Now Is Not the Time To Throw the Pittsburgh Steelers Under the Bus

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent IOctober 2, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 11:  Snow falls as Darren Sproles #43 of the San Diego Chargers runs the ball against Larry Foote #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steelers won 35-24. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Bears and Bengals dealt the Steelers two disappointing road losses.

Against the Bengals, the Steeler defense gave up an 11-point lead

They couldn't to get off the field in the fourth quarter and in the final 15 seconds of both (Bears and Bengals) games allowed long scoring drives for touchdowns.

The Steelers have been outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter of their last two games.

The sacks, the turnovers, and big plays are missing.

This season, they are 1-2 with all games decided by three points, one in overtime.

RB Rashard Mendenhall was benched from the offense for blowing some assignments during practice.

He is off on a rocky start after only being in his second season after his first ended in the fourth game with a broken shoulder.

WR Limas Sweed dropped a potential 34-yard touchdown pass in the end zone in Cincinnati.

It is that mistake that has demoted him from the No. 3 job at wide receiver to No. 5.

His drops are a continuing problem since being drafted by the Steelers in the second round in 2008.

Coach Tomlin may deactivate WR Limas Sweed for the Chargers game Sunday night and replace him with WR Shaun McDonald.

WR Santonio Holmes has had a few drops himself. Could it be the wrist is more of a problem than realized?

K Jeff Reed has missed three field goals so far this season—one in Chicago and two in Cincinnati for 38, 43, and 52 yards.

Several individuals have underperformed this season, compared to last year.

A year ago, the defense had 10 sacks and after three games. This season? Five.

They are on pace for 27, after leading the AFC with 51 this past season.

LB James Harrison, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has one of them compared to last year at this time when he had three and LB LaMarr Woodley two.

Woodley, who had 11.5 sacks, has none thus far.

Last year the defense forced eight turnovers.

So far this season, they have two, both in the opener against Tennessee.

However on the brighter note, CB Ike Taylor leads the team with five pass defenses.

As the Steelers approach the end of the first quarter, all seems grim but it s not the time to throw them under the bus right now.

The Steelers' next matchup is against the 2-1 San Diego Chargers, Sunday night at Heinz Field.

The Steelers need to establish the run game against the Chargers' 3-4 defense keeping the Charger offense on the bench for long periods.

In the last two games, the running game has improved.

It was evident last week by the production of RB Willie Parker.

Parker had his best game of the season with 93 yards rushing and a 27-yard TD reception.

That success was largely due to the blocking done by TE David Johnson, who is now out due to a high ankle sprain sustained in the first half of the Cincinnati game.

In his place during the second half, insert T Ramon Foster? Yes, Ramon Foster was put in at tight end and got beat a few times.  

So what happened to FB Frank Summers?

He is on injured reserves with a “mysterious” back ailment.

The Steelers were prompted to call-back fullback Carey Davis this week. Davis was the fullback last season and then cut before the regular season started. Now he is being asked to resume his old duties (hopefully not his old ways). The one plus about re-signing him is he is a good “special teams’ specialist.”

Putting a wrench in the running game; Parker is nursing turf toe. He is still slated to play Sunday, in addition to RB Rashard Mendenhall.

Last season, Parker gained 115 yards in their regular-season victory and 146 in their playoff victory against San Diego.

The Steelers desperately needs to get its 27th-ranked running game off on a strong start.

The Charger defense has trouble stopping the run.

The Chargers rank 26th against the run, giving up 142.3 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry and are without the services of their 350-pound nose tackle Jamal Williams, who is an excellent run-stuffer.

Shaun Phillips and Levin Burnett have been productive but the loss of Williams has hurt the Chargers in stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.

Williams will be replaced by Ogemdi Nwagbuo, who doesn’t clog up the middle like Williams but is getting comfortable in the position.  

Despite the problems upfront, the Chargers pass defense has been solid with CB Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, SS Clinton Hart and FS Eric Weddle.

LB Shawne Merriman suffers a sore groin which has slowed him down. He may play Sunday but  is not expected to be 100 percent by Sunday.

LB Larry English has subbed for Merriman against the Dolphins last week and if Merriman cannot we can expect English to be the likely replacement.

But opponents have found success on third-down conversions against this defense.

Tight ends have been especially successful finding open real estate. That’s should be encouraging for TE Heath Miller.

The Steelers are No. 8 overall and No. 15 against the pass after leading the league in both categories last season.

Opposing quarterbacks are quickly getting rid of the ball on short- to moderate-range routes before the pass rush arrives, which could be a concern against Philip Rivers Sunday night.

On defense, look for the Steelers to put more pressure on Philip Rivers, or at least try to. They sacked Rivers four times in that playoff game. In the passing game, the Chargers have height and speed in their receiving corps with WR Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd. They can stretch field and make significant yards after the catch.

TE Antonio Gates and RB Darren Sproles are used for the underneath stuff.

This can be a concern as the Steeler defense has been getting beat underneath, especially in the last two games.

The Steelers are vulnerable in the secondary without SS Polamalu, especially when opponents use three and four wide sets.

SS Tyrone Carter has been an effective replacement for Polamalu in the run game but has been burnt in the pass when lined up in man-to-man coverage.

Carter has been suffering injuries, so SS Ryan Mundy will be subbing.

Mundy has spent his time on the practice squad, now will be the time to show what he can do.

But with the Chargers are unproductive in the Red Zone.

They have scored one touchdown in the last 11 possessions. Against the Ravens, the Chargers got nothing for five trips in the red zone and one for six against Dolphins.

The Chargers cannot run. In total, the offense has amassed 81 total rushing yards in those two games.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson suffering an ankle injury did practice today and may be able to play on Sunday, but he won’t be 100 percent.

In his place will be RB Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett.

Neither is an every-down back and collectively has rushed for 127 yards in 49 attempts to average 2.2 yards per carry and zero touchdowns.

Darren Sproles is always a threat on special teams and the Chargers have one of the best punters in the league with Michael Scifres.

Offensively, the Steeler ground game must improve taking pressure off of Roethlisberger to make plays.

Roethlisberger has completed 22-of-31 passes for 276 yards including a 39-yard touchdown to Willie Parker, one-yard sneak for a touchdown and one interception in a Week Three loss to the Bengals.

He has completed passes of 51 and 41 yards to prove that the Steelers are willing to go for big plays in the passing game.

On a brighter note, the Steeler offensive line gave up only one sack Sunday against the Bengals.

Roethlisberger was sacked on a third-down play trying to protect a 20-15 lead.

Willie Parker's injury may open an opportunity the door for Mendenhall.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers are 13-0 in the regular season against San Diego, 14-2 overall.

They beat the Chargers twice last season, 11-10 in the regular season and 35-24 in the playoffs.

The Steelers have won five straight at home to San Diego in all games, last losing the AFC Championship Game in Three Rivers Stadium to the Chargers after the 1994 season.

Match ups to Watch: OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. Chargers RT Jeromey Clary. Woodley had 11.5 sacks last season, plus six more in the postseason but none in the first three games.

Chargers WR Vincent Jackson vs. CB Ike Taylor.  Jackson, who's 6'5", averages 19.8 yards per catch. Taylor (6-2) often covers the best receiver.


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