Week 4 of the NFL season has concluded with the Pittsburgh Steelers tied with the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC North Division. Considering all of the offseason controversy with the Santonio Holmes trade and Ben Roethlisberger suspension, nobody could have reasonably predicted a 3-1 record, while completing a more difficult part of this season's schedule.
While there are no cake walks in the NFL, the remainder of the Steelers' schedule is promising. Upcoming they have the Cleveland Browns twice, the struggling Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, and Carolina Panthers. Not exactly murder's row.
Most importantly, they now have the services of one Ben Roethlisberger and even better news is that he's going to have two weeks to prepare for his return in Week 6 against Cleveland. Both Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have played admirably during these first four games, but even a slightly rusty Roethlisberger should provide a lift to an offense that, with the exception of the Tampa Bay game, has struggled to find the end zone.
The last piece of good news is that the Steelers have come through the first quarter of the season relatively healthy. On that topic, Trai Essex should be healthy soon but should remain on the bench. Doug Legursky has earned his job with very solid performances the past two games.
Other than getting Roethlisberger into game shape, here are the areas that, over the past four games, the Steelers have shown need some extra attention during the bye week break.
The Steelers' special teams have been much maligned for at least the past five years and with good reason. They stink—they always stink. So far this year, they have just been lucky rather than improved as some might argue. They have had at least three big returns on them called back on penalties.
Antwaan Randle El is averaging 3.9 yards per punt return, while Antonio Brown is averaging 31.3 yards on kickoff returns. There needs to be a change here and you can probably figure out what it is.
The Steelers had some dumb penalties, and odd play-calling at the end of the Baltimore game, but I'm going to place a good share of the loss firmly on the shoulders of kicker Jeff Reed. He missed a long field goal early in the game that hit the upright, but later attempted one that wasn't even close. For a guy who complained all offseason about his contract and who, as a franchise player is being paid very well, he needs get his act together. 0-3 between 40-49 yards is not going to get it done anywhere. I don't think it is a far-fetched idea to take these two weeks and bring in a kicker to compete for Reed's job.
I'm not sure what was going on this past Sunday against Baltimore with Dick LeBeau's play-calling. There was very little in terms of blitzing, with the Steelers only rushing four for the majority of the game. Those four were unable to get much pressure on Joe Flacco and he picked them apart.
The Steelers' cornerbacks and some of the linebackers (James Farrior) are just not good enough to run with receivers all game. So whatever the thinking was this past week, LeBeau needs to go back, forget about whatever he had been thinking, and dial it back up.
Priority one is obviously to get Roethlisberger into game shape. Beyond that there are not that many things that need work. Issac Redman needs to get more involved in the offense, and the Mewelde Moore days need to come to an end. Moore has four rushes for five yards, and five receptions for seven yards. Probably enough said on that topic.
With Roethlisberger's return, teams are not going to be able to park eight men in the box and force the Steelers to beat them with the passing game. That should open the running game back up and lead to a balanced offense.
On a final note, there has to be some attention paid to the mental mistakes. On both sides of the ball, there are way too many offsides/encroachment calls. One offsides by Flozell Adams per game is a given, but he seems to have infected the entire team.
None of the things in this article require moving the earth, and should all be achievable during a two-week period. The Steelers have to be excited about a 3-1 start to the season and very positive about their chances the rest of the way.
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