Potential Adjustments & Improvements Hopefully Forthcoming For The Steelers

Jeremy Hritz

It has been nearly a week since the Pittsburgh Steelers blew the lead in Oakland, yet it still looks as ugly as ever when watching it again. While we keep searching for the silver lining in the game on defense, it is difficult to find one, and consequently, the panic has definitely set in.

Enough time has been spent identifying the weaknesses of the Steelers after week three of this young season, yet not much attention has been awarded to discussing what changes and improvements need to occur to turn around the season and navigate it in the direction of the playoffs.

Former head coach Bill Cowher was notorious for his mantra, “There is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL,” and his words are definitely applicable to the Steelers in 2012. If the team can just shift a few areas into their favor, they can resume their winning ways.

Here are some potential adjustments, improvements that we may see over the next several weeks.

A Boost to the Running Game

While I never thought I would say it, I am anxiously anticipating the return on running back Rashard Mendenhall. Over the years, I have been critical of Mendenhall for “dancing” and tip-toeing near the hole, yet after watching Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer this year, the production that Mendenhall provided, while not awe-inspiring, was significantly better. During my game film study, there have been instances in which holes have opened up for the backs; however, either their lack of vision or quickness impedes them from hitting it, resulting in no gain or a loss. Additionally, there have been too many outside running plays and draws called for Redman which have failed miserably. While I am not expecting Mendenhall to be Superman in his first game back, I do expect him to invigorate the running game. If this can happen, imagine the time of possession on offense. This will only benefit the struggling defense. And maybe it is time for more carriers for Baron Batch who ran hard against Oakland and looked much better than Redman or Dwyer.

The Return of Saunders

Mark Kaboly of the Tribune Review wrote about how the return of Weslye Saunders would help boost the running game, as Leonard Pope has been inconsistent. Yet another factor to consider is the additional receiving threat that he will provide to this offense. As an athletic tight end, Saunders will create matchup problems for defenses and give Ben Roethlisberger another weapon, making the Steelers offense even better.

Rainey Will Finally Settle In

While Chris Rainey has yet to make a big play in the regular season, it is just a matter of time. The rookie demonstrated several times in the preseason his explosiveness and ability to score from anywhere on the field. As he grows more comfortable in the offense and with the speed of the game, he will become a factor not only on offense, but also on special teams. The spark that his big plays could provide will be huge in swinging momentum for the Steelers as the season wears on.

The Offensive Line Will Improve

The longer this group plays together and grows comfortable with the scheme, they will get better. And while it is a long ways off, the return of David DeCastro will upgrade the guard play, especially in the pulling game. Also, overlooked last week was the effective pass protection. While it wasn’t perfect, Ben was not sacked until late in the game.

Polamalu Will Return

While not what he used to be, Troy Polamalu is light years better than what Ryan Mundy brings to the defense. And it is no secret the step that the defense takes back whenever Troy is out of the lineup. His return to the defense will help solidify a run defense that has struggled.

Dick LeBeau Doesn’t Have Blinders On

Check out LeBeau’s comments after the Raiders game: “Generally speaking, I usually say: \’You dumb ass, why did you call that defense?\’ But we\’re not where we want to be. In this business you\’re never as good as you think you are….” While critics have piled on LeBeau after the loss to the Raiders, this is a Hall of Fame, two time Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator that is in charge here. If anything, LeBeau knows that his defense is playing below the line, and he will make the necessary adjustments to improve. The offense did not help the defense with the turnovers last week giving up a short field, and the same can be said about the return teams. It’s not like the defense has given up a ton of yards, they have just not made plays. If anybody can rectify this situation it is LeBeau. And if you don’t believe so, go back to 2005 when the Steelers gave up 38 points to the Bengals in a loss that took their record to 7-5. What happened after that game? The Steelers won seven straight, including the Super Bowl.

A Tweak to Timmons’ Game

If you have access to the first three games of the season, go back and watch Lawrence Timmons. What you will see is a supposedly “explosive” player who looks like he is going three-quarters speed. When he engages blockers or comes on a blitz, his momentum is immediately absorbed and stifled. Additionally, he appears a step behind the play, and when he is in position to make a play, he misses the tackle. I refuse to believe that Timmons is not an effective player because we have seen it in 2008, 2009, and 2010. However, something it amiss, and it dates back to last season. While fellow middle backer Larry Foote is older than Timmons, he plays fast and aggressive to the ball, and he makes Timmons look like he is running in sand. Something is not right here, whether it is scheme, conditioning, or lack of desire. Whatever it is, it is undeniable, and Timmons must tweak his game to help the interior of the defense.

