By Jeremy Hritz
It’s the bye week, and as we all contemplate a Sunday without Steelers football, the rest of the NFL moves on. This rest period came at an opportune time for the Steelers not only from an injury perspective, but also from a team-growth perspective, as it seems they are somewhat “stuck” and need to regroup and recalibrate in order to make a push for the postseason. With a very challenging schedule ahead of them, they will have to show improvement, otherwise, things will deteriorate rather quickly. Here are my Steelers Study Notes for today, October 20th:
- Zach Banner seems to be ready to go, and with an extra week of preparation before the Cleveland Browns, he may make his season debut on Halloween. If this is the case, Chuks Okorafor will slide over to his natural left tackle position, and Dan Moore, who is injured, will head to the bench. Will this provide a boost to an uneven offensive line? We will find out in Cleveland.
- There has been much criticism of Devin Bush recently for his lack of run defense, and general absence of splash on the defense. Though he did recover the fumble that ultimately led to the Steelers victory on Sunday, he raised anxieties by running backwards and by almost losing the ball when he was tackled. There is no doubt Bush is blessed with athleticism, but we are not seeing that on the field, as he continues to get overpowered by offensive linemen, and you have to wonder if he is fully recovered from his ACL tear. The Steelers need more production from him if this defense is to be better, as he has disappointed so far this year.
- Pro Football Focus has Cameron Heyward as their highest-rated defender so far this season at 92.3, ahead of Aaron Donald at 91.7. Heyward has been noticeable in every game this season, and has been dominant. If this defense is to improve, it will be a result of his leadership.
- Something worth keeping an eye on… Baker Mayfield has a torn labrum and will have to play through it for the remainder of the season, starting this Thursday against the Denver Broncos. Unquestionably, this will impact his effectiveness and the effectiveness of the Browns offense. Will he make it through the season? And in case you are wondering, Case Keenum is Mayfield’s backup. Is the Browns prematurely-labeled magically destined season slipping away?
- Can we get Steven Sims on the field over Ray Ray McCloud during the bye? Dude is a stud and offers more as a receiver than McCloud.
- There has only been one occasion in Mike Tomlin’s tenure in which a team of his started 3-3 and then made it to the postseason. That was in 2014, a year in which they finished 11-5 and lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round. They were able to evolve and grow offensively that season, boosted by the play of then rookie Martavis Bryant. Can they make something similar to that happen this season?
- Najee Harris is currently on pace for 1099 rushing yards, and his game continues to improve. If this offensive line can ever come together and give him more space, his effectiveness will increase.
- The leading tackler for the Steelers? That’d be Minkah Fitzpatrick with 47 total tackles. How many interceptions does he have? The same total that I do: 0. It’s not a good sign when one of your safeties is leading the team in tackles, not to mention that he has missed several so far this season. For whatever reason, Fitzpatrick has not been playing well, and he too needs to improve if this team is to make a push.
- The Steelers defense is on pace for 42.5 sacks this season, which is down from previous seasons, but still respectable.
- Overall, lots and lots of work required on both offense and defense for this team to improve, and they have to capitalize on the bye week to make that happen.
That is all for today, make it a great one!