Faneca's Ankle, Team MVP Through Week 6 - By Neal Coolong

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Let's call weeks 1-6 an extended preseason. Because of several stupid mistakes, bad passes, no offensive line and a secondary more exploitable than Carmen Electra after nine drinks, nothing in four losses has gone Pittsburgh's way. While the Steelers put up a gallant defensive effort in a 17-14 loss at Denver Sunday, offensive guard Alan Faneca's ankle can be the only justifiable offensive MVP - showing more glaring problems for what was once a highly touted offense. Let's put our Cowher chins on, and act as if we were sitting in the coaches' meeting right now, discussing what went wrong. In other words, something completely new for us.

The holes in the offensive line are 40 times the size of the holes they are supposed to be creating. While this sounds merely like a problem with the running game, it has caused deep-field-stud Plaxico Burress to catch four passes in the last three games. Pittsburgh's strength was supposed to be their vertical passing attack, and the only vertical aspect of their offense in the last three weeks has been opposing defensive lines standing over quarterback Tommy Maddox and running back Amos Zereoue in the backfield. Perhaps a solution would be to take away Antwaan Randle-El, and keep both Riemersma and Bruener on the field, flanked by Hines Ward and Burress on opposite sides of a single-back set. This might give Pittsburgh the front-seven blocking scheme they need to stop linebackers and tackles that have plagued their backfield like those damn Japanese Beetles in the midwest.

The Steelers have been filthy defensively at times in the first six weeks, but the obvious problem is in the secondary. While our good friend and pal Glenn T. Altergott firmly believes the single greatest attack on his soul's right to breathe is the cornerbacks, In all fairness, Broncos' quarterback Steve Buerlein connected with Rod Smith one time over Dewayne Washington, and if any secondary allows single coverage on Smith, he'll beat them. This wasn't the problem this game, but the constant exploitation of the moderately athletic secondary is something that can only be solved by a pass rush.

And catching gimme interceptions and falling on fumbles inside the opposing 20-yard line. But we won't get into that...

No Super Bowl champion has ever won without at least a solid to above average quarterback. And none of those quarterbacks had anything less than an outstanding offensive line. The question of Maddox returning to his insurance salesman-like ability or being one of the top seven quarterbacks in the league has been brought up more times than Schwarzenegger jokes. However, being pressured on a three-step drop when looking for a tight end or a fullback in the flat is a clear sign of no muscle up front, not a bad quarterback.

Cowher said Pittsburgh "took a step in the right direction" after Sunday. He's right. The coaching staff did an excellent job of preparing its team to play perhaps the best team in football on the road. Broncos' running back Clinton Portis was stuffed for 47 yards, getting run-happy Denver off its game. Was that because of the lack of Jake Plummer? Perhaps. However, Pittsburgh did not load eight in the box as often as you would think (no smart coach consistently leaves Washington and Chad Scott on an island). The run-defensive scheme coordinator Tim Lewis drew up was brilliant, and he was only outdone by a few plays and missed plays.

Even with the negatives, things aren't as bad as they seem. Looking ahead, the remaining Steelers' opponents are a combined 15-31 after Monday's game, and with shockingly bad Arizona, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco still on their schedule, this team is by no means out of the AFC North race, even with a bad loss at home to Cleveland.

By the end of the season, they won't have to rely on Faneca's ankle for offensive production.