Steelers can’t afford injury to the Big 3

PITTSBURGH — We’re halfway through the Steelers season and this is the middle of the week, so it’s a perfect time for some of those look back/look ahead observations.

n The Steelers’ biggest second-half concern: Injuries. If the Steelers lose Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown for an extended period of time, there’s trouble. They don’t have players who can make up the production those three provide the offense.

n The biggest first-half disappointment: The offense. It appeared to be a dynamic group, very capable for reaching its stated goal of 30 points per game. It hasn’t happened yet. It still may. Roethlisberger needs to be more accurate and Martavis Bryant has to get his head (and the rest of his anatomy) into the games.

n Most pleasant first-half surprise: JuJu Smith-Schuster. The rookie receiver has worked hard to deliver on the field. His personality has been a hit in the locker room and connected with fans, too. The Steelers have some players who aren’t easy to like, so an enthusiastic rookie on a bicycle is a good antidote to that.

n Most disappointing player: Bryant. You’d think a guy who just sat out a year would come back with something to prove. Instead, he’s moped and been a royal pain in the neck despite the team’s success.

n Most disappointed player: James Harrison. He’s been the heart and soul of the Steelers’ defense for a long time. Now he mostly sits. Actually, that’s good news for the Steelers. They finally have players who are better options than a veteran who’s pushing 40.

n Unsung hero: Chris Boswell. The team’s red zone problems would be a lot worse if they didn’t have a reliable kicker who can make those field goals when they’re forced to settle for them. The Steelers have had remarkable luck finding quality kickers in-season, and Boswell is the latest in that line.

n Potential conflict to watch: There’s been less of the no-huddle offense. That’s a Roethlisberger favorite because it gives the quarterback a chance to improvise. Asked about it on his weekly radio show, Roethlisberger said he just runs what offensive coordinator Todd Haley orders. When a player with tenure invokes the “I just work here” answer, it usually means he isn’t happy about what’s happening.

n Second-half project: Reduce penalties. The Steelers have been better in some games, but there are still too many dumb or careless penalties. That comes under the heading of attention to detail. Championship teams take care of things like that.

n Game to watch: Dec. 17 when New England visits. But you’ve known that since the schedule was released months ago.

n Projected final record: 12-4, and an easy path to the AFC North title.

Brady Keys

Brady Keys played defensive back on some bad Steelers teams in the 1960s, so he never got his due as a good player.

Keys died recently in Albany, New York at age 81.

In addition to his football career, he also helped launch a chain of restaurants called All Pro Chicken. Willie Stargell had a franchise, and that was the basis for the “Spread some chicken on The Hill with Will” gimmick that Bob Prince dreamed up in the early 1970s.

I talk about that over at the “Mainly Mehno” blog at altoonamirror.com.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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