NFL) vs. 3 touchbacks on 19 punts total. The Steelers return game has been good with Antonio Brown as the returner. On punt returns, Randel El has one return for 8 yards while Brown has one return for 21 yards, yet Randel El continues to be the main returner on punts, hopefully that’ll change.

– All in all a 3-1 start is real nice but the Steelers still can and hopefully will improve as the season continues. I definitely don’t think this team has played it’s best ball of the season. The next 4 games will be HUGE with the Steelers going on the road for 3 straight away games after the Browns contest this Sunday. All three of those games are against tough opponents – Dolphins, Saints and Bengals. Let’s see what this team is made of.

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