Monday, September 17, 2012

Too Soon To Question Steelers Identity

"I don't understand the rush to define, or box in by definition, a Steelers offense that's in the embryonic stages. I like the fundamentals." - Jim Wexell (@jimwexell on Twitter).

We at If It Ain't Steel were discussing this topic, amongst others, Monday morning as we reflected on the NFL football weekend. Excited about the Steelers win, yet keeping it in perspective, debating the age-old 'did this one lose the game or did that one win it' angle when talking about the Ravens vs. Eagles games, etc...

Regarding the Steelers we simply called the game a win without attempting to define them any further than that...yet. 

Consider the offensive line and running backs briefly. While the offensive line played fairly well, they were still better in pass blocking than in run blocking - only two true sacks were given up. 

The running backs, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, looked good in spurts, especially on the more than 10-minute drive that was the icing on the Renegade cake. 

They're hardly going to be ground and pound offense, though. There are 14 players who have more yards rushing yards than the Steelers do as a team.

In fact, through the first two games, the Steelers offense looks a lot like last year's: a shaky offensive line and pedestrian run game (Is that an oxymoron?). 

The main bright spots yet again are Ben and the receiving corps. With due respect to safety Ryan Clark getting the Steelers Digest Player of the Week nod, Ben Roethlisberger was best on the field Sunday after redeeming himself from last week.

The first two games from last year to this year are even similar: after a disappointing loss to a team that seemingly had more riding on the game, the Ravens still smarting from the previous season's third playoff loss to the Steelers and Peyton Manning wanting to prove he was still Peyton Manning, they go out and pummel their next opponent (24-0 and 27-10).

Even the yardage given up by the defense is nearly identical - the defense has surrendered all of 4 yards more this season through two games. 

On the subject of the defense, they had a good performance, yes, but Mark Sanchez is no Peyton Manning and the receivers dropped at least five passes.'s Marc, aka @SteelDad on Twitter, aka Daddio, tweeted regarding the Steelers defense: "[Florida] Gators using zone blitz effectively. I remember when the Steelers did that."

Four sacks in two games adds weight to his sentiment. 

That said, the defense did allow just 10 pass completions from Sanchez. As was written about last week, they were much better at the yards they allowed after the catch. I don't have exact numbers, but I know just from watching that the defense allowed fewer than 50 YAC, with 14 of those yards coming on the pass from Sanchez to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley on the New York Jets first offensive possession.

All told, the defense allowed just 3.4 yards per catch and only, when you take away the lone Wildcat play of the game, 3.09 yards per rush. They also limited the Jets to two explosive/splash plays. 

They were greatly helped, though, by the fact that the Steelers had the ball except for all but 2:43 of fourth quarter. The catalyst of that disparity was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Big Ben was 24-31 for 275 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was superb all game. The previous week he was neck-and-neck with Manning, until the very end, as he continually converted on third down. 

This week was even better. 

Per the Steelers official website, Big Ben's passer rating was above 125 for the 19th time in his career, It was 125.1 on Sunday. 

Big Ben looks very comfortable distributing the ball all over the place, especially on third downs, hitting 10 different receivers vs. the Jets.

As was mentioned earlier, Big Ben has been money on third downs through two games as he converted 11-of-14 against the Broncos and was 8-of-10 including a touchdown against the Jets.

With Hines Ward now sitting in the NBC Sunday Night Football booth waiting for the opportunity to blindside Mike Florio (hey, I can dream), the Steelers underrated tight end Heath Miller has been the Steelers third down target of many of those, mainly in the red zone, so far this season. 

In a previous If It Ain't Steel article, it was predicted that this would be the case, pointing out that Heath had seen few such opportunities under former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and that Todd Haley would emphasize the tight end. 

Case in point, Heath already has as many touchdowns as he had all last season: two. 

Teams will eventually key in on this which will open the door for the four wide receivers to get more touches on third downs, red zone and otherwise. 

Though I'm certainly not now about to advocate throwing it all over the field on every down, Todd Haley still needs to recognize that the offense goes through Big Ben. Instituting the offense and running the ball more is fine. At times, though, Ben just needs to be Ben. Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review agrees. -

Big Ben is seeing field very well and his remaining upright will only benefit the team when they'll need him the most come playoff time. It doesn't mean, though, that you don't keep working on the run game. It will get better, especially once Rashard Mendenhall returns. 

The running game isn't currently very good, no, but it was effective late in the game Sunday, proving that you must stick with it. It keeps the defense honest and disallows them from simply pinning their ears back and zoning in on the quarterback. 

When the Steelers absolutely had to pass at the end of the Broncos game, that's exactly what their defense did, because they knew the Steelers absolutely had to pass. Remember the results?

We mustn't assume, either, that the defense is a No. 1 ranked unit just by stepping on the field. They'll go through growing pains too. Fortunately, they will get two starters and a third key backup, out with injuries for Sunday's game, in James Harrison (knee), Troy Polamalu (calf) and Stevenson Sylvester (knee) back after the bye week. The return of these players will only bolster the defense.

So, let's hold off on trying to label the team yet or trying to define what they'll be. Because the only thing we know for a certainty at this point is that Big Ben Roethlisberger wears the number that we're all striving for when it's all said and done...and there's a lot of improvement needed before then.