Dissecting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Weakest Links
Every team has weaknesses. Some teams have more deficiencies than others and some teams have weaknesses at more critical positions.
The Steelers, after the rash of injuries the team has faced this season, could have a few more weak spots then fans would want to see.
Take Monday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs for instance. In that game, Pittsburgh lost safety Ryan Clark and, more importantly, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury. The absence of those players will add to some already weak links on the roster.
So let's take a look at the weakest areas the Steelers have in 2012.
Backup Quarterback Situation
At this point, we're not sure how much action the Steelers' backup quarterbacks are going to see this season.
Reports have stated that Ben Roethlisberger has a sprained shoulder and could miss a few weeks...or he could be ready for Sunday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens.
I think it's pretty safe to say that we'll be watching the Steelers take the field against Baltimore with Byron Leftwich under center. And if Monday night was any indication, it's not going to be good.
Leftwich struggled coming off the bench, and his long delivery motion could cause a problem for a weak offensive line. Charlie Batch will be activated for the first time this season to back him up.
Backup quarterback is generally a weak link on any football team, though having two veteran subs with starting experience generally isn't the worst thing in the world. But when you're going to be playing your biggest rivals in two of the next three weeks, the timing of Big Ben's injury couldn't be worse.
Panic Meter: 4
Leftwich is a veteran starter, but doesn't have a whole lot of career success. He'll have to pick up this offense quickly and be ready to lead the team.
There was a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers three-man front was the best in the league at what they did.
Those days are well behind them.
The high draft picks who were supposed to replenish this once-dominant line haven't really panned out, and that's killed this defense. Cameron Heyward hasn't developed enough yet to see significant time, and Ziggy Hood has been a nightmare this year.
But the biggest problem may be coming from an all-time great.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton has been one of the biggest reasons the Steelers defense has been among the best year in and year out. But returning from offseason knee surgery, the 35-year-old Hampton has undoubtedly lost a step or two.
The defensive line played their worst game on Monday night when Jamaal Charles and his offensive line had their way with the big fellas up front. Charles tailed off late in the game but still managed to gain 100 yards.
Panic Meter: 9
At this point, there's really nothing the Steelers can do. They've made their bed with the players they have and now they've got to sleep in it.
But the front three has to start playing better, or the defense could be in big trouble.
For the last two decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been known for their elite pass-rushers. From guys like Kevin Greene to Joey Porter and beyond, the Steelers have churned them out like no other.
This year, the Steelers have what many consider to be one of the best duos in the league in LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Why is it then that the team ranks 22nd in the NFL with just 16 sacks this season?
In reality, the Steelers pass rush has faded greatly over the last two years. Last season's decline had a lot to do with lengthy injuries to Woodley and Harrison. This year the drop-off is a little different.
Woodley has again been bothered by a hamstring injury that's limited the amount of snaps he can take. Harrison, on the other hand, looks like his best days are well behind him. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has just one sack this season and doesn't seem to have it coming off the edge anymore.
Panic Meter: 8
Getting to the quarterback is the backbone of Dick LeBeau's defense. They've found other ways to pressure the QB, especially with Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote inside, but they need to get Woodley and Harrison back on track. I just hope there's some track left for Harrison.
Over the last two seasons, the Steelers have been ranked among the top five defenses in almost every category...except takeaways.
In fact, the Steelers are among the worst teams in the NFL in creating turnovers, having forced just nine this season.
The Steelers are tied for 26th in the league with just five interceptions in 2012, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. On Monday, against the most turnover-prone team in the NFL, Pittsburgh recorded just one takeaway in four-plus quarters.
Pittsburgh's defense used to be one of the best teams in the league at taking the football away and making big plays. Some of that has to do with the absence of Troy Polamalu, but this team seems to be content with just defending and forcing punts.
Panic Meter: 4
The Steelers have just nine takeaways on the season, but it hasn't come back to bite them yet. Still, in terms of yards allowed, they have the best defense in football.
When the Steelers hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley, there was a lot of speculation as to what kind of offense he would run.
Right now, we're still trying to figure that out.
It seems the Steelers offense is based on whatever team they're playing—which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But they just don't have a real identity offensively, and it showed early in the season with the team barely being able to move the ball.
The passing game has also been in flux throughout the course of the season: Some games it's all quick screens and short routes and others there's an attempt to get the ball down the field.
In not one game has there been a really good rhythm to the offense.
Panic Meter: 1
I'm not worried about the offense because, despite the lack of rhythm, they're still moving the ball effectively. Would be nice to see some kind of identity, though.
Depth is something that's very hard to find on any NFL team, but the Steelers have done a pretty poor job of acquiring safety valves for their football team.
This trend has shown itself especially at the safety position.
Early on for Troy Polamalu and now for Ryan Clark, the Steelers have struggled all season to replace their safeties. But it doesn't stop there. Outside of the starters at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end, guard and tight end, Pittsburgh is very thin.
With the slew of injuries the team has faced this season, it'll give some of these backups a chance to gain some much-needed experience, but they need to learn quickly.
Panic Meter: 5
Depth is a concern for every franchise in the NFL, but especially for those teams which are in the midst of an injury crisis. If the Steelers remain injury prone, this lack of depth could come back to haunt them.