We generally try to get to these things a little earlier in the week, but better late than never, yes? I exchanged Five Good Questions with Neal Coolong of SB Nation's blog dedicated to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Behind the Steel Curtain (and a Minnesota native in his own right).
Disclaimer. . .these questions were exchanged prior to the news of Matt Cassel being named the starter for the Vikings at quarterback for Sunday's game, which is why there isn't anything in here about it. With that, here we go!
1) We know that Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin came to Pittsburgh from Minnesota. (You're welcome, by the way.) With the team's struggles, is there even a remote chance that he's on the hot seat or that he'll be there any time soon?
While it isn't common for this franchise to remove a head coach, the decisions made by the franchise in the early 90s (when Chuck Noll retired) and in the late 90s (when Bill Cowher was on the hot seat) should not be the driving force behind retaining Coach Tomlin.
This team has lost eight of its last 10 games, and 12 of its last 20. Its offensive line is struggling greatly to come together as a unit, and its defense has been in the bottom five of the league in takeaways since 2011. It's more appropriate to ask where this franchise is going as opposed to where it's been. Because of that, yeah, I absolutely think there's a chance his butt is a bit warm. I don't think they'll make a move after this season (certainly not during the season), but I don't think he should feel all that comfortable either. Lots of things aren't working right now.
2) The Steelers' offense is really struggling this season so far, sitting in 30th in the NFL in points scored. In your opinion, what has been the single biggest problem on that side of the ball thus far?
The frequency of missed assignments along the offensive line is startling, but considering the age of their starters (two of them have fewer than one season's worth of starts, and one of them is in his third game with the team), it shouldn't come as all that big of a surprise.
I'd boil it down to trust. It doesn't seem like QB Ben Roethlisberger trusts his line, and because of that, it seems like his eyes are drilled two feet in front of him instead of down the field. They really just need to get back to basics along the line, and try to instill them with some confidence. When they stop thinking and just know what they're supposed to do, they'll play faster and a positive domino effect will ensue.
3) Quarterback Ben Roethisberger, as has been pointed out ad nauseum, has taken a lot of hits over the past few years, and there's speculation that he's starting to break down a bit. Do you still think he's a top-end, elite quarterback, or will the Steelers be looking to go in a different direction at the position sooner rather than later?
He never really did throw a great deep pass, to be honest, but he's really missing on those throws quite a bit. The common (and easy) notion is the lack of Mike Wallace is causing teams to inch their safeties in closer to the line of scrimmage. That's partially true, but more of the problem here is Roethlisberger neither has the time, nor the arm strength, nor the precision to connect on throws in the air of 25 yards or more to make teams respect it.
Wallace, aside, Roethlisberger has missed WR Emmanuel Sanders deep down the field multiple times already this season. Getting open deep is not a trait held exclusively by Wallace.
Vikings fans probably see the same thing from opposing defenses when Christian Ponder starts. I'm of the belief arm strength does not make a quarterback, but the lack of it makes a defense happy.
4) The Steelers are giving up a lot of points on defense, but not a lot of yardage. That tells me that the offense is putting the defense in a lot of tough situations. Do you feel that this has been the case this year?
They held Tennessee to 16 total points. Their one touchdown came off a 12-play, 49 yard drive. Two of their four scoring drives started in Steelers territory off turnovers. Against Cincinnati, Andy Dalton threw 45 times to get 280 yards. Chicago scored 17 points off turnovers, including two defensive touchdowns, and the Steelers gave them the ball five times in the game.
It's really hard to stop teams from scoring when your offense: A.) Can't sustain drives, B.) is giving it up more frequently than your drunken prom date, C.) is playing with a sub-professional level group of tight ends. Heath Miller is back and healthy, and David Johnson is getting stronger each week. With them on the field, and perhaps more importantly, the absence of David Paulson, their offense will get more consistent.
Then, it'll be up to the defense to improve upon the league's worst sack total through three games (three) and find a way to actually get a takeaway (none in three games).
5) Give us one guy on each side of the football that the average fan might not know about that you feel will have a big impact on Sunday's game.
Offensively, I'll point to rookie running back Le'Veon Bell. While it's likely many fans know who he is, he's significant because he'll be seeing his first action of the season against Minnesota. Steelers fans are on pins and needles waiting to see how he'll do.
On defense, cornerback Cortez Allen will return to the field for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Tennessee in Week 1. He's a physical, playmaking corner, and the Steelers desperately need plays to be made.
Bonus question: Exactly how tired are you of the "Big Ben" jokes already?
"We know....Big Ben...."
Big thanks to Neal for sitting down to answer these questions for us.