Okay, so we sit here 1-2, a bye staring us in the face which makes the loss to he Raiders all that harder to forget..... I mean we now have to wait two weeks to get that awful taste out of our mouths. However...... I am very encouraged by what I have seen to this point from the offense.
Now, going into this new year, I was more worried about how the offense would come together under Haley, especially since Wallace held out all preseason. Usually it takes some time for everything to mesh, for chemistry and for the speed to come from not having to think about a play instead of just running it. Further, complicate that with the amount of injuries to the OL, hence my worries........
I also was extremely worried about the age of our defense, and the fact we could not run the ball (which I figured would allow the opposing offenses to have more time and run more plays against us). Well, because of the huge success of the offense, the Steelers defense has been on the field for less time than any other, and have had the least amount of plays run against them..... Encouraging, very encouraging.
Getting back to the offense for a moment, the third down efficiency is something to marvel at. Big Ben and crew are converting at over 50% on third downs, and only three defenses in the NFL are giving up over 50% percent conversion on thrid down, the three being the Broncos, Jets and Raiders. Is that a coincidence? Are those teams just that bad, or are we that good? We shall see moving forward.......
Back to the defense....... I posted during the offseason about my concerns with pressure on the QB (I will link that post below), and I also made a few comments of my concerns traveling to Oakland. We never play well there (west coast), so I figured that would be a tough game just for that reason. Also, and this is where I am optimistic..... Our two road games, we played Denver (without Clark) and Oakland (without Troy and James). Those three guys are huge pieces of our defense! Now, would that WR from Denver (whose name I can not say without swearing) have run for those long TDs in either game in Denver if Clark is playing? Maybe, maybe not! Would Palmer have completed all those passes in Oakland with James rushing him? Maybe, maybe not! Would Troy have made a play or two that might have changed the outcome of the game? Maybe......
My belief before the season started was 10-6 (11-5 at best), going 7-1 at home and 3-5 on the road (4-4 at best). I have not seen anything to this point to change my thinking, we looked great at home against the Jets, and we have looked pretty beatable on the road to this point (albeit without some of our defensive stars not playing).
Now, what I will watch with interest when the Eagles come to town is this..... Pressure and turnovers. The Steelers went into this season concerning themselves most on defense with turnovers. They only have a few on defense. Sacks and pressure help cause these, so will they (with Harrison) be able to get more pressure on Vick? The Eagles love to turn the ball over, so can the Steelers force a few, get them going in the right direction for the rest of the season (it always seems once they come they keep coming in batches).
This is a far different team than any of the Steelers teams of the past. This team is one that will win with a dominant offense, instead of a dominant defense. This defense, if we are to win, must produce "splash" plays. They are going to give up big plays, they are going to bend and break, things we are not used to seeing from our defense, we will see this year. But, the great equalizer is creating turnovers. If we create a few a game, or at least more than we give away on offense, than we will be in every game. Our model this year should be that of the Colts or the Saints when they won their Super Bowls...... Get out to a lead, make the other team one dimensional by having to play from behind all the time, and blitz them like crazy. We will get torched, but we will also get picks, sacks.
Until Mendenhall gets back into game shape and is comfortable, this offense has to be given to Ben. As much as I have been screaming for a balanced approach to the offense, we just can not do it without a good RB and some questions on the OL (although less than the last few seasons). Ben has proven he can call his own plays, it should fall to Haley to create an offense in which Ben can be successful but limit the amount of chances he has to take. We can not overcome interceptions. Once Mendenhall gets back, maybe he will be able to give us some type of running attack...... The difference between our win against the Jets and our lose against the Raiders..... We ran the ball a lot in the 4th against the Jets and ate up the clock. We should have been able to do the same against the Raiders, we could not and it cost us the game. Maybe Mendenhall helps that, maybe getting DeCastro back helps it, hopefully something helps it by the time December rolls around.
Finally, if we can not get pressure when James gets back, if the rest of the season plays out like the first three games have on defense, then we will not make the playoffs. We will need to start over on defense, and since we have no depth we will be in trouble. I would also give considerable thought, if I were the Steelers brass, and if the season is looking lost, to see what these defensive lineman can do in a 43 defense. With Timmons in the middle, and Woodley and Spence outside, I think the LB corps will be set for a long time (if they go to a 43). Spence is great in coverage, and if he can be used against TEs like Pitta, Graham, Gronkowski, then a 43 could flourish. If a total overhaul of the defense is in order, then our biggest challenge going forward is finding DL that can play. I am not sure with Hood, at all! Keisel is getting up there, Hampton has to be in his last year. If we stay with a 34, we will have to find depth at LB, another starter at OLB for Harrison, and some DL who can actually play a 34. That is the biggest problem I see with this defense now, lack of pressure. Lack of stuffing the running game. Lack of the DL to accomplish much of anything.