Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I hope to enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens' opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Neal Coolong, a Steelers blogger for Behind the Steel Curtain.
MV: The Steelers were expected to compete for the AFC North but started 0-4. Why have they struggled?
NC: The Steelers' issues aren't caused by old age, they're caused by youth. Ike Taylor, the savvy veteran (read: “old”) cornerback, has outplayed first-year starter Cortez Allen by a wide margin. Linebacker Larry Foote was hurt in Week 1, and replaced by a sixth-round rookie, Vince Williams, who's been up-and-down at best. Add that in with a third-string tight end, David Paulson, starting for the first two weeks and an offensive line that averaged 25 years of age at the first snap of the season -- before Maurkice Pouncey was hurt -- this team has had more youthful mistakes than their "old and slow" label might suggest.
MV: The Steelers have some new or unfamiliar faces starting on their defense. How are young guys like Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams and Steve McLendon performing?
NC: Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams are playing like young players. Jones is struggling to find a way through or around left tackles, and I would imagine those struggles will continue against Baltimore. He's still a work in progress, but he flashes a play or two here and there each game. Williams wasn't even active in Week 1, but he has improved a bit from where he started, his recognition and confidence especially. McLendon is more experienced than Jones and Williams, and has been playing well. The defensive line has improved each week, giving some hope they can get some pressure in Week 7.
MV: Le'Veon Bell has only played a couple of games. What are your early impressions, and is their line capable of giving him enough space to succeed?
NC: I've been impressed with Bell's ability to make defenders miss in space. He has quick feet. It's definitely a good trait to have, but it doesn't help a huge amount when running between the tackles. When he starts running behind his pads a bit more and adds a better power element to his repertoire, he'll be a special player. He's shown great instinct at the goal line, and as soon as the Steelers start getting to the goal line consistently, they'll utilize him.
MV: Ben Roethlisberger is healthy this year after missing both games against the Ravens last season. Is he at peak form and is this offense a good fit for him?
NC: Roethlisberger completed 76 percent of his passes against the Jets, and has 1,051 yards in his last three games. Antonio Brown dropped a touchdown pass in Week 6, too. Statistically, he's on a great pace and he didn't turn the ball over last week. He's improved each week, and is coming back to his pre-injury form of last year, when he was one of the best passers in the league. I think he's still capable of doing more, and we saw last year, despite reports of turmoil, he performs well in this offense.
MV: Despite the 1-4 start, are the Steelers still capable of getting on a roll and winning the division if they beat the Ravens this weekend?
NC: Playoffs? You kidding me? Weirder things have happened, though, and I can't rule it out. If the Steelers are going to make the playoffs, they have to go into one-and-done mode now, likely needing to win eight of their final 11 games. What better team to start that mentality off against than the Ravens? Considering they still have five division games left, it's possible, but performing the way they did against Geno Smith's Jets is not the same as Joe Flacco's Ravens. The Steelers absolutely need a turnover-free Roethlisberger to keep playing at the level he is and get more splash plays defensively.
If you are a blogger who is interested in participating in this feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.