Freak-out-able areas of concern this season have ranged from special teams to tackling. For this week's edition of Chill Out or Freak Out, let's take a look back at the first part of the season and see what Freak Out items are now Chill Outs and which Chill Outs have become worrisome problems.
After it became clear his poor performance against the Patriots in Week 1 was not a fluke, Scobee deserved an Extreme Freak Out (EFO) rating. How bad was Scobee? So bad that fans are still traumatized by his inaccuracy and inconsistency.
The secondary was a source of major concern in the off season and after Week 1 when the unit appeared so disjointed, ineffective, and incompetent, that the situation seemed hopeless. Miraculously, the secondary has evolved into a unit that isn't only adequate, but is often an asset to the team, generating big plays and generally getting the job done.
Le'Veon Bell & Martavis Bryant
The absence of these two players at the start of the season earned a Chill Out rating, and in hindsight, the team functioned well enough without the star running back and wide receiver. In fact, Le'Veon Bell is out for the season with an injury, and it is clear that DeAngelo Williams is a phenomenal blocker and can rack up big yardage on the ground. When Bell and Bryant received a Chill Out rating, it was well before offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum and Ben Roethlisberger ended up sidelined with injuries.
Tackling received a freak out rating more than once this season. While tackling has improved, poor technique had devastating consequences for the defense and the overall outcome of games. There have been fewer instances of players appearing to play tag instead of contact football, but I am not ready to chill out about this just yet. Poor tackling loses games, and the Steelers don't have the luxury of making such mistakes.
Penalties were a scourge earlier in the season, earning a Freak Out rating. Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum was a major offender, but other players generated avoidable, pointless penalties as well. In Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers had only five penalties for 55 yards. Safety Mike Mitchell was more subdued in his celebrations and other on-field antics, and the offensive line was more disciplined in avoiding pre-snap penalties.
The sheer number and severity of injuries so far this season has been troubling. In Week 10, however, an injury to backup quarterback Landry Jones ended up benefiting the Steelers since it meant that backup quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would get a chance to play, despite the foot injury that prevented him from starting. The team has proven that they can function reasonably well even without key players and make adjustments to leverage the strengths-- and account for the weaknesses- of existing talent on the field.
Consistency of the Run Defense
This deficiency has been one of the most freak-out-able concerns during the course of the season. The defense can stop the run, but their failure to do it reliably has been a problem. Against the Browns, the Steelers had their best performance of the season, allowing under 20 yards, most of which were tallied by Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. Can the team sustain that level of dominance? Probably not, but it was encouraging to see the defense remain strong in that regard for all four quarters.
Defending Tight Ends
This was once rated a Red Alert Freak Out. While the defense continues to struggle against tight ends, They have made some improvements. In Week 1 against the Chargers, Rob Gronkowski was completely undefended, while later in the season against the Chargers, Antonio Gates' had two touchdowns and 92 yards. Can fans relax? No. Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham dropped several passes in this week's game against the Cardinals, but he is the type of player who could pose big problems for the Steelers defense. Hopefully the team will use their bye week to make adjustments before they face off against the team in Seattle in Week 12.