2010 Pittsburgh Steelers: The Top Five Concerns Heading Into The Season
The preseason is over and the Steelers are getting ready to open the regular season at home against the Falcons on Sunday.
We now know that Dennis Dixon will be our our opening day quarterback so the best of luck to him.
Even with the quarterback issue solved, there are some other concerns as well. Winning the division just got even harder with every team making improvements, including the Browns.
While I fully expect the Steelers to finish ahead of the Browns, beating the Ravens and the Bengals will be a harder task this year.
The ultimate goal is to get to Cowboys Stadium and claim our seventh Lombardi Trophy. However, there are some concerns the Steelers need to straighten out if they want that to happen.
5. Special Teams
The Steelers had the worst ranked special teams unit in the league last year. Together they gave up four returns for touchdowns and allowed several long ones.
Stefan Logan set a franchise record in kick return yards, but failed to make the roster this year due to competition from Antonio Brown.
Jeff Reed had his fair share of blunders openly allowing at least three returners to run right by him for touchdowns. His kickoffs weren't much better as few, if any, ever went into the end zone
Unfortunately, special teams still looks to be a problem again this year. No touchdowns, but they allowed too many long returns in the preseason. I know most of those players are not on the roster now, but it is still a cause of concern.
It will be up to new special teams coach Al Elverest and special teams captain Keyaron Fox to straighten out the coverage units. They should have an easier time on the return side as Antonio Brown looks like a promising young returner.
Coach Tomlin tried Daniel Sepulveda on kickoffs in the preseason and did slightly better. He also saved two potential touchdowns on returns. My guess is that Sepulveda and Reed will share the kickoff duties with Sepulveda kicking off at the end of games.
Until the coverage units can stop allowing long returns, I will still be holding my breath on punts and kickoffs. Let's hope I won't have to do that for long.
If you haven't heard yet, Dennis Dixon will be our starting quarterback for the season opener against the Falcons. I've been an avid supporter of Dixon since day one and I'm so happy to hear Mike Tomlin chose to start him.
My concern however is not with Dixon, it's with the stability of the position and how Dixon will be used. Since Byron Leftwich is out 2-4 weeks with a sprained MCL, that only leaves Dixon and Batch as our quarterbacks for the first four weeks of the season.
It's absolutely crucial that Dixon performs well and avoids injury because however capable he may be, Batch is definitely not durable. Plus I don't think Leftwich will be healthy enough if this does happen.
I for one hope Dixon is encouraged to rollout and move around instead of forced to be a pocket passer. This is Dixon's last year with the Steelers, so why not let him make the most of it by doing what he does best and is more comfortable with.
Besides, the better he performs, the higher the draft pick we get next year.
3. Offensive Line
It's no doubt that the offensive line is the weakest link of the team. Last year, they allowed Big Ben to get sacked a painful 50 times.
This year, the team has taken steps to fix the line. They started by firing former line coach Larry Zierlein and hiring Sean Kugler from Buffalo. In the draft the Steelers picked up their center for the future Maurkice Pouncey in the first round.
The original plan was to let Pouncey start out at guard and work his way up to center. That never worked out as Pouncey quickly learned the position, preceded to dominate the preseason, forced Justin Hartwig out of a job.
Besides Pouncey, there has been no other good news from the line, just more of the same. If you know anything about the Steelers, I don't think I need to explain what more of the same means.
This is a serious problem heading into the 2010 season and it's one that needs to get fixed ASAP. We need our quarterbacks upright and running lanes for the running backs if we ever want a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
2. Division Dominance
Last year the Steelers went a pathetic 2-4 in the AFC North. To make it worst, they were swept by the Bengals and suffered an embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns near the end of the year.
Mike Tomlin has said that the first step to the playoffs is division dominance, and we didn't have that last year. This year, the AFC North will be no easier to capture as each team has gotten better over the offseason.
The Ravens have upgraded their roster offensively, the Bengals have TO and Ochocinco, and the Browns have a new quarterback and wildcat offense. We got better as well getting key players back from injuries, some old teammates, and excellent draft picks.
As you can see, winning the division will not be easy for either team. However, I believe the Steelers have just as good a chance of winning the division as the Ravens and Bengals. If we don't, as long as we go 4-2 or higher, that'll be great as well. Either way, division dominance will be the main key into getting into the playoffs.
1. Play Calling
The man in the picture is the offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Bruce Arians. He is still easily the most hated man in Pittsburgh as he once again showed that he has not changed from last year and still makes stupid calls.
Just look at his preseason performance. Our third down percentage was a whopping 36% and our red zone percentage was 27%. That is just terrible and is exactly why play calling is the number one concern for the season.
Those numbers have to improve this season because our offense is just too talented to be settling for field goals 73% of the time.
Not only are the numbers bad, the big question that remains is how will Arians use Dennis Dixon? We all saw what happened when he called a bootleg on 4th and 1. It's great to move him around, but not on 4th and 1. We now have three power backs that can slam up the middle for that one yard so use them.
Worst case scenario is that he will force Dixon to be a pocket passer. I hope that doesn't happen and he lets Dixon use his special package to get him out of the pocket and keep defenses on their heels.
The final point is that Arians just has to do a better job play calling this year. If not, it might mean no playoffs and no job for him.