The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a very good win today against the 6-0 Minnesota Vikings 27-17. The Steelers defense in the fourth quarter forced two turnovers, and scored two defensive touchdowns, which sealed the win, now the fourth in a row.
The defense looked sharp for most of the fourth quarter, and made clutch plays against Vikings QB Brett Favre, forcing a fumble which LaMarr Woodley took 77 yards for a touchdown, and then Keyaron Fox caught a bad throw from Favre, and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown with one minute left in the game. However, this win, like all wins in the NFL, hid the issues that has plagued the Steelers all season.
For Steeler Nation and the team itself, the win is very good because it showed that the defense can step up against a good offensive team and win the game. However, several issues need to be addressed during the bye week, and before the next game in Denver on Nov. 9.
Here are some of the observations:
1. Bruce Arians still needs to go.
It is a broken record now, I am not a fan of the Steelers' offensive coordinator. I have begrudgingly given Arians some respect for the balanced play calling against Cleveland but today, he was stagnant once again. One offensive touchdown today and it was due to the no huddle offense. Today he wasn't even One Drive Bruce. He was actually worse than that.
It seems that Arians abandons the run faster than Mike Martz used to when Martz was terrorizing his own various teams with his horrid play calling. Rashard Mendenhall started three different drives with 10-plus-yard runs and Mendenhall is only given 10 carries period.
Mind you Mendenhall did fumble again, but why abandon the run? Willie Parker might be done, but Mewelde Moore proved he can carry the ball for stretches. Just 20 rushes today? That is horrible especially since the Steelers averaged over five yards per carry against a very good Minnesota defense.
Mark my words, unlike last season, the Steelers will not win in spite of Arians, they will lose because of him. It should not matter if Arians and Ben Roethlisberger have a great relationship; the best available person should call the plays. Let's just hope that the Steelers smarten up with Arians soon, because it could cause the Steelers from going on a long playoff run.
2. The Steelers kick coverage is horrible and needs serious work .
Last week it was Joshua Cribbs. Today it was Percy Harvin. Yes, much maligned kicker Jeff Reed made an absurd half attempt at pushing Harvin out of bounds, but it should not have come to that. Is it the Heinz Field turf or is it the coverage? I would like to say it is coverage because the Steelers haven't come close to scoring on a kickoff this season.
Either way, the special teams has to shape up soon, or it could be like the past years when the special teams cost the team a shot at a Super Bowl (see 2001 season).
3. The Stefan Logan experiment needs to end now.
Speaking of special teams, most people thought that having the feel-good story of the summer, Stefan Logan making the active roster would boost the Steelers return game. I have not seen any positive impact from Logan at all. Plus, every time he gets held up, Logan is a threat to fumble the ball to the other team, which he has done twice this season.
I loved the Logan story, but not enough to see him on the roster. I am sure that rookie speedster Mike Wallace could do just as a good job on kick returns, and Mewelde Moore is not a liability on punt returns. With Aaron Smith being put on injured reserve, Logan's spot could go to Ra'Shon Harris, adding more depth to the defensive line on game days.
Wallace is important to the offense but remember this: Nate Washington and Antwaan Randle El also returned kicks while as the third receiver during their early careers with the Steelers. I think Wallace would be an exciting kick returner and his offensive production would be still great.
4. The third down defense is atrocious.
Seriously, what in the world is going on with the Steelers on third downs? Not being able to get off the field on third downs cost the Steelers a win in Cincinnati. In Detroit, it was 11-for-18. Today, it was nine-for-18. Not only that, the Vikings completed third-and-longs, including a third-and-18. That is inexcusable, especially for such a very good defense.
I know it is near blasphemy to criticize defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, but one must look at LeBeau first on the third down issues. Though I have to give the Vikings their just due, some of these third downs should have never been converted. We can only hope that these issues get worked out during the bye week.
While I am pleased to see the Steelers win, I only hope that coach Mike Tomlin does not overlook the issues that has plagued the team all season. The fourth quarter defense is getting much better, but it is not a good sign when the offense struggles to score more than one touchdown.
While I hope that Troy Polamalu and everyone else recovers from whatever has ailed them in the first seven weeks during the bye week, I also hope the Steelers will be prepared to take on the Broncos after the bye week. One should definitely be pleased with the 5-2 record, but it will not mean anything if the Steelers don't fix their problems as they head into the middle part of their schedule.
Next week: enjoy the bye week!