Granted, it's just three weeks of football, but let's take a look at how the Steelers as a team stack up in some of the more prominent statistical categories.
Scoring: Pittsburgh ranks 20th in the NFL at 16 points per game.
Passing: The Steelers rank 27th in the NFL in passing yards at 172.7 yards per game.
Rushing : Pittsburgh ranks 15th in the NFL with 114 yards per game. This number is deflated from the poor performance against Jacksonville.
Turnovers : This is a big one. The Steelers are tied with the Browns and Titans with 8 giveaways, tops in the NFL. Luckily we're tied for 7th with 6 takeaways, but the -2 differential has to improve if we are to make the playoffs.
Scoring Defense : Pittsburgh is 15th in scoring defense at 18 points per game. If you take away the 14 points the Bengals converted on the two turnovers in our own territory, we'd be ranked 7th at 13.3 points per game.
Rushing Defense : Finally we crack the top 5 in a category--and a damn important one at that. The Steelers are ranked 5th in rushing yards allowed, giving up an average of just 78.3 yards per game. Of the top-5 rushing defenses in 2005, only one team, the Chargers missed the playoffs. The other four teams? Denver, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Seattle. Hmm, I recall all four of those teams playing in Conference Championship Games. If we maintain our excellence stopping the run, we'll be competing for a shot at the playoffs.
Passing Defense : The Steelers secondary has had its moments in 2006, but the unit is still only the 19th best in the NFL, allowing 217 yards per game through the air. Granted, in two of the three games, our opponents went to the air to try to catch up in the second half. Much of Palmer's and Culpepper's production came in the 2nd half after we had already built a lead thanks to our stinginess in rush defense.
Penalties: I don't have the league rank, but the Steelers have to be near the very top of least penalized teams. For the year, Pittsburgh has only comitted 6 penalties for 60 yards! One way to look at that stat is to say we're playing extremely disciplined football. Perhaps though we're not being agressive enough, especially on defense? I don't know, and I'm not going to waste too much time trying to argue that we need to be more penalized. This is a positive stat that will pay dividens for our team if it continues throughout the year.
Early Verdict?: So, what to take from these numbers? Well, first, our offense needs to continue to improve, especially in the passing game. We don't need Big Ben to throw for 250+ yards per game, but we certainly need him to stop turning the ball over in critical situations. Additionally, if the offensive line continues to play as well as it did against the Bengals, Roeth is going to need to do more than just protect the ball. He's had the time to make plays. It's time for him to make them.
Secondly, we need Troy Polamalu healthy. We've been an above average defense team thus far this year, but in order to be the top-5 D that I think we're capable of being, we need a healthy Troy making plays in both the running and passing game. He looked better against the Bengals, but he's still not back to his Pro-Bowl self.
Finally, we have to improve the turnover situation. Here are the top ten teams through week 3 in turnover differential:
Guess what the combined record of those ten teams is? 25-4. Who said turnovers aren't the most important stat in football??
As New Orleans proved last night, it's awfully tough to win on the road on Monday Night Football. Consequently, we shouldn't feel too bad about our road defeat at Jacksonville two weeks ago. Jacksonville validated their performance against us with a strong showing on the road at the Colts. Barring some special teams collapses, the Jaguars might have won that game. If we don't gift-wrap the victory for the Bengals this past Sunday, we're at worst a 2-1 football team, with hardly a shabby loss against JAX on our resume. My point is, it's STILL not time to panic with this group. Let's see how we play at San Diego in Week 5 coming off a BYE week this week. If we win, I'll remain confident that we're a playoff team capable of getting hot and making a run towards defending our Super Bowl title.
Let me know what you think of these numbers, even if they're just a small sample size.