The Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday visit to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field provided an opportunity to ask five questions about the Steelers of SteelCityInsider.net Publisher Jim Wexell.
1. Pittsburgh is typically tough at home and was impressive at Carolina, but ugly road losses at Cleveland and Baltimore have me wondering about the Steelers. What's your take so far?
My take is that they're rebuilding, and for the most part have done a decent job. Nobody wants to admit it, or even sees it that way, because Ben Roethlisberger's still the quarterback. But in my opinion he still needs a wide receiver and a tackle. They're close there. Marcus Gilbert has responded well to Mike Munchak and looks like he'll be a solid right tackle for the long haul. And Mike Adams is starting to look like a serviceable swing tackle. Kelvin Beachum is serviceable at left tackle but looks like a better guard. They could solve their depth issue at the position and groom a LT at the same time by hitting that position in the first round of the next draft. The No. 2 WR position -- a.k.a. the guy needed to take some coverage away from Antonio Brown -- has been thrown open with the loss of Emmanuel Sanders, who really wasn't a fit here. It's allowed a long look at some young guys. Markus Wheaton is looking more like a future slot receiver but Martavis Bryant excited everyone last week with his long ball and red-zone potential.So the offense is really close to becoming a great offense. The defense is behind on the rebuilding blueprint. They need at least one corner and possibly a pass-rusher, and that's dependent upon whether Jarvis Jones can become that blind-side guy. He was showing some potential until breaking his wrist. Rookie Daniel McCullers, like Bryant, excited everyone with his potential in the middle of what he could make the best line since the Steel Curtain. But they're really young. And I'm already assuming rookie Stephon Tuitt will become the next Aaron Smith at strong-side DE.
2. Running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Brown appear to be the key offensive players, aside from Roethlisberger. Anybody else we should know about, or are those two weapons the only real concerns?
Bryant seemed to leap ahead of Wheaton on the ‘futures’ board, and is one guy to keep an eye on, but he was a tease in college so I'm trying not to get too excited. I'm also not ready to give up on Wheaton by any stretch. Dri Archer is also just a pup who could improve by leaps and bounds in any week now. He has the speed. He just needs the confidence.
3. I'm so used to seeing Dick LeBeau dial up that ‘Blitz-burgh’ defense and get after people. But it seems like that hasn't always been the case this season. Where is the defense at the moment?
Got to have the talent. And that's where the personnel department has gone the last two seasons. For the first time in the Mike Tomlin/Kevin Colbert era, the Steelers picked first for the same side of the ball two years in a row. But both of those picks, Jones and Ryan Shazier, have been out with injuries since the third game. They represent the improvement that had to be made in rushing the passer, but they're trying to get by with niche-fillers for the time being. Although, Shazier's replacement, Sean Spence, who's missed the first two years of his career with a bad knee injury, has developed nicely if we are to believe the last three quarters of the last game. So anyway, it makes it difficult to ‘dial up’ a blitz without guys who can get there, and that's only the half of it. Ike Taylor, even at his advanced age, was the best of the three corners they planned to use extensively coming into the season. He went down in Week 3, too. But his replacement, William Gay, has been a real find as a starter. A guy who's pretty much drawn scorn from fans most of his career, Gay showed he was a good slot corner last year, and this year has quieted everyone with his play as a starter. Unfortunately, the other corner, Cortez Allen, has struggled. He lacks speed and has been replaced as a starter by free agent Brice McCain, who's finally healthy after a broken foot caused a disastrous 2013 and his release by the Texans. He's a legit speedster and the hope is that he's become another find through emergency. But it's likely this position will draw a third consecutive first-round draft pick for the defense next May.
4. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and wide receiver Hines Ward have been critical of the team, including the dreaded "soft" comment. I've heard the team's comment, but is there merit to that criticism based on how the Steelers have played at times?
Sure. But that's how it goes after a bad loss to the Browns. Those guys, I'm sure, will look back some day and say they only did it to provide motivation. Then again, I'm sure nothing is ever physical enough for Cowher. I mean, this is a guy who let Neil O'Donnell go after a Super Bowl and replaced him with a running back at QB, and then when Kordell Stewart struggled Cowher passed on Drew Brees to draft a nose tackle. A few years later, he had to be talked out of drafting guard Shawn Andrews for Roethlisberger. And this guy gets a pass for all of his big-game losses because he never had a quarterback. I mean, a little finesse at some positions is good, Bill. So I don't take his comments seriously. Ward, I love him. He's just genuinely concerned about his old team. I do recall the Bills coming in for a practice in August and being flabbergasted by how hard the Steelers were hitting at the time. I believe the coaching staff is doing its best with the talent on hand. And the offense, with all of those screen passes, I believe is a deep threat away from opening all of that up.
5. The Steelers obviously were the beneficiaries of two game-changing turnovers Monday night. Are turnovers the key to this game? If not, what do you think is?
Absolutely. Someone in the front office asked me what I think of this game, and I said the Colts won't have that pass rush they've shown off on TV in a couple of big home games, that they'll look different on the road without all of that noise, defensively, but offensively the Colts have genuine talent and Steelers are going to have to keep up. Roethlisberger is going to have to live up to his lofty "Hall of Fame" reputation by taking charge and winning a head-to-head matchup against a great quarterback. While I think Ben is capable, and that the offense is very close, I do think that to win this game the Steelers will need the Colts to commit a few unexpected turnovers at critical times.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.