Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

Teams have overcome poor starts in the past like the one the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in today. Tennessee and the New York Jets were both 1-4 last season and both made the playoffs.<br><br> The Steelers have another advantage in that they play in the AFC North, where mediocrity reigns. Making a quick recovery in that division should not be as difficult.<br><br> What worries the Steelers is not that it can't be done - they aren't sure they can do it.

Pittsburgh's in what Coach Bill Cowher calls a "funk." The Steelers have lost four straight for the first time since 1999, including three at home, where they were 13-3-1 in Heinz Field after they beat Baltimore in the opener.

Since then, their offense and their defense are not playing well and show no signs of snapping out of it. Quarterback Tommy Maddox has gone from a league-leading 134.3 passer rating after the opener to among the worst in the AFC at 71.2. His 11 interceptions lead the conference.

They are last in the AFC North at 2-5 and they haven't finished last in their division since they went 5-11 in 1988. The Steelers have as many losses as they did all last season and this one isn't half over. If they lose on Sunday in Seattle the Steelers will be halfway to 4-12 and their worst record since 1969.

The quarterback's not the only one dragging down their offense. Their running game ranks 30th and has produced 100 yards a game just once. Their defense has put on the weakest pass rusher since Cowher took over as coach.

They're also starting to complain.

On Sunday, wide receiver Plaxico Burress said that he feels he's not getting the ball. He also called the offense predictable. Linebacker Joey Porter raised the issue that they're not blitzing and recalled the good old days when they were known as Blitzburgh.

If they don't pull out of their spiral soon, they may destruct from within.

Cowher railed against turnovers this summer because he was not happy how they broke even last year, committing 36 turnovers and recovering 36. All that and the Steelers are minus-six in the turnover table, which is next-to-last in the conference. They harped on Maddox to stop forcing the ball because they were not happy with his 16 interceptions last season, when he threw 20 touchdown passes. Now, Maddox is headed for a 25-interception season with 16 TD passes if he maintains this pace.

Three weeks ago, Hines Ward stood up during a meeting of the offense and gave an impassioned speech. The Steelers are 0-2 since then. Now Ward said it's past time for words. They need actions.

The Steelers do have hope, other than playing in the AFC North, because they also have a relative cushy schedule in the second half of the season. In addition to three games against their division, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore, Pittsburgh has Arizona, San Diego and Oakland at home. Those three teams have five victories combined.

They also play at the Jets, who have only two wins, and San Francisco, who is 3-5. The Big Ten might pose a tougher schedule. The Steelers still must go 6-3 to finish 8-8, so they're getting to the point that most are must-win games for them. It's possible to overcome a 2-5 start and make the playoffs, as the Jets did last season. It would be asking too much at 2-6, especially the way this team is constituted.

And if the Steelers don't make the playoffs, there promises to be more changes in the offseason and not just with players.

Changing places
Two-time All-Pro guard Alan Faneca will remain at left tackle. It'll be his third straight start at the position and he'll likely stay there for the rest of the season. When Marvel Smith is healthy, he will go back to right tackle, where he started for three years before moving to left tackle to open this season.

James Farrior returned to middle linebacker in the dime defense against the Rams and Joey Porter moved from that spot to right end, removing Kendrell Bell. Bell leads the team with 9.5 tackles for losses and is second overall in tackles, but he hasn't been able to produce in the right rush end position in the dime.

They also replaced Jason Gildon with Clark Haggans several times at left rush end in passing defenses. Cowher, though, could not bring himself to give the moves a ringing endorsement.

OT Oliver Ross could return to play at right tackle, a job he virtually lost to Todd Fordham during the summer. Fordham played poorly against the Rams.

27th In the league
That's where the Steelers rank in the league for third-down conversions, with 32.3 percent after they went 1-for-10 Sunday against the Rams, making it only on their last try in the final minute.

"It is very hard to get into any type of rhythm for a quarterback or for anybody," Cowher said. "Tommy Maddox is a streaky quarterback, but it is hard to get into any type of rhythm when you are not converting third downs and staying on the field."

The Steelers tried to run the ball more with Jerome Bettis last week but the lack of third down conversions buried them in a 2-1 time of possession disadvantage. They still want to run and believe they can do so against the Seahawks.

The defense is providing no help as far as getting the ball back in the Steelers' hands. They rushed only three and four against the Rams and were burned by it. They have to play cover two defense because of their poor play at corner and that limits their pass rush.

By the Numbers
The Steelers have 13 sacks, on pace for 30. Only twice, since they began keeping the records in 1969, have the Steelers had fewer - 19 in 1988 and 26 in 1970.

Series History
14th meeting. The Seahawks lead the series, 7-6. Pittsburgh's last victory in Seattle, where they are 1-5, was 20 years ago. They last met in 1999 in Pittsburgh and the Seahawks won, 29-10, to help the Steelers to their worst season under Bill Cowher at 6-10.

Quick Hits

  • Antwaan Randle El was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 84-yard punt return against St. Louis, the longest for a TD in Pittsburgh history.
  • Dan Rooney presented running backs coach Dick Hoak with his old No. 42 jersey. This is Hoak's 42nd year with the Steelers as a player and coach, counting 686 games. "I'd like to thank the Rooney family for putting up with me all these years," Hoak said.
  • TE Jerame Tuman will again start in place of injured Jay Riemersma (sprained MCL). Tuman caught a 21-yard pass against the Rams, giving him five receptions this season.

Quote to Note
When asked about where the Steelers stand at this point, lineman Alan Faneca said, "Man, at the bottom of the rack. We have to start climbing and you can't miss any steps on that climb; you have to keep climbing and get your way back to the top."

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