Every NFL franchise strives for perfection. Front offices and coaching staffs attempt to build well-oiled machines, with all 53 players on the roster firing on all cylinders. But in the ultimate team sport, with moving parts across three different game phases (offense, defense and special teams), there are inevitably imperfections. And if these defects aren't properly tended to, they can snowball and bring down the entire operation.
Not to fret, though: Mr. Fix-It is here!
Each week, 12-year NFL veteran and noted tape junkie Brian Baldinger will spotlight specific shortcomings and offer solutions for the affected teams. All free of charge! Here is his advice for three teams heading into Week 4:
1) PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Steelers must find their power run game.
The Steelers are off to a disappointing 0-3 start, and the Killer B's that fueled the once-powerful offense have either moved on or sit on IR. I'm afraid no one feels sorry for a team that boasts six Lombardi Trophies, nor for Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing campaign in his 12 seasons with the Steelers. In order to turn their season around, the Steelers must take the ball away at a record-setting pace and run the ball better.
In Week 2, the Steelers forced and recovered a pair of fumbles against the Seahawks to give the offense short fields to pay dirt. And last week, the Steelers' defense forced five turnovers and somehow still lost to the 49ers. This defense must continue to be opportunistic in forcing turnovers, and it has the cats to lead the way, especially rookie Devin Bush. The effort this unit is making is noticeable.
The next step is scoring off those turnovers, and improving the run game will certainly help Mason Rudolph as he continues to gain experience while filling in for Ben Roethlisberger. The second-year quarterback has four touchdown passes in his first six quarters of action, which is encouraging, considering two of those were to wide receivers -- the group never saw the end zone in 2019 with Roethlisberger under center. The Steelers lost former offensive line coach Mike Munchak to the Broncos in the offseason, but I don't see that as a good reason for the Steelers to average less than 3.8 yards per rush. Pittsburgh traded for tight end Nick Vannett on Wednesday, in part to help with a run game that has played without fullback Roosevelt Nix, who has a knee injury. Without Nix, James Conner has struggled, and the power run game that Nix helps establish has been missing from the Steelers' offensive attack. With the additions of Vannett and eventually Nix, who could return as early as Week 5, the Steelers can get back to the power run game and help Conner improve on his 2.9 yards-per-carry mark this season. My advice: Get Vannett involved in run blocking this week.
2) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Bucs can no longer underutilize tight ends.
Fans were seemingly disheartened when Matt Gay missed a 34-yard field-goal try as time expired to send the Buccaneers to 1-2 on the season. Not to mention the abundance of disappointment coach Bruce Arians and his players must have felt. But perhaps the Bucs could be 2-1 if they could find a way to better utilize their two talented tight ends, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. This pair hasn't gotten into the end zone since Brate did it twice in Week 14 of last season, and they have a total of 18 targets through three games this season. I'm in disbelief. Against the Giants, Bucs receiver Mike Evans was unstoppable, so I understand why he had 15 targets for 190 yards and three touchdowns. But Brate has a respectable 23 touchdown receptions in his last four seasons and has always been a sure-fire red-zone threat. Howard should be a monster. He had 11 touchdowns and only 60 receptions in his first two seasons. While both seasons were cut short because of injury, his production in those 24 games was undeniable.
Jameis Winston has not made the leap that many, including myself, thought he should have made by now. I know how hard the quarterback prepares and how serious he is about becoming a franchise QB. Hopefully, Arians can help him get there. I believe the Bucs' two tight ends can help elevate not only Winston's game but the Bucs as a team. What QB wouldn't want to throw to a couple of 6-foot-5-plus targets that have good hands, run well and are dependable? Add in Evans and an emerging star in Chris Godwin, and the Bucs can play a bunch of "tall ball." Howard and Brate present matchup problems but are sorely underused. Against the Giants, Howard dominated when matched up against cornerback Deandre Baker and safety Jabrill Peppers, as neither player came close to staying with him. My guess is, by targeting his tight ends, Winston could improve his accuracy, an area in which he struggles, because of their catch radius and natural size. It's time Arians incorporates both Howard and Brate more into his offense.
3) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Receivers must help scrambling QB.
The Eagles have lost two in a row, and the latest loss to the Detroit Lions had the "Boo Birds" chirping, as they often do in South Philly. I live in this area and played for the Eagles (1992-93), so I know how loud that stadium can get. After a 4-0 start in 1993, backup quarterback Bubby Brister got the start and threw a pick-six in the first quarter. All I heard were boos, and that we were nothing but a bunch of bums. Pretty harsh, I thought, considering we hadn't lost a game yet.
So when Carson Wentz was unable to win the game on a drive that started at midfield with two timeouts, the "Boo Birds" were raining down at Lincoln Financial Field. Wentz was the latest bum giving lots of fodder to local sports talk stations. But no one mentioned the drop by Mack Hollins that would have been a first down. Or the fourth-down pass dropped by rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside that could have had the Eagles at first-and-goal inside the Lions' 10-yard line. Or the three other drops in the game that impacted many other drives. Philly has played almost two full games without their two top receivers, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, but there are no excuses, and I won't allow the Eagles to make any for their receivers' mishaps. The Eagles have nine drops in their two losses after having just one in their lone win.
The Eagles have failed to capitalize on several big-play opportunities. Wentz constantly breaks free from the oncoming rush and looks to extend the play -- often seeming impervious to hits despite a significant injury history. When Wentz leaves the pocket, his receivers must go into "scramble mode" to whichever side the QB breaks. One receiver must come to Wentz, and the others should go deep. Some of the most spectacular plays Wentz has made have been off the scramble drill. There was a moment in the second quarter against the Lions when Miles Sanders ran a flat route to the sideline, and Zach Ertz ran a short stop route. Wentz eluded a four-man rush and broke out to his right, looking toward Sanders on the sideline. But the rookie running back was flat-footed and going nowhere, and the result of the play was an incomplete toss to Sanders. Had Sanders exploded down the right side line, there would have been nothing but green grass waiting.