Twelve weeks into the NFL season the Steelers sport a gaudy 8-3 record. Good enough for the last wild card slot if the playoffs began next week. But a peek under win-loss record reveals that this Steelers team has much to be thankful for this holiday season. They probably don't deserve the record or playoff berth and a long run in the playoffs does not appear to be in the cards.
The Steelers have played against five teams that are more than two games over .500. Against three of those teams, the Ravens, the Patriots and the Saints, they have lost. Surprisingly, the closest of those three loses was against the Ravens without Ben Roethlisberger at QB. A last minute TD drive by Joe Flacco and Baltimore cost the Steelers an important win. Against New Orleans we looked lost and the Pats game was just downright embarrassing.
In the other two games, they beat Atlanta in the first game of the season at home in OT. Rashard "Mendy" Mendenhall broke a big run to give the Steelers their only touchdown. The other win was against Tampa Bay, who themselves are a surprising 7-4. The Steelers rolled them the third week of the season. Both of those wins interestingly were without Roethlisberger at the helm, forcing the Steelers to run more.
Against teams that are within a game of .500, the Steelers have won all three. Looking deeper at these games though is disturbing. These are games that the Steelers should be winning, but you would think more decisively then they did.
Against the Raiders, the Steelers played perhaps their best game since the return of Roethlisberger. Coming off a horrendous showing against New England, the Steelers played like they had something to prove and they did. But even there, you didn't see a dominant Steeler running performance.
Against the Titans, again without Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense carried the day. Charlie Batch came in for a hurt Dennis Dixon and managed the offense, but the Steeler defense had more turnovers that game then some defenses get in a season. The Steelers walked away with a 19-11 win.
In the Dolphin game, let's face it, the refs gave us that game. Roethlisberger fumbled at the goal line late in the game and, in spite of what seemed to take place, the refs gave us the ball back for a last second field goal. Even Mike Tomlin said lets get on the bus before they change their mind.
Against teams with the worst records, the Steelers have been very, very lucky. In his first game back, a rusty Roethlisberger led them to a 28-10 win over the Browns. The game was closer than the score indicated, but the fact that Colt McCoy, making his first start in the league, handled the Steeler D was troubling.
Against the Bungles, I mean Bengals, let's be frank. The Steelers were very lucky to win that game. Only James Harrison's bone jarring hit on the Bengal receiver at the end of the game on our two-yard line prevented the Bengals from another last second win against the Steelers. After dominating that game, the Steelers should never had been in the position of potentially losing without Harrison making that hit.
The most recent Bills game? Does anyone think we deserved to win? One touchdown on the opening drive of the game and only field goals after that? Only Stevie Wonder's drop in OT and the Bills RB running into his own player prevented us taking an L home from Buffalo.
Last year we had more than our share of bad luck. This year, the football gods seem to be giving us some payback. We stole wins against the Bills and Dolphins. We escaped both Tennessee and Atlanta games without Roethlisberger and with wins. The Cincy game was payback from last year. But if we would have lost two or three of these games, we would just about be guaranteed a warm spot on the couch to watch the playoffs again this year.
The Steelers are going to have to take it up a notch if we hope to compete against the Jets, the Pats and the Ravens in the AFC. Not to mention the Texans or Colts.
So we find ourselves with a better than good shot at still making the playoffs. What do the Steelers have to do to make the playoffs and go far in them?
1. A brain transplant for Bruce Arians. Even after going 3-1 without Roethlisberger by pounding the ball, he still doesn't get it. Mendy should be getting 25 touches a game.
2. Why isn't Isaac Redman in every play as a FB or running option. Give the Steelers a pony backfield, instead of asking a big TE to play fullback.
3. Stop going empty backfield on third and one. At least make them think you might run.
4. Our defensive secondary has to do a better job late in games. We seem to play soft zones, banking on the rush to hurry the QB.
5. Blitz up the middle more. As good as Harrison and Woodley are, Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior up the middle are devastating on blitzes. Let's see some safety and corner blitzes.
6. The D line is hurt, but need Ziggy Hood to step up. He is a No. 1 draft choice. Time he starts playing like one.
7. We need to make first downs late in the game. We just can't get a first down late in the game. It cost us the Baltimore game, it almost cost us the game yesterday and the Cincy game. We need to control the ball.
8. Red zone—this is a broken record already. We do not score touchdowns from the red zone. I don't know what it is, if we change our schemes or what, but I am tired of seeing 30-plus yard field goals already!
There is no team in the NFL that is totally dominant this year. The Steelers can beat any team out there on any given week, if they play to their potential. There is still time for us to get another ring. But we need to correct these mistakes that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot with every week.