By Jeremy Hritz
There were many positives to take away from the Pittsburgh Steelers first win of the season against the Jets, yet unquestionably, there are several areas of improvement that if the Steelers can address effectively, will result in a championship caliber team come playoff time. While it is still too early in the season to draw any final conclusions about the 2012 Steelers, some early patterns are emerging.
Pattern # 1: Firstly, Ben Roethlisberger truly looks like he is in his prime. While he did throw a pick six last week to eliminate any chance of winning in Denver, prior to that, he played well. He was an animal on third downs, and he continued that this week against the Jets. Currently, the Steelers lead the NFL with a 56% third down conversion rate. Considering that Roethlisberger and the receivers are still learning the Rosetta Stone, the efficacy of the offense come January is exciting to think about.
Pattern # 2: The offensive line continues to struggle to get a push on the line and to protect Roethlisberger. The running game is ranked 30th in the league and is marred by a 2.6 yard per carry average. While there are times the line seems to get a minimal push, it appears that the backs are a bit slow to hit the hole, specifically Isaac Redman. The majority of the yards that Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are picking up are coming on their second efforts. Hopefully the struggles of the running game are the result of a new offensive system and will fade as the season wears on. It also cannot be ignored that Willie Colon is in the midst of a transition at left guard, and that eventually (hopefully), David DeCastro will be returning to right guard, although recently, Ed Bouchette said he does not see that happening until after week nine, possibly for the Monday night game against the Chiefs, or the first matchup against the Ravens the following week on Sunday night. DeCastro’s return could provide for an interesting scenario should Ramon Foster start playing above the line.
Pattern # 3: There are still concerns on the defense, though they did play better against the Jets. Pressure was generated on Mark Sanchez, yet it only resulted in one sack. The tight coverage by the Steelers resulted in an inept passing game from their opponent, but it cannot be forgotten that it was against a group of Jets receivers that outside of Santonio Holmes are average at best and a quarterback that is barely holding off Tim Tebow from the starting job. If the Steelers are going to successfully defend against elite quarterbacks, they must be able to generate a more violent pass rush. While this will be addressed by the return of James Harrison, whenever that may be, the team still needs Jason Worilds and Chris Carter to provide for some explosion off of the edge. Additionally, the run defense has not been spectacular, and the defensive line has lost more battles than it has won. While the Steelers are only giving up 3.8 yards per carry, they have given up too many long runs. If this defense is to be dominant, it has to show it can carry the torch lit by Steelers defenses of old and shut down the run. The call is still out this week as the team heads to Oakland: somebody step up on defense and make the big splash play.
To close out on a positive note, Ryan Clark was a beast on Sunday, and his physical presence was noticeable. And is it just me, or is Clark bigger this year? Look back at the game film, and you’ll have to ask yourself if he was on the Deebo lifting plan this offseason as his arms are huge. Hopefully, their new-found size can force many turnovers this season.