Pittsburgh Steelers: Perception vs. Reality for the Steelers Post Week 3

Dan SnyderCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches a replay on the video screen during their game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 23, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After one of the worst losses in recent franchise history, the Steelers head back to Pittsburgh with their tails between their legs and looking for ways to get better. 

The crazy part of this season is that the Steelers aren't losing games because of their offense, but rather their defense that is supposed to be the strength of the team. 

It's become pretty clear through the first three weeks of the season that this is now Ben Roethlisberger's team and, even with a pathetic excuse for a running game, the quarterback has thrived. So let's take a look at some of the false perceptions surrounding the team after Week 3.


1. Rashard Mendenhall Will Fix the Steelers Running Game

 Perception: Ranking 30th in the league in rushing yards and carrying for a paltry 2.6 yards per rush, the Steelers running game has been almost non-existent in the first quarter of 2012. The team's leading rusher, Isaac Redman, has only 72 yards on the ground in three games this season. So why wouldn't the return of starting running back Rashard Mendenhall will automatically lift the Pittsburgh ground game?

Reality: Let's start by saying that the Steelers running game hasn't been the same really since Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis were in a time share, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like I stated earlier, this is Ben Roethlisberger's team and the offense is built to support a heavy passing attack.

With that said, Rashard Mendenhall could provide a boost to the running game, but he's not going to completely fix it.

Mendenhall saw a significant drop in his amount of carries last season after a poor average in 2010. Couple that with the fact that he blew out his knee in the regular-season finale, and you have a back who's struggled of late and has had a major knee injury.Throw in the fact that the offensive line has been (once again) atrocious and it doesn't look like there's much hope for the Steelers run game.

Steelers fans can't get stuck in the past and feel like the team's not running the ball enough because the team is clearly a passing offense. But there needs to be some balance and the fact that Ben Roethlisberger has been as good as he has with what little run game they have is nothing short of spectacular. Mendenhall could provide some help, but he's not the cure.


2. The Steelers Still Have a Top 5 NFL Defense

 Perception: Despite blowing two second-half road leads, the Steelers defense still ranks seventh in total defense and fifth against the pass. They've also done this without starters Troy Polamalu and James Harrison for most of the season so far. So getting these guys back would obviously make the defense better and bring it back into the top five like last season, right?

Reality: As much as it kills me to say it, the Steelers defense is probably not a top-five defense in the league anymore. 

I understand that both Troy Polamalu and James Harrison have missed significant time, resulting in a major downslide in the team's pass rush ability. But, when you look at the second halves this defense has put together in 2012, it's pretty plain to see there's something more going on.

Last season, the Steelers forced an NFL-low 16 turnovers in 16 games. This year, they're on the same pace, having forced three in the first three games and only two from the defense (third on a muffed punt recovered).

Pittsburgh also had only 35 sacks last season and has tallied only five in 2012, two of those from LaMarr Woodley.

It's understandable that thinking Troy Polamalu and James Harrison's return will fix this defense, but the problem is who knows what players you'll be getting. Harrison couldn't stay healthy last year and only played in 11 games, while Polamalu has looked noticeably slower since the team's Super Bowl loss in 2010.

Don't get me wrong, I do think Harrison and Polamalu will provide enough of a spark on this defense for them to make the playoffs, but to say they're in the top five with the way teams like the Seahawks and Cardinals are playing might be out of line.


3. Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger Cannot Be Successful Together

Perception: It's been long noted that Todd Haley has had a rough past with certain players on his team and that Ben Roethlisberger wasn't too happy to see his former offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, let go by the team in the offseason.

So when these two were paired together in training camp, people questioned the ability of the pair to work together. Those beliefs were blown up following the Steelers' loss to the Raiders when Roethlisberger told reporters he used some of Arians' offense during the no-huddle drives. It's becoming clear this isn't going to work. 

Reality: The previous perception actually couldn't be further from the truth. 

Roethlisberger is off what could be the best start of his career, throwing for over 900 yards in his first three games and connecting on eight touchdown passes. He's thrown just one interception in his 120 passes and his 109.2 QB rating ranks him second in the league.

Ben also squashed the rumors of using Arians' offense, saying he was simply using some old hand signals that have made their way into Haley's playbook.

The Roethlisberger/Haley tandem has been fantastic through three games this season and the Steelers have the most viable passing attack they've ever seen in the city of Pittsburgh. In fact, they're really the only thing keeping the team running right now.

I will hold some reservations that if something goes wrong, there could be some words exchanged on the sidelines between the two. But right now, this pairing is working better than a lot of quarterback/offensive coordinator pairings that have been together for six years, not six months.


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