Going into the bye week, 5-2 is indeed a respectable record and after week 3, any Steelers fan would be ecstatic with that right now. The 5-2 record could just as easily be 2-5 or worse if not for a few big plays. The Steelers really have not been dominated, nor have they dominated themselves. Going into the bye, there are 3 major things the Steelers must fix as they head into a crucial 4 game stretch following the bye. Below are those 3 major things:
Kickoff Coverage – This falls under the captain obvious statement of the day, especially now that in two straight games the Steelers have allowed returns for touchdowns. Andre Frazier has not been healthy and is a huge player as far as coverage on kickoffs. Joe Burnett, Arnold Harrison and Mike Wallace are a few of the guys that have not been effective on the coverage team. Carey Davis has also proven to be effective on the coverage team in the past, but has been inactive for 2 straight games now. Couple all of this with Jeff Reed\’s inability to kick the ball deep and it will continue to be a disaster unless a different personal package is implemented.
Mendenhall Fumbling – a 5.4 yards per carry average is useless when you turn the ball over, especially when it is deep in the opponents territory. Mendenhall had fumbling problems during his rookie pre-season and they have resurfaced once again. Throughout his college and pro career, the way he holds the football is asking for a fumble. There is no doubt he has the ability to be a solid running back, but ball security needs to be focused on more in the weekly preparation.
3rd Down Defense – The good news about the Steelers defense is the return of safety Troy Polamalu to the lineup and the ability to force turnovers. The biggest downfall remains the ability to get off of the field on third downs. For the season thus far, the Steelers opponents are 42 of 97 on third downs. This comes out to a 43.3% opponents success rate on third downs. For the 2008 season, the Steelers opponents were 71 of 226. This was a much healthier 31.4% success rate. While that number will be hard to match, a more respectable 33%-36% will go a long way in keeping the defense off the field and the Steelers offense on the field.