The Steelers are coming out of their early bye week with a 3-1 record and getting back their star quarterback. Before we get into week 6 of the season, I wanted to post 10 things we have learned about the 2010 Steelers through the first 4 games.
Offensive Line Not That Bad - One of the biggest concerns headed into the 2010 season was how quick the offensive line could gel together. Veteran center Justin Hartwig was released and rookie first rounder Maurkice Pouncey started right out of the chute. Right tackle Willie Colon injured his Achilles over the Summer and veteran left tackle Flozell Adams was signed to quickly learn the right side. Overall through 4 weeks the line has played well above the line. New offensive line coach Sean Kugler should get a ton of credit for the mauling play thus far. Pouncey is playing like a veteran, Adams has adapted quickly. Max Starks has toughed out the last few games on a bad ankle and despite a late false start against the Baltimore Ravens, Chris Kemoeatu has been the most consistent and dominant at times. The Steelers have allowed 9 sacks in the stat books, but clearly you can discount at least two of those from blame on the line. On top of everything, all 9 linemen on the roster have seen playing time through 4 games.
Mendenhall & Redman Shining - Rashard Mendenhall enters Monday night with a 3rd place 102.8 yards per game average. He only trails Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster in that category. His 4.6 yards per carry and 4 touchdowns are also very impressive thus far. Mendenhall also understands his assignments this year and not afraid to blister a linebacker on a blitz. Isaac Redman only has 76 total yards, but it is the other small things like lead blocking and blitz pickup that has made him such a strong contributor on offense. He takes advantage of every snap he is on the field for and it shows as we have pointed out in video clips recently. Both Mendenhall and Redman have also proven they can be on the field in 3rd down situations.
Moore Giving Less - I like Mewelde Moore, but it is clear his skills are diminishing. His biggest contribution now is on special teams as he is no longer a reliable 3rd down back or a breather running back for Mendenhall. Moore has struggled with 3rd down blitz pickups in 2010 and very well might have lost that role heading into the 5th game against the Browns. He very well could be considered the 52nd or 53rd man on the roster right now.
Wallace Not Quite Yet Holmes - Do not take this the wrong way as receiver Mike Wallace has made some big plays thus far in 2010. What most fans do not see his how he is still adjusting in short spaces. His route running is no where close to that of former Steelers first round pick Santonio Holmes. Wallace worked on this all offseason and while there is improvement, he needs to be able to separate on shorter routes and get that foot stuck in the ground quicker. This was the main reason Holmes was a first round pick, while Wallace was a third rounder. It should come with more work, but he is clearly still trying to get settled into his new role.
Jumping Juan - Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons has been living up to the preseason hype thus far and his 48 tackles in 4 games mixed with his complete coverage of the field shows that he has indeed made the jump and has become the first round pick we all hoped he would be. He is in excellent physical shape, fully recovered from his 2009 ankle sprain and is fast in short and long spaces. He is on pace to be a Pro Bowler this year. He is everywhere and doing it all.
Great Rotation On Dline - In 3 of the first 4 games this year, the Steelers did well in rotating the personnel on the defensive line to keep bodies fresh. Defensive line coach John Mitchell hinted about this in the preseason and used it well in the first 3 games. For some reason, they got away from it in week 4 versus the Ravens and come crunch time, Brett Keisel was out with cramps and Aaron Smith looked spent. Hopefully back-up nose tackle Chris Hoke returns this week and a heavier rotation is used once again as the Steelers are not spring chickens on the line outside of Ziggy Hood.
Troy Is Indeed Healthy - All you needed to see was the one Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka type leap over the line against the Titans to know that strong safety Troy Polamalu is indeed 100% healthy after sitting out most of 2009 with a torn up knee. Polamalu is given free range to ad-lib in the Dick LeBeau defense and it just can not be taught. He still will go flying by on missed tackles, but makes up for it with game changing type plays. When he is healthy, it is like the Steelers have 12 men playing on defense.
Slow Start By Heath - Hopefully the return of Ben Roethlisberger will ignite tight end Heath Miller. Admittedly, Miller has been used quite a bit in run support instead of the passing game, but that should change soon. Miller has just 10 catches in the first 4 games. In addition, his blocking has been less than stellar at times and that too should improve as well.
Skippy Slippy - Heinz Field is a bitch to kick in, but the Steelers football version of Kenny Powers seems to be pressing just a bit. Jeff Reed is 8 for 8 on extra points this year, but 8 of 12 on field goals and 0-3 from 40-49 yards. If he indeed wants a big payday in the offseason from another team, he needs to get back to being Mister Automatic from 50 yards and in. On a positive note, Reed does have 3 touch-backs in 4 games thus far on kickoffs.
Rookies Contributing - Maurkice Pouncey, Antonio Brown, Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds all have contributed big time in the first 4 games. Pouncey does not look or play anything like a rookie at center, while Brown, Sylvester and Worilds have all made big contributions on special teams. Look for Emmanuel Sanders to crack the gameday lineup in the near future as well in the second half of the season.
Great Coaching - Mike Tomlin played the disrespect angle perfectly with the team to start the 2010 season. The defense especially had a huge chip on their shoulder and it has shown in the first four games. By going 3-1, the Steelers have more than weathered the storm in the absence of Big Ben. The offense, while not record setting, was managed correctly with both Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at the helm and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians really did a great job play calling over the first quarter of the season. this team was ready to face adversity coming out of training camp and it showed.