Up to this point, the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 season can be seen as one of the most thrilling roller-coaster rides possible. With heights exemplified by a dominant win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, to lows as disheartening as losses to the lowly Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans, the Steelers are on the way to becoming one of the most polarizing teams in the NFL.
However, there is reason to believe that the Steelers will settle down and win their division by season’s end.
Improved Offensive Line Play
In recent years, the Steelers offensive line has been much maligned for its inability to protect franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been sacked an amazing 331 times in his eight-year career. Compare those numbers to his 2004 draft counterpart, Eli Manning, who has only been sacked 201 times so far.
Under the direction of new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Big Ben is thriving and on his way to a career year, thanks in large part to lights-out play by the offensive line. The line has allowed only 17 sacks at the halfway mark of the season (minus three that occurred in the final moments of the Denver game that was well out of reach). The offensive line has also been a large catalyst in the resurrection of the Steelers' ground attack.
Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall.
It doesn’t seem to matter who you line up in the backfield, as any of these three running backs embodies Mike Tomlin’s statement of “the standard is the standard.” The Steelers returned to their traditional “ground-and-pound” football throughout their impressive three-game win streak, averaging 155 yards rushing per game and with a 100-yard rusher in each.
Blown fourth-quarter lead after blown fourth-quarter lead, Steeler Nation could only watch in agony as a once-vaunted defensive unit conceded what seemed to be a comfortable fourth-quarter lead against the likes of the Oakland Raiders, the Tennessee Titans and the Denver Broncos.
“Fire Dick Lebeau,” was the new mantra for many Steelers fans through this tough stretch, but boy, how a couple of victories can change things in this league.
The once-broken Steelers defense is now ranked first in the league in passing and total defense, allowing a meager 262.6 yards per game to the opposition. This is directly thanks to elevated play by unsung heroes like Ryan Clark and Larry Foote, and the emergence of young cornerback Keenan Lewis. The Steelers defense is back to the status quo that defined it for generations.
With the Steelers experiencing a recent resurgence into contention, look for them to emerge victorious in the quest for the ever-competitive AFC North against the injury-riddled Baltimore Ravens and the always-disappointing teams from Ohio.