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The Pittsburgh Steelers can play defense again. That should scare the rest of the AFC.

They have transitioned from the departure of longtime coordinator, Dick LeBeau, and they once again look like a speedy-enough unit that can swarm and, most importantly of all, shows the ability to shut down the run through two weeks. If they manage to keep that up, given what a prolific offense we know they possess, and you could be looking at the class of this conference.

Particularly at a time when the New England Patriots are having to shuffle quarterbacks again, with Tom Brady suspended two more games and Jimmy Garoppolo nursing a shoulder injury that knocked him from Sunday’s game, the Steelers seem poised to make some early noise and start pulling away from the pack.

Already, they have displayed the ability to beat teams in different ways.

In Week 1 it was the predictable offensive fireworks at Washington, though lost amid all of that was a stout performance from the front seven (I still have my reservations about the Pittsburgh secondary, but, alas, in this day and age few teams have a complete roster).

On Sunday, in the muck, slog and the pouring rain, against a fierce divisional foe on an afternoon in which Pittsburgh’s offense was bogged down at times and unable to score at its normal pace, the defense got the job done.

steelers-defensebengals.jpgSteelers defenders look to pounce on a fumble during the second half vs. the Bengals. USATSI

Most importantly, the Cincinnati Bengals could muster nothing on the ground. Nothing. They remain seemingly split between Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill and neither could accomplish much Sunday. The Bengals rushed 18 times for 46 yards, a week after the Washington Redskins ran just 12 times for 55 yards. Obviously, this is a small sample size, and the ability for Pittsburgh’s offense to churn the clock and control the football — the Steelers have been one of the league’s top rushing teams through two weeks — and to play with a lead in both games has negated the willingness of others to test them on the ground.

But this has the look of a much-improved unit, and linebacker Ryan Shazier has the look of a young playmaker coming into his own. With the Baltimore Ravens looking like a still-rebuilding team and the Cleveland Browns , well, the Browns, the Steelers have an opportunity to make a power move here and now.

Overall, the schedule sets up nicely for them throughout and they go to the Philadelphia Eagles next week before hosting the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets . Then they travel to reeling Miami. Oh yeah, and some running back, Le’Veon Bell or something like that, comes back from suspension after next week.

Look out.

Despite injury, Garoppolo turns plenty of heads

Even if Jimmy Garoppolo does not throw another pass this season — Tom Brady is only a few weeks from a return and the youngster suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder Sunday — he has set himself up. His six quarters of sterling work this season has grabbed the attention of the entire league, and he’ll be very much in demand this offseason.

I still believe the Patriots hold on to him as the QB-in-waiting behind Brady and resist anything but a ridiculous ransom via trade. Maybe he even gets a Band-Aid contract extension in the offseason as well. But make no mistake, he was well on his way to absolutely shredding the Miami Dolphins on Sunday when he suffered his injury and he in every way looks the part of a winning NFL quarterback. It might have been a 40-point win for the Pats had he been able to stay in the game and keep chucking the ball around.

The kid plays fearless quarterback, he makes stick throws in the right spot and delivers the ball in a manner in which receivers can easily run after the catch. He does the little things well and does them in a way that make them look easy and the Pats were well on their way to a 4-0 start with him at the helm. Now, on a short week having to face the Houston Texans on Thursday night, he could very well miss at least a game, but he continues to open eyes around the league. He and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are going to get paid (McDaniels will get a head coaching job this offseason; I’d bet my house on it).

Garoppolo has turned some heads in limited playing time this season. USATSI

Dallas Cowboys ‘ offensive line not hitting on all cylinders

Cowboys still have some stuff to sort out with their offensive line and in the run game. The idea that Ezekiel Elliott was going to come in as a rookie and take the NFL by storm, a la Todd Gurley a year ago, just hasn’t been the case.

Elliott was not a consistent difference maker in either of the first two games, at a time when the Dallas really needed to establish its physicality up front, and it’s been slow going for the first-round pick so far.

Elliott has rushed 41 times for 134 yards thus far — a paltry 3.27 per carry against less-than-ferocious New York Giants and Redskins defenses — though he has reached the end zone in each game. More importantly for the Cowboys, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott continues to look like the early gem of their draft class.

Prescott, despite being so athletic, is willing to operate within the confines of the offense. He runs and sheds the pocket only when necessary and he continues to show great pose and moxie. The kid can play.

ezekiel-elliott.jpgElliott played better on Sunday, but the Cowboys’ line still isn’t clicking. USATSI

Burfict’s absence showing in Cincinnati

The Bengals need Vontaze Burfict back from his suspension, ASAP. Like yesterday. Cincy has battled hard for two games, but lost the battle in the trenches both times.

