5 Things the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Do to Jump-Start Their 2013 Season
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 season could get ugly in a hurry if they don't defeat the Chicago Bears Sunday night at Heinz Field.
According to USA Today, only 11.6 percent of the teams who have started 0-2 since 1990 have made the playoffs.
Only three 0-3 teams have made the playoffs during that time, according to NFL.com.
Sunday's game is a must-win if the Steelers want to cling to any remaining playoff hopes.
Some Steelers fans might take comfort in what happened in 2002, the last time the Steelers began the season 0-2.
The Steelers trailed the Cleveland Browns 13-6 with less than five minutes left. In danger of falling to 0-3, Steelers coach Bill Cowher replaced Kordell Stewart with Tommy Maddox at quarterback.
Maddox led the Steelers on a game-tying, 77-yard touchdown drive. The Steelers won 16-13 in overtime and rode Maddox's magic to a 10-5-1 record and a trip to the playoffs.
There's no one move that will fix everything, but there are measures the Steelers can take to turn this season around. Like Cowher and Chuck Noll, Tomlin has hoisted a Lombardi Trophy, but Cowher and Noll both got the Steelers into the playoffs after 0-2 starts.
The first step for Tomlin and the Steelers is to put a check mark next to all five of the following items Sunday against the Bears.
Run More Hurry-Up Offense
Until rookie Le'Veon Bell is back, and maybe even after he's back, moving the ball on the ground will be like trying to move a piano up a hill for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have run for 75 yards this season, averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Only the New York Giants, also 0-2, are below them in both categories with 73 and 2.2.
Right now, the best way for the Steelers to move the ball is through the air. They might as well try to keep the Bears defense on its heels.
The Bears might be 2-0, but they've won two games at home by a total of four points. So that defense might be vulnerable in a hostile environment with Ben Roethlisberger going no-huddle.
The no-huddle offense is usually used in urgent situations. The Steelers are trying to prevent an 0-3 start. That's a pretty urgent situation.
Play Markus Wheaton
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Markus Wheaton can fuel the hurry-up offense a lot better than Jerricho Cotchery.
In Mike Wallace's first career game, he caught three passes for 32 yards. His last catch was a 22-yard reception in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal as the Steelers defeated the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in the 2009 season opener.
Four years later, the player drafted to replace Wallace has been shackled in the first two games of his career.
Wheaton, who like Wallace was drafted in the third round, played just five snaps Monday at Cincinnati, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He saw seven snaps in the season opener and has not had a pass thrown his way this season.
This is befuddling considering Wheaton's preseason performance. He was second on the team in receptions (nine) and yards per reception (15.4). He caught deep passes, and he caught passes in traffic. He even gained 10 yards on a reverse, which means he's just as good running the ball as any of the Steelers' healthy running backs.
Cotchery has been used as the Steelers' No. 3 receiver. He was targeted nine times at Cincinnati but caught just three of those passes, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. One of the passes he didn't catch bounced off his hand and was intercepted in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger didn't make the best throw on the play, but he deserves no blame for the fact that a 31-year-old with 33 catches over the past two seasons is ahead of an early-round draft pick in the pecking order.
The Steelers let Wallace step in and become their No. 3 receiver as a rookie. Why not Wheaton?
Go Back to Zone Blocking
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Even if they go with an up-tempo offense, the Steelers still will have to try to run the ball every now and then. Moving the ball on the ground will be useful if the Steelers have an, um, lead and need to grind out the clock.
The Steelers' new zone-blocking scheme was all the rage this summer at training camp in Latrobe, Pa. It was talked about more than "Sharknado."
Since David DeCastro accidentally rolled into Maurkice Pouncey's knee four minutes into the season opener, the Steelers offensive line hasn't zone blocked on a single play, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It's time to put fear aside, get back on the horse and return to the philosophy the Steelers committed themselves to during the offseason.
The Steelers plan to do more zone blocking Sunday against the Bears, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. They need to do something different to create holes for their running backs, because what they're doing now isn't working.
Blitz the Quarterback
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The Steelers have just one quarterback sack this season, part of the reason they haven't forced any turnovers on defense.
LaMarr Woodley, who has the Steelers' only sack, was frequently in the face of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on Monday night. But he couldn't quite get to him.
Woodley and the rest of the Steelers pass-rushers have to keep trying Sunday.
It won't be any easier against the Bears. Jay Cutler has been sacked just once this season. He's averaged 7.5 yards per completion. Those short, quick passes neutralize the blitz. It's a technique that worked well against the Steelers even in the days when they did menace opposing quarterbacks.
The Steelers defense might need a little help from their fans in making communication difficult for the Bears offense on Sunday night.
Pull off a Special Teams Surprise
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A fake punt or field goal or a surprise onside kick could provide a spark and maybe even be looked at as a turning point in the season if successful.
Why not try a little trickery if nothing else is working?
The Steelers should use history as a guide here.
In Bill Cowher's head coaching debut in 1992, the Steelers trailed the heavily favored Houston Oilers 14-0 in the first quarter. Cowher called a fake punt, which set up the Steelers' first touchdown in a game they went on to win 29-24.
The Steelers weren't in the 0-2 hole they're in now, but that fake punt catapulted them to a 3-0 start.
It would behoove the 2013 Steelers to string together a few wins.