5 Burning Questions the Pittsburgh Steelers Still Must Answer
Arguably more importantly: how does it feel to be at the bottom of the AFC North with no wins, a weak offense and a defense that is finally beginning to look old?
Today is the first day of October and Pittsburgh sports fans should be chomping at the bit for more football. Instead, the city has tried to tune out the 0-4 Steelers with the cheers coming from PNC Park as the Pirates host a playoff game for the first time in this writer's lifetime.
More questions: How can the Steelers stand to let the Pirates and Penguins become top dogs in the Pittsburgh sports market? Where is that Steelers pride that has been earned from years of winning? Why does this team just feel like one that is trying to drowney for Clowney?
Those questions are more philosophical than X's and O's. The only way for the Steelers to actually get better is to answer the questions surrounding their health, personnel and coaching decisions.
At this point, they certainly cannot get any worse, right? Right?
1.) When Will Todd Haley Give the Reins Back to Big Ben?
Through four games, Ben Roethlisberger has completed 103 passes for 1,231 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers look pretty impressive, right?
Do not think for a second those numbers are a product of offensive coordinator Toddy Haley's "dink and dunk" offense that emphasizes pounding the ball on the ground, quick passes and screen passes. Rarely on a Haley-designed play is Big Ben ever allowed to air one out for Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown.
Big Ben is at his best when plays break down and he is forced to scramble, which confuses the defense and creates bigger holes for his receivers. Why would you ever try to rein in that kind of creativity and big play potential?
The Steelers' quarterback has been vocal in the past about how he has disapproved of some of Haley's decisions. Their relationship appears to be less rocky now, but as losses mount frustrations can build until they boil over.
Haley needs to just let Big Ben be Big Ben. The offense needs to run less (unless Le'Veon Bell steps up), go into no-huddle mode more often and allow their quarterback the freedom to let loose.
Of course, none of that will matter if the next question is never answered...
2.) Can the Offensive Line Hold Up After Two Major Injuries?
Maurkice Pouncey went down with a torn ACL during the first drive of Pittsburgh's Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Ramon Foster was injured during last week's game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Luckily for the Steelers, it appears Foster sprained (as opposed to tore) his pectoral muscle. Still, this scare has raised even more concerns about an unreliable Steelers offensive line.
The unit has allowed Big Ben to be sacked 15 times in the course of four games. They might as well be a gate that just swings open when they see a defensive lineman come toward them.
There are times when the line gives Big Ben ample time to do his escape artist thing. During those times, the unit that also consists of Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Fernando Velasco and Marcus Gilbert looks almost competent.
But more often than not the line does the Steelers no favors. If injuries begin to pile up, I do not see any way for the Steelers to maintain a consistent offense.
3.) How Long Will It Take for Le'Veon Bell to Be Named Starter Going Forward?
Welcome to the NFL, Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers need you to play like you did against the Vikings every week to stay competitive.
Bell finished that game with 16 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns, the first rushing touchdowns the Steelers had put up since last season.
For a little perspective, in four games Felix Jones has run for 74 yards, Jonathan Dwyer for 45 and Isaac Redman for 12. None of them have scored a touchdown. So why is Bell not listed as the starter on Steelers.com yet?
Bell is the spark plug this offense desperately needs. A real running game could force opposing defenses to divert their attention from destroying Big Ben, which could in turn open up the passing game.
Mike Tomlin: Steelers nation is ready to put their faith in Bell. You should too if you want to keep your job.
4.) Can Jarvis Jones Hold onto His Starting Spot at Right Outside Linebacker?
The rookie out of Georgia has made a small splash in the early goings. He has effectively stolen the starting spot at right outside linebacker from Jason Worilds.
Jones has looked NFL-ready through four weeks. He has 16 tackles so far, good for the fifth most on the team. Worilds, by comparison, only has eight.
Neither guy has gotten to the quarterback yet. In fact, the only Steelers with sacks right now are LaMarr Woodely and Brett Keisel. But that is an entirely different issue.
Unless he regresses or gets injured, Jones will probably be the starter for the rest of the season. Worilds will have to wait a little bit longer for his time to come.
Of course, the biggest question Pittsburgh's defense is facing right now is...
5.) How Can Dick LeBeau Account for Age and Inexperience in His Defense?
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau faces an interesting challenge with a defense that gave up 40 points to the Chicago Bears in Week 3 and 34 to the Vikings last week.
How can LeBeau effectively use a defense with an aging secondary, relatively young linebacking corps and an inexperienced front line (minus Keisel)? It is a question he clearly has yet to be answered.
Through four games, the Steelers have allowed 491 rushing yards and 796 passing yards. The secondary has allowed some unforgivable big plays and the entire defense has been uncharacteristically inept at stopping the run.
On the bright side, Troy Polamalu looks like a kid again. He has already made a few of his patented big tackles after perfectly timing a snap count. Lawrence Timmons and LaMaar Woodley look like absolute beasts.
But those are small silver linings for a defense that has only sacked opposing quarterbacks four times this season and has yet to force a turnover. Something is wrong here, and LeBeau needs to come up with an answer quickly to make sure the Steel Curtain never allows 40 points in a game again.
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