The Steelers were the champions of the AFC in 2010. But as the 2011 season began, it quickly, and painfully, became apparent that something had changed.
Small chinks started appearing in the Steelers’ armor. First, they got manhandled by the Baltimore Ravens. They failed in just about every area in that game. Then their defense couldn’t put pressure on the Seattle Seahawks quarterback for 3 quarters. It wasn’t until the 4th quarter, when the game was already all but decided, that the Steelers were effective at pressuring the quarterback. Then against the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts, they weren’t able to secure a win until the final 8 seconds of the game. Moreover, they allowed what had been one of the worst run defenses in the NFL to completely shut down their running game.
All of these events leave Steeler Nation with one burning question; How bad are the 2011 Steelers?
On paper, the Steelers look pretty good. Their record is 2-1. That’s good enough to leave them tied for first place in the AFC North. In fact, they have the second best record in the entire AFC.
But looks can be deceiving. What looks like diamonds can quickly be found to be cubic zirconia. That may be the case with the Steelers.
Sure, the Steelers have essentially the same roster that went to the Super Bowl last year. But after 3 games, the Steelers appear to have aged in dog years over the off-season.
The Steelers’ primary weaknesses from last year, the offensive line and the cornerbacks, don’t seem to have improved.
The offensive line may actually be weaker than it was last year. The Steelers released Flozell Adams during the off-season. Flozell had been their 2nd most consistent offensive lineman (after Maurkice Pouncey) last year. But with Willie Colon appearing to be fully healthy, the team made the decision to release Adams. We all know how that turned out. Colon is injured, and will miss the entire season (again), and the Steelers are struggling to successfully fill the right tackle position.
But the left tackle position, arguably the most important position on the offensive line, may be in even worse shape. Jonathan Scott was named the starter at that position, and saying that he has “struggled” would be an understatement. He’s playing so badly that I won’t be surprised if he gets Ben Roethlisberger killed. Literally.
Cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and William Gay were clearly weak links on the team last year. So the Steelers drafted 2 rookie cornerbacks during the off-season. Unfortunately, the NFL lockout essentially robbed the two rookies of their freshman season. Moreover, Keenan Lewis wasn’t able to surpass McFadden or Gay on the depth chart, and Crezdon Butler didn’t make the final roster. So McFadden and Gay continue to be the #2 and #3 cornerbacks on the team (behind Ike Taylor), just like last year.
The defensive line also seems to have regressed. Aaron Smith returned from the injury that kept him off the field in 2010, but through 3 games, he doesn’t look like the same player. Casey Hampton has been all but invisible this season, and most fans accepted long ago that his days as a Pro Bowl caliber player were behind him. And Brett Keisel is out with an injury.
But the biggest decline may have come from the linebackers. James Harrison is still recovering from 2 off-season back surgeries, and hasn’t looked like himself. James Farrior looks noticeably slower, and the team has been giving Larry Foote more playing time in Farrior’s spot. Lawrence Timmons has been solid, but not outstanding, and LaMarr Woodley has apparently been kidnapped. At least that’s how it appears. I haven’t seen Woodley do anything meaningful on the field yet. Have you?
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is also off to a rough start. He’s already been sacked 9 times in only 3 games. He’s also thrown 3 interceptions. But perhaps the most concerning thing is how often he’s being forced to fumble the ball this season. Some of the blame for that goes to the offensive line, but it’s a concern nonetheless.
The running game also seems to have taken a step backwards. Rashard Mendenhall must have gotten jealous watching Hines Ward compete on “Dancing With the Stars”, because he seems to be auditioning for the show. He spends more time dancing from side to side, and spinning like a ballerina, than he does actually running for positive yardage. Note to Bruce Arians: More Isaac Redman.
On the positive side, Troy Polamalu has been playing great. He seemed determined to beat the Indianapolis Colts all by himself.
The wide receivers may be the best unit on the entire team. Mike Wallace is a legitimate star, and Antonio Brown has made huge improvements since last year. I can’t be the only one who has been thinking that it might be time for Brown to replace Hines Ward in the starting line-up, can I?
Despite these bright spots, the overall picture is not a good one. The team seems to have regressed since last year.
So just how bad are the Steelers? Through 3 games, the answer appears to be “pretty bad”. They’re not as bad as the Kansas City Chiefs or St. Louis Rams. But if they don’t improve drastically, there’s a very real chance that they may go 0-2 against the Baltimore Ravens this year. Moreover, they may do no better than going 1-1 against the Cleveland Browns.
Need I say more?
Today’s featured item:
Everyone knows that the Steelers have a new star, and his name is Mike Wallace. He is the most electric player on the Steelers offense right now, and you need to have his jersey. If you don’t already have one in your wardrobe, you can fix that problem right now.
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