Storm Clouds on the Horizon: A Week 4 Analysis

Well, I can’t say that was completely unexpected.

It certainly wasn’t the most surprising the loss the Steelers have ever suffered, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t still hurt. Perhaps the most disturbing fact was that the loss seemed to perfectly illustrate the team’s problems this year, and many of those problems which once appeared to be anomalies now look like they’re here to stay.

It’s impossible to start anywhere but the offensive line. It’s clear that the team is going to live and die based on how the line performs this year, and so far, it hasn’t been pretty.

We knew the line would be bad, and we knew they’d have to deal with injuries, but what we couldn’t have predicted is how the rest of the team would adapt to this situation.

In years past, Ben was able to make even our ragtag bunch look good, as he scrambled wildly and made big plays out of nothing. I’d like to know where that quarterback has gone because I certainly haven’t seen him recently.

As recently as last year, Ben flashed the remarkable ability to simultaneously look downfield for the big play, while showing an uncanny sense of what was unfolding around him in the pocket.

This year he’s looked completely oblivious. It’s easy to blame shoddy tackle play for allowing outside rushers to get to him more quickly, but the more I watch him play, the more I wonder if the line is really the whole problem.

In both the Colts and Ravens games in particular, I was waiting him for to sense the pressure, and scramble to make a big play, but instead, he’s stumbled head long into a bad sack and even a careless fumble.

The interceptions I can live with; they’re just a part of how he plays. It’s the fumbles that concern me. He’s only had four fumbles all season in each of the last two years, but he’s already got that many this year, and if not for another dumb Houston penalty, he’d have five.

Maybe it’s a lack of playing with this line that’s produced this outcome, but I feel like it was just as bad in years past, but Ben’s made it work. Maybe he’s getting old. Maybe the crushing blows delivered game after game are starting to catch up with him. Most importantly, maybe this will be the year the team FINALLY commits to providing him with real offensive line help in the offseason. With another foot injury providing more questions about his availability for the upcoming Tennessee game, it’s hard to imagine the line can really be ignored much longer.

But if the offensive line’s play is disturbing yet predictable, it’s important to address the shocking demise of Pittsburgh’s run defense.

I addressed it a little last week, but this performance simply isn’t acceptable. I can’t understand how our linebackers and defensive backs have forgotten how to tackle running backs seemingly overnight. What changed from last year to this? Everyone talks about the team’s age concerns, and with guys like Harrison and Farrior that’s certainly accurate, but what about youngsters like Timmons and Woodley?

Because the defense can’t stop the run, teams are content to pound the ball inside all game, and while it’s led to the team being rated as the best pass defense in the league, I feel like that’s largely because team’s haven’t needed to throw to move the ball.

Similarly, because the team can’t force opponents to throw, they can’t wreak havoc by creating turnovers or pressuring the quarterback.

The pass rush had a particularly bad showing on Sunday, as they didn’t record a single sack, and only hit Schaub once.

I honestly don’t have a lot of answers for these questions right now. I’m hoping the team can provide me with a few, as their upcoming schedule of Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona is pretty easy.

However, the run defense will be tested by the likes of Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew in those games, and I’m not too sure how they’ll hold up.

Suffice it to say that I don’t feel great about this team. They can definitely still turn things around a little, and they aren’t horrible by any stretch, but there’s a clear blueprint for how to beat them now, and teams will be content to follow it.

Let’s just hope Ben’s foot strain isn’t too severe, and that Dick LeBeau has something up his sleeve to right the ship. Otherwise, it may be a very long year.

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