While the Pittsburgh Steelers are still Super Bowl contenders, there are several flaws on this team that may cause them to come up short.
Currently at 6-3, the Steelers are in the thick of the AFC playoff race. The problem is that the team cannot afford to lose any more games in the AFC North. Already having been swept by the Baltimore Ravens has the team in quite a bind.
Two of the next three games are against the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals.
While there are far worse positions the Steelers could be in it should be a lot better. The last game against the Baltimore Ravens was a game the Steelers had won only to blow the lead in the closing seconds of the game.
This isn't something the Steelers and their fans are used to. A team that used to be reliant on their defense is now searching for answers at a time where they should be building a lead in the division.
Currently in third place in the AFC North, here are a few things that coach Mike Tomlin and his staff need to improve to earn a seventh Super Bowl trophy.
The thing that drives me the most nuts over this season's Pittsburgh Steelers team is that they are trying to be something they aren't anymore. The Steelers have had a ton of success throwing the football and march right down the field.
The last five games, the team has scored on its opening offensive possession.
As the game wears on, it seems as though the Steelers start forcing the running game into the game plan. Especially in the red zone there are a ton of run calls no matter what the defensive set is. There could be eight guys stacked up on the line and the Steelers are going to run the ball multiple times right at it.
Instead of doing this, why not come out throwing the ball? Run the no huddle offense for a whole game and you will see defenses gasping for air, much like they do against the Indianapolis Colts.
With all of the talent at the wide receiver position and Ben Roethlisberger under center, there is no reason to run the ball when it isn't working. On downs when you need a yard or two, teams expect the run until you prove to them you are willing to pass on any down and distance situation.
This offense should be scary good, stop holding it back.
I like Ryan Clark as a player, I really do.
The problem with him i that his greatest attribute is separating the ball carrier from the ball with a bone jarring hit. While most of his hits are clean, you aren't allowed to hit hard anymore.
In today's NFL any hit that looks like it might be illegal is penalized, no questions asked. Then you get a hefty fine from the dictator, also known as commissioner Roger Goodell.
As a safety in today's NFL, Ryan Clark is nothing but a liability to a defense. He is slow and bad in coverage, often late to help or get back to his man. His flaws are covered up when the defense generates pressure on the quarterback, but this years team isn't as explosive.
With linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison banged up, you need a secondary you can count on in coverage.
Maybe the present roster is set up as well as it can be, and if that is the case the team will lose in the playoffs again. Cornerback William Gay and safety Ryan Clark are too average to cover up against any respectable offense.
After the Steelers draft offensive linemen they need to shore up this secondary for 2012.
There have been far too many situations this season that a coaches challenge lost the Pittsburgh Steelers a valuable time out.
Unless the guys upstairs are phoning down to coach Mike Tomlin and telling him to challenge a play, he needs to lock the thing in a safe somewhere and throw away the key. When you get a play that obviously needs challenged and don't have one to use, the game is put in the hands of the officials.
This is not a situation a team who is already watched very closely by officials needs to put themselves in.
Another reason this is a huge problem for the Steelers is that this years team is often in close games. When you are in close games and struggle to close a team out you need all of the timeouts you can get! The defense cannot be counted on to hold a lead, as evidenced by the 92-yard drive they allowed the Baltimore Ravens last week.
Put the flag down Coach Tomlin. You miss too many challenges!
I know Shaun Suisham isn't a very good field goal kicker, but if you can't trust him to make something from 50 and in, why bother?
Another decision that cost the Pittsburgh Steelers the Baltimore Ravens game was when Tomlin called in the punt team instead of allowing Suisham to attempt a 49-yard field goal. If the guy can't hit an occasional long field goal when you need him, he shouldn't be on the roster.
As I mentioned earlier, the defense cannot be counted on to hold leads this season. That was a luxury a couple of years ago, not now.
If Suisham can't get the job done find somebody who can. There are kickers all over the country who can make a fifty yard field goal, go find one. That is another liability that shouldn't be allowed to hold this team back. Wasting opportunities to win Super Bowls is about as dumb as it gets.
Maybe Jeff Reed will be sober this weekend. Sign him up! That is, unless he got busted assaulting a bathroom hand dryer in a gas station again.
This team seems to be losing it's edge, especially on defense.
Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Ryan Clark, James Harrison, and others are well into their thirties. Most of these guys have played 10 to 15 years and are simply slowing down and injury prone.
James Harrison is obviously still a force to be reckoned with, but how much longer can he hold up? He's had nagging back injuries and has hinted that he may not play much longer. Even Troy Polamalu seems to have lost a bit.
The offense is young and flashy, the defense is old and tired. The time is now to start trading or releasing some of these guys and letting young guys take over. It may take a couple of years for some of these guys to mature into the starting role, so you need to ease them into it.
The window is closing on the current team because of the defense, an infusion of youth could open it for the rest of Ben Roethlisberger's career.
Changes have to be made no matter how mad the veterans might be. Look at where Willie Parker and Antwaan Randel El are today. They needed the Steelers a lot more than the Steelers needed them.