Pig Ben, out for four games. Byron Leftwich, out with a knee sprain. Willie Colon, out for the year. Chris Kemoeatu sprained his ankle this week in practice (but will go on Sunday, according to reports from the Steelers.) And the Steelers open the season, at home, as 2.5 point 'dogs.
Here are five things they can do to hang in there to open the season:
1. Heath Miller. Short crossing routes might be the easiest things for Dennis Dixon to hit. Plus, Miller is one of the most reliable targets they have. The Steelers and Steelers fans recognize Miller's greatness, but I'm not sure the rest of the league does. Put the ball in his hands at least minimum five times on Sunday.
2. Double D using his legs. If I'm Bruce Arians, I'm telling Dixon to take off if he doesn't see anything he likes downfield. And take off right away. The way I figure it, if the Falcons are smart, they'll stack the box to try to take away the running game. If they do that, and if Dixon breaks contain, there's not much between him and a big gain except a couple of DB's who will likely have their backs turned away from Dixon in coverage. Dixon can fly like a gazelle, so I say use it. I know, I know, a QB can't run like that and survive the NFL, but I think he can survive four games.
3. Run behind Hotel Flozell. Hotel's footwork on passing plays is awkward, painful to watch really. And he makes up for his clumsiness with his slowness. But the guy can still knock people out run blocking. If the Steelers have any chance of establishing a running game (and that's questionable), I think it's by running right behind the Hotel (using both Issac Redman and Suspect Mendenhall) all day long.
4. Cover some kick offs, people. The Steelers have lost games to bad teams and I mean terrible, bad stinky, putrid, unfocused teams because of kick coverage failures. And I know that the kickoffs themselves are woefully short, but without Pig Ben, the Steelers offense cannot dig itself out of a hole created by the historically appalling special teams coverage units. I don't care how they do it, but they absolutely have to provide tight coverage and not give up a score or set the defense up to defend a short field. I probably should have made this bullet point 1.
5. Put the game on Matt Ryan. I know, he's good. I like the kid. I liked him when he was at BC. He doesn't throw many bad picks. He's smart and he's got a good arm. In short, the Falcons have the right quarterback in the right system.
But, but, still ... Michael Turner scares me more. He had a subpar year last year due to injuries, but the guy is nearly unstoppable when healthy. He has never averaged less than 4.5 yards per carry in his career and he's always good for a handful of really long touchdown runs per season. The first thing the Steelers defense has to do is take Turner away. Then they still have their hands full, but I like their chances if they can keep Turner under 90 yards on the day and keep him from breaking off anything big.
It's football season and it is good.