After an 8-8 season in 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers have started 1-4 so far here in 2013. Their lone win coming this past Sunday at home vs. the Jets. Despite their struggles to begin this year, Pittsburgh can climb back into the AFC North conversation if they can beat the Ravens this weekend.
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1) Pittsburgh is 18th in Total Offense (7th Passing, 31st Rushing). The Steelers are 6th in Total Defense (4th against the Pass, 22nd against the Run). Pittsburgh has just 7 sacks on the year.
2) Despite their inability to run so far in ’13, they are not devoid of talent at RB. Pittsburgh used their 2nd round pick this year on Le’Veon Bell. After not playing in their first 3 games (and having Roethlisberger call him out, for not practicing enough); Bell has played the last two games. Against Minnesota and the Jets, Bell has had 16 carries in both games. While averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on this 32 attempts, Coach Tomlin had positive comments today about Bell’s play. It should also be noted that he’s had 7 receptions these last two games.
3) The Ravens were not the only AFC North team to recently trade for a LT, as Pittsburgh acquired Levi Brown from Arizona earlier this Month. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Brown was placed on IR today after tearing his triceps Sunday. That move elevates 2012 7th rounder Kelvin Beachum to LT. Beachum has already played C, RT, and TE in his career, and replaced Brown vs. the Jets. The fact that Beachum is starting at LT (and the fact that Pittsburgh had to trade for Brown to begin with) is due to the lack of development from 2012 2nd rounder Mike Adams. At LG is Ramon Foster. With 3x All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey also on IR, the starting C is Fernando Velasco. Velasco was an undrafted player who debuted for the Titans in 2009. Velasco has 23 career starts. The starting RG is 2012 1st rounder David DeCastro. DeCastro missed all of his rookie year after injuring both his right ACL and MCL. At RT is 2011 2nd rounder Marcus Gilbert. Like the Ravens, the Steelers have allowed 19 sacks this year.
4) Antonio Brown is in his 4th year in the league, and having a strong year. Through 5 games, Brown has 41 catches for 498 yards, and 2 TD’s. However, his YPC average has dropped from 16.1 in 2011 to 12.1 this year (actually up from the 11.9 average last year). Opposite of Brown is fellow 2010 draft pick Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders has 23 catches on the year, with his 60.2 yard per game average the highest of his career. After a big game (103 yards, and a score) vs. the Vikings, veteran Jerricho Cotchery was held without a catch (or even a target) vs. the Jets.
5) In 2012, TE Heath Miller had his second highest reception total (71) of his career. Some of the joy of that was probably erased when he tore his ACL and MCL in Week 16. This year, he missed the first two games. Over the last 3 games he has 15 catches (6 each of the last two weeks), and has also had over 70 yards each of the past two games.
6) The last two weeks Roethlisberger has completed over 70% of his passes. For the year his completion percentage is 65.6%. He has thrown for a score in each game. Sunday was the first game he didn’t throw an interception. Roethlisberger is 19th overall in ESPN’s QBR metric. Against the Jets, the focus of the passing attack was quick, short hits.
7) 2011 1st rounder Cameron Heyward made his first career start (at LDE) vs. the Jets. Prior to the ’11 Draft there was a lot of talk that Heyward would not be a pass rusher at the next level. That has held true, as Heyward has just 2.5 sacks in 37 career games. Heyward replaced 2009 1st rounder Ziggy Hood, who has also been an ineffective pass rusher. At NT is Steve McLendon, who has replaced Casey Hampton. The Steelers seem to be enthusiastic about McLendon’s potential. 35 year old Brett Keisel is the RDE. Keisel missed the 2nd half vs. the Jets with a rib injury.
8) With Larry Foote injured, and James Harrison in Cincinnati; the Steelers LB’s look a bit different. From left to right the starters are Woodley, Vince Williams, Timmons, and Jarvis Jones. After 4 sacks last year, Woodley already has 4 this year. Williams is a Rookie 6th rounder out of FSU. Timmons had 6 sacks and 106 tackles last year. He has yet to bring down a QB so far in ’13. There is a lot of excitement in Pittsburgh for Jones, the Rookie 1st rounder starting at ROLB. Behind Jones is 2010 2nd rounder Jason Worilds, who recorded 5 sacks last year. Another young player with promise – Sean Spence – is working his way back from injury and will practice for the first time this year tomorrow.
9) If the LB’s look a bit different the Secondary does not. The starting corners are William Gay, and Ike Taylor. Drafted in ’07, Gay has never missed a game. Taylor, now 33 years old, is under contract through next year. At Safety, Ryan Clark entered the year suggesting this could be his last season. Clark turned 34 earlier this week. Troy Polamalu was limited to just 7 games last year with a calf injury. He hasn’t produced much so far this year, but the 32 year old has played each week. 2011 4th rounder Cortez Allen is the nickle back.
10) You can get some of the current pulse of Steelers fans, with this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chat from today.