Pittsburgh Steelers' "D" Dominates 'Skins, But Are They Among the NFL's Elite?

Justin ZuckerCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

On this election evening, it's important to realize what an effect the media can have. Leading up to the election, it's an Obama landslide. Watching live, it looks like anyone's game. But I digress.

Turn the clock back 24 hours. If you watched the pregame hoopla, if you listened to "The Three Amigos" in the booth, you would have thought the Redskins were unbeatable and the Steelers were at the brink of disaster.

The Steelers opened the game with a failed and ill-advised onside kick. Mike Tomlin defended the move by saying he wanted to turn up the heat immediately. What it did was give the Redskins a field goal after a three-and-out.  

On the next series, Cornelius Griffin deflected a Ben Roethlisberger pass and it was intercepted. Three plays amounted to another Redskins field goal. That was it. Cue the band.

Make no mistake about it, the Steelers' offense was inept in the first half. If not for a late blocked punt, this would have been a 6-3 deficit going into the half. But as good teams often do, they found a way to get that spark.

The league's leading rusher, Clinton Portis, was held to 51 yards. 22 of those yards came on one carry. Jason Campbell was sacked seven times and intercepted twice, his first picks of the season. He looked battered and confused. And Jim Zorn looked equally as bad, and badly out-coached by Dick LeBeau.

The Steelers are certainly not without their flaws. This is their worst offensive line in recent memory. They lost their starting right guard, Kendall Simmons, for the season to an Achilles injury. They have been without their starting left tackle, Marvel Smith, for the last four games due to back spasms.

Their depth has taken some serious hits due to injury. Ben Roethlisberger has been banged up and missed the second half last night. Willie Parker has missed significant time. Rashard Mendenhall, their No. 1 draft choice and backup to Willie Parker, broke his shoulder in Week Four and was lost for the season.

Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel missed significant time. Ryan Clark was out last night. Bryant McFadden is out for the foreseeable future.

But this is a well-built team. They have not made excuses and collapsed like the Cowboys. One goes down, the next steps up. Teamwork.

Byron Leftwich was brilliant last night. He stepped in and took charge. He was confident and poised, but I would expect nothing less from a former franchise QB.

The questions remain: Can the Steelers continue on winning with this offensive line? Can Ben withstand the beatings? Can they be consistent in the running game? If they can answer yes to two of these questions, they can make a serious run in the AFC.

One thing that I have learned is that a completely dominant defense can carry a team. This is a dominant defense. They are nearly impossible to run on. They swarm to the ball. They smack you in the mouth. And they are relentless in their pass rush.

The Titans, Giants, Steelers, and Eagles (with a healthy Westbrook) are the elite teams after the first half of the season.

I am not buying into the Panthers or the Bucs.

Enjoy the second half of this season. It should be fun.