More of an Attack Mentality on Defense

Foote, Ryan Clark, and LaMarr Woodley appear to be the only players on the defense that are playing physically and are playing with intensity. Like Timmons, the defensive line, Chris Carter, Jason Worilds, Ike Taylor, and Keenan Lewis seem to be playing passively instead of aggressively. When you are out-powered by Carson Palmer and company, it is a problem. A player like Woodley or Clark needs to call out this defense for their paddy-cake play and remind them that they are wearing a black and gold uniform. Even if the personnel cannot make plays, they should at least look like they are making an admirable effort on the field.

  • Jason White

    Great article. I agree 100%

  • zyzak

    Timmons has to come “alive”.

  • Ahmad

    One more thing I would have added is that McLendon replaces Hampton as the starting NT. Hampton is getting pushed around time and time again and it’s time for him to take a seat.

  • GunsDontKillWoodleyKills

    Agree. Out with the old and in with the new. For years Big Snack was the anchor to the D-line but he just doesn’t have it anymore.

  • John Kerns

    I disagree with most the points here.
    Mendenhall will not make a difference. The running backs are not the issue. The blocking is. Dywer in my opinion is far better then Mendenhall. Mendenhall is an oversized finesse back that belongs in a west coast offense. He’ll give the usual 15 runs for 2 yards and then maybe break one. That’s about it. Plus he’ll fumble and get injured. He’ soft and has no vision. But hey I hope I’m wrong.
    The offensive line will not improve. It will only get worse as injuries mount up over a course of a season. Foster will never be better than he is. I doubt Colon will get better. I never thought he was much as a right tackle. Gilbert might/should improve. Starks is starks. Pouncey will get injured. Even if DeCastro comes back, I doubt he’ll be very effective on a gimpy knee. His game was more speed than power.. Some good linemen dropped in the draft but Colbert wasted the 3rd round pick on an undersized linebacker who if healthy would not be starting. Our current backups shouldn’t be in the NFL. Colbert has consistently undervalued the importance of the Oline or he overvalues the guys we have. I’m tired of it. Plus Lee is on the practice squad and frankly should probably be starting.
    Obviously if Polamalu and Harrison come back , that would be huge. Our 2nd and 4th round picks at OLB seem to suck and the backup safeties are a joke. But nothing changes the fact that LeBeau is overrated and stubborn and after last year obviously done. The mention of the Bengals score from 2005 is absurd. That was an elite offense. Giving up points to an elite offense does not equate to getting smacked around by the crappy raiders. Also benching Hampton and Hood in favor of McClendon and Heyword. would be beneficial.
    I consider Timmons one of the better lb’s in the league. He is the only linebacker we have that has speed and can play in space. He single handily taken the running back flat passes away from opposing offenses. Those use to kill us. If his stats aren’t impressing anybody then they don’t know football. Timmons is not an issue.
    On a positve note.
    The defensive backs are young. The more experience means they’ll get better. I expect Lewis, Brown and Allen to get better and improve by the second half of the season. A more realistic point to the past would be the 1995 Steelers defense. That year the secondary was decimated. Starting corner Figures got shot in the knee in the off season and Woodson blew his out be juked by Sanders game one.
    We took all pro safety Lake to corner and 3rd string corner Williams to the other. They were getting creamed first half of the season but got better and went to a superbowl with a pretty weak secondary. Of course it was a different game then.
    Getting rid of dimwit Arians is paying off. Realize the oline sux and a shorter passing attack has definitely helped and might even keep Roth relatively healthy. If we get back Harrison and Polamalu then the defense should at least be above average. A good passing offense and an above average defense certainly makes the Steelers one of the better teams in the AFC and the playoffs a possibility.

  • SteelSpine

    – Re blocking, I agree with you John. Most times havent been any holes from the get-go. Blocking been a mismatch, of numbers of people to block, just a mess every time. I think your (John’s) assessment of each offensive lineman is accurate. And I too am surprised anyone is counting on a rookie guard draft pick (DD) to make all the difference in our blocking when he begins to play which wont be till late in the season.
    – Re Mendenhall I agree w you John on that. I never thought I’d see the day where people are counting on Mendenhall to be an offense’s savior, OMG. Mendenhall = Tim Worley = average. But I’m only hoping Mendy makes some spark because nothing else to hope for in our blocking anyway.
    – This one going to be unpopular here but I agree with you on the use of our 3rd rd pick. He is very undersized for NFL 3-4 LB. Regardless what size the Steelers compare him to (teams have been known to exaggerate sizes), in preseason games Spence appeared scrawney & tiny surrounded by giants at LB, he looked like someone who will get killed. I dont doubt his instincts & I guess he can grow before next year. But even healthy he was never going to play on our defense this season.
    – LeBeau might be stubborn, you might be on to something there. LeBeau gets much leeway/grace from me since he dominated so many years. But too-stubborn-for-nowadays, seems fair to say now.
    – I disagree with you about Timmons, because I’ve watched him since drafted & he never seemed to have the top instincts that other players have.
    – I do remember Lake’s position flexibility. That’s why I would try it sortof in an opposite-way which is I suggested try Cortez Allen at FS this past offseason.