They used a plethora of big passing plays to beat the Jets, anyway, but took a beating from the Steelers again Sunday. His absence shows up mostly in the run defense. The Jets and Steelers have combined to run the ball 66 times for 267 yards already this season against the Bengals. That’s not the norm for this bunch and it’s something they’ll want to get corrected quickly.

Cousins looks off his game in Washington

Kirk Cousins needs to get it going. The Redskins game turned for the worse for them when Cousins forced a ball in the end zone for an easy interception and he has been off both weeks.

The deep stuff to DeSean Jackson hasn’t been there and everything has felt like a struggle. Now, they started slowly last season as well before they caught fire, though Cousins didn’t have the pressure of a $20 million contract on his shoulders, then, either.

The reality of the NFC East is I don’t see anyone pulling away and hiding, but Washington certainly needs to get a win here soon.

Jacksonville Jaguars not living up to the preseason hype

I wonder if my boy Pete Prisco is still planning the Jaguars’ Super Bowl parade. Er, I mean their AFC South champs parade. Um, I mean the We Finally Got Back To .500! parade.

For all of the hype, this team is still finding ways to lose games and the additional speed and skill added to the defense hasn’t clicked much early on, either. They host the Ravens before facing the Indianapolis Colts in London in what’s considered a home game.

On the heels of this failed trip to San Diego, that’s a tall task and they’d better win one of those games.

Some good news in Cleveland?

Horrible loss for the Browns — and the officials did them no favors — but there are positives. This is a 100-percent more viable team with Josh McCown at quarterback over Robert Griffin III . It’s not even close.

The ball was spread around and Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor had multiple opportunities to make plays. Problem is, this offensive line is a joke and McCown barely survived Sunday, his first start. It won’t be all that long before rookie Cody Kessler has to play, and that could make the one-week Griffin experience look productive in hindsight.

Dolphins showing some heart, despite losses

Give the Dolphins some credit for fighting back from their brutal start. New England held the ball for 12 minutes in the first quarter and moved the ball at will. Ryan Tannehill continues to be capable of brutal football (his first half was atrocious), but they battled back and made that a game after Garoppolo went down.

I still can’t help but wonder if rookie coach Adam Gase isn’t looking to upgrade over him by the middle of the season. I don’t think he’s the answer in Miami, but he did finally show signs of life in the second half at New England.

More news and notes from around the league:

Kansas City Chiefs

No team in the NFL has played worse first halves than the Chiefs thus far. Alex Smith is getting pounded, they should’ve turned the ball over four times in the first half at Houston alone (they had three giveaways and a fourth was negated on video review though I still don’t understand why) and Smith was also sacked five times in the opening 30 minutes. Not good.

Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson did yeoman’s work to be able to play Sunday with his ankle injury, and it involved around-the-clock treatment, but he was not quite himself to be sure. He had difficulty planting fully and firing through some throws and the Seahawks offense is still very much an issue.

How much longer before uber-aggressive and super-smart GM John Schneider starts sniffing around for a veteran tackle to try to settle that unit down? I’d be calling the Browns on Joe Thomas soon.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina’s defense has been a little off. Would like to see them develop another pass-rushing option.

Miami Dolphins

Getting center Mike Pouncey will surely help some, but the Dolphins need to figure out a run game, quickly. Think they could use, oh, Lamar Miller these days?

Oakland Raiders

Been a very slow start for Khalil Mack and the Raiders defense. Feel awful for Derek Carr , who still looks best of breed to me of his draft class and a quarterback on the cusp of breaking into the next tier or premier starters. Raiders’ tackling is poor and the coverage is still suffering and the pass rush isn’t nearly as potent as I suspected, especially against a Atlanta Falcons team that is accustomed to getting out-muscled.

Los Angeles Rams

Kudos to the Rams for going 1-1 without scoring a touchdown this season and with getting precious little out of Gurley and the run game. That offensive line is going to have to get it together.

Houston Texans

J.J. Watt started to look like himself Sunday after a slow Week 1 as he works back from a serious back injury. He was much more loose and active and unencumbered against the Chiefs thought we’ll see what Thursday brings on a short week/

Arizona Cardinals

Guess Bruce Arians’ message about the Cards not believing their own press clippings got through; that was a much more thorough and cohesive effort than in Week 1. They gave Jameis Winston plenty of teaching moments in the process.


Source: CBS Sports Headlines / NFL notes: Steelers show they can play defense, and that should scare the AFC