Pittsburgh Steelers: The Good, Bad and Ugly of First 3 Games
The Pittsburgh Steelers have played three games, winning one and losing two. During those games, there have been plenty of good things, bad things and even downright ugly things. All have played a role in how the season has gone thus far.
As the Steelers wrap up their bye week and prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon, here's a look at some of the things that fall into those three categories.
Good: Ben Roethlisberger
Among the players, no one has performed better than Ben Roethlisberger through three games. He made it to the top of my player power rankings earlier this week thanks to his work.
So far, Roethlisberger has performed to the tune of eight touchdowns and one interception, a passer rating that is second in the NFL and a completion percentage that is among the top five. He's having something close to a career year so far and he could end up with the best of his career if these trends continue.
Roethlisberger is a huge reason that the Steelers have had a chance to win every one of their games and he hasn't been a reason they lost either of the two they couldn't win. He's thriving in Todd Haley's system in a way many probably didn't expect and the two seem to have conspired to create the best passing game this team has ever had.
Bad: Ziggy Hood
It's not really that Hood has done something that places him as a bad player on this roster. He simply has been disappointing after a preseason in which he really seemed to take a step forward as a starting defensive end for this football team.
To this point, and with fewer snaps, Cameron Heyward has played much more effectively and he's been more of a force. Hood has simply been adequate. I'm starting to wonder if he'll ever really justify his status as a first round pick.
The defense itself has been disappointing on the whole, but it starts with the complete lack of pass rush and pressure. We'll talk about that later, but Hood is a big part of that. If he doesn't start bringing his A game, Heyward may be replacing him.
Ugly: Ryan Mundy
If there's been a player who's been an abject disaster so far, it has to be Mundy. I've never been comfortable with the idea of Mundy getting significant playing time because he just doesn't seem to understand NFL defense. This year, he's proving it.
The hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey was bad enough and indicative of a player who is clueless as to how to carry himself on the football field. Not only did he send Heyward-Bey to the hospital, he nearly knocked Keenan Lewis, who had good coverage on the play already, out of the game. As it was, Lewis showed his toughness by walking off the field.
Mundy is a liability in every way when he's on the field. He doesn't cover effectively, doesn't take good angles and can't do any of the things that the Steelers like to do with their safeties. He's just not an NFL-caliber player.
Good: LaMarr Woodley
Defensively, the best player so far has been LaMarr Woodley. True, while glancing at the results on defense through three games, that may not seem like much of a compliment. In this case, however, what Woodley has done deserves an A grade.
Consider that Woodley has put up very good numbers without the benefit of his pass rush and blitzing partners James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. He's done it without much help from the defensive line. And he's done it while seeing more and more double teams.
Woodley is a great player and he's poised for a great season. This week, we will finally get a look at how good he is when James Harrison joins him on the field and the two can get back to being one of the most-feared sack duos in the NFL.
Bad: Ramon Foster
The offensive line has been a borderline mess at times this year. They haven't blocked well for the running game, but have been pretty good at pass protection. It's been an interesting thing to watch.
On an inconsistent line, the most consistently poor performer has been Foster, who is basically an injury substitute until first round pick David DeCastro returns from his knee woes. So far, it seems as though the sooner that can be done, the better off everyone will be.
Foster is inadequate as a run blocker because he doesn't get good leverage and can't maintain a block without help. His problems are robbing Maurkice Pouncey of some effectiveness because he has to constantly help out Foster.
Ugly: Keenan Lewis
The defensive backs have been bad this year. We're going to talk more about why in a little bit, but Lewis has been the player who's struggled the most in the secondary this season.
Lewis hasn't adjusted well to the move outside to be a starter. This was the year I thought Lewis was going to put it all together and live up to the potential that people have talked about since he was brought on board. Unfortunately, we're still waiting and Lewis is running out of time.
There's still time for Lewis to turn this around and I fully expect to have him up much higher in the team power rankings later this year. His struggles, like the rest of those in the secondary, aren't because he isn't giving full effort and isn't because he doesn't have great skills.
Good: Passing on Third Down
Third down used to be something close to a crapshoot. Now the Steelers are a team to be feared when they face third down. They have shown an ability to convert any distance, something that was not very likely a year or two ago.
Heath Miller has been a huge part of the team's success here. He's been able to play both from a standard tight end spot and split out in a wide receiver's position. Defenders have a hard time covering him because he is simply too big and athletic for them. They also have to account for the league's fastest trio of receivers.
Todd Haley has done a wonderful job of creating mismatches with different looks. He's also keeping teams off balance and doing different things with the same packages. It's just a wonderful system that has totally revitalized the way this offense approaches third down.
Bad: Running on Any Down
On the flip side, the running game has not lived up to any expectations. During the preseason this looked like a backfield that could be very dangerous despite being without starting running back Rashard Mendenhall for the first three games.
Unfortunately, the preseason isn't a good indicator. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey have all struggled mightily. The only real bright spot for the Steelers has been the work on Will Johnson at fullback. He's been a good blocker, runner and receiver.
Redman is the most disappointing. After a great performance against Denver in the playoffs last season, he's done virtually nothing. I thought, if nothing else, that Redman would play well trying to get a big contract. Instead, he's been ineffective.
