Pittsburgh Steelers: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 9

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IOctober 28, 2013

October 30, 2011; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miler (83) is brought down after a pass reception by New England Patriots defenders Kyle Arrington (24) and James Ihedigbo (bottom rear) and Antwaun Molden (27) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 25-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

There is really only one thing you need to know about the Pittsburgh Steelers as they head into Week 9 of the NFL season. It's that this first half of the year has been an abject failure.

Injuries and blunders have followed this team all season long. Those two factors are the root cause of their 2-5 start. Obviously, injuries are part of the game and all teams have to contend with them, but simply along the offensive line alone, this team has been ravaged.

Having said all that, this week's road game against the New England Patriots is coming like a bullet train whether they are ready for it or not. The Patriots mounted an impressive comeback last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins when most had written them off for dead.

Both of these teams are built around their franchise quarterback. The Patriots have Tom Brady, and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger. Each of these men have Super Bowl credentials and contrasting styles of play.

Brady is a cerebral quarterback who flows so well within the Patriots system, seemingly able to assimilate any skill players into the fold and make them effective. Roethlisberger, on the other hand, is a bull in a china shop at times. He excels when he operates outside the system, allowing his natural gifts to take over.

Let's take a look at how they break down by the numbers.

NamePassing YardsTouchdownsInterceptionsQB Rate
Ben Roethlisberger1,9308787.2
Tom Brady1,8249674.9


Division Standings

AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals6-2
Baltimore Ravens3-4
Cleveland Browns3-5
Pittsburgh Steelers2-5

There is a gap—no, more like a chasmbetween the last-place Steelers and first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Regardless of what the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens do going forward, it looks bleak for the Steelers if the Bengals don't suddenly go into a tailspin and the Steelers catch fire.


Injury Report

It is starting to feel like there is some bad mojo on the squad. This past Sunday, the Steelers lost three more linemen to injury, forcing them to play every available body on the roster. The exact statuses of guard David DeCastro and tackles Kelvin Beachum and Guy Whimper aren't certain. Nevertheless, this group can ill afford to lose any of these players for a significant stretch.

In the postgame press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin commented on the injuries (via Steelers Depot).

On the injury front, Ramon Foster sustained a concussion early on and was unable to return. Guy Whimper had a left knee injury that needs to be and will be evaluated. David DeCastro has a right ankle injury that needs to be and will be evaluated.

Heading into the game, the only injury of significance was to wide receiver Markus Wheaton. His absence was due to a broken pinky. His status for the Patriots game is unknown as well.


What Must Improve

After last Sunday's loss, it's all about mistakes. Whether it was a missed defensive assignment on a 93-yard touchdown run or a wide receiver cutting a route off too early, mental errors were rampant on Sunday.

Oct 27, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) calls out to his teammates before the snap against the Oakland Raiders during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Raiders defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers

Against a team that plays so disciplined and so well within their system like the Patriots, mental mistakes will be exponentially worse than costly. And if the Steelers cannot find a way to pull this game out, questions will arise about the future of some of the players as well as the coaching staff.

This week, Tomlin and his staff need to pull this group together and focus on fundamentals. They will likely be putting together yet another starting offensive line grouping, and the rotations on defense continue to vary from week to week. With so much in flux, this group cannot lose sight of the basics: good, assignment football, sound tackling and proper play execution.

The Steelers don't have much time left to salvage some respect this season. It all starts on Sunday against the Patriots. Between now and Sunday, they all need to get on the same page and remember why they are playing this game.