View Full Version : Weighing in on Steelers good, not-so-good

10-27-2009, 01:51 AM
Weighing in on Steelers good, not-so-good

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 50012.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_650012.html)

The Steelers were given the day off following a 27-17 win over the previously unbeaten Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

When the players report to the team's South Side practice facility today, they will get treatment and watch film from the Vikings game. Coach Mike Tomlin may then tell the players to enjoy the rest of the week and that he will see them Monday.

The players have earned whatever time off Tomlin gives the Steelers during their only extended break of the regular season.

The Steelers take a four-game winning streak into their bye week. They hadn't beaten a team that had a winning record before holding off the Vikings. With the bye and almost the midpoint of the season upon us, here is a look at what has gone right so far and what the 5-2 Steelers need to fix:

The good

Ben Roethlisberger has continued his ascent.

The two-time Super Bowl champion is second in the NFL in passing yards (2,062) and is completing more than 70 percent of his throws.

Roethlisberger continually rewards Bruce Arians for the trust the offensive coordinator has placed in him. The sixth-year veteran is seeing the field as well as ever, and Roethlisberger has taken full advantage of the playmakers the Steelers have at the skill positions.

He is on his way to a record-setting season as well as a Pro Bowl one.

The offensive line has shown marked improvement.

The group's detractors were out in full force after the o-line was pushed around in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Since then, the offensive line has quietly turned into an effective and cohesive unit.

In their past six games, the Steelers have averaged 119 rushing yards and 4.4 yards per carry.

If the Steelers can continue to run the ball effectively, it will make Roethlisberger and the passing game that much harder to stop.

The defense has generally played at a high level.

No, it hasn't been as dominant as it was a year ago when it finished first in the NFL in scoring, total and passing defense.

But James Harrison is on pace to break the Steelers' single-season record for sacks (16), a mark he established a year ago. Meanwhile, no team has been able to run the ball consistently against the Steelers, who are second in the NFL in rushing defense (76.6 yards per game).

They have faced three of the top five rushers in the NFL Cedric Benson, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson and none has gone over 100 yards against the Steelers.

Needs work

The kick coverage team needs some improving.

Whatever problems the Steelers solved in this aspect of special teams last season have re-surfaced. The Steelers have allowed kickoff return for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. And in the NFL, where the difference between good teams is super-model thin, a special-teams gaffe could prove costly down the road.

Coach Mike Tomlin will spend at least part of the down time during the bye week identifying what is causing the leaks on the kickoff coverage team.

"I'm going to get it fixed," he said, "whether it's schematics, people or both."

Rashard Mendenhall's ball security has been a concern.

His teammates made him carry a football at all times when he was at the Steelers' practice facility during preseason in 2008. Maybe it's time for them to mete out the same punishment following costly fumbles by Mendenhall in back-to-back games.

The turnovers have overshadowed the significant step Mendenhall has made since becoming the Steelers' starting running back. He is averaging a robust 5.4 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns.

But if he can't hang onto the ball, he is going to find himself on the sidelines at the end of games as Mendenhall did against the Browns and the Vikings.

Getting off the field.

The defense needs to create more turnovers the Steelers have three more giveaways than takeaways and it needs to do a better job on third down.

Opponents' conversion rate on third down is 43.3 percent this season, compared to 31.4 percent in 2008. Prior to LaMarr Woodley's 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the defense had allowed the Vikings to convert three times on third down once when Minnesota needed 18 yards to move the chains.

The X-factor

Injuries have played a significant part already this season.

The Steelers already have lost defensive end Aaron Smith (shoulder) for the season. They were also without strong safety Troy Polamalu for four games because of a sprained knee from which he is still recovering.

Outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons has injured both ankles, and defensive end Travis Kirschke, whose back is always a concern, hurt his lower leg against the Vikings.

If the Steelers can weather injuries, there is no reason to think they can't mount a serious run at defending their Super Bowl title.

And they appear to have righted themselves following a 1-2 start.

"We're stacking wins," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "In the month of November, we're heading in the right direction."