The month of November has started much like the November last season. After whipping the Broncos in week 9 last year, the Steelers returned home to lay an egg against the division rival Bengals to fall to 6-3 through 9 games. Things were still looking rosy at the time as the Steelers had the Chiefs, Ravens, Raiders and Browns as their next 4 opponents and surely they would rebound from the Bengal loss and go 3-1 at the very least in those 4 games. As we all know, that never happened. After losing the first two games of that 4 game stretch, head coach Mike Tomlin promised that the team would unless hell in December. Little did Steeler Nation know was that the unleashing of hell was what they were about to go through. They went on to lose the next two games to the Raiders and Browns to cap a nice 5 game losing streak and put them on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Even though they managed to win their final 3 games, the damage was already done. It was not a November to remember.
Heading into week 11, the Steelers are 1-1 this month and facing what most would call a pretty easy next 2 games in the form of the Raiders and the Bills. Easy? Did I just say that? The hell that was not unleashed last December, needs to be unleashed now for the rest of this November, because if the Steelers fail to finish the month 3-1, they are looking at some serious must win games against the Ravens, Bengals and Jets if they want to even think about sniffing the playoffs this year. Super Bowl? You are an idiot to even talk about that right now.
So what needs to fixed for the Steelers to be able to unleash hell the rest of this month? We have the answers below.
More QB Pressure – Yes, I know in the Dick LeBeau 3-4 defense that the defensive ends are only asked to control the lanes more so than rushing the quarterback. Often times the Steelers will rush 4 on passing downs and need to include more stunts and disguised blitzes to force the opposing quarterback to make quicker decisions. It would not hurt to send the sink more often as well. Luckily Jason Campbell and Ryan Fitzpatrick will never be mentioned in the same breathe as Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady, but they are NFL quarterbacks and any quarterback with enough time will pick a 3-4 defense apart.
Better Nickel Corner & Left Corner Play – God bless Ike Taylor. He has been on an island most of the season and done a damn good job. As bad as everyone thinks William Gay is, he really played above the line early in the season. Gay is coming off a few stinkers for sure, but he is not as hopeless as everyone thinks after looking at the tape closer of the Patriots and Bengals game. Bryant McFadden really never has recovered from the double move touchdown he allowed to T.J. Houshmandzadeh late in the Ravens game. I understand that he is being told to give ground underneath and protect himself from the big play, but he has to start trusting his safeties over the top and get himself in better position to be able to break on inside passes. Both Gay and McFadden hardly ever press and it is understandable with Gay because of his size, but McFadden needs to use press more to offset his other deficiencies and knock receivers more off their routes. If McFadden continues to struggle, it might be worth a look at Keenan Lewis at left corner and rotate Gay and McFadden at the nickel spot. I would be hesitant though to include rookie Crezdon Butler in the mix, because I just do not think he has a full grasp of the defense yet. The Steelers will have to sink or swim with Gay and McFadden more than likely as the play by Lewis in the preseason really has left a bad taste in everyone\’s mouth.
More Safety Help – Troy Polamalu needs to guess and gamble less and just get back to focusing on the basics of helping over the top and offering adequate run support. Ryan Clark has been late several times this year when the corners have had good inside position. Such was the case with the 1st Rob Gronkowski touchdown Sunday night. If the corners are going to try to cover more with man under, the 2 deep safeties have to be there to support. If it means giving up a homerun every now and again, so be it. Giving up one big TD a game on defense is better than giving up 4 TD\’s that eat up yardage and clock.
Left Tackle & Right Guard – I break down the offensive line every week and can tell you right now that these 2 positions killed us on offense against the Patriots. Either Jonathan Scott is the answer or he isn\’t. It looks like the coaching staff are behind him for one more start. If he does not rise to the challenge the only real alternative is to flip Flozell Adams over to his natural side and let Scott, or god forbid Tony Hills or the rookie Chris Scott play right tackle. Adams will still get beat on occasion, but should offer a little bit more consistency and meanness on the left edge. At right guard, Trai Essex needs to be yanked and either Doug Legursky or Ramon Foster need to take over there. Neither are world beaters, but I think they can offer a little better pass protection than what Essex gives. Essex is better known for his run blocking, but he failed in that part of his game Sunday night against New England.
More Balls To Mike Wallace – Although the game was out of reach Sunday night, we got a small glimpse of what Mike Wallace can do. He is not going to be confused with Santonio Holmes, but his work in short spaces has improved. The more times you can get the ball in his hands in full stride, the better. He has to beat the press coverages when faced with them and get out of the small spaces quicker to offset the pass rush. Over the next 4 games, he needs to haul in 25 catches at the very least.
Mewelde Less – I understand why Tomlin is spelling Rashard Mendenhall with Mewelde Moore so far, but there is no sense keeping Mendenhall fresh for the playoffs if the Steelers are not in the playoffs. He rested plenty against the Patriots and it is time to use him more both running and with surprise slip screens on early downs. Moore can continue an occasional 3rd down role, but Mendenhall has become a well rounded back and needs to be used more.
Get Tight Ends More Involved – If it takes using more two tight end sets, so be it. Both Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth can do more than block. Good play action mixed with short passes to the tight ends can really slow down a linebacking core. Miller is averaging less than 3 catches a game and that is unacceptable. Spaeth can be used as a surprise pass catcher every now and again and it would not hurt to target him once a game for a quick gainer.
Better Coaching – Outside of special teams, the coaching staff has not done their job since the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Better game planning and in-game coaching is needed.
So there you have it. If the Steelers want to unleash hell in November it starts by handily beating the Raiders and Bills by using the outline above. If they lose either and have not fixed the problems that have plagued them the last 4 games, you can expect to watch a Super Bowl this year that includes teams that were able to make November a month to remember. One of those teams could very well be a division rival. How embarrassing would that be?