The misery continues. Unfortunately, only three weeks into the season, we can almost say with a fair amount of certainty that the Steelers will not be in the playoffs and will not be making a run for their seventh Super Bowl.
How could it have all gone so wrong so quickly? Well, it’s really a combination of things. There were losses to free agency on both sides of the ball. There were injuries to key players. There was the implementation of a new blocking system with a bunch of young players who are all still pretty new to the NFL.
There is no one thing you can point to that is the “cause,” but there are plenty of contributing factors.
And now, the Steelers will travel to London to take on RB Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. Let’s have a look at this games and see if we can find a way for the Black and Gold to go into their bye week with a win.
Know Thine Enemy
It seems all too clear to me that the Steelers are missing guys like LBs James Harrison (free agent) and Larry Foote (injury). The Steelers are 18th in scoring defense, but sixth in opponent yards per game. (More on what this disturbing pair of stats tells us in a moment.)
The Steelers are 22nd in the league against the run, and this week they are playing against Adrian Peterson version 2.0. Peterson is currently fifth in the league in rushing yards with 281. To put it another way, he has 126 more yards than the Steelers. To be fair, if Peterson were an NFL franchise in and of himself, he would be 21st in the league in rushing, so the Steelers are not the only ones in Peterson’s shadow, but it says a lot about the long way the Steelers offense has fallen.
The Vikings are not a huge threat to throw the ball. The days of Dante Culpepper winging the ball all over the field to Cris Carter and Randy Moss are long gone. QB Christian Ponder has only 691 yards in three games, good for 21st in the league. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers are third in the league against the pass, allowing only 548 yards passing. Now, some of that can be attributed to being behind in games and having the other team running the ball to burn clock, but it is not a throwaway stat.
The Steelers offense showed some signs of life against the Bears, but they have got to stop turning the ball over. And that brings me to the numbers I referred to a few paragraphs ago. You might wonder how the Steelers can be the 18th scoring defense, but sixth in yards allowed per game. The answer is simple: The Steelers are turning the ball over, allowing opponents short fields to work on.
(Combine that with the fact that this Steelers defense has not managed a single turnover this season, and you have a recipe for 0-3.)
The Vikings haven’t had an intimidating defense since the Purple People-Eaters, and they have really done nothing to address this fact. This year, they are ranked fourth in yards allowed and third in scoring defense. If QB Ben Roethlisburger can remember which color jersey to throw the ball to, and the ball-carriers can remember to hang onto it, the Steelers might be able to squeeze out a win.
The premier of RB Le’Veon Bell may provide a much needed spark to the offense, but only if he can – as I mentioned – hang onto the ball, and if the O line can open some holes for him.
Not much has changed in this department since week one. The running game is anemic and there is entirely too much pressure on Big Ben.
This is a very young offensive line, and they are missing the man who would be their leader, C Maurkice Pouncey, but injuries are part of the game, and other teams have a “next man up” philosophy. The Steelers need to have that, too.
As Head Coach Mike Tomlin recently pointed out, no one cares about the Steelers’ problems. Quite the contrary, there are teams out there who are reveling in the fact that the Steelers are win-less. (Their fans are reveling in it, too, if my Facebook page is any evidence. In case you didn’t know, I live in Baltimore.)
It’s time for this O-line to start living up to the high draft picks spent on them. T Mike Adams, G David DeCastro, and T Marcus Gilbert are all second round picks or higher. I understand there is a learning curve in the NFL, but none of these guys are rookies. They need to produce, and it needs to start now. This week!
The turnovers are the biggest concern, however. In fact, I can’t decide what more of a concern: That they have turned the ball over an average of thrice a game, or that they have not produced one turnover in three games.
Turnovers are where games are won and lost. If you can protect the ball and turn your opponent over, you have a good chance to win. That’s Football 101.
I wish I could point something, anything, that we could say, “Well, at least we’re really good at that,” but I have no such thing. There are things that look to be improving. The offense moves the ball in spurts. The defense has its moments. And the special teams have been solid, if unspectacular.
At the end of the day, there is very little an 0-3 team can say is fine.
That’s the long and short of it.
If I were in Coach Tomlin’s shoes, I would be telling my defense, “Do not, under any circumstances, allow Adrian Peterson to beat you.” The reason for that is that he can, and he can make you look silly as he does it.
Peterson continues to be one of the premier backs in the league, and given the Vikings’ relative lack of production in the passing game, you have to make Ponder and his band of no-name receivers beat you, if they can.
It would great if they could force a turnover or two, or produce some kind of splash play on special teams.
When the Steelers have the ball, they must not, must not, MUST NOT turn the ball over. It’s really that simple. Part of the problem with the offense not being able to find a rhythm is that they keep turning the ball over, giving themselves plenty of time to sip Gatorade and peruse the playbook.
If the Steelers lose the battle of turnovers, I can tell you with about 80% certainty they will lose the game.
My prediction: Look for the Steelers to protect the ball on a neutral field, where they should still have a sizable fan base. Steelers 17 Vikings 14