Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
The defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers enter the bye week at 5-2.
Here are some things the team can do to improve during its break:
1. Get healthy
This is probably the biggest advantage for any NFL team going into the bye. The Steelers are a veteran group that has a few key starters banged up.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons tweaked his ankle but believes he will be ready for the Nov. 9 meeting with the Denver Broncos (6-0). Defensive end Travis Kirschke has a calf issue, tailback Willie Parker’s toe is still bothering him, and even safety Troy Polamalu could use the extra time to rest his knee.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is giving his veterans a lot of time off. He’s trusting that rust won’t be an issue and is going the route of mentally and physically resting his team.
2. Work on ball security
It’s been a confusing trend, but somewhere along the way the Steelers decided to carry the football around like a loaf of bread. It’s really been surprising how careless a veteran team like Pittsburgh has been with the football. The Steelers have five fumbles, losing four, in the past two weeks.
The fumbling hasn’t cost Pittsburgh any games. But putting the ball on the ground at this rate will surely catch up to the Steelers if it continues. Starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall has been the biggest offender with two lost fumbles the past two weeks. Expect this to be a major focal point during the bye.
3. Insert wrinkles
The extra time is a good opportunity for coaches to insert new wrinkles, especially on offense. The Steelers don’t run as many trick plays as they used to. But several reverses and tight end screens have worked throughout the year.
Perhaps the Steelers can insert a few more screens into the game plan, especially with Mendenhall now in the backfield. It also can’t hurt to add some new trick plays, as well, even if Pittsburgh doesn’t need them until later down the road.
If the Steelers improve in these three areas, it will be a bye week well spent.
On Thursday, the AFC North blog will take a look at the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) and where they can get better during their bye.