Pittsburgh Steelers need to play to strengths, take more risks

Sep 8, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) reacts after after looking for a pass interference call against the Tennessee Titans during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Tennessee Titans won 16-9. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It kind of seems surreal, doesn’t it? It is football season – Steelers football season – yet a lot of Pittsburgh fans are still watching the boys of summer.

The Pirates are in the home stretch of the 2013 season, a winning year already secured and now making a final push towards a division title. With each win, the Buccos push their magic number closer to zero and with St. Louis still within easy reach, it should be an exciting finish.

Another amazing feat is that it appears the Pirates could end up having a better winning percentage than the Steelers, not something Black and Gold fans are used to. With each NFL season opening, there is always hope the Steelers could reach the playoffs, catch lightning and maybe win the Super Bowl, much like they did a few years ago.

This season, most “experts” picked the Steelers to finish no better than second in the AFC North, while many had them third. I’m not sure we could argue either case right now after only one week; however, one of the major sticking points for the Steelers is they must remain healthy all season to compete.

After just one regular-season game, the Steelers lost their starting center Markice Pouncey, starting inside linebacker Larry Foote and third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling. We also learned that rookie rusher Le’Veon Bell might miss the first month of the season instead of possibly being ready for Monday night in Cincinnati. Not a very good way to start the season.

General manager Kevin Colbert did make a couple of, hopefully, nice moves in bringing in veteran center Fernando Velasco and signing Jonathan Dwyer back to the team. Velasco has starting experience and it allows Kelvin Beachum to remain as a backup, while Dwyer obviously knows the team and system.

Sep 8, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks on in the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of talk about the Steelers not being very happy with offensive Todd Haley and his demand to run the ball instead of passing it, which seems like they are trying to stay away from a team strength. Coach Mike Tomlin said in his weekly report the team was one or two “explosive” plays away from winning the game.

However, it’s difficult to have one or two of those types of plays when that’s all that was called the entire game. The success rate of high-risk, high-reward type plays is very low, so the fewer of them a team tries, the higher the failure rate goes up.

There is no easy fix for the Steelers. They will have to come together, create an identity and play to the strengths of the team, instead of being hell-bent on being a team they might not be. If the Steelers are a passing team, then pass the ball as much as possible and it will help open up some of the running game. If the Steelers find they can run the ball at some point, then run it down the opponents’ throat and use the pass to compliment the rush or take some deep shots here or there.

I would think the Steelers’ biggest need is to actually create some turnovers. All the fans saw how the they can end up with a less-than-stellar record despite having the top-rated defense in the league. It is the turnover battle which is the real key to winning close games.

The Steelers lost 16-9 against the Titans and had zero turnovers in the game. The Titans had one and that led to a touchdown with a short field to work with, so I hope you can understand how important it is for this defense to become opportunistic, as opposed to trying to not allow themselves to get beat deep or over the middle.

In other words, this is a very safe playing defense who is talented enough to make a lot of stops, but they aren’t taking chances to make a big difference. This is another example of the high-risk, high-reward mentality the offense should take. Unless the coaches are happy with having one of the best statistical defenses in the league, it means nothing if they can’t help the offense by giving them shorter yardage to go to try and score.

On the flip side, the offense needs to step it up quite a bit and get into a rhythm if they hope to find that identity and start to score on a more consistent basis. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long and very frustrating season for Steelers fans.

If you are a Pittsburgh sports fan, at least you still have the Pirates to hope for and the Penguins begin play soon as well.  Why can’t we have 1 year when all 3 teams are relevant to the big picture of their specific sport? We ARE the City of Champions, right?

Topics: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers, Todd Haley

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  • Michael Farraj

    Good article. I am afraid though that we have some cheerleader type fans though that will take offense in criticizing Todd Haley’s play calls by instead believing the company line of failure of players to execute. Something has to change in the play calls on offense or else Mike Tomlin is ultimately responsible for what is put out on the field.

    • Eric Scot

      Absolutely agree. It is up to Mike Tomlin to dictate the type of play-calling and plays to strengths that Todd Haley game plans for. However, Haley is also a guy who has come in as the “guy” that isn’t Bruce Arians. Arians and Ben’s relationship was troublesome for the head coach and front office because they were able to dictate the game plan. Haley will definitely be on the hot seat before Tomlin, however, if the Steelers were to play real bad, fire Haley and next season be ineffective again. Don’t be shocked if we are again seeking a new head coach for the 2015 season.