Considering that the Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-3 it is hard to push the panic button just yet, but over the last month there have been a number of disturbing signs that this season may not end as well as it should.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Having dropped their last two out of three it is worth looking at some of the issues that everyone on Art Rooney Drive should have in mind this week before the Oakland Raiders come to town.
At the half way point last season the Steelers were sitting pretty at 6-2 (sound familiar) and looking to be all of a defending Super Bowl Champion. Then the wheels came off of the cart and they dropped five straight essentially ending any chance they had of making the playoffs.
At 6-5 and with their lives on the line they hosted a 3-8 Oakland Raiders team—and then promptly went out and laid a total egg losing 27-24. The defense showed its porous tendencies and made Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski look like the second coming of Joe Montana.
Guess what? The Raiders are a lot better this year.
Don't fool yourself about last night's 26 points, not that twenty something points are anything to write home about. Twenty three of those came in garbage time at the end of the game and the Steelers were blown out by New England.
For readers of the Steelers section on Bleacher Report the general consensus on the play calling of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians should come as no surprise. It stinks.
Here are the highlights—too conservative, runs the same plays consecutively, zero red zone productivity, too many bubble screens and passing into the flats, doesn't seem to know what a slant patterns is...
Get the picture?
He should have been out on the street last year, and he has to go.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau seems to have been abducted by aliens. In the last five weeks, the zone blitz scheme that has been so effective for the Steelers over a decade has been replaced by a playing not to lose philosophy that continually drops seven and eight defenders into coverage in passing situations.
Pittsburgh is near the bottom of the league allowing 252.2 passing yards per game, and they are getting shreded on a regular basis. This is not to impeach LeBeau ala Arians, but this is not working and it needs to change.
Not much that can be done about this one. Both the offensive and defensive lines have been decimated by the injury bug this season.
On defense both Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have been sidelined and their replacements (Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason) aren't even close in terms of performance. You can't put this totally on their shoulders considering that they are getting little to no help with LeBeau's current play calling, but at times they totally vanish from a game.
The offensive line is even worse. Both offensive tackles (Max Starks and Willie Colon) are done for the season, Chris Kemoeatu was out last night, and everyone else is banged up. In relief of Starks it became obvious that Jonathan Scott can't play. Time to give Tony Hillis a shot at left tackle considering he can't be any worse than Scott.
Mr. Gay deserves some special attention and therefore gets his own slide. Two years ago he struggled in his role as the fifth defensive back. Last season he struggled when needed to play cornerback.
This year he is just play awful. He is not even asked to cover fast receivers. Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals he got toasted as Terrell Owens cruised by him straight up the middle of the field for a touchdown late in the game.
Last night he got abused by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for three touchdowns. Yes you read that correctly, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
It should have never gotten to this point and settled in training camp, but at this point it is time to move Crezdon Butler or Keenan Lewis up the depth chart into the nickel position. I don't even care which one it is, like Hillis for Scott on the offensive line, it can't get any worse.
There is an upside here as well, because Butler and Lewis aren't getting any better on the bench and if it turns out they are both draft busts, and I think they are, cornerback moves to number one on the list for the 2011 NFL Draft.
What do you think would have happend back in the days of Jack Lambert or Greg Lloyd if Tom Brady had done that little touchdown taunt/dance towards the end of the game. All this year's edition of the Steelers could manage was a weak late hit for a penalty. Awesome.
Remember the days when teams were terrified to play Pittsburgh on national television at night? It wasn't that long ago.
Yes they are playing great run defense, but they have been pushed around the past few weeks. The Patriots out hit the Steelers on Sunday Night Football.
I think that it is one of two things—the ridiculous NFL crackdown on tackling, or the passive defensive scheme, but the Steelers are not playing with the level of intensity that we are used to seeing.
I don't think that it is time to enter the launch codes yet, and this was intended as a word of warning. Other than the injuries, these are all things that can be fixed, and fixed quickly. All of this is squarely on Mike Tomlin's shoulders to avoid a collapse similar to last year.
The Steelers have a pretty friendly schedule for the remainder of the season which is good news. Let's hope that some of the needed adjustments get made this week and we start getting back to seeing Steeler football.