The running game is the first area the Steelers need to improve on in Week 6.
Week 5 proved to be by far the best week of the Pittsburgh Steelers' season so far. They did not play, and therefore avoided another week of being bashed for their relentless mediocrity.
In a week where every other team in the AFC North got a win, it was probably for the best that Pittsburgh laid low and did nothing to remind the world that they were the only team in the division without a win.
Going into Week 6, the Steelers will be facing a surprisingly tough New York Jets team that just took down the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Monday Night Football. Remind me why we cannot play Jacksonville this season?
Anyway, the Steelers hopefully will have spent the last two weeks doing some major soul searching. Coach Mike Tomlin hopefully will have identified Pittsburgh's weaknesses (which is basically everything) and been active in trying to plug the holes.
Or it is quite possible this is just one of those seasons Pittsburgh and its fans has already written off as a lost one. Sorry, too much pessimism. No franchise as respectable as the Steelers would ever adopt that attitude.
Since the Steelers will not quit, they have theoretically used their bye week to improve certain areas that really need the help. Let us check out these key parts of the game that will make or break the rest of Pittsburgh's season.
Maybe Jonathan Dwyer can get in on the fun.
In Week 4, the Steelers got rookie Le'Veon Bell back from the injured reserves list and showed some life on the ground, with Bell rushing for 57 yards with two touchdowns. It was not a prolific output and it was against a weak Minnesota Vikings defense, but it was a start.
If the Steelers are smart, they will cut Isaac Redman with extreme prejudice, demote Felix Jones to water boy and hand the keys to the running game over to Bell. Get the rookie all the touches he can handle during this dismal season so he can learn and grow.
Who knows, maybe he will start to consistently produce?
Here is a crazy idea: maybe give Jonathan Dwyer a few extra touches here and there. He is not exactly a superstar, but he has earned more chances based on his blocking ability and work ethic. He could be a nice compliment to Bell if utilized properly.
Not that I would ever expect offensive coordinator Todd Haley to utilize his players properly, but it is a thought.
Whatever the Steelers decide to do, they better hope it works. Putting up 232 rushing yards through four games is unacceptable in the NFL. Let Bell carry the load and, if that does not work, see if Willie Parker is still in playing shape.
You won't like Todd Haley when he's angry.
I really do not like constantly second guessing just about every decision Haley makes because I was one of the people who really wanted him to take over the offensive coordinator after Bruce Arians was fired. Sorry guys.
To Haley's credit, the offense looked somewhat serviceable against the Vikings.
Pittsburgh put up 27 points, which should have been more than enough to win. We will get to the defensive deficiencies that helped lead to that loss later.
My problem here is that I have no idea on any given play if it is the fault of Haley or Ben Roethlisberger when something does not work. That comes from two seasons of the coordinator and his quarterback fighting each other for play-calling duties.
Knowing Haley's "dink and dunk" offense, I attribute any run up the middle, screen pass or quick throw (generally a slant) to him. Anytime Big Ben improvises or tries his luck with a long bomb, I assume he either audibled out of a Haley call or was aiming at his second or third read.
My point here is that the offensive play-calling through four games has been questionable.
The lack of a running game probably has something to do with that, but something needs to change in this area right away.
I have said it before and I will say it again: Give Big Ben control of the offense. Haley can call what he wants, but I trust Big Ben's judgement over Haley's at this point. The Steelers are guaranteed a turnover or two a game at this point anyway, so what is the worst that can happen?
Is Brown the answer to Pittsburgh's offensive line woes?
Remember that first drive against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 when the Steelers' offense was humming along and we looked functional and competitive? Good times.
Do you remember how that drive ended with Maurkice Pouncey tearing his ACL and Redman fumbling his career away? I try to block that part out too. Ever since that drive, the offensive line has been nothing but a liability.
Big Ben has been sacked 15 times in four games. It can be argued that he holds the ball too long, but the offensive line certainly has not done him any favors.
The good news is the Steelers appear to be actively trying to fix this issue, as evidenced by the acquisition of Arizona Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown via trade last week.
It will be tough for him to look worse than incumbent left tackle Mike Adams, who has been awful at protecting Big Ben's blind side. Maybe if he had Sandra Bullock pushing him to succeed, he could have saved his starting job. Maybe.
With a new left tackle and center (Fernando Velasco, who has been a serviceable replacement for Pouncey so far), this offensive line needs to come together and show some pride in their work. That is how they will get back to giving Big Ben time to actually run an offense.
LaMarr Woodley is the only Steeler doing much in the pass rushing department right now.
I stick by my assertion from last week that LaMarr Woodley looks rejuvenated and is one of the few bright spots on an ineffective defensive line.
He has three-fourths of the team's sacks with... 3.0 sacks. The only other Steeler to record a sack this season is mountain man Brett Keisel.
Where has the rest of our defensive line been? Not stopping the run apparently, as the Steelers have allowed 491 rushing yards so far this season.
Seriously, someone should put out an amber alert for Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon. They have a lot of tackles between them, but they have been almost non-existent when it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
Maybe I am bitter because we allowed Adrian Peterson to run all over us and Matt Cassel to do his best Tom Brady impression in that Week 4 loss to the Vikings. But something has to be done to improve Pittsburgh's pass rush.
Maybe a healthy dose of Geno Smith is just what the doctor ordered to wake up the defensive line.
As long as our secondary keeps up its (relatively) strong play and the pass rushers can flush him out the pocket, Pittsburgh might finally be able to say their pressure on the quarterback made a difference.
If only he could catch a ball like that.
The Steelers have yet to force a single turnover this season. Think about how ridiculous that is for a second.
You would think by accident the Steelers might be able to come up with a fumble or pick off an errant pass. Nope: Pittsburgh currently has a turnover ratio of -11. Oh yeah, the Steelers also have to cut down on its uncharacteristic sloppy turnovers. So many issues.
But back to this problem. I blame Ike Taylor for this turnover drought. Though it is hard to put something like this on one player's shoulders, in this case it works.
For a guy who is a legitimate shutdown cornerback, Taylor seems to almost have an aversion to interceptions. In 11 NFL seasons, he has only come up with 14 interceptions. Just to put this into perspective, Asante Samuel has intercepted 50 balls in the same amount of time.
As for the rest of the Steelers' secondary, Ryan Clark has totaled 13 interceptions in 12 seasons, William Gay five in seven seasons and Cortez Allen has two in three years. The only turnover machine is Troy Polamalu, who has intercepted 30 balls in 11 seasons.
So, when you look at the secondary, it is no wonder they have not generated turnovers. But Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and the defensive leaders up front need to pull their weight too.
Someone needs to step up and get Pittsburgh on the board with a turnover. Not earning a single turnover through six weeks would just be plain embarrassing for the once proud Steel Curtain.