Pittsburgh Steelers: The Good, The Bad And The Gore-y

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Tuesday, September 18, 2007
By John Smathers
Steelers Fever Columnist


Time to dig a little deeper into the Steelers' 2-0 start.

Frank GoreYou know all about Ben Roethlisberger's impressive numbers to start the season. You know about Willie Parker and Matt Spaeth. You know what the defense has done.

Now let's look a little closer at the good and the bad ... and the Gore-y.

The Good: The defense has held the first two opposing offenses to just 10 points, and one very good reason is rookie punter Daniel Sepulveda. It's true that Sepulveda's average is only 37.7 yards per punt, which ranks the team next to last in the league. But that is also his net average ... because there have been no punts returned against the team this year.

Further, Sepulveda has put 71.4 of his seven punts inside the 20, which is best in the league, and he has no touchbacks. Yes, it's been just two games, but a percentage in the 40s would be considered pretty good for the season. I think that is well within his abilities. Also consider that the Steelers averaged just 16.9 inside the 20 last year, dead last in the league.

Again, it's just two games, but I like it.

The Bad: OK, this is where I nitpick a little. I asked a writer friend of mine who covers the team about this after the first game and he just laughed at me while asking rhetorically if I wanted a 60-0 blowout.

Against Cleveland? Um, well, yeah, I responded.

The question was: Why aren't the Steelers delivering the deathblow before halftime? Certainly that was an even more pertinent question in the Buffalo game. I was as impressed as anyone with how well the offense has moved the ball in both games, but I am concerned about one aspect of the team's third-down conversion rate.

Now wait a minute, you say, the Steelers are No. 1 in the league with 54.5 percent. True and that's wonderful. It means, among other things, that they are creating opportunities. But the Steelers have had seven third-down conversion chances in the red zone and have converted just two (barely 29 percent). That's not good enough.

The best teams find ways to deliver the kill shot early, then take the air out of the ball in the second half and just suffocate the opposition. The Steelers know how to do the second part, but they must do a better job in the first half when the opportunities are there. And they have been. If the Steelers don't, they will pay the price later this year when the schedule gets tougher.

Is it execution? That's part of it. For instance, Roethlisberger had a probable touchdown if he doesn't throw the ball at the ankles of a wide-open Dan Kreider on 3rd and 2 from the Buffalo 10 in the second quarter. The Steelers settled for one of their four first-half field goals.

Let's take a closer look at the first half of the Buffalo game. The Steelers ran 10 plays in the red zone and only two were runs. Parker was stopped for losses of three yards and one yard. You have to love the way Roethlisberger is finding his receivers in that area of the field, but the team needs to run more in the shadow of the other team's goal post.

Now I will jump down off my rant box and take a look at the Steelers' immediate Gore-y future ... and it's not even Halloween yet.

If Mike Tomlin wants to be the first Steelers coach since Bill Cowher in 1992 to start 3-0, and have a shot to be the first Steelers rookie head coach to go 4-0, he better figure out how to stop San Francisco running back Frank Gore on Sunday.

Granted, Gore is not off to a great start, if you define Parker's 235 rushing yards as great, for instance. Gore has rushed for a modest 136 yards (3.6 per carry) against Arizona and St. Louis. But he has three rushing touchdowns, which ties him for the early league lead among running backs.

Gore is a premier running back with 1,695 yards and a NFC-high 5.4 yards per carry average in 2006 to his credit. He also pulled in 61 catches. Gore is the first real challenge out of the backfield for the Steelers defense. And no, I don't count Jamal Lewis, even if he did rush for 216 yards against the Bengals. Lewis probably wishes he could run against Cincinnati every week, but then doesn't every NFL running back?

I digress. The Steelers must stop Gore like Bush stopped Gore in 2000. And no hanging Chads either ... let's leave that for Halloween weekend when the Steelers visit Cincinnati.