1968 is a significant year in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was the franchise’s final season before Chuck Noll was hired as the head coach, and it also marked the last time that the franchise began a season with an 0-4 record (they started 0-6 and finished 2-11-1).
It has been 45 years since Pittsburgh fielded an 0-4 team, and I believe that the 2013 Steelers could enter their bye week with that exact mark.
Don’t believe me, readers? Well, just keep the following issues in mind when Pittsburgh is getting destroyed by Minnesota in London this weekend:
Offensive Line Play
Pittsburgh’s offensive line has looked lost and ineffective during the regular season’s first two weeks, and that combination is a deadly one for Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger to deal with as the team has allowed 10 sacks through their first three games.
Although Fernando Velasco performed admirably as Maurkice Pouncey’s replacement at center, he is not conjuring up any memories of “Dirt” Dawson. Guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro have played well in spurts, but have also been manhandled by the likes of Jurrell Casey, Geno Atkins, Henry Melton, and Stephen Paea. While the play from the interior has been shaky, they have been the “stable” area of Pittsburgh’s offensive line so far this year.
Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, both of whom were second round picks, have completely and totally under-performed since each assumed the starting tackle positions.
Adams has illustrated that he does not possess the speed, agility, or quickness to stay as “Big Ben’s” blind-side protector. To be fair, Adams looked much more comfortable on the right side as a rookie, and he deserves a shot to win that job at some point down the road. Like Adams, Gilbert has had his fair share of issues this year too, and the third-year right tackle lost reps at the position yesterday to “Swiss army knife” Kelvin Beachum.
I could personally care less who steps up and wins the bulk of the playing time at the tackle positions, but I would just like to see some competent play out of these three on the edges for their quarterback’s sake. Sadly from the Steelers, it looks like help will have to come from the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft instead of from the tackles already on their roster.
Coughing Up the Ball
The Steelers are on pace to commit 48 turnovers this year, and they have coughed the ball up nine times in their first three games. In addition to Ben Roethlisberger’s four interceptions, the rest of Pittsburgh’s offense (including Roethlisberger) have fumbled the football away on five occasions!
Only the 0-3 New York Giants (13) and the 0-3 Minneosta Vikings (10) have turned the ball over more than Pittsburgh’s offense through the first three weeks of regular season play.
It is almost impossible to win on any consistent basis when a team’s offense is turning the ball over three times per game, and putting points on the board is made even harder when the offense is handing them to the opposition.
So stout against the run for so many years, the Steelers’ defense has had problems halting their opponents’ ground attacks this year. Pittsburgh has allowed 100+ yards rushing in each of their first three games, and they are set to face Adrian Peterson in London.
Overall, the Steelers rank tied for 22nd in rushing yards allowed (346 yards) and 30th in rushing attempts against (104).
Pittsburgh’s defensive line has been unable to create the type of push in the trenches which they could do in years past, and it has shown throughout their first three games. Whether it has been Jackie Battle, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, or Michael Bush, the Steelers cannot stuff the opposition’s running game on a consistent enough basis to force “2nd and 3rd & long situations.”
Inability to Force Turnovers
Pittsburgh’s defense has yet to force a turnover through 12 quarters of regular season play, and it would not shock me in the least to see them force five or less throughout the rest of the regular season.
Because they fail to win on first downs, the Steelers’ defense has faced so many “2nd and 3rd & manageable” situations. Teams can run high-percentage plays and attempt high-percentage throws in those instances, and the lack of a consistent pass-rush from Pittsburgh’s defense has not helped either.
Through three games the Steelers have only recorded three sacks, and Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, and Jay Cutler have looked relatively calm and relaxed in the pocket during those contests. They know exactly what to expect from a Dick LeBeau coached defense, and they know that taking four to seven yards through the air on first downs with Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks playing soft is like stealing.
If the Vikings are smart, they’re going to give Pittsburgh’s defense a steady diet of the best running back in the entire league on Sunday.
Pittsburgh’s defense has looked hapless against the run, and Peterson should at the very least give his team and his quarterback large number of “2nd and 3rd & manageable” situations with his legs. Christian Ponder in turn should be able to complete a number of high percentage throws in those instances, and his tight ends should have a “field day” of sorts in the middle of the field.
Jared Allen and the rest of Minnesota’s pass-rush should be able to terrorize the Steelers’ offensive line for much of the game, and this will in turn cause Roethlisberger to make some poor decisions with the football.
This is at least how I see the game going if nothing changes in Pittsburgh for the better over the next six days, and it could be the way things break for the franchise throughout the rest of the 2013 campaign.
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