The Pittsburgh Steelers need to get their heads on straight or the 2009 season could end quicker than many expect.
I don't want to sound all gloom and doom here. I'm not a negative person by nature, but I do know what I see, and what I see has me concerned.
I know the Steelers have won two straight after a 1-2 start. I know Pittsburgh is 3-2 and only a game behind the first-place Bengals in the AFC North. I know they're the defending Super Bowl champions.
But the truth is the Steelers are not playing Super Bowl caliber football right now.
Dropped passes—hello Limas Sweed, lack of focus in the second half of games, and dumb penalties have become consistent week after week.
How frustrating is it watching a team with so much talent fall apart in the fourth quarter of every game?
The blame isn't just on the players. The coaching staff hasn't been up to snuff either.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is not-so-quietly turning into the second coming of Mike Martz. The former St. Louis Rams head coach was so pass happy, he once limited Marshall Faulk, the greatest all-purpose back in NFL history, to only nine touches in a game.
Arians is trying to follow suit.
If given his way, he would throw 90 percent of the time. It would be Jim Kelly and the K-Gun reborn. Damn the torpedoes is the Arians philosophy.
It's that gunslinger attitude that almost cost Pittsburgh a victory in Detroit yesterday.
The Steelers were up 28-13 and cruising to the win. Inexplicably, Arians channels his inner Martz and keeps dialing up the pass.
The results: the Lions ran more plays (43-8), had more yards (205-77) and more first downs (14-4) in the second half. At one point, Ben Roethlisberger attempted five consecutive passes, and was sacked three times.
Making it worse, Detroit had four starters out, including first-overall pick, QB Matthew Stafford. This game should have been a blowout. It wasn't.
Rashard Mendenhall, who had 65 yards in the first half, ran it only six times in the second half. He could have dominated the game if he had the opportunity. He wasn't given one.
I'm reminded of the Pink Floyd song, "Comfortably Numb," when I think of these fourth quarter shenanigans.
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home?"
Hello coach Arians, just a quick little message for you: run the damn ball when you've got the game in hand. Burn the clock, get some easy wins for a change.
Because if you were playing a good team yesterday, and ran those kinds of plays in the second half, the Steelers would have lost.
The second-half inertia bothering Pittsburgh can be corrected, the damage is self-inflicted.
The players need to keep their focus and realize it's a 60-minute contest, not 30 or 45 minutes. The coaches need to wake up and understand when you're the champs, the bulls-eye is on your back and every team gives you their A-game.
After the 1-2 start, there are good things happening in the Steel City:
Mendenhall, after setting out the Cincinnati game, has returned with passion and a mission—to be the featured back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He looks like it right now. He's running hard and playing with confidence. Note to coaches: give him the ball more.
The offensive line was the eyesore for Pittsburgh last season, but this unit seems to be finding a groove. The right side of G Trai Essex and T Willie Colon is blasting out holes for Mendenhall, while LG Chris Kemoeatu is playing the best football of his career.
The Steelers defense has awakened from its slumber, along with NFL Defensive Player of the year James Harrison. The defense recorded seven sacks against the Lions, and Harrison has collected five in two games.
They're still giving up too many big plays and falling asleep in the fourth quarter, but the guys have a ton of pride and are starting to look like the Steeler D that other teams fear. How the defense goes, so goes Pittsburgh.
The Steelers need to find their focus and avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover. They need to get hungry again and find that killer instinct all great teams have. It's just a matter of making it happen.
They can't continue to play the way they've been or the good teams will beat them. That's not a statement, it's a fact.
This squad has too much talent to be playing like they are. The Steelers are the defending champs and the most successful franchise in the Super Bowl era.
They just have to start acting and playing like it.