Pittsburgh Steelers Top Carolina Panthers, but Are They Really Playoff Strong?

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 23:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the game against the Carolina Panthers on December 23, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers rejoiced in the season to be jolly this week, by sharing their version of "Deck the Halls" in a rather rambunctious yet amusing attempt at revamping an old time caroling favorite. .

As for Steel City, they hope that same Christmas spirit tides over into an abundance of aggression and consistency. what with the postseason quickly approaching this January.

If any Steeler fans wish to hang their hat on anything right now, it might as well be Pittsburgh's big time blowout win over the Carolina Panthers this past Thursday Night.  Sure, this victory isn't quite as monumental as it may have been three years ago, but all in all the Steelers moved one step closer to clinching the AFC North division crown over top rivals the Baltimore Ravens.

A game recap?

What is there to "recap" exactly?

Excluding the boring details, Ben Roethlisberger threw for his usual 320 yards and 1 touchdown, Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen struggled against Pittsburgh's 2nd rank overall defense, and once again Mike Wallace capped off a big time performance playing for 104 yards and 1 touchdown.

Same old Steelers, same old Panthers pretty much.

But with the playoffs now becoming an intimidating circumstance with just one week remaining on the Steelers seventeen game schedule, the entire city of Pittsburgh begins to shift their focus toward a possible Wild Card bye in the first week of the postseason -- something that isn't all that unfamiliar for a six time Super Bowl winning team.

Now the discussion begins.

If there was a more fitting word to describe the Steelers other than "clutch", I simply haven't found it.  Year in and year out (if you exclude 2009), the Steelers have managed to make the most of the later months in the regular season, by piling on the brownie points as the big stage promisingly awaits in several weeks time.

What does this say about 2010?  In an unusual turn of events, quite a lot.  And it's not all good news either.

1. The Offensive Line

One of the Steelers most promising aspects of the past decade has of course been the offense.  However, since Mike Tomlin took over from Bill Cowher in early 2007, the solid reputation that always surrounded Pittsburgh has slowly died out a little in the past two years. 

If a recent example is needed to spark a reminder in your brain, rewind back to the Steelers Week 15 clash against the New York Jets.  Yet again Heinz Field played host, and seeing as though the Steelers are close to impenetrable at home, most folks backed Ben Roethlisberger's crew
on a cold afternoon.

So much for that theory.

Perhaps it was the Jets' strong defense or the Steelers lack of blocking, but Ben Roethlisberger struggled throughout the game.  Throwing for 264 yards and 1 touchdown, Roethlisberger hit the deck 3 total times for sacks against New York, a rare statistic that cost Pittsburgh some serious real estate in the long run.

The playoffs are now a distinct certainty for the black and gold, but even against the Panthers Ben Roethlisberger still felt the pressure.  It's an issue that often goes unnoticed when Super Bowl chances are pondered by fans, but it is also a problem that could haunt Pittsburgh when the New England's or Indianapolis' come to town in January.

2. The Potential Loss of Troy Polamalu

Thursday night saw Steelers star safety Troy Polamalu once again sit out this season against the Carolina Panthers, making it three total games that Pittsburgh have been without No.43 due to constant injury concerns.

In terms of disadvantage's, it's no surprise to anyone that the loss of Troy Polamalu seriously limits Dick LeBeau's defense.  Not only do the Steelers miss out on Polamalu's explosive playmaking ability, they also lack his veteran mentality that shines through in the Steelers body language whenever he is on the field.

Worse yet though, Pittsburgh simply don't have the depth to replace their star player.  Seven year replacement Will Allen hasn't exactly struggled for game time in his first year in the Steel City, but at the same time his interception numbers continue to sit rock bottom sixteen weeks into the season.

Therefore when it's all said and done, this may be a case of no Polamalu, no chance. 

3. The Competition

It's no secret that the AFC is full to capacity in 2010.  Teams continue to upset one another even in the dying stages, and with the likes of Indianapolis and New York beginning to heat up again, this doesn't spell good news for Pittsburgh.

Aside from the notable teams that are a threat to the Steelers however, one contender continues to go unnoticed -- the Baltimore Ravens.

Some may choose to look back through the record books and take note of the fact that the Steelers have had the Ravens number in past years.  Fair enough. 

What continues to fly under the table though is the fact that the Ravens are fully aware of the Steelers formula, and are always ready for a counter at a moments notice.

Whether or not that moment will pop up in the postseason remains to be seen.  Right now the Ravens are a Wild Card team with two weeks to go, but the chances of Pittsburgh and Baltimore reuniting sometime soon is favorable.

Hopefully Big Ben can keep his nose clean this time, but lets face it, this is a match up we'd all like to see again.


Panic mode?  Forget it.

The Steelers have been in this position before with a week remaining in the regular season and have managed to coax their way through quite nicely.  What continues to pop up as a bother though is Troy Polamalu's injury and the offensive line concerns.

The Steelers will take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 in a game that could see Mike Tomlin rest a few of his starters.  The AFC North crown is on the line still, but Pittsburgh are already guaranteed a playoff spot no matter what happens.

For the Steelers sake, hopefully Polamalu's time off as of late will prove to be worthwhile.   As for the offensive line, this is an issue that won't solve itself, but considering the Steelers have been adding in a little extra practice recently, it is at least a step in the right direction.

Follow Ryan Cook on Twitter.

Ryan Cook is an Australian Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer for Detroit Lions Talk and Gack Sports.


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