Many NFL executives believe a true evaluation of a football team is how they perform on the road. The Steelers enter tonight’s road contest against the Cincinnati Bengals 0-3 on the road and how they have performed on the road this season is an accurate barometer of what this team is; a mediocre team.
The issues surrounding this team range from a number of issues but the most alarming has been on defense. Even with the return of LaMarr Woodley tonight, there’s no easy fix as Steelers most notably lack speed on defense, have arguably one of the five or seven worst secondary’s in the league in defending the pass but everything starts with their defensive line.
The Steelers scheme under Dick LeBeau is based on their front seven and Pittsburgh’s days of having a dominant defensive line is a thing of the past. This is a unit that gets no push when rushing the passer and they are a below average group in stopping the run. Hope this summer of having a more athletic defensive line has not panned out with Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward not able yet to earn much playing time.
Ziggy Hood in his fourth season continues to evolve into a below average run stopper and with the Steelers front seven unable to stop the run and lacking explosiveness on the outside, this defense is going to be a problem all season.
The positive thing for the Steelers is that the AFC is setting up as a very mediocre group. The last wildcard team is likely destined to be 9-7 and maybe even 8-8.
The AFC North is also a winnable division as the Ravens who were thumped by the Texans today, have just as many concerns defensively as the Steelers do.
For the Steelers to avoid missing the playoffs for the second time in four seasons, it’s going to depend on whether the offense can evolve into an offense that can outscore teams.
With Ben Roethlisberger at the helm and one of the NFL’s best receiving groups, the potential is enormous, despite a poor O-line and no running game, but through five games, again they’ve been more of a yardage offense, a major complaint during the Bruce Arians days. Not much has changed with Todd Haley from that standpoint.
If this offense can’t evolve into an offense that can outscore teams, the Steelers will struggle mightily to finish 8-8 this season.
When it comes to losing their starting jobs, three veterans on the defensive side of the ball should be on the hot seat going into the next stretch of three games (@CIN, WAS, @NYG); CB Ike Taylor, DE Brett Keisel, NT Casey Hampton.
Ike Taylor: It starts with Taylor who has been one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL this season. There’s no denying that Taylor is a player on the decline and what’s very alarming with him is that mentally he reminds me of kicker Jeff Reed in 2010, a player on the decline and close to losing it mentally. Taylor’s latest episode of letting the media get to him, is Jeff Reed like.
If Taylor doesn’t turn it around immediately, one move the coaching staff should make is benching Taylor, moving Cortez Allen into the starting the lineup and letting Curtis Brown get adequate time as the No. 3 cornerback over Taylor. It’s reaching the time where the Steelers need to find out about their 2011 third round pick.
Leading into week 7, Pro Football Focus ranks Keenan Lewis 91st and Ike Taylor 96th among 100 cornerbacks ranked based on their play this season. Taylor deserves to be on a short leash and right now the Steelers have one of the worst starting cornerback duo’s in the league.
Brett Keisel: The Steelers at somepoint this season have to move into the transition of making Cameron Heyward the starting right defensive end, even at the expense of Keisel (10 tackles, 0 sacks). Heyward a four year player at Ohio State, now in his second NFL season, should be seeing much more playing time than he is. The Steelers have to start giving Heyward the opportunity to show what he can do.
Casey Hampton: Hampton has been able to hold off Steve McLendon from earning significant playing time and the reason for it has little to do with Hampton playing well. McLendon brings more of a pass rushing ability, athleticism and the Steelers need to start seeing what they have in him. Hampton is finished as a dominant player.
One veteran player on the defensive side of the ball who should be in no danger of losing his starting job right now is Larry Foote who is having a strong season. Foote leads the Steelers in tackles and big plays with 10. The Steelers are quicker at middle linebacker this season with Foote replacing James Farrior as the starter.