Season Starts Now for Pittsburgh Steelers

Alexander DiegelCorrespondent IIIOctober 5, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the game on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 27-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A 1-2 record to open the season. Defensive and running rankings near the bottom of the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers, and their fans, are certainly not used to this.

Don't hit the panic button, though. Not yet, at least. With 13 games left and two games to play against the division-leading Baltimore Ravens, another AFC North crown is not out of the question. The team will be at full strength for the first time this season when they face the 3-1 Philadelphia Eagles.

The return of former Defensive Players of the Year James Harrison and Troy Polamalu should give some much-needed punch to a defense that has been missing it. With five sacks and two turnovers, the team is on pace to get even fewer than the 35 and 15 they recorded last season, both way below the norm for this crew.

Polamalu is the type of player whose mere appearance is a headache for opposing quarterbacks. A force that needs to be accounted for on every play, he could line up as an extra linebacker, charge into the backfield for a sack/tackle for loss or drop back and pick off a would-be deep ball.

The bull-rushing Harrison has three games to his credit in which he forced as many turnovers as the entire Steelers' D has all season.

Neither Polamalu nor Harrison may be at the level that earned them Defensive Player of the Year honors, but the attention that must still be paid to them by the offense could free things up for their other defensive play makers.

LaMarr Woodley, who was on pace to challenge for the aforementioned award himself through the first half of last season, has been bottled up to the account of just two sacks and nine tackles. Opposing blockers have been free to key on Woodley, the only proven playmaker on the field.

The extra attention should also free up Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons to fly around and shut down opposing running backs. Also uncharacteristic of this defense, the perennial top-three run stoppers are 14th in the NFL in that category.

The Eagles come to town with Michael Vick at the helm, and he has a penchant for giving up sacks and turnovers. A couple of each in a win could build momentum for a team in need of some.

Also making a return to the field is running back Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers' 30th-ranked rushing attack desperately needs his game-breaking ability. Ben Roethlisberger is having the best start to a season of his career but has not been able to do it himself. In the two losses, the ground game has accounted for just 129 yards total. 

In spite of defenses keying up to stop the pass with backups Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman failing to get the job done, Big Ben ranks second in the NFL in passer rating and second in touchdowns, even though he has played one fewer game than most quarterbacks. He has also thrown just one interception, also good for a tie for second in the league. Just imagine what he could do if Mendenhall led at least a mediocre rushing attack to bring some balance to the offense. 

So with a bad but not disastrous start, the return of three of the team's most important playmakers and the start of a career year for Roethlisberger, don't give up hope, Steelers fans. At least not yet.