Pittsburgh Steelers Are Down, But Are They Out?

Kevin RobertsSenior Writer IDecember 17, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 06: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is congratulated by head coach Mike Tomlin after throwing a fourth quarter touchdown pass while playing the the Oakland Raiders December 6, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Oakland won the game 27-24.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The mighty Pittsburgh Steelers, last year's Super Bowl champions, and the NFL leader in total Super Bowls claimed, have fallen .

They've lost five straight games after rebounding from a 1-2 start to get to 6-2, and furthered their fall from grace (and embarrassment) by allowing the 2-11 Cleveland Browns to beat them at their own game in a bad weather game last Thursday night.

But this isn't "hot off the press" news. This isn't just happening. And this isn't simply another one of those "Super Bowl hangover" years.

Go ahead, lay it on thick for Troy Polamalu and his decision to grace the Madden 2010 video game cover. Sure, the history doesn't help his cause, but let's be real. This slide isn't from a video game, and as good of an impact player as Polamalu is, this slowly-slipping-away 2009 season doesn't have his injuries and missed action to blame.

The truth is, they're getting out-smash-mouthed. Opposing teams are stealing their style of play, lining up across from them, and smacking them in the mouth, and doing it fearlessly.

The Steelers have very rarely been a dominant team that blows teams out of the water. Hell, they won last year's Super Bowl by a field goal. Winning big just isn't what they do.

So, it shouldn't be any surprise to anyone who follows them to learn that five of their seven losses have come by three points, while the other two have been by seven and six.

Just by the hair of their chin. Opposing teams are lining up, staring them right in the eye, and taking one, good, solid swing.

And it's landing.

Ben Roethlisberger, an elite performer earlier in the season, doesn't have time to throw. He's been sacked 38 times, eight last Thursday night against the lowly Browns, and is under constant pressure.

But that's old news, too. He and the Steelers offense reached and won the Super Bowl with the same guys blocking up front. So, it's not just poor pass protection.

The running game, although much improved since Rashard Mendenhall stepped in for the declining Willie Parker, has been dismal on third downs. Mendenhall has only converted 50 percent of his 3rd-and-1 opportunities, rendering the Steelers' offense as stale, and forcing them to pass more than they'd like to.

The issue, contrary to popular belief, has not been the absence of Troy Polamalu. And it hasn't been the Steelers defense. They've been bending a bit more than usual lately, allowing over 20 points in three of their last four games, but they're still stuck in their roots, as they haven't allowed a team to top 30 points in a game all season.

Quite honestly, despite all the negative media attention this team is getting, they're not a bad football team. True, great (or even decent) football teams know how to avoid losing five straight games, but when you're the Steelers, the reigning champions, and used to doing the exact opposite, sometimes these things can take you by surprise.

But this isn't irreparable. Not like many insist.

The Steelers have been swept by the Cincinnati Bengals, lost their first meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, and looked past three opponents they should have destroyed in the Raiders, Browns, and Chiefs.

But this is salvageable. At 6-7, even amidst an on-going five game slide, their season is far from over. Sure, they need to win out and have some things fall their way, but if you take a look at the schedule, the "things falling their way" and winning their next three games really go hand-in-hand.

They can start the turn-around with a big win at home against the 9-4 Green Bay Packers, a worthy opponent who has taken the Steelers molded 3-4 defense and made it it's own.

If the Steelers can (and they will) get past the Packers, they then may have the ability to suddenly control their own destiny if they're able to tie the season series with the Baltimore Ravens, while having a chance to eliminate a fellow playoff contender, in the Miami Dolphins, in Week 17.

They have something going for them. They have hope, the knowledge that they're playing football the right way but simply coming up short. They have, whether the fans and "knowitalls" choose to believe it or not, a real opportunity to still make this thing happen.

The Bengals are 9-4, and regardless of what Pittsburgh does, the division is theirs.

But the Steelers can control what happens with Baltimore and Miami. They own the tie-breaker with the Denver Broncos and the Tennessee Titans, and if they can get past the Packers on Sunday, they'll finally taste what it's like to win a game while desperately clawing for air in a box.

They'll know again, for the first time in a long time, what it feels like to be underdogs, yet prevail. They'll know they have what it takes to get back to the playoffs.