Notes: Tear it all down?

From the notebook of a sportswriter who's resisting the urge to tear it all down and build the Steelers back up the right way:

  • Now let's step back and play coach for a minute here and take a cold, hard look at every unit, factoring in the notion that you very easily could've been wrong from the start.
  • The offensive line is the first problem. Not to absolve the running backs and quarterbacks, and we have something to say about the receivers, too, but for the second consecutive week one horrific foul-up, amid a series of gaffes along the line, turned a game around.
  • So what are the options? We'll take a best-case scenario and assume Marvel Smith's injury is not that bad. That's a start. Now when he comes back do we move Oliver Ross to right tackle? In a word, no. We gave him a long look in preseason and decided Todd Fordham is better. Let's stick with that and see what kind of lift we get from the return of Smith.
  • Anything else in the best-case scenario? What about right guard Kendall Simmons, who played poorly late against the Tennessee Titans and poorly early Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns. He still flashes, but appears to have been significantly weakened by the onset of diabetes. He may round into shape with continued playing time, or, conversely, he needs a week off. Well, the bye's coming the week after Denver. Play him this week. He'll get his rest the next.
  • What if Smith's injury is worse than we know it to be? Than what? Move Simmons to right tackle? That's a possibility since he played tackle in college. That way monstrous Kendrick Vincent is an option at right guard, or Chukky Okobi, an aggressive center who's never showed much in reps at guard, could play center and push Jeff Hartings to right guard. Sure, those are drastic moves but if Smith can't make it back for whatever reason, the bye week might be the time to do so. One thing we know is the Steelers won't beat many teams with the two ex-practice squadders at tackle.
  • No offense to Ross or Fordham. Any other time they're fulfilling a valuable role as a spot starter, but to continue as starters throughout this season would be to continue in a state of folly.
  • The running backs aren't doing the job either. When there is a lane, like on third-and-2 last night, Amos Zereoue was beaten to the point by a linebacker. It happened another time. Make the move to Jerome Bettis? That would necessitate a tight end like Mark Bruener and a fullback. Or would it? Could you run Bettis out of the spread? Can't think of a good reason not to at this point. His hands have always been underrated and he can block. That might be the option. Verron Haynes isn't an option. He really doesn't deserve the opportunity with only 16 yards on 12 carries.
  • The receivers. First we pull Hines Ward over and tell him his teammates are taking their cues from him. If he goes into a funk, others become confused. "Why isn't Hines up?" Or worse, "Do we suck?" And another thing, Hines, your friend Plaxico will always screw up. You can't let that get to you. Slamming your helmet on the sideline will only alienate and vex Plax. Hines, you have to be the grown-up here. Plax won't change, but he will respond to any positive energy you've got.
  • Now, as far as Tommy Maddox is concerned, we realize his failings. We realize we can't wait two more years to begin grooming a young quarterback. That's the clear message taken from last night's game. A young quarterback is a priority next off-season. Just because Brian St. Pierre might become a fine backup some day should not prevent the drafting of another young quarterback next April. A good one, with mobility. Maddox is stop gap, can still win if he disengages head from bottom, and doesn't deserve to lose his job yet. If these ridiculous interceptions continue next week, Charlie Batch will begin stirring in the bullpen.
  • The defense is a flat-out catastrophe. It looks like a basketball team at times, just keeping their man in front of them and corralled after 15-yard gains. No hard hits, and no pressure. The blitzes aren't getting there, even against that awful line of the Browns. The Steelers' front is doing its job, so is Kendrell Bell, but the OLBs aren't doing much, although Joey Porter did cover a tight end in the end zone. Must've been a bust.
  • Ike Taylor certainly plays with heart and should also draw some attention from the coaches. Could he make a play every now and then? Can Chris Hope? Those are two players who may not know what they're doing, but they play with heart. Have the others had their hearts rendered ineffective by an over-saturation of defensive theory? I'm not smart enough to know the answers to the pass defense problems, so I'll stick with my pre-draft assessment that they need a real defensive end, not linebackers putting their hands on the ground. So add that to the fast expanding list of needs.
  • In conclusion, our findings produce nothing that will inspire hope. Let's see what's born of desperation in Denver...

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