Though their goals are lofty, there are many objectives that need to be accomplished en route to the midfield podium on February 3, 2012 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Sayings like "one game at a time" are repeated due to their truth, as the Men of Steel can't afford to look past any of their opponents.
A 2-2 start hasn't quite met with preseason expectations, but hopes are still high for an AFC North Championship and strong playoff run. Nevertheless, those ambitions seem to be in contrast to the team's recent road woes, as well as with the early-season struggles of some of their players.
The cliches are as absolutely true, as they are never-ending: "focusing on getting better," "asking what you can do to help the team," etc. Fans have heard them all, but a few down-and-out athletes need to absorb those words, letting them sink in deeper than mere bone and sinew: A few members of the roster need the focus on improvement to leak into their soul.
Otherwise, they'll either be replaced or they will serve as a huge liability for the franchise's grand goals.
On the offensive line, Willie Colon's untimely penalties have created some misconceptions about his overall play, a sad stigma in which his bad moments outweigh the good. Steelers Country sees him as a liability in the trenches, his lesser efforts tarnishing (and negating) some really fine run-blocking, particularly in the game against the Eagles. Though he dominated the head in front of him throughout Week 5, even continuing his solid blocks into the second level, fans only remember his slew of penalties.
Holding calls have been an Achilles' heel for Colon, and he needs to shore up his discipline and focus on his handwork. At guard, Colon has the size and power to get it done, and furthermore, that has been on display! Yet he continues to take unnecessary penalties, egregious fouls that are in direct opposition to his blocking effort.
The return of Rashard Mendenhall has truly infused new energy (nay, lost energy!) into the running game. Isaac Redman, who struggled with minor injuries throughout camp and the preseason, had a rough showing in his games as a starter.
Lacking his usual burst to the hole and instinctive edge, Redman's hesitance behind the line of scrimmage resulted in many negative runs, setting the offense behind the sticks on down and distance. Against the Jets, his first six carries included four yardage losses. Certainly, this didn't fall exclusively on Redman, but the first month worth of games taught many that Redman is a great change of pace back, but not a viable option as a long-term starter.
Thankfully, Mendenhall returned with effect against Philadelphia.
The offensive line as a whole needs to focus on steady improvement. Though Colon has showcased some competency in run-blocking, his peers need to continue polishing their play. In time, injured players such as David DeCastro will return, giving a hopeful pep to an o-line that needs proficiency of the position opposed to flexibility of the player.
The offensive line isn't the only one in which the Men of Steel have had a lackluster showing in the trenches.
Though he worked hard to return at the start of the season, mere days after being on the physically unable to perform list, Casey Hampton's dominant days are in the past.
As far as a pass rush is concerned, I remain a huge advocate of keeping Steve McLendon in the nose tackle spot. The team has failed to sustain a "Steelers-like" pass rush in the first four games despite there being shades of backfield harassment intermittently.
Even in his prime, "Big Snack" was a far better run stuffer than pass-rusher, and his command for two blockers opened up inside lanes for linebackers and blitzers. Today, his impact isn't so forceful. McLendon is a more diverse two-way nose tackle, able to shed blockers against the pass, make an impact in the middle to open daylight for rushers and clog running lanes.
Casey Hampton has shown the wear of time and tear of injuries in his first few outings this season. McLendon is just developing into his own. Hampton's disappointing start is in stark contract to McLendon's showcase of promise. The Steelers are usually wise enough to start players on the rise opposed to those not getting the job done.
As such, it's no surprise that Will Allen's name is being thrown around with regard to increased playing time on Thursday night. Ryan Mundy's low football intelligence, overall unawareness and generally foolish and hazardous play are wearing on the already-thin patience of Steeler Nation, which is already irritated with compromised talent due to injuries.
With Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, two kindred spirits at the safety spots, sharing so few snaps together, it will likely behoove the healthy party (in this case, Clark) to have a safety for more veteran experience. Will Allen's time on the field will be a noteworthy point against the Titans, though it's hard to imagine his performance paling in comparison to Mundy's struggles.
On the outside of the secondary, both corners have had an on-again, off-again campaign. They've been far more reliable in man-to-man schemes, and they've excelled in press coverage. However, Ike Taylor hasn't quite been the receiver blanket that Steelers Country is accustomed to seeing. His errors are far less egregious that his peer's miscues, however.
Tackling. If the Steelers housed a "School for Defense," this would be the 101-level course that serves as a prerequisite to all of the other course offerings. If you are not an able tackler, particularly on a unit that generally features some of the NFL's most proficient tacklers, you will stick out like a sore thumb.
Ask Keenan Lewis.
The good news is that all of the struggles showcased to-date are either correctable or can be easily remedied with a few on-point roster moves. In fact, a few of those adjustments seem to be in the works by the team already.
The Men of Steel are not naive to believe they can win Super Bowl XLVII. However, a combination of good luck, focus, health and improvement will be key toward accomplishing the feat.