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Monday, October 7, 2013
Seven keys for Steelers moving forward

By Scott Brown

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers’ pursuit of a seventh Super Bowl title is on life support following the team’s first 0-4 start since 1968.

It all but ends if the Steelers don’t beat the visiting New York Jets Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.

No team that has started a season 0-5 has made the playoffs since the postseason field was expanded in 1990, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Not that the Steelers have any business thinking about the playoffs. They simply need a win to stop the hemorrhaging, and here are seven things the Steelers need to secure that elusive first victory -- and get their season pointed in the right direction.

Fix left tackle: This is the most obvious problem as it has been a veritable turnstile. The Steelers saw enough of Mike Adams that they traded for Levi Brown, the fifth overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft. The Steelers don’t need Brown, assuming he picks up the offense quickly enough to start against the Jets, to suddenly become a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle. They would gladly settle for the steady play Max Starks provided at left tackle the previous two seasons.

Le'Veon Bell
Rookie RB Le'Veon Bell appears to have the ability to put a spring in Pittsburgh's offense.
Lean on Le’Veon Bell: The Steelers are throwing the ball 69 percent of the time. That has to change, and they no longer have to run the ball just for the sake of running it. Bell showed in his NFL debut that he can be an every-down back, and he gives the Steelers the kind of threat they haven’t had since Rashard Mendenhall was a 1,000-yard rusher in Pittsburgh. Bell, if he stays healthy, should only get better with experience and make play-action a key component of the offense again.

Get Cameron Heyward on the field more: The 2011 first-round pick has emerged this season, and he is second on the Steelers with nine quarterback hurries despite playing mostly in sub-packages. Maybe the Steelers should consider using a three-man rotation at defensive end just as they do at outside linebacker to get Heyward on the field more with Brett Keisel.

Tackle the catch: This isn’t just one of the Steelers’ rallying cries. It is also critical to making Dick LeBeau’s defense work. LeBeau’s philosophy is predicated on making teams put together extended scoring drives to beat the Steelers, and sound tackling is the foundation of that, particularly in the secondary. The Steelers’ defensive backs missed too many tackles in the 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and they have to shore up that fundamental since they are also the last line of defense against the run.

Win the turnover battle: Reasons vary for why the Steelers are still without a takeaway a quarter into the season. They have led exactly two times this season, thus not putting opposing quarterbacks in position of having to play from behind. A few bounces have not gone their way. What isn’t debatable is that the Steelers are in a drought in an area that is critical in determining the outcome of games. To put their shortcomings in forcing turnovers into perspective, consider this: the New England Patriots have at least one takeaway in 32 consecutive games.

Get after the passer: The Steelers have four sacks -- or one-half more than Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The coaches don’t just look at sacks when assessing how effectively the Steelers rush the passer, but the statistic of quarterback hurries shows that the Steelers are generating much more from their defensive ends rather than outside linebackers. Keisel (13) and Heyward have combined for 22 quarterback hurries -- or twice as many as LaMarr Woodley, Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds put together. Quarterback pressure generated by the outside linebackers is critical in a 3-4 defense and the Steelers aren’t getting enough of it.

Take better care of the ball: The Steelers have committed 11 turnovers, and a lot of this falls on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His ability to extend plays comes with a downside, and Roethlisberger has turned the ball over six times in the past two games. If Bell stabilizes the running game and the Steelers don’t have to play from behind so much that should cut down on Roethlisberger’s turnovers.