Over the course of the past two and-a-half months, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been on and taken their fans on quite a ride. After an 0-4 start, the Steelers are 4-2 in their previous six games and have their eyes on a wild-card playoff spot in the AFC.
Standing in their way are the pesky Cleveland Browns. Fortunately, the Browns past six games have been on a significantly different arc, as they have gone 2-4 during that same stretch.
Recent history in this storied rivalry certainly favors the Steelers, with a 5-1 edge over the past three seasons, and a sixth win in this series would be huge. The Steelers are tied with the Browns and the Baltimore Ravens at 4-6 in a logjam in the AFC North.
Here's what you need to know as we enter Week 12 of the NFL regular season.
All three of the second-place teams in the North are only a single game out of the final wild-card playoff spot, assuming there is only one for which to play.
Sunday's victory over the Detroit Lions was made more remarkable when you consider that the Steelers were minus four players who were either starters or priority reserves. This Tweet from Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola summed up the situation last Sunday.
Inactives for @Steelers: QB Jones, WR Moye, SS Thomas, TE Gordon, OLB Woodley, LG Foster, DE Keisel— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) November 17, 2013
An official injury report will be out later in the week, but it sure would be nice to get some of these players back before the Steelers travel to Cleveland on Sunday.
At this point, every game is a must-win, so it needs to be all hands on deck going forward.
What Must Improve
One area of the Steelers' game that continues to lag behind is run blocking. This team is ranked 30th in the league in run offense, and it’s not by mistake. Other than guard David DeCastro, there are really no adequate run-blocking linemen on the field. They don’t work well together, and no amount of scheming or personnel adjustments seem to be working.
If the Steelers are serious about making the run game more than a diversion for the passing offense, they might want to consider incorporating some of the concepts of the inside and outside zone. No, I’m not saying that Roethlisberger is going to turn into Marcus Mariota, but forcing the defense to look for something different might give the run game the spark it needs.
As it stands now, there is very little mystery or imagination to how and when the Steelers are going to run the football.
I’d even be fine with the return of the Wildcat for Sunday’s game if it means the Steelers can take some of the heat off of Roethlisberger and the passing game.
Unless specified, all statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.