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Can the Steelers Survive without Pouncey, Run Game?

As NFL Week 3 starts on Thursday, the Pittsburgh Steelers sit in the undesirable 0-2 club for the first time in 11 years. It’s been a disastrous two weeks and looking ahead to this third one, an 0-3 record is nipping at their heels as they host the Chicago Bears (2-0) on Sunday night.

There’s a myriad of reasons for the Steelers’ struggles but it all stems with its offense. In Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans, the team lost star center Maurkice Pouncey, who went down in the first series with knee injury. Sadly, Pouncey was injured by his own teammate, guard David DeCastro. In his place, Fernando Velasco, a former Titan, joined the team last week as a replacement and played against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is also struggling as well as his backfield. These ingredients have all created a recipe for disaster as the Steelers are No. 31 in the league for points (19), rushing yards (37.5 per game) and yards per carry (2.4) after just two weeks of play.

Against the Bengals, Pittsburgh had 44 rushing yards as it looked to running back Felix Jones to take the lead role. In the first half, he carried the ball 10 times for 37 yards but in the second half, Jones was pretty much nonexistent, only participating in a kickoff return.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t denied offense is the problem for this 0-2 start but can the team survive under these circumstances?

For now, don’t look for sweeping changes. Tomlin said via NFL.com of Monday’s game, “The running game was below the line. But I was encouraged by Felix Jones and what he’ll be able to do moving forward. He knew when to bounce it and when to put his foot in the ground and get vertical. There were some things we can build upon.”

But the Jones experiment could be nearing its end as rookie running back Le’Veon Bell is increasing his activity this week and is returning to individual drills and maybe team ones. Bell, who is recovering from a preseason Lisfranc injury, will not play on Sunday, but could return to action for Steelers’ fifth game of the season (October 13 against the New York Jets).

One small answer to Pittsburgh’s problems could be the return of tight end Heath Miller this week. He only had limited participation in last week’s practice, but he is scheduled to partake in all of this week’s drills and fingers are crossed in Steelers Nation that he could play in this week’s game against the Bears.

The 2012 Steelers’ MVP could give the team a much-needed boost from his versatile play and reliability as a target but Tomlin has tempered expectations for Miller to be a cure all for this troubled offense. Instead, look for the player to help the running game as well as relieve some of the pressure faced by the team’s wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

Brown has been open about his frustration and allegedly clashed with offensive coordinator Todd Haley last week on the sidelines.

Facing an 0-3 start for the first time in his Steelers coaching career, Tomlin has said he won’t push the panic button but he is open to personnel changes and play-calling duties. He is also looking for more points and greater play from his tackles, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. He added, “They need improvement in terms of their quality of play like a lot of us.”

Unfortunately, history is not on the Steelers side as 30 teams have started 0-2 since 2009. All of them not only didn’t make the playoffs, they also had a season with a losing record, according to Sporting Charts. But here’s a silver lining: none of the fellow AFC North teams are off to a rousing start either.

 

 

Debbie Baratz

Deb has been writing about the NFL and NCAA football for the last few years. She is a full-time writer and an avid sports fan. Follow her on twitter @ldbar.

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