[Mr. Madden paints a somewhat gloomier picture than Mr. Kovacevic did in his column a couple of days ago. - jtf]
By Mark Madden
August 22, 2013
Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Ryan Clark (25), cornerback Ike Taylor (24), and linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) combine to tackle Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan (15) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
So far, so bad. The Steelers look a right mess.
The offensive line is viewed as a potential strength. But it was spotty in Monday’s preseason game at Washington, allowing four sacks and committing four first-half penalties. Rookie back Le’Veon Bell got hurt -- again -- but the run-blocking was good enough to make Jonathan Dwyer look decent, no small feat. Well, except for that fumble.
But how much does run-blocking mean in today’s vertical NFL? The Steelers’ quarterbacks were running for their lives.
Washington nose tackle Barry Cofield embarrassed Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. Ran past him so quick, Pouncey is lucky he wasn’t hospitalized with windburn. Isn’t Pouncey supposed to be the line’s anchor? He couldn’t free Aaron Hernandez, but he let Cofield run amok.
It’s tough to be optimistic about the Steelers. They scored 13 points in each of their first two preseason games. If they do that in the regular season, they start 0-2.
Tomorrow night's home exhibition vs. Kansas City looms large. The Steelers badly need to generate something positive. Preseason means little, or so the cliche dictates. But will the Steelers be a train wreck in August, then world-beaters in September? Not likely.
The Steelers’ biggest hope is their rookies.
Not Bell. Not right now. Ironic, because Bell had the most hype. Knee, ankle, foot: It’s always something with Bell. The second-round pick is reportedly out 6-8 weeks.
But the top pick, linebacker Jarvis Jones, forced a fumble vs. Washington. Receiver Markus Wheaton had three catches. Safety Shamarko Thomas forced a fumble and made six tackles. Thomas hit hard.
Jason Worilds has proven he can’t do it. Play Jones instead.
The Steelers have to do receiver by committee anyway. Wheaton should get ample opportunity.
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are aging and creaky. Give Thomas 40 percent of the snaps. With Polamalu and Clark, less might be more.
The Steelers don’t like to feature rookies. They have to “earn” it.
But desperate times -- for example, 8-8 last year and two horrific exhibition performances so far this year -- call for desperate measures. Logical measures. Jones, Wheaton and Thomas seem to be “earning” it, anyway.
Dispense with tradition and do whatever’s necessary to improve. This is Worilds’ fourth season with the Steelers. He’s had his shot.
Featuring their rookies would help. It probably wouldn’t be enough.
The early-season absence of tight end Heath Miller is nuclear. Miller has always been the Steelers' great equalizer offensively. Miller makes up for receiving deficiencies. For blocking deficiencies. The Steelers have nobody of quality to replace Miller. The standard isn't the standard. The next man up stinks.
There already seems to be a deep rot about the Steelers, a rot that reeks of bad coaching, mismanagement and arrogance. The franchise’s biggest problem has always been when it doesn’t realize there’s a problem. Reputation earns the Steelers respect, but reputation doesn’t score points.
It would be interesting to shoot Todd Haley up with truth serum, then give the Steelers’ offensive coordinator a lie-detector test.
When Haley was at Arizona, he had Kurt Warner. He filled the air with footballs. When Haley was at Kansas City, he had Jamaal Charles. He slugged it out on the ground. Haley has always played to his strengths. Always fully utilized his most talented assets.
Why won’t Haley do that with the Steelers? Why won’t he maximize Ben Roethlisberger? Why is Haley eschewing his long-time philosophy? Who is pulling Haley’s strings? Is it team president Art Rooney II?
There isn’t any trusting the Steelers’ decision-making process.
The Steelers think they’re following their own old-school model, but they couldn’t possibly be further removed. The Steelers used to be about plain speaking, not empty platitudes. The Steelers used to be about integrity. Now they’re populated by punks, just like every other NFL team. The Steelers haven’t been able to avoid those changes.
But, ironically, the Steelers won’t change the one thing that needs altered: Their prehistoric football philosophy, especially on offense.
The mediocrity of the AFC North may spare them major embarrassment.
But that’s not the way to bet.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)