Part of the problem so far has been the blocking up front. The offensive line, so good in pass protection, has been terrible when asked to open holes in the running game. If that doesn't improve, it probably doesn't matter who is carrying the football.
Ugly: Pressure on the Quarterback
Besides some limited success against Mark Sanchez in Week 2, the Steelers have had a really hard time generating any consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With a secondary that simply isn't up to NFL standards, nothing could be more important than rushing a quarterback's reads and decisions.
The Steelers have several injuries that have kept them from really getting their full defense on the field at the same time, but the scheme hasn't been great either. Dick LeBeau hasn't adjusted to account for his injured stars. He also hasn't done much in games to exploit weaknesses.
The Steelers must fix this issue. It's the most glaring problem with their defense and it's costing them games. Giving borderline quarterbacks like Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez time to carve up a defense is exactly what you don't want to do. Against really good quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, it's asking to be blown out.
Good: Mike Wallace's Solo
Looking at some of the moments this season, one of the best ones came when Mike Wallace found himself all alone in the Oakland end zone.
Ben Roethlisberger was looking to pass and it seemed like his initial reads were all short ones, but then he saw something that was inexplicable in every way. Mike Wallace had somehow slipped his coverage, escaped the notice of everyone else and was now around 20 yards away from the nearest defender.
At that point, Roethlisberger simply had to throw the ball down field. Wallace would have been able to go anywhere in the vicinity to get it uncontested. He threw a strike and all Wallace ended up doing was standing still and catching the perfectly thrown ball.
It's very rare that a receiver like Wallace can get himself completely free that way. When it happens, it's simply a thing of beauty.
Bad: Ike Taylor vs. Santonio Holmes
I've always liked the fact that Ike Taylor seems so calm. He plays with a high motor and is very passionate, but he never seems to let something negative bother him. That was, until his friend and former teammate came to town and baited him into mistakes and penalties.
To be fair, Santonio Holmes did exactly what any smart receiver does. He trash talked and physically abused Taylor early and got him so frustrated that he stopped playing within himself and played angry. Sometimes, that's a good thing. Here, it worked against Taylor.
The good news is that Taylor regrouped after awhile and only a phantom interference penalty marred the rest of the game, but seeing Taylor get so out of sorts is a bad sign. He's been a frustrated player since getting burned in Denver. He needs to remember how good he can be and simply play his game. Then he'll be just fine.
Ugly: Big Ben Battered in Denver Finale
Perhaps the ugliest sequence of plays this year came on the final offensive drive against the Broncos. With the Steelers trying to get anything going following a defensive collapse and an uncharacteristic mistake by Ben Roethlisberger, their offensive line decided to take the rest of the night off.
This trouble began brewing when both Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster left the game hurt. In came rookie tackle Mike Adams and reserve guard Doug Legursky. They couldn't stop the Denver rush. They barely slowed it down.
On the final drive, they just simply let go altogether. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times in a row. It was just hideous. Hopefully we don't see anything like that again this year. It shows just how fragile that offensive line is with the injury to DeCastro. Any other injuries could easily cripple it.
Good: Beating the Jets
This was a game that, at the time, looked a lot better than it does now. The Jets had just come off of a drubbing of the previously well-regarded Buffalo Bills. They'd completely dominated them in every way. They came to Pittsburgh on a high and looking to prove doubters wrong.
Instead, they went from a fast start to a fast disappearing act. After having their way with the Pittsburgh defense early, Mark Sanchez completely fell apart and the wheels came off of his offense. Nothing seemed to work and the Steelers defense played their best game so far.
The offense clicked most of the day and Ben Roethlisberger was infallible as usual. He's had some good performances against the Jets and proved once again that he has Rex Ryan's number.
Bad: Losing to Denver
Of the two losses this season, this one was the more palatable. The Steelers went into this game with revenge on their minds after Tim Tebow led the Broncos to an upset of the Steelers in the wild card round of the playoffs. On the same field, Peyton Manning led the Broncos to an opening week victory.
The Steelers had things in control early. They'd kept Manning from hurting them and Ben Roethlisberger was giving the Broncos all kinds of problems. The running game didn't work much, but Roethlisberger and Todd Haley were working around that.
Then the second half arrived and suddenly Manning was unstoppable, the defense couldn't get off the field and Roethlisberger threw an ugly interception after staring down his intended target.
Ugly: Losing to Oakland
It's been 40 years since Franco Harris stooped to scoop in a ball just before it hit the turf at Three Rivers Stadium to give the Steelers a touchdown and their first playoff victory in the franchise's long history. In that time, the Steelers and Raiders have enjoyed a fierce rivalry.
This game didn't look like much of a contest. The Steelers were coming off of a throttling of the Jets. The Raiders were winless and couldn't score points or prevent them.
The Steelers offense lived up to their billing. Ben Roethlisberger and company put up 34 points on the Raiders and frequently couldn't be slowed down even a little bit. Unfortunately, they were the only group that showed up.
The defense did everything from using illegal hits to failing to cover a barely mediocre set of wide receivers. Carson Palmer, no paragon of consistency or effectiveness since arriving in Oakland, looked like a Pro Bowl passer once again.
Overall, this was just the ugliest possible outcome.
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