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Early bye is a must win for Steelers 2013 season

Most teams would rather have a late bye week, to get players healthy for post-season play. The Steelers drew yet another early bye in Week 5 of the NFL regular season. but the timing couldn't be better.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Pittsburgh Steelers are guaranteed not to lose in Week 5 of the NFL regular season. Granted, they are on a bye week, but it's a nice sentiment for a team which started 0-4.

Sentiments aside, the Steelers are facing their first true 'must win' week of the regular season, as they try to stop beating themselves.

What was supposed to be a 'Stairway to Seven' season, has turned into something Lionel and Roger Penrose would be proud of. The team has found itself right back where it started the season - winless and ready to prove themselves to the world. To do so, they will have to find a way to beat the team they've put on the field for the first four weeks.

In 2012, the Steelers could have benefited from a later bye considering the number of injuries among their ranks. Had the Steelers not been playing the Kansas City Chiefs because they were on a bye, Ben Roethlisberger is around to play the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns - not to mention, not playing with wounded wing down the final stretch of a season which had post-season possibilities.

All NFL teams would prefer a late bye week, but the league is unwilling to sacrifice one week of supplying demand to rest all teams equally, so someone has to go first. Pittsburgh has drawn an early bye three of the past four seasons: Week 5 in 2010 and 2013, and Week 4 in 2012. The Steelers drew a much more favorable Week 11 bye in 2011, and a still better Week 8 bye in 2009. However, this year, it could not have come at a better time.

As long as Roethlsberger's hand is hurting, the turnovers will continue. He took a shot to the back of his hand from the helmet of a charging Bears defender, which most likely played a part in his fumble issues; although to be fair, Isaac Redman helped on the second. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Roethlisberger stubbed his thumb throwing through a Chicago pass rusher. While the team will be practicing, their QB will have a chance to get plenty of rest.

Heath Miller, Le'Veon Bell and Cortez Allen will also benefit from the bye, as each has only recently rejoined the team after injury. Each will have the time to tend to their wounds, and need classroom time more than field time anyway.

The embattled and sometimes embarrassing offensive line will have ample to time to watch every single missed block, missed assignment and misunderstanding several times. They will also be the focus of practice over the next two weeks. They will have zero excuse to return from the bye week as the same unit.

Some feel the same could be said for offensive coordinator Todd Haley. To an extent they would be correct, but catching dropped passes and holding on to the ball are more to blame than play design. Those who question the playcalling have not been paying attention.

Ever get tired of all the bubble screens? Why call those so often? For instances such as against the Bears where a Roethlisberger pump-fake on what appeared to be another bubble screen, which turned out to be a nice downfield completion to Jerricho Cotchery.

Speaking of Cotchery, why on Earth of all the physically gifted playmakers Pittsburgh possesses would they use him for an end around? We've seen Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton do it, but Cotchery? Seriously?

Seriously. Haley put on film he will run any receiver whenever he wants, putting opposing defenses on alert for runs from all positions. The same reason he will run the oft-injured Roethlisberger on the occasional naked bootleg. He is trying to give his offense just an extra fraction of a second at the line of scrimmage. Defenses have to be ready for anything from anyone at anytime.

The rushing attack has been steadily improving, especially with Bell's stat line against the Vikings. Frankly, the Steelers would be happy to get 80 yards and just one score on a weekly basis. The only unit Haley really has to work on is the offensive line. A lack of protection has led to the team's lack of production. Roethlisberger threw for 789 yards over the past two weeks - over a third of which went to A. Brown who had 284 - all while running for his life on every single play. Bell provided the first Steelers rushing touchdown since Byron Leftwich put one in against the Ravens in Week 11 of 2012. Plenty has gone right for the offense which has steadily improved every single week despite the lack of a victory.

The Steelers have played well on offense and some great defense, just never at the same time. Football is a team sport and must be won by a team collectively. Rookies Vince Williams and Jarvis Jones will get some bonus time with coaches as the team tries to fix their usually stellar run defense, while also trying to generate more pressure with their young players in larger roles than training camp.

The team is actually very healthy, despite the losses of Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote in Week 1. Outside a few strained muscles, bruised egos and one quarterback thumb, the team can focus on the details instead of waiting on recovery. Matt Spaeth will join the team eventually which will only bolster a tight end department which struggled without Miller. There is also still the outside chance of a Sean Spence return after the team placed him on the regular season PUP list, which prevents him from returning before the team's seventh game. It's a slim possibility, but with Foote out, the extra body would be nice; if said body is ready for the physical demands of the NFL.

If the Steelers make the most of the off week, they can still salvage their season. They are not far from their winning ways. A Paulson fumble here, a Felix Jones fumble there. Remove one untimely Roethlisberger fumble and he may not have to be a major part of the worst team in the league. The team has to take it one snap at a time, and make the most of each one as if they do not get another - even if we are just talking about practice.

The early bye week could be the most critical victory the Steelers record all season.

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