SCOUT'S HONOR: The 411 on 0-2

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The two most favored teams for this season's Super Bowl have begun the season with two losses, but there's enough time to regroup and make it to the playoffs. And for some teams which are mildly disappointed by their slow start, the push for a possible playoff berth will be difficult. Still, some teams that start awfully are destined to finish awfully. Here's a look at what lies ahead for the teams that began the season 0-2.

Playoff hopes remain

Pittsburgh : Some may think the playoff loss to New England last season is still eating at the . But it's more than that. The defense has been defeated by opponents spreading them out and exposing them against the pass. The are matching linebackers against slot receivers. That's not going to win games. The knew their depth in the secondary was shaky, but they didn't do enough to upgrade. They have no confidence with their secondary right now. The offense must find its rhythm again. hasn't been able to find his comfort level, and one wonders if he can pick up the pieces again. The wear and tear may have set in permanently, which would be terrible for the , since Bettis is the pulse of the ground game. On the other hand, has re-entered the doghouse. That's put a lot of pressure on to get the job done through the air, and he can't make that happen on consistent basis. Stewart's inability to carry the could raise questions about his future again. has also failed to build off his progress from last season. He needs to mature quickly. The could still regroup and make their run, but it better happen soon. St. Louis : It's not time to panic yet for the . They aren't playing very sharp offensively right now. The timing isn't there, and teams have worked to adjust and challenge the physically. They could peak down the stretch, but a few things must happen. The offensive line must take control and display some consistency, and Mike Martz must swallow some pride and counter the adjustments teams are making on their offense. The defense also has shown some leaks. They must get healthy across the front four, and the pass defense has been a little inconsistent thus far. It's essential they regroup and find some steadiness. The next several games will be a major test to see how Martz and his men respond. They must buckle down and re-establish their focus on their latest challenge. It's all going to be about attitude for the .

Hopeful for respectability

Atlanta : The have played tough, and they've shown effort but fallen short during the first two weeks. Nevertheless, this is a team that has too many limitations to become a true playoff threat. The defense will struggle throughout the year to play the run, and they'll have problems over the middle as teams exploit them through the air. They need several more building blocks and must tweak their personnel if they remain committed to a 3-4 alignment beyond this season. is making significant strides. He's showing some maturity on the field. He's going to carry their offense for years. They potentially have a run game to back him. All they need is some weapons through the air for the long term to build around Vick. Seattle : Many observers tabbed the as a sleeper this season, but I had my doubts. I really wonder what direction this team is heading in. If Mike Holmgren has made one mistake, it's been trying to build a patchwork team to gain immediate results. The immediate results? A team that lacks direction. A 7-9 blueprint. They have some young playmakers to build around offensively. And their linebackers are a nice foundation defensively. Still, they haven't been able to stop the run, and the pass defense remains erratic. They've relied on too many veterans that are past their prime along the front four and within the secondary over the past couple years. And the special teams' production has fallen under Holmgren's watch.

Focus on 2003

Minnesota : The core is present offensively; they just need to get their offensive line sorted out. They have the potential for long-term success among its blockers, but they need to get signed. is just making his way back after a tough personal ordeal. He needs playing time to develop. The run defense has made strides up front. It actually looks competitive. But the secondary has hit an all-time low. Who ever thought it could get worse? They must make significant upgrades here to rebound as a playoff contender next season. There's no way they can rebound this season unless the secondary makes dramatic improvements over the next couple weeks. I don't see that happening.

A long road is ahead

Cincinnati : A lot of people felt the were on the verge of the playoffs this season, but I just didn't see it. They have some nice talent developing, but they aren't good enough to help carry a or at quarterback. The front office's inability to adequately upgrade at cornerback has shown, especially behind a defensive front that's been disappointing thus far. The have overestimated themselves, but they must continue on course building around the talent they've acquired. They just need a few more major pieces to the puzzle and this could truly be a solid team. But it's up to the organization to remain committed toward the progress they've made with acquiring young talent in recent years. Baltimore : This season is toward answering questions regarding the new long-term core of this franchise. It's all about identifying players for the future. has struggled at quarterback as expected, but Brian Billick must remain committed toward him for the long term. needs time to regain form following his knee injury; the can afford to be patient with him. But the offensive line needs a lot of work. And Redman's targets in the passing game need time to mature. is likely a keeper at tight end, but he's currently the top weapon. The defense is playing hard, but simply has a lot of limitations along the defensive line and within the secondary. It's going to take time to acquire the pieces needed to build around a solid group of young, active linebackers. Detroit : What can be said about the ? This is another team whose direction I question. Simply said, this is a franchise without much direction from atop their football operations. Matt Millen has looked clueless in his attempt to build a football team for long-term success, and Marty Mornhinweg wasn't ready for what he walked into. provides hope for the future, but the question is whether the can put Harrington in a position to succeed. The offensive line hasn't made any progress in years. They have a very average run game, and they lack the wide receivers and tight end to build their passing game around. The don't have much defensively. The front four could be solid at some point, but the back seven has severe limitations. The lack definite long-term answers throughout this group. This franchise has sunk further into the shallows of the NFL during the Millen regime. They have more holes than any other team in the NFL right now. Brian DeLucia is a respected college and pro personnel consultant around the NFL. Formerly a consultant with, and currently an contributor for Pro Football, Brian heads into his third season with providing commentary around the NFL and NFL Draft.
Tagged: Falcons, Bengals, Lions, Rams, Vikings, Seahawks, Ravens, Steelers, Jon Kitna, Gus Frerotte, Lewis Kelly, Amos Zereoue, Plaxico Burress, Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, Chris Redman, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Bryant McKinnie

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