  • kyle

    So Mendenhall sucks and will get injured. Pouncey will get injured. Timmons is great (you know he gets injured a fair amount right?). Of course, Lee is better than Colon or Foster, I mean, he played well against 3rd stringers in 3 out of 4 preseason games. Also, you’re right about Colbert. He’s devalued the Oline. I’m sure that’s why the Steelers have spent two first round picks and two second round picks on Oline the last three years. And Lebeau is definitely done. Coaching the top pass defense in the league doesn’t matter when you lose a fluky game to an annoying running quarterback in Overtime. When that happens, it always means you’re done. Always.

  • Busforever

    One player who is not mentionned very often and I would like to come alive is Ziggy Hood. I didn’t follow every single action focused on him, but I regulary do, and I don’t know what happens with him. He’s supposed to be a freak. But everytime I check, he bounces back on blocks. He’s absorbed in pass protections and he goes back on runs. The only time I find him effective, is when he’s playing NT, with Lebeau asking him to attack a gap.Other than that, my impression is that he doesn’t contribute to the defense the way he’s supposed to – especially considering his physical preparation.

  • SteelerDave

    One of the most difficult things for a HOF coach like LeBeau is to accept when the game has passed him by. He may still see some problems and have ideas how to correct everything but he has become a stubborn old man who fails in knowing how to excel in today’s modern game. The best defensive coach we have is Lake. I’m not a Butler fan as I believe he has ridden the talent and desire of our star LB’s too long. We need an innovative DC who can light a fire under our players.

  • John Kerns

    Didnt’ quite say Mendenhall sux. I just don’t think his style will help this team. He has speed so that will help on the edges and toss outs. he can break a long one. But because of a lack of run blocking we need more of a power back. Despite his size he isn’t one. Mostly he runs upright, he needs to low the pads and pound. Lewis broke his should his first season running upright and he blew out his knee doing his spin move. He’s coming back to early so he’ll be gimpy and I imagine the spin move will probably blow it out again. He needs to be in a spread offense like Ricky Watters or Marshal Faulk. I just don’t see him helping unless we go to a pass first 40 run 60 pass attack . In the trenches he won’t make a difference.
    Yeah , kinda late in the game to pick 2 linemen . It’s only been a problem for 6 years now. Considering we only have maybe 4 legit starters before the draft you would figure on drafting more because you know there will be injuries and some will take time. Yeah at least Lee showed consistent blocking in preseason unlike Beachum who was crushed. I bet he would be better then Foster. We’re a couple of injuries away of being a disaster.
    The magnitude of his giving away two games cannot be understated. Absolutely unforgivable. he’s a class guy but it’s time for him to walk. Tewbow never should have moved the ball on that defense. He’s damn near the worse QB I’ve seen in years. To screw it up, say i would do it again and pin it on the players tells me he’s clueless. Time to move on in life. Or make an attempt to adjust when necessary. I’m not seeing it. 2 games , our players and the opposing players said he played the same defense with no adjustment. Even Bruce Arians could win against that mentality. We still have a chance to go far considering we don’t really need a running game. If he bothers to play half ass defense we could possibly make a run barring major injuries. Timmons is underrated. He can fly. He was drafted to be an OLB. He’s done well inside and is great in coverage. I rather have Timmons then Woodley who can’t play the run and gives half effort. let me know what else i can correct you on.

  • kyle

    So, because of the poor run blocking we need a power runner, like say Redman and his 2.3 ypc this season? Or Dwyer and his 2.9?

    6 years ago they still had Marvel Smith and Alan Faneca and two drafts since then they’ve been last or second to last picking. It’s not too easy to fix your Oline picking the 8 or 9th best Tackle. But why not bang your head against that wall a few more times?

    I’ll agree that I have no idea why Beachum is on the team but you have absolutely no reason to think Lee would be better than Foster. Foster has held his own against NFL competition, Lee got blown off the ball in the final preseason game against Carolina’s scrubs at least twice that I saw.

    Tebow didn’t move the ball on that defense. He had under 50% completion percentage because he’s terrible. He threw a couple deep bombs that happened to be caught against zero coverage and one underneath pass where Taylor and Mundy got beat in the open field. Two fluky deep balls and Mundy playing poorly are Lebeau’s fault?

    And Lebeau doesn’t adjust? Did you watch the New England game last year? The one where they played completely uncharacteristically and shut down an extremely prolific offense?

    Timmons can fly but if you think he’s played anything other than poorly so far this season then I would like to check if your full name is John Olajuwon Kerns-Timmons.

    Correct me on? How about this? What kind of person prefers Timmons and his “can’t shed a block to save my life” playing style to Woodley and his “I can actually pressure the quarterback” style?

    You’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.