A look at the first quarter

Four games into the 2004 season, the Steelers are right where they want to be - sitting atop the AFC North standings. <br><br> But can they stay there?

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher likes to split the season into quarters. So with the first quarter over, the Steelers would have to be considered winners.

Here's what went right in the first quarter:

The running game is right where the Steelers want it, averaging 129.5 yards per game. That doesn't sound like much until you figure that back when Kordell Stewart was the team's quarterback, that's about what the team averaged when you took away his scrambles.

Duce Staley has been a welcome addition to the running game and ranks seventh in the AFC with 372 yards on 87 carries. That puts him on pace for a 348-carry season and 1,488 yards.

Two big reasons for the running game's resurgence has been offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's persistence in sticking with it and the job the good job offensive line has done blocking.

The injury to Kendall Simmons notwithstanding, the line has stayed healthy. And it's showed as the line has gotten better. But some stiff tests wait ahead in Dallas and against New England at Heinz Field. Philadelphia also has a stable of pass rushers, though rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has shown great escape-ability.

Speaking of Roethlisberger, he's played better than a rookie could be expected to. Whisenhunt hasn't asked him to do too much, though the time will come when he has to win a game.

Hines Ward has been his usual self and the special teams coverage units have been excellent, as has the kickoff return game.

Defensively, the Steelers have forced 11 turnovers in their first four games, putting them on pace for 44, a far more than the 25 they forced in 2003.

The young secondary is going to make some mistakes, but it's also making some big plays.

The pass defense has been good outside of the opening game against Oakland, but realistically, it hasn't been tested since then by Baltimore, Miami or Cincinnati.

Here's what went wrong:

Plaxico Burress must become more of a consistent force. Future opponents are going to try to take Ward away from the Steelers as Cincinnati did in Week 4 and Burress is going to have to make big plays one-on-one.

Starting quarterback Tommy Maddox was off to a slow start, but he also had a better grasp on the offense than Roethlisberger has. The rookie is going to make mistakes, the Steelers had just better hope they aren't game-breakers.

Defensively, the run defense has not been strong, allowing 105.5 yards per game. It would look far worse if not for a 52-yard effort against Miami.

Oakland, Baltimore and Cincinnati all had success running against the Steelers. Maybe a healthy Kendrell Bell in the lineup will make a difference. But right now, players are missing too many tackles and outside linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans haven't been much of a factor stopping the run, especially Haggans.

The team is also committing too many penalties, averaging over eight per game. A good number of those have come in the return game, negating several nice punt returns by Antwaan Randle El.

Place-kicker Jeff Reed has made just 3 of 6 field goal attempts, but all three of his misses have been from outside of 40 yards. He has yet to attempt a field goal inside of 40, a testament to the team's red zone success (9 for 11).

Rookie kickoff returner Ricardo Colclough is going to see more action because teams are going to kick away from Randle El. Colclough must do a better job of holding onto the ball.

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