If it had not been for the two scoring touchdowns by the defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be looking at the Wild Card or possibly out of the playoff picture.
Instead, they have a one game lead over the second place Baltimore Ravens.
If they win two of the last three games (and one win has to be against the Cleveland Browns), they win the division, have a first round bye and the No. 2 seed, possibly behind the New England Patriots.
This is the third week in a row that the offense has sputtered and the Steelers are still not scoring points. Five or six times in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers were unable to punch in touchdowns.
As of the last three games, the Steelers have averaged 18.3 points per game. Passing yards per game is 228.3, rushing yards per game is 127.7 and two turnovers.
There are several reasons for the lack of offensive production.
First, the Steelers are functioning with a makeshift offensive line that has problems protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger. Major injuries to several starters has made it a struggle for the Steeler staff to man the line. In one scenario, tight ends have been asked to block more to help out the line which takes away the middle of the field in passing downs.
The line struggles to get the job done and have been plagued with holding calls. In the last three games the line has been called for 17 offensive holding penalties.
Second, Roethlisberger has been sacked 26 times since his return from suspension this season. The line struggles to keep Roethlisberger protected, especially when he is holding on to the ball too long or stepping out of the pocket to sustain drives and find an open receiver to move the chains.
So either Roethlisberger gets sacked or the line is flagged for holding.
Suffering from a broken nose he sustained from a hit in the face by Ravens defensive lineman, Haloti Ngata, and an injured foot, he spends most of the game running for his life.
Third, the offense has been neither efficient nor effective in the red zone. They are able to move the ball between the 20s only to be held (even by poorer defenses) to score three points on a field goal instead of scoring six.
Since Roethlisberger’s return the running game has suffered. Statistically, the Steelers have had more running attempts than passing attempts this season.
In 13 games, RB Rashard Mendenhall has recorded 1073 yards. However, only three of the 13 games did Mendenhall rush for 100 yards or more and has scored a single touchdown in each of the three games. His rushing average has dropped from 4.8 yards per carry to 3.9 yards per carry.
What makes matters worse, the offense has the same problem whether they are playing a good or bad team. The offense performs mediocre against low ranking teams like the Buffalo Bills or the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers have suffered a high share of penalty calls this season both offensively and defensively, especially bad calls by the NFL referees.
The last couple of games, the Steelers are winning games not by the offense but the defense, whether by interception or caused fumbles.
Down the stretch, they cannot depend on the defense to carry them through the playoffs.
Or can they? I mean, the Baltimore Ravens won their Super Bowl with a mediocre offense and a stifling defense.
The 10-3 Steelers are in the midst of playing three straight home games in 12 days and this Sunday they will host the 9-4 New York Jets.
Jets lost to Miami Sunday and therefore lost to them twice to fall two games behind AFC East leader New England. Losing two straight, they are now two games behind with three games to go. They could make the wild card or be eliminated.
It is interesting to note that the Jets suffer from the same ills as the Steelers, especially, lack of offensive production, penalty-ridden games and protecting their quarterback, Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has been sacked 26 times.
Although the Jets offense ranks 12th overall in the NFL, they have only scored nine points in the last two games. They too have been able to move the ball between the twenties and yet have been deficient with scoring drives in the red zone.
Unlike the Steelers, the Jets have more balanced team on offense. Through the first 12 games of the season, the Jets have called 399 pass plays and 396 run plays.
The Steeler defense that has only allowed 20 points per game (fourth overall in the NFL) and no 100-yard rusher this season is on pace to shatter the team record for rushing yards/game allowed.(60.1 average).
The Jets defense, although ranked fourth overall have lately been having problems rushing the passer and their blitz packages aren’t getting in to dominate games
However, New York is 2-4 against teams with a winning record. The Steelers look to win their fifth straight game on the year, clinch a playoff spot and finish the season with a 3-1 record against the AFC East.
RB Rashard Mendenhall needs 36 yards rushing to surpass his career high for rushing yards in a season. He currently has 1,073 rushing yards after posting 1,108 rushing yards in 2009.
WR Mike Wallace needs 54 receiving yards to post his first career 1,000-yard season. He has already surpassed last season’s total of 756 receiving yards as he now has 954 yards in 2010. He also needs five receiving touchdowns to break the team’s single-season record, which is 12 held by Hines Ward (2002), Louis Lipps (1985) and Buddy Dial (1961).
LB James Harrison needs 1.5 sacks to reach 50 for his career and become just the seventh player in team history to total at least 50 career sacks. Also one forced fumble to match his career high of seven and to tie the team record for forced fumbles in a season, which he currently shares with Greg Lloyd (1994). Harrison had seven in 2008 and has forced six in 2010.
LB LaMarr Woodley needs 1.5 sacks to reach 10 for the year and become just the second player in team history (LB James Harrison) to post at least 10 sacks in three straight seasons. Woodley had 11.5 in 2008 and 13.5 in 2009.
And finally, S Troy Polamalu needs one interception to tie his single-season best. He currently has six picks on the year. He had a personal-best seven interceptions in 2008.
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