What We've Learned About Pittsburgh Steelers Through Three Games
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 season with some questions, no doubt.
But who knew that they would start the season 0-3?
The Steelers are 0-3 for the first time since 2000 and the fourth time since 1970.
The Steelers have a lot of problems to fix before they even begin dreaming about the playoffs. We've learned a lot about Pittsburgh through the first three games of the 2013 season, and most of it isn't good.
The Steelers Are Not a Good Football Team
This is something we suspected before the season began, but now it's been proven.
The Steelers have held a lead for a total of 38 minutes and 53 seconds this season. They've never led by more than three points. They've never led in the second half.
It's not like the Steelers are blowing leads. They're not good enough to take command of a game and have been playing from behind most of the time.
There are several reasons for that.
The Defense Isn't Good Enough
The Steelers defense has failed to force a turnover in the first three games of the season for the first time in franchise history, according to Pro Football Reference. The last team without a takeaway in the first three games of the season was the 2005 Houston Texans. They finished 2-14.
That's an ominous sign for the 2013 Steelers.
The Steelers have allowed 318 yards per game, 10th in the NFL. They yielded just 159 passing yards to Jay Cutler Sunday night and 3.8 yards per rush. The unit has shown an ability to stop teams, but snatching the ball from the other team's offense every now and then is also part of the job.
The Steelers defense is behaving like a security guard when it needs to use the force of a police officer.
The D has also been vulnerable to big plays.
A 55-yard run by Matt Forte Sunday set up Michael Bush's 1-yard touchdown run to increase the Bears lead to 17-0 in the first quarter.
The Steelers trailed by as many as 21 points, but pulled to within 27-23 in the fourth quarter. Then the defense let the Bears off the hook by failing to force punts on two 3rd-and-longs. Cutler ran for 13 yards on a 3rd-and-10 and three plays later threw a 41-yard pass to Brandon Marshall, moving the ball to the Steelers 22, which set up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett.
That gave Chicago a two-possession lead with less than six minutes left.
In their Week 2 matchup against Pittsbugh, the Cincinnati Bengals gouged the Steelers defense with a 61-yard pass to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert that set up a touchdown. Then there was the 27-yard touchdown pass to first-year back Giovani Bernard that gave Cincinnati the lead for good.
Those plays wouldn't be so costly if the Steelers defense was causing fumbles and interceptions.
Ike Taylor Looks Past His Prime
The 33-year-old Ike Taylor was beaten on the Bears' most damaging pass play of Pittsburgh's loss to Chicago.
The Steelers had narrowed a 17-point deficit to 27-23 in the fourth quarter. The Bears faced 3rd-and-12 from their own 37-yard line, when QB Jay Cutler uncorked a 41-yard pass to Brandon Marshall, putting the ball on the Steelers 22.
Three plays later, Cutler threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett to stretch the Bears lead to 34-23 with less than six minutes left.
Cutler went after Taylor from the start, nickel-and-diming the veteran corner on the game's opening drive. Taylor yielded a nine-yard reception to Marshall and eight- and seven-yard receptions to Alshon Jeffrey. The drive ended with a field goal and a 3-0 Chicago lead.
If Taylor's decline continues, the Steelers are in for a long season.
The Offensive Line Isn't Getting Any Better
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three more times Sunday night. That's 10 sacks on the season, which means he's on pace to be sacked more than 50 times.
The most the 31-year-old Roethlisberger has been sacked in a season is 50, which occurred in 2009. He was 27 then. His body won't be able to take that much punishment now.
Even when Roethlisberger wasn't getting sacked, he was pressured and hit.
Steelers left tackle Mike Adams was abused by Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was replaced at times by Kelvin Beachum. Maurkice Pouncey's injury four minutes into the season opener hasn't helped, but this line has had more than enough time to jell.
Pouncey, Gilbert, Adams and right guard David DeCastro all were first- or second-round draft picks between 2010 and 2012. The Steelers investment in so many early-round picks on the offensive line has yet to pay dividends.
Meanwhile, the Bears are 3-0, and Jay Cutler has been sacked three times with Kyle Long at right guard and Jordan Mills at right tackle. Both are rookies.
The offensive line's only saving grace Sunday night was its run-blocking. The Steelers ran for 80 yards—five more than the first two games combined—and averaged better than four yards a carry.
When it comes to protecting Roethlisberger, however, time is running out for the offensive line to prove that all those draft picks weren't wasted.
When Antonio Brown Speaks, Todd Haley Should Listen
Brown wanted the ball thrown to him more. He got his wish Sunday night and took advantage with nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Brown set career highs with 196 yards and two touchdowns and tied another with nine catches.
The fourth-year player leads Steeler wide receivers across the board this season, with 20 receptions, 324 yards, 16.2 yards per reception and two touchdowns. He'll have to keep putting up numbers like that for the Steelers to have any chance of rising from the ashes of their 0-3 start.
Markus Wheaton Is No Mike Wallace
Markus Wheaton is the first wide receiver the Steelers drafted since Mike Wallace's departure. He was taken in the third round in April.
Wallace was chosen in the third round of the 2009 draft. Both are smallish receivers with speed, though Wheaton, having run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, doesn't have quite the jets that Wallace has. With these parallels, it seemed natural that Wheaton would become the next Wallace.
So far, that hasn't materialized.
Wallace made an immediate impact as a rookie. He caught 12 passes for 147 yards in his first three games.
Wheaton has yet to catch his first NFL pass. He played just 12 snaps in his first two games, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and wasn't targeted on any passes.
Ben Roethlisberger threw one pass to Wheaton Sunday, a catchable ball that Wheaton couldn't handle. The incompletion came on a 3rd-and-9 from the Steelers' 48-yard line with two minutes left in the first half. The Steelers trailed 24-10 and missed out on a chance to draw closer before halftime.
Wheaton has plenty of time to develop, and he'll need a lot more time than Wallace needed.