For the first time since 1968, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4. The last time the Steelers began a season winless through the first four games, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were just assassinated. The US was mired in the Vietnam War. O.J. Simpson was the best college football player. Chuck Noll was an assistant at Baltimore. Mike Tomlin and none of the current players were born yet. It has been a while since the Steelers started this badly.
These 2013 Steelers came into the season cautiously optimistic. After all, they were coming off a 8-8 season and a lot of changes occurred. New offensive line coach came in with the promise of revamping the running game. The Steelers picked up some talented players in April’s draft like OLB Jarvis Jones, RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Markus Wheaton, and S Sharmarko Thomas. Steeler Nation thought this would be the year that the seventh Lombardi Trophy would make its way to the Steel City. Then preseason happened. But hey, it’s preseason. So what if you go 0-4 in preseason? And then 0-4 happened when the games began to count. The Steelers head into the bye week winless and with a lot of questions. Modifying one of Mike Tomlin’s lines, the answers seem to be elsewhere, not in the locker room.
The best thing about the Steelers’ plight is two things: one, Ben Roethlisberger is still a franchise quarterback and two, the Steelers play in a division where 2-2 currently leads the group. This team will likely not throw in the towel and start thinking about 2014 NFL draft just yet. However, there needs to be some serious changes and soul searching before heading the Meadowlands and playing the 2-2 Jets. Here are some of the things that need to happen to salvage this season:
1. Air out all the grievances with much maligned offensive coordinator Todd Haley and offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. The players need to discuss whatever issues they might have with both men and come to terms. Face it, Haley isn’t going anywhere, at least in midseason. Yes, he is not well liked in the Steeler Nation but he does have qualifications as an NFL offensive coordinator, having called plays for a NFC championship team and a AFC West division champion. Haley’s biggest strength is his ability to adapt to the personnel. He ran a pass heavy offensive in Arizona led by Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. He ran a run heavy offense in Kansas City led by Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. The Steelers do have talented skill position players, from Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Heath Miller. The disconnect (if there is a one regarding communication) needs to be connected.
2. Cease the Mike Adams at left tackle experiment. Face it, Adams is not an NFL left tackle. He might have been a very good left tackle in college and high school, but this is the NFL. Adams lacks the initial quickness to neutralize speed rushers and often plays with terrible technique on bull rushes. Adams looks out of sorts and lost most of the time. I always thought Jonathan Scott was a terrible left tackle until I saw Adams play. Adams played relatively well last season at right tackle and he should probably be sent back there during the bye week.
3. Consider activating and starting Hebron Fangupo at nose tackle. It might be just me but it seems as if Steve McLendon looks overmatched or out of position at times at NT. I have not seen the Steelers get ran on as much in a long time. However, through the first four games, the opposition has racked up 112, 127, 107, and 145 yards on the ground. Those numbers get lost given how badly the rest of the team has been. However, it should not be ignored, especially since the Steelers defense prided itself on stopping the run. Perhaps a defensive line of Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward playing the ends and Ziggy Hood playing the nose might be an idea to consider as well.
4. Consider trading Emmanuel Sanders to the Patriots. Given the injuries that the Patriots have suffered thus far, perhaps Bill Belichick will re-consider going for the 4th year wideout as he tried in the summer. If the Steelers can flip Sanders for at least a 4th round pick in next year’s draft, then all the better. I would like to see more Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye in the lineup. We don’t know what we’ve got in either rookies. We already know what we got in Sanders: an average player who just can’t put it all together like his fellow draft mate Antonio Brown. Trading an offensive starter worked well for the Browns thus far. Maybe we can have the same luck. I would also consider bringing back Reggie Dunn if the trade does occur. The offense needs more speed.
5. Run more no-huddle. Ben Roethlisberger seems to play much better in the no-huddle. He has for his entire career.
6. More screen passes to Le’Veon Bell. Actually more Bell period is a good thing. I see now why the Steelers were very high on him. I can’t wait until Bell gets more acclimated in the league.
7. Consider moving Jason Worilds inside. Vince Williams will get better but face it, he’s still a rookie. Worilds is an average OLB in his last season of his rookie contract. Why not find out if he can play the ILB position? It worked for Timmons.
8. Stop playing off-coverage so much, especially on 3rd downs. Matt Cassel (and last week, Jay Cutler) just cut the Steelers’ secondary into pieces with those slant routes. I am betting Coach LeBeau calls those coverages because he has little faith in the pass rush getting there. However, watching a journeyman like Cassel hit one short pass after another was just frustrating. Take some risks. Those risks will eventually lead to turnovers.
0-4 is a tough climb. Only the 1992 San Diego Chargers have made the playoffs after starting 0-4. Anything is possible. However, things look bleaker than the typical London climate. I want to believe this team could climb out of the cellar and surprise everybody. Chances are, it is probably unlikely. However, one can always dream.