Monday, September 24, 2012

Good News and Bad News: Steelers at Raiders

Not a lot of good news, particularly after an ugly, frustrating loss like this one, but let's get the good news out of the way first:
  1. Ben Roethlisberger played a fantastic game, only getting sacked once in 50 dropbacks, not throwing an interception, averaging 7.8 yards per attempt, throwing four touchdown passes, and going 8-for-14 on third down.  I know the Raiders were thin in the secondary -- safety Michael Huff played the entire game at cornerback -- but this was still a very impressive effort by Roethlisberger, especially considering that the running game was non-existent.
  2. I like the fact that they got Mike Wallace and Heath Miller prominently involved in the passing game.
Bad News:
  1. The pass rush didn't generate nearly enough pressure and hasn't all season.  The only time they get sacks or generate pressure is either when LaMarr Woodley makes an exceptional individual effort or they rush six or more guys.  They don't have the talent in the secondary to cover receivers for more than three seconds.  Most teams don't.  I'd like to say this issue will be fixed when/if James Harrison comes back, but I don't think it will.  I know that Harrison -- or even Jason Worilds -- would be a big upgrade in terms of pass rush ability, but I don't know that upgrading one spot is going to be the silver bullet that fixes everything.
  2. They went to prevent defense mode far too early, which is one reason they blew two ten point fourth quarter leads.
  3. Rashard Mendenhall can't come back soon enough.  I think it's smart that the Steelers have been trying not to rush him back, but I also think they can't wait any longer.  Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch aren't bad players, they're just not as explosive as Mendenhall.  They don't have the speed to get to the edge, so defenses can focus on clogging up the middle and waiting for Redman and Dwyer and Batch to run into them.  Since defenses don't need to worry about protecting the edge, it makes it easier for them to defend the run.  When it becomes easier to defend the run, they have to worry about it less and can focus on defending the pass.  All of this means that it's going to get harder and harder for Roethlisberger to keep having the season he's having.
  4. Special teams hasn't been very special thus far this season and yesterday was another example.  Shaun Suisham had two line drive kickoffs that didn't make it to the end zone and Oakland returned both of them for a total of 87 yards.  Antonio Brown had a punt return for a touchdown called back. At that point in the game, it would have made the score 21-7 if it counted and would have probably sent the Raiders into a tailspin.  Instead, Dwyer fumbles, Oakland scores, and it's suddenly a ball game again.
  5. Technically, they've "forced" two turnovers thus far this season, but they haven't actually forced any turnovers.  One turnover was the result of a muffed punt in the Jets game and the other was an interception by Ryan Clark that occurred after Denarius Moore slipped and fell down.  They've only committed three turnovers, which is good, but the defense isn't good enough -- or young enough -- to face drive after drive and not be expected to buckle.
There were a number of things that went wrong yesterday, but the biggest cause for concern is the fact that Oakland is hardly an offensive powerhouse and they scored 34 points and what was supposed to be a solid defense.  The Raiders scored 14 points against the Chargers in Week 1 and only 13 against the Dolphins in Week 2.  The Steelers have already allowed two opponents to score 30 or more points against them and we're only in Week 3.  They allowed 30 points in a game once in 2010 and once in 2011.

Their issues on defense go beyond just the pass rush, but getting guys healthy and finding ways to get more pressure on the quarterback is the best "quick fix" option that they have.  Hopefully Harrison, Mendenhall, and Polamalu will return after the bye and things will get closer to normal. 

But, I have a feeling that there really is no quick fix and that we could be in for a long season.  This isn't based just off the loss to the Raiders or the loss to the Broncos, even though both of those sucked.  It's based off the fact that they've been underwhelming thus far this season and I think things will get worse before they get better.

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