The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent their bye week licking their wounds from an 0-4 start and looking for answers about how a team with playoff aspirations finds itself in this situation.
This Sunday, the Steelers are going to get a New York Jets team coming off a short week, which should be to their advantage. Here's what you need to know as the week begins.
It is beyond disheartening to have the Steelers sitting at the bottom of the AFC North, especially with all three other teams sporting winning records. Even with the rather mediocre play of the rest of the division, another loss would be beyond devastating.
At this point, after a bye there is no official injury report. But there are two injuries of note that could have a significant impact on this week's game.
First is that of starting guard Ramon Foster, who suffered a chest injury. Here is the latest on Foster's injury, per the team's Twitter account:
The other injury is less promising. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton broke his pinky finger, and according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he won't play this week:
WR Markus Wheaton says he will miss game vs. #Jets with broken right pinky. Won't get stitches out until next Monday.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) October 7, 2013
In terms of need, the Steelers almost certainly need Foster more than Wheaton this week, so it is much more promising that Foster could be on the field Sunday. Having Foster allows them greater flexibility with swing offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum. The Jets defensive front is massive and athletic, so the Steelers cannot afford to have anyone not at their best.
Losing Wheaton could mean rookie Derek Moye is going to be the WR4 and will provide quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a nice, big target.
What Must Improve
There were really two focuses over the bye week that the Steelers needed to direct their energy toward.
On offense, developing some semblance of continuity along the line is a must. There are in essence four players working for two spots. Let me rephrase that. There are three players working for two spots. After the start Mike Adams has had at left tackle, I refuse to acknowledge he's in the mix for a starting spot any time soon.
After having four days off, the offense needs to come together, and the players and coaches must find a way to get on the same page. Or at least the same chapter. It will be interesting to see what combination of tackles the Steelers trot out on Sunday against the New York Jets.
The defense needs to have a different focus. The goal must be to find a way to force some turnovers and pressure the quarterback. Being able to stuff the run is great, and being ranked second in the league in yards allowed sounds good. However, being unable to generate any sort of consistent pass rush, or forcing a single turnover, trumps everything else.
Going back through the first four games, it is clear that this team is not employing the exotic zone-blitz schemes they have in the past. Coverages have remained soft, but paired with very basic pressures means quarterbacks have far too much time, and the odds of getting a turnover out of it drop.
Rarely have there been two areas of improvement that are more clear going into a game. There have been some tremendous individual performances so far this season that have been completely overshadowed by how poorly this offensive line has played and how inept this defense has been at getting sacks and turnovers.
These two areas must be the focus, and they must be improved if the Steelers want to right the ship this weekend.