Search for Answers Starts Within

Mike Prisuta provides a checklist of football ideals (and a kicker) that the Steelers need to review before blame can be assigned.

The search for answers begins within I never thought for a second this year's 6-2 had a chance to degenerate into something along the lines of last year's 6-2-turned-6-7 nightmare.

But that was before Patriots 39, Steelers 26.

Now, all of a sudden, the Steelers are wobbling like Hines Ward after a catch that wasn't.

Can they steady themselves?

Absolutely.

Can they also hit the deck with a shuddering, 2009-esque thud?

That's at least a possibility given what transpired on Sunday night against New England.

The Steelers are still a 6-3 football team, still tied for first place in the AFC North. But with the Raiders, Ravens and Jets looming over the next five weeks and a season-ending rematch at Cleveland to be dealt with eventually (yes, I'm overlooking the Bills, Bengals and Panthers and giving the Browns their much-deserved credit and respect) this could still get out of hand.

Time for a little damage control.

Make that some serious damage control.

Areas that need to be addressed along those lines include:

Intensity/determination/desperation – The Steelers overflowed with such stuff during the season's first month. Then Ben Roethlisberger returned, and the air began escaping gradually but perceptibly out of the balloon. It's as if everyone exhaled at once.

That's how you go 3-1 without Roethlisberger and 3-2 with him.

The Steelers need to recapture some of what was overflowing from Tom Brady on Sunday night from an emotional standpoint.

The Saints clearly played with a purpose on Oct. 31, as if they had something to prove. The Patriots did the same on Sunday night. It's time for the Steelers to be that team against the Raiders.

That's a leadership issue, but it's Mike Tomlin's department first and foremost.

The wide receiver position – The lack of timing/cohesion/rhythm that infected the passing game upon Hines Ward's departure was alarming. Say what you will about the injuries on both sides in the trenches, but the most impactful injury to date has been the one that knocked the Steelers' oldest, slowest receiver out of the New England game.

Get well soon, Hines.

Jeff ReedIn a locker room full of players holding themselves accountable on Sunday night, Reed did the same and then punctuated his mea culpa with complaints about the field conditions, the estimated five percent of fans who bash him, and the negative media. Whatever, he's 15-for-22 on field goals.

It's what he does that matters, not what he says, but one more missed kick and he'll have doubled last season's total.

Reed maintains he still has confidence and that Tomlin still has confidence in him, but you have to wonder on both accounts. It might be time to reassess the relative merits of field-goal attempts and adjust the play-calling accordingly.

Reliability – Accountability is a wonderful quality, but it would be better to see the Steelers testing the limits of their humility, particularly the players they're counting on to be great. Roethlisberger would be one of those. Mike Wallace would be another. And Heath Miller is still another. Those guys weren't great against the Patriots (or the Saints, for that matter).

As for Antwaan Randle El, he isn't supposed to be great, but he's supposed to be part of the solution. He wasn't what the Steelers needed him to be against New England, either.

Dependability – Can they still count on an offensive line that surprised and thrived at season's outset no matter its configuration? As long as Sean Kugler is still coaching them up there's hope. But with starters dropping they'll need to rely even more heavily upon those who are left standing. Add Maurkice Pouncey to the list of names that need to be great. Add Trai Essex to the list of names that need to be better.

Approach – Is the defensive scheme too soft after all? Is play-calling an issue?

We can't go there until all of the above have been addressed. If it all gets addressed, the schemes and the play-calls won't seem to matter nearly as much. It's tough to blame the defensive coordinator for Lawrence Timmons getting blocked by Danny Woodhead and the OC for passes into the end zone that Wallace, Randle El and Miller didn't catch.


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