By Jeremy Hritz
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Atlanta Falcons were 0-4 this preseason. Currently, they are 1-4 in regular season play and in a horrific predicament similar to the one the Steelers have found themselves in. And with Julio Jones out for the year in addition to a poor offensive line, relief does not appear to be anywhere in sight.
Coming into the season, the Falcons were perceived to be a team that could contend for a Super Bowl, considering that they played for the AFC Championship in 2012 and that they added bruiser Steven Jackson at running back. However, those expectations have yet to be met, and it doesn’t appear that they will any time soon.
This past Monday Night, the Falcons fell to the Steelers next opponent, the New York Jets, led by rookie Geno Smith who has been more erratic than sharp this season. Heading into the game, logic would seem to say that a veteran quarterback like Matt Ryan and his talented group of pass catchers should have been able to defeat the Jets in the Georgia Dome.
And this weekend, when the Steelers travel to the Meadowlands with many similarities to the Falcons team that lost a heartbreaker just a few days ago, logic would seem to suggest the same. With a franchise, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback at the helm, and a group of talented receivers, there is no reason to believe that the Steelers won’t win this game, right?
The Steelers have been their own worst enemy this year, killing themselves with multiple turnovers and missed tackles, and as Dave Bryan pointed out earlier this week in a post about ten plays that could have altered the course of the season thus far had the luck simply gone the Steelers way, the team could be boasting a 3-1 record instead of a pitiful 0-4. But is the bad luck the result of below-the-line play from a bad team, and are the Steelers simply that, point blank?
One thing is for certain, if the Steelers drop to 0-5, sure they aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but it will be safe to assume that the 2013 season is a wash, and the only true purpose in the remaining eleven games will be developing the young talent to determine whether or not they have a future in the Steelers organization.
The coaching staff and the players continue to say that the poor performances are the result of bad execution and that the mistakes that have occurred are easily correctable, especially on the offensive line. However, when no improvement follows those types of statements, such assertions begin to lose credibility. It’s time for the Steelers to put together a mistake-free game and to make big plays to earn their first win of the season.
Doing so will not be an easy task.
The Jets are playing with momentum and will return home to what should be a raucous crowd following their big win on Monday Night. Couple that with the second-ranked defense in the NFL that can harass the passer, and the task becomes even more challenging. If the Steelers play the brand of football that they put on display in the first four games, there is no question who will win.
What to Expect
The Steelers have not shown that they can play clean football, nor that they can make the big plays when they need to do so. What they have shown consistently, dating back to the preseason, is an inability to protect Ben Roethlisberger, to generate pressure, and to produce turnovers, and there isn’t much reason to believe that this will change. The variable that has the greatest chance to get this team back on its feet is Le’Veon Bell. Bell played well in his first game, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t be more comfortable in his second contest. By bringing an effective running game to the Steelers offense, Bell can help change the complexion of the unit to one that is more balanced and able to establish a rhythm. His performance tomorrow against the Jets will be one of the primary indicators as to whether or not the Steelers get the win.
Keep Your Eye On
The left tackle position. Will it be Kelvin Beachum or Levi Brown? Whoever lines up on the left side, better protection is needed for Roethlisberger. There isn’t much to support that either will be much of an upgrade over Mike Adams, but at this point, the Steelers are desperate to try something different. Will the performance improve, or will it be more of the same? Against a sack happy Jets team, whoever plays left tackle has to be ready to go.
Like the Steelers, I am 0-4 in my game predictions this season, and while there isn’t much to feel optimistic about, I do believe that the Steelers have enough to win against the Jets. I don’t believe the come-up of Bell can be overstated, and he has the look of being an outstanding back with enormous potential. In his second game, he will be even better and will help the Steelers control the time of possession battle. While not super confident in this selection, I like the Steelers slightly better than the Jets this Sunday.
Steelers Nation deserves to remember what it feels like to win.
Steelers 30, Jets 19