Fantasy Update: Steelers Bye Week Edition

By Christopher DiMarino

How many Pittsburgh Steelers fans out there expected to be 1-2 going into the bye? Well, maybe a hard shot of clarity is exactly what this unit needs to come out of the bye week and re-establish themselves as the AFC North powerhouse that they are. The offense has definitely been stronger than the defense so far, but neither has been without flaws. The rushing attack, which was supposed to be emphasized this season, has been extremely ineffective. The passing attack has been solid and Ben Roethlisberger has been great, but one late game pick 6 cost the Steelers a chance to rally. The defense has been equally to blame for its inability to generate turnovers, create pressure and get off the field.

An early bye is an excellent time to reflect on what has transpired so far and what can change coming up. This bye also provides injury recovery relief in the form of James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall. While they are not guaranteed to play against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, both Polamalu and Mendenhall should be very close. For my analysis from now on, I will be using stats accumulated this year to better project unique situations. The first few weeks are tough to guess because teams are discovering their identity, but statistical and positional analysis against the opponent can now take place with a degree of certainty going forward.

The only piece to the puzzle that would be left is analyzing what each player on the Steelers has done to this point. I will go through the skilled positions one by one to note what has happened throughout the first three weeks. Will slumping players turn it around? Will surging players continue to do so? I will try to speculate here based on what has happened so far this season.

Quarterback:

Roethlisberger has played impressive ball so far this season. If you haven’t heard or seen what he’s accomplished then you should take a look. What’s surprising is how he still has room for improvement. He could put a little more touch on his passes and the play calling dynamics still could use some ironing out. We are not talking major changes, rather minor tweaking. He hasn’t played against the top defenses yet and accordingly his numbers are very good. He will have a good test against the Eagles in Week 5 to show that he can continue his high level play against a solid defense. I’d expect nothing but the same from Roethlisberger the rest of the year.

Player

Comp %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Rating

Rushing Yds

Ben Roethlisberger

68.3

904

8

1

109.2

12

Per Game

301.3

2.7

0.3

4

Running Backs:

What a disaster. After Isaac Redman had a solid game against the Broncos at the end of the 2011 season, I think we all believed that the Steelers could run the ball without Mendenhall. The reality is that the running game has been a stagnant through the first 3 weeks. The attempts are there, the execution isn’t. It could be poor offensive line play to blame, bad play calling or the lack of explosive running backs, but something has to change. The easiest way for the Steelers to turn around this slow start to the season would be to get the running game going. I think the return of Mendenhall will help a lot. Redman will play better with Mendenhall’s return because it makes opposing defenses handle the Steelers running attack differently. I’m not guessing that this will become a top ranked rushing attack, but it will be right around average in the league going forward. That being said, I think only Mendenhall will be a viable fantasy option going forward and that Jonathan Dwyer might not get much work the rest of the season.

Player

Att

Yards

YPC

TDs

Rec

Rec Yds

Rec TDs

Isaac Redman

32

72

2.3

1

6

45

0

Jonathan Dwyer

24

70

2.9

0

4

24

0

Baron Batch

6

15

2.5

0

2

20

0

Chris Rainey

6

12

2

0

4

27

0

Per Game

22.7

56.3

2.4

0.3

5.3

38.7

0

Wide Receivers:

I don’t think anyone could have imagined this unit of receivers gelling this well. With the Mike Wallace controversy and the new offense, many were worried that it would take weeks to get this passing attack going. The opposite has happened as the run has sputtered but the passing attack has been very effective. Wallace has scored in each game and hasn’t just been a deep ball threat. In fact, I would only really categorize one of his catches as deep type receptions. Antonio Brown picked up where he left off last season and continues to be Roethlisberger’s most frequent target. Emmanuel Sanders has been clutch, and while he hasn’t had a huge impact on the score sheet, he has the highest 1st down conversion rate per catch. Jerricho Cotchery is almost completely out of this offense, and unless someone gets hurt, he probably won’t factor too heavily going forward. This offense should continue as it has and the only change I can see is a slight drop in overall yards. The Steelers need to get the running game going and that will undoubtedly cut into the passing yards.

Player

Rec

Yards

YAC

TDs

Targets

Avg

1st Down %

Mike Wallace

17

234

15

3

22

13.8

53

Antonio Brown

18

240

58

1

29

13.3

67

Emmanuel Sanders

10

121

24

0

16

12.1

70

Jerricho Cotchery

2

15

1

0

4

7.5

50

Per Game

16

203.3

33

1.3

24

12.7

60

Tight Ends:

The tight end play has been nothing short of spectacular. Heath Miller has a team leading 4 touchdowns and is a serious weapon in this offense. The return of Weslye Saunders will only help this unit. Will Johnson, although mostly a fullback, has done a good job also. His 30 yards after the catch on only 3 catches is more than Miller\’s through 15 catches. Going forward, defenses might clue in on Miller a little more, but he should be good for 5 catches and about 50 yards a game. Saunders won’t be relevant in fantasy land, but he will work to diminish Johnson’s impact. The key note is that Leonard Pope has not been part of this offense, outside of blocking, which might limit the snaps Saunders gets in turn.

Player

Rec

Yards

YAC

TDs

Targets

Avg

1st Down %

Heath Miller

15

129

24

4

20

8.6

67

Will Johnson

3

42

30

0

3

14.0

67

Per Game

6

57.0

18

1.3

8

9.5

67

Defense:

It is no secret that the Steelers defense has not played particularly well this year. Aside from the let down in Oakland, which needs to be attributed at least slightly to Carson Palmer’s familiarity with Dick LeBeau, the unit has performed around average. Against the Jets, the Steelers D was shaky early but had a very strong 2nd half. Looking at the stats creates some despair. The defense has only generated 2 turnovers. A defense that prides itself on pressure isn’t even averaging 2 sacks per game.

It’s hard to put focus on certain players, but few have stood out. I would say that Larry Foote and Ryan Clark have been the 2 best players. Lawrence Timmons is the player who’s most in need of a jump in performance. The linebacker opposite LaMarr Woodley hasn’t dazzled either, and though James Harrison’s return might put our minds at ease, his clock is ticking. It’s tough to judge the stats of the defensive line in a LeBeau run defense, but outside of the sack by Cameron Heyward, they have been nonexistent. The secondary has been manageable, but the safe play required by this defense has been its disadvantage so far. They have prevented the big play, for the most part, but have allowed precise quarterbacks to pick them apart. This could also be the reason that there is only one interception and the receiver fell down on that play.

Player

Tackles

TFLs

Sacks

INTs

FFs

FRecs

DEFENSIVE LINE

Casey Hampton

6

Brett Kiesel

6

Ziggy Hood

4

Cameron Heyward

4

1

Steve McClendon

2

LINEBACKERS

Larry Foote

23

1

1

1

Lawrence Timmons

12

1

LaMarr Woodley

9

1

2

1

Jason Worrilds

6

1

Chris Carter

6

Brandon Johnson

3

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Ryan Clark

15

2

1

Ryan Mundy

13

1

1

Kennan Lewis

11

Ike Taylor

8

1

Cortez Allen

8

Troy Polamalu

5

Curtis Brown

2

PER GAME

2.3

1.7

0.3

0.3

0.7

TOX Look:

I wanted to do a quick TOX look. For those still unfamiliar, it is essentially a comparison of big plays to turnovers on both sides of the ball. From the above table, we see that the Defense/Special Teams had 1 interception and 2 fumble recoveries which offset the turnovers on the offense. That means that it comes down to big plays. On offense, the Steelers are almost averaging 4 big plays per game. What’s notable is the big goose egg in the running plays over 20 yards. In fact, the longest run on the season is a mere 13 yards.

Player

20+Pass

20+ Run

20+Rec

INT

FUM

Ben Roethlisberger

11

1

Jonathan Dwyer

1

Antonio Brown

4

1

Mike Wallace

4

Emmanuel Sanders

1

Heath Miller

1

Will Johnson

1

Summary:

That was a pretty thorough analysis of where the Steelers are at so far. I was very critical of them in many phases because they need to step it up. I think they will. They have the coaching staff and veteran presence to get motivated for games and make a long run towards the playoffs. To review, the passing game is firing on all cylinders and it’s very impressive how well Miller has gotten involved. The defense and running game are areas of concern. The Steelers defense needs to pressure the quarterback better and start generating turnovers. The rushing attack needs to get going so it doesn’t slow down this team as a whole because it is definitely a main component of their game plan. I think the injury/suspension returns will help the Steelers return to form. In conclusion, there’s no need to panic in the Steel City. The pieces are there, just a few small changes need to be made to get the old reliable engine fired up and charging forward once again.

If you have any fantasy questions, feel free to post them as comments on these articles (I will check them as often as I can) or for a speedier answer, ask me on twitter.

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