Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) is looked at by trainers after being injured in the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
It’s only preseason and the 0-3 record means about as much as a 3-0 record would mean at this time but there are certainly some glaring issues the Steelers need to resolve before kickoff on September 8. Some of their issues are out of their control, such as injuries; but others like offensive play and mental mistakes are correctable.
It seems that over the last few years injuries have plagued the Steelers during the season. Whether it is a product of age, poor conditioning or just bad luck, the injury bug crept up and bit the team right when they could afford it least. This season it’s hit early, hopefully that won’t be followed by often.
The team has seen rookie running back LeVeon Bell go down with a foot sprain.The timetable for his return is not set but fortunately his injury is not as severe as originally thought. Bell was a standout in camp and was likely to be named starter when the season opened but that plan could be in jeopardy for the time being if he is unable to finish the pre-season. Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling have seen injuries prevent them from playing in the pre-season games so far as well, leaving the running back position thin.
Heath Miller’s timetable for a return from last year’s injury is not set but don’t expect him before mid-season at best. His replacement, Matt Spaeth, who returned to the team via free agency, is out 8 to 10 weeks with a foot injury of his own. Plaxico Burress tore his rotator cuff and his career may be over.
Injuries happen every year but this team seems to have been hit hard very early.They’ll need to find a way to overcome them, quickly.
Injuries may also be contributing to the inability to move the ball offensively. Don’t worry about Big Ben, he’ll be more than ready when the regular season starts but if this offensive line doesn’t shape up, he’ll be joining his teammates on the injury list, which will effectively end any chance the Steelers have. Many of these linemen are entering years 3 or 4 in the NFL and it’s time to put up or shut up. The o linemen still seem confused, slow and unable to protect Ben when there’s any kind of a pass rush.
The receivers, while talented, seem to lack a true number one guy. Mike Wallace had some very well documented issues last season but he was the team’s best receiver and they lack that threat with this current group. Antonio Brown is great, but is he a true number one receiver; no, he’s not.
Without a guy like Wallace on the other side, it’s much easier for defenses to shut Brown down and limit him to 4 or 5 balls a game. Brown is the hardest worker on the team and will do what he can but it’s going to be tough for this team to replace Wallace’s presence. Add in the fact they don’t have a tight end to throw to and the passing attack will be limited.
To add to the offensive woes, the mental mistakes must stop. It was an issue last season and it’s proving to be again this year. The holding penalties are killer, the missed blocks, the incorrect routes, the blown coverages; these are all mental errors that must be rectified.
The good news is this, its pre-season, it’s the time of year to mess up and work out your issues.The offensive issues and the mental mistakes are fixable; it takes practice, repetition and time. The injuries will heal but could linger into the season. If the next man up philosophy fails this year as it has in years past, the team’s issue will only be magnified and last year’s 8-8 will look glorious compared to what this year’s record will turn out to be.
That all said, better early than late, better now than then and better fix soon or suffer the consequences later.