Pittsburgh Steelers: Are Opponents Exposing Cracks In Their Foundation?

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent INovember 17, 2010

Bengals QB Jon Kitna , Dec 30, 2001
Bengals QB Jon Kitna , Dec 30, 2001Mark Lyons/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 31, 2001

“The Steelers started strong but collapsed midway through the third quarter as the Bengals' front seven dominated the line of scrimmage and pressured Kordell Stewart into throwing four interceptions. With Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue on the sideline, the offense was limited on its options, mainly on third down. Plaxico Burress continues to impress but disappeared along with the rest of offense in second half.

“The previously inconsistent Bengals put things together in the final 2 quarters, wore down the Steelers and posted the big upset. The seemingly inept QB Jon Kitna look like a pro - 411 passing yards.Cornerbacks Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott were simply abused by the Bengals' receiving corps.

Defense shaky starts; week in and week out, the kicking game has continually broken down: missed extra point by Kris Brown finally came back to haunt the Steelers."

Note: After that loss to the Bengals in 2001, the Steelers lost the first two games of the 2002 season to the Patriots and the Raiders, who exposed that same Steeler secondary.


November 14, 2010

The Steelers failed at red-zone opportunities, even though Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The offense got behind early, and therefore pretty much abandoned the run, with Rashard Mendenhall rushing seven times for 43 yards in the first half, finishing the day with 50 yards on 11 carries.

Receivers Mike Wallace and Antwaan Randle El took turns dropping passes in the end zone on back-to-back plays, forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal in the second quarter. No pass protection by the offensive line.

A defensive line without Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel failed to show up. The linebackers didn't register a sack for the first time this season and rarely hurried Brady. With LB James Harrison hurting, Brady played very comfortably in the pocket with no pressure on the opening drive.

In fact, the Patriots did not have a third-down conversion in the opening drive of the first and third quarter.

The Patriots defeated the Steelers 39-26

And how about this: The defensive backs could not stop Brady, who was 15-of-17 for 161 yards with two touchdowns on the first three scoring drives with some no-name receivers, including rookie tight end form Pittsburgh Rob Gronkowski, who caught three touchdown passes.

Safety Troy Polamalu has a strained Achilles and has not been the same throughout most of the season. He stated in a interview that his role as the disruptor has changed and now belongs to LB Lawrence Timmons. So technically, Polamalu is a regular safety position, now.

And finally, K Jeff Reed, after missing another field goal from 26 yards (his fifth miss at Heinz Field this season), was released and replaced by former Redskin kicker Shaun Suisham.

Notice any similarities? Call me a high-schooler if you wish, but there are some definite cracks in the Steeler foundation, and other teams are capitalizing on them.

Offensively, the Steelers offense is bad in the red zone, averaging 36 percent and 43 percent in goal-to-go situations since Roethlisberger has been back. And just as expected, his return became the demise of the running game.

The Steelers played against a team who was twenty-something last week against the run. The Steelers ran the ball 15 times (excluding Roethlisberger’s one yard run) for 64 measly yards while Roethlisberger completed 30 of 49 passes for 349 and three touchdowns.

Brady completed 30 of 43 attempts for 350 yards and three touchdowns, along with running one in, while the Patriots rushed 24 times for 104 yards.

First, look at how efficient Brady was with that 350 yards passing—three passing touchdowns and one on the ground. He averaged one touchdown every 87.5 yards, was 60 percent in the red zone and 100 percent goal-to-go with no sacks and no interceptions.

Roethlisberger, on the other hand, averaged one touchdown every 116 yards, threw one interception and was sacked five times. Against the Patriots, the Steelers finished 40 percent in the red zone and 50 percent goal-to-go.

It doesn’t get any better with the defense, which was the reason for my reminder in the beginning of this article. Kitna exposed the weakness in the Steeler secondary back in 2001, and a rookie, Colt McCoy, in his first NFL game, did the same in 2010.

Teams know they can’t run on the Steelers and they don’t fear being one-dimensional because the Steelers aren’t pressuring the quarterback and the secondary is weak.

Now the Steelers must prepare for a grudge-match against a team who was one of the worst teams in the league in 2009. The 3-8 Oakland Raiders defeated the 6-5 Steelers 27-24 on December 6 .

The Raiders, commandeered by a Pittsburgh native, quarterback Bruce Gradkowki, rallied the troops in the fourth quarter, putting up 21 points against the Steeler defense.

The Steelers will face the now 5-4 Oakland Raiders in a must-win game.   

We can count our blessings, Steeler fans, that Oakland QB Jason Campbell is not from Pittsburgh, and although Gradkowski was cleared to practice from an injury, he is No. 2 to Campbell, who has been hot these last three weeks.

The Raiders are on a roll, winning the last three games against Denver, Seattle and Kansas City (in overtime), but they are 1-4 on the road.  Lately, the offense has averaged 47 percent in the red zone and 61 percent goal-to-go.

The Raiders' leading rusher is RB Darren McFadden, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He is complimented by RB Michael Bush at 3.8 yards per carry.

QB Campbell has a dependable receiving corps. Leading the pack is TE Zack Miller, then receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford, who is also their kick returner averaging 24.3 yards per carry with one touchdown.

Oakland’s defense ranks ninth overall, 24th against the run and second against the pass. Do you think Bruce Arians will call more pass plays, or does anyone want to take bets that Roethlisberger will audible for the pass versus the run?

The Steelers are caught with their tails between their legs this time. As injuries continue to mount, it puts more stress on an already stretched team.

With Hines Ward possibly out with a concussion and an already thin offensive line (without Colon, Starks and Kemoeatu), TE Heath Miller has had more blocking assignments. This takes away Roethlisberger’s favorite targets up the middle.

Rookie WR Emmanuel Sanders, although he has been impressive on special teams, has been lackluster on the receiving corps. He and Randle El have not been the diversion needed to allow WR Mike Wallace to go deep and get open.

Rookie WR Antonio Brown, another impressive return guy on special teams, did create some matchup problems in the passing game, but his route-running has only been fair.

The offensive line cannot pass protect nor have they been successful in supporting the running game.

However, with all the negatives, this is a game the Steelers are expected to win. It is pivotal—a must-win. The Steelers cannot afford to lose to another conference team.