Pittsburgh Steelers: Are They Built To Be A Legit Contender In 2010?

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2010

Pittsburgh Steelers: Are They Built To Be A Legit Contender In 2010?

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches his team play against the New York Jets during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a really good year thus far. They have posted a 10-4 record and can clinch the AFC North title this weekend with a win and Baltimore loss. Plus, a division title would be good enough to get them the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

    However, looking at this team you can easily ask the question: Are they built to win a championship this year?

    It's easy to look at their record and say yes. But if you dig deeper you will see that there are a number of gaping holes on this team and they could easily be knocked out early in the playoffs.

    So what will happen to this team?

    Here are five reasons that the Pittsburgh Steelers can win a championship and five reasons that they can't win a championship. After all the reasons are presented we will end with a conclusion about what we think will happen to them in January.

Reason They Can Win: Mike Tomlin

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  Mike Tomlin head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. Pittsburgh won 13-10.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    The Steelers have been one of the best franchises in all of professional sports for a long, long time. They are able to maintain that consistent level of play every year because the front office knows the right guys to bring in to control the team.

    Mike Tomlin often doesn’t get the credit that he deserves as a head coach, but he is one of the best in the game. He has an ability to get the most out of the talent that he has on his roster year in and year out.

    He can rally his team in any situation because he commands their respect when he enters the room. He was a controversial hire when he got the job in 2007. He has made all the doubters eat their words with three playoff appearances in his first four years and a Super Bowl victory in 2009.

Reason They Can't Win: Pass Defense

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    PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 14:  Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots runs by Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on November 14, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Steelers run defense is great, there is no denying that. But when you look at the other half of the defense, the secondary, you see that they have been susceptible to the pass this year.

    They rank 24th in the NFL in opponents pass yards per game (228.4). If the running game isn’t working for their opponent, as it often isn’t, you can throw the ball against this team.

    It’s not like they just got torched by the upper echelon quarterbacks either. They have given up a lot of yards to guys like Chad Henne (257), Carson Palmer (248) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (265). That is a weakness that could come back and bite them in the playoffs.

Reason They Can Win: Run Defense

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    PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers pumps up the crowd during the game against the Oakland Raiders on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    A staple of the Steelers this entire decade has been their ability to control the running game, and 2010 has been no different. They lead the NFL in opponents rush yards per game (63.4), in fact, they have only allowed two teams to run for over 100 yards in any game this season (New England and New York, both Steeler losses).

    Unless you have a great quarterback, or a running game that can break through the defensive front of the Steelers, you are in trouble.

    They don’t give up yards on the ground and they make you beat them through the air. They make their opponents one dimensional and that works to their advantage.

Reason They Can't Win: Who've They Beaten?

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is seen during the game agasint the New York Jets at Heinz Field on December 19, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
    Karl Walter/Getty Images

    When you look at the Steelers record this season, it looks impressive. They are 10-4 and lead the AFC North. When you dig deeper and look at the teams that they have beaten, it’s not an impressive list.

    They have beaten Atlanta, but a cynic would point out that happened in Week 1 and the Falcons didn’t get in their groove until about Week 3. They beat Tampa Bay, who has been a nice team this season but has overachieved and are being exposed now. They beat Baltimore in Week 13, but they didn’t look good in that game.

    The best teams that they have played this year are New England, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York Jets and Baltimore (2x). Their record in those games is 2-4. They aren’t very good against the teams that they will play in the playoffs.

Reason They Can Win: Troy Polamalu

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    PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21:  Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball after catching an interception against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerh
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    There is no better playmaker on defense in the NFL then Troy Polamalu. He has such a unique playing style that there is no way to game plan for what he brings to the table.

    He can bait the quarterback into thinking that there is an opening and when that happens he will jump right in front of the pass and intercept it.

    He is such a fierce tackler that he acts like another linebacker for that defense, which is another big reason that their run defense is so good.

Reason They Can't: Troy Polamalu’s Health

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  Safety Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers and teammate guard Trai Essex #79 celebrate defeating the Baltimore Ravens 13-10 at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Everyone loves Troy Polamalu. He is the best safety in football and it’s not particularly close. He changes this defense so much when he is on the field.

    However, he is missing time right now. It’s not quite playoff time yet, but if Polamalu isn’t healthy when the playoffs get here, Pittsburgh is in big trouble.

    You could see it in the Jets game in Week 15 that this defense loses a lot when he is not in the field. He makes everyone on that defense exponentially better.

    Pittsburgh needs Polamalu to be on the field if they want to have any chance to make it to Dallas in February. He is to the Steelers defense what Tom Brady is to the Patriots offense.

Reason They Can Win: Potential AFC Postseason Competition

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wi
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The AFC is thought of as the better conference and they should. The best team in football plays in the conference, New England. There is a lot more depth in the AFC then there is the NFC. But after New England, what team really scares you?

    The Jets got a nice win in Pittsburgh in Week 15, but they aren’t scaring anyone right now. Baltimore can be scary if they get things straight with Ray Rice, but Pittsburgh has beaten them already.

    Then what is there after that?

    Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City and San Diego, and only two of those four teams are going to the playoffs. The Chargers are the only scary team in that group and they need a lot of help to even get in the playoffs.

    Even if they do get in can you see them going to Pittsburgh and winning a playoff game?

Reason They Can't Win: Inconsistent Running Game

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after running for a touchdown during the game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field on December 19, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty I
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Steelers pride themselves on pounding the rock and running it down their opponent’s throat. Even if they aren’t running particularly well they will continue to run the ball.

    This year they rank eighth in the NFL in rush yards per game (122.1) and Rashard Mendenhall has run for nearly 1,200 yards. However, he has been very up-and-down this season. He hasn’t had that same explosiveness like he had in 2009.

    If the Steelers want to win in the playoffs, they will need to find some level of consistency with their top running back.

Reason They Can Win: Ben Roethlisberger

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass against the New York Jets during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Ben Roethlisberger might be the most love him or hate him quarterback in the NFL.

    Those that love him see the way that he plays and how he is able to make plays on the move as well as any quarterback in football.

    The haters tend to say that he is only a product of the Steelers defense and running game. He gets beat on because he isn’t what Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers are as quarterbacks.

    But he works great in this system. He has been able to lead this team to a last second scoring drive in a Super Bowl. He isn’t always the sexiest quarterback in terms of stats but at the end of the day he wins a lot more then he loses.

Reason They Can't Win: Inconsistent Play as A Whole

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    ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  James Farrior #51 of the Pittsburgh Steelers waits for the snap against the Buffalo Bills  at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Pittsburgh won 19-16 in overtime.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/G
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Following the theme of their inconsistent running game, their whole team has been very up-and-down this season. They haven’t found that balance as a team that continues game after game, week after week.

    At no point this season have they looked like they were the best team in football. They always leave you with a ton of questions after every game.

    This year in the NFL, maybe that won’t be a big deal because there is such parity. If their issues creep up in a game in January they will lose. They have the talent to win a Super Bowl but they have to find that next level going into the playoffs.

Conclusion

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    PITTSBURGH - FEBRUARY 03:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers shows off the Super Bowl XLIII trophy during a parade on February 3, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    After all the pros and cons are weighed and everything is examined, are the Steelers legitimate contenders to win the Super Bowl this year?

    Absolutely they can win.

    It’s just a matter of being able to work through their issues going into the playoffs. Their last two games this season work out very well for them (tonight vs Carolina, at Cleveland). They can win those games without playing Polamalu and allow him to get completely healthy. They can build a lot of positive momentum going into the playoffs.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate contenders to win Super Bowl XLV.