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I recently received an email from reader Brad Kirkmon with a few questions regarding the current state of the Steelers as they prepare for their Week 5 game against Philadelphia. I'm going to answer a few of them here, then answer a few more in a video on Google Hangout that I'll post here. If you'd like to be involved in the Hangout (think of it like Skype but geared toward a roundtable discussion that shows on the screen like ESPN's Around The Horn), email me, address is in my profile, or just leave a comment here.
Sylvester's return? Besides when he might return, do you believe he is talented enough to make a difference?
It appears Sylvester will be activated for this weekend's game against Philadelphia. I know he's been in the system for long enough where he should have it down, so I would think, from a mental perspective, he'll be ready to go. He's been with the team throughout his injury (that occurred about six weeks ago), so he's taken loads of mental reps, if not physical ones.
I think the aspect he brings to the defense is athleticism. He's bigger and faster than veteran Larry Foote, and while Sylvester won't win the starting job (right away, at least, and probably not this season), he provides a more athletic option to combat versatile, playmaking offenses like the one in Philadelphia. That's a team that can line up to run and throw deep, and can run out of passing formations. Those kinds of teams can put a lot of pressure on the linebackers, in particular. Ask Baltimore how difficult Brent Celek can be in coverage - he had around 150 yards receiving against them.
Why isn't Adrian Robinson playing more? If nothing but for pass-rush situations?
This preseason, perhaps more than others, showed us what it really is; a preseason. I love Robinson's worth ethic and explosive get-off, but the reality is he isn't playing because he's not ready to play. In a Dick LeBeau defense, a player who's not ready to play is a player who can't play against the run. His defense is predicated on the concept of stopping the run and forcing a team to become one dimensional.
This isn't an indictment at all against Robinson. I love the fact they kept him on the active roster. However, Sylvester could replace Robinson on special teams starting Sunday, and the rookie would lose the helmet he's been given the last three weeks. Still, it's not a bad haul of experience for an undrafted rookie. If he is deactivated, it won't be the last we hear of him, I don't think.
The O-line, decent pass protection (pre-Eagles) and horrible running blocking. Plus the backs aren't hitting it HARD. I understand a lot of runs are going off tackle, what's the dilemma with the blocking. I don't analyze like you guys. Is Kugler's techniques or teaching methods poor or are the athletes' just that bad with respect tot he rest of the league. I don't feel like they've made that much of a commitment to the run based on what I've seen...your take.
This is certainly the topic of the 2012 season to this point. I discussed this issue with Todd Steward of 92.3 ESPN Radio in Selinsgrove, Pa. (link to the recording coming soon), and with Lance Williams of Steel Curtain Radio Monday. The issue is on both the offensive line and the running backs. Through three games, I don't see the issues they're having as a matter of coaching - which is to say it's not on their scheme or personnel decisions. However, I'm of the belief coaching is ultimately accountable for the problems of the positional unit. I haven't seen Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer hitting holes that appear to be there. Those holes close fast even with a good offensive line, and they haven't shown the kind of vision I expected to see from either of them.
At the same time, the holes and lanes in which to run haven't appeared as frequently as they're going to have to moving forward. From the games I've reviewed, it's typically not a complete failure across the line (which would be more indicative of a line call gone wrong, or the write-up of the play simply being hugely flawed). It seems one player misses one thing, and the dominoes start falling after that. And it's never the same player. For as well as I think Maurkice Pouncey is playing overall, he's missed on a few plays that led to lost yardage too.
I also feel Max Starks isn't quite healthy and in top physical conditioning. I think Willie Colon is still adjusting to a new and very different position. I feel Marcus Gilbert is beginning to reflect his pre-draft reputation as a non-mauling, non-physical tackle. I feel Ramon Foster is a capable back-up and a serviceable guard, but can't be seen as a long-term option (hence the reason David DeCastro was drafted).
Except the Oakland game, the emphasis on the run was clearly there. Even in an obvious passing priority game like Week 3, they still ran 20 times. Todd Haley is giving the offense every chance it should need to get into a rhythm, it's just not happening yet.
Long rant short, though, I think the offensive line will improve. I think Rashard Mendenhall is the best running back on the team by a wide margin and I'm hoping his return will show us he's as close as he can possibly be to 100 percent, less than a year after major knee surgery.
Philadelphia has the best run defense we will have gone against by the end of Sunday's game, so I don't think we'll see a strong running performance this week.
If you'd like to appear in this column, or if you'd like to participate in a Google Hangout discussion of any of these topics, drop Behind The Steel Curtain editor Neal Coolong a line.