Even after the Chiefs and the officials basically gift-wrapped the Pittsburgh Steelers a “W” on Monday Night, I know that there are many people unwilling to “face the music” regarding what could be ahead for the Steelers. But today I guess I will have to be the “bad guy” and explain why I believe that Pittsburgh is on “The Road to Nowhere” for however long their 2012 campaign eventually lasts.
No Big Ben & Other Assorted Injuries
No disrespect to Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, but there is no way they can replace a future Hall of Famer in the middle of the best statistical season of his career. To be fair, I can probably count the number of Quarterbacks in the League on one hand who could come in and adequately replace a guy like Roethlisberger and his 66.1% Completion Percentage (209 for 316), 2,287 Yards, and 17 Touchdowns. Sadly for the Steelers, Big Ben’s shoulder ailment does not make him the only one on the roster with injury issues.
Pittsburgh’s best all-around Wide Receiver, Antonio Brown, is dealing with an ankle issue, and starting Right Tackle Marcus Gilbert has not played in over four weeks due to an injured ankle as well . The Running Back position has also been in flux in recent weeks as Rashard Mendenhall has missed significant time with an Achilles problem, Jonathan Dwyer has had a quadriceps problems, Isaac Redman has dealt with ankle issues, and Chris Rainey’s ribs were hurt on an illegal hit against the Giants.
As for the injuries which have piled on on the Defensive side of the ball, things are basically being held together with scotch tape at the moment. Future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu is still nursing his calf injury, and has not played since Pittsburgh’s Week 5 game against the Eagles. What makes this just as terrible is that Polamalu’s Safety-mate Ryan Clark recently sustained his second concussion in three weeks against the Chiefs on Monday Night. And when they have been out on the field, Outside Linebackers James Harrison (knee) and LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) also have been less than effective and hampered by their injuries as well.
Porous Run Defense
I have discussed in previous weeks that Pittsburgh’s Run Defense has not been as effective as it has in years past. In typical fashion, my thoughts have been met with scorn and dismissed by members of “Steeler Nation” trumpeting the “They Rank 6th in Total Rushing Yards Allowed/They Rank 1st in Total Defense” pablum all season long.
Pittsburgh’s Run Defense though has been helped out all season long by an Offense which has A) Been able to score & sustain drives, and B) Ranks 2nd in Total Time of Possession. With effectiveness in these specific areas, opposing Offense’s have been forced to the air more often and less liable to run. Do not be fooled though readers, Darren McFadden (113 Yards), Chris Johnson (91 Yards), and Jamaal Charles (100 Yards) have all enjoyed solid days against the Steelers’ supposedly “elite” Defense. And do not forget how well the Bengals performed on their 15 play 80 Yard 7:57 Drive opening drive three weeks ago (which ended in a Touchdown and incorporated effective 10 Run plays). These type of performances have illustrated just how effective a commitment to the run could be/is against Pittsburgh’s Defense.
Worst of all though, Monday Night’s slop-fest illustrated just how weak Pittsburgh’s Run Defense could be in its supposedly stout Base 3-4 set. The most glaring weaknesses existed on LaMarr Woodley and Ziggy Hood’s side. I do not want to place the entirety of the blame on Hood and Woodley, because the Front 7 (excluding Lawrence Timmons & Brett Keisel) were manhandled much of the night. Yet Kansas City had a solid measure of success as they beat Pittsburgh at the point of attack and ran to their right (19 Rushes for 85 Yards and 1 TD). With these weaknesses on film, I fully expect teams with elite Running Backs like Baltimore with Ray Rice to run unbalanced sets or multiple Tight End sets on a consistent basis to attack Pittsburgh in that direction until they are solved.
Subpar Coaching & Lack of Discipline
Can I for one say that Mike Tomlin’s decision-making has become downright ridiculous as of late? I mean, the decision to go for a Field Goal from 54 Yards away against the Titans, and the decision to unintentionally “ice” Shaun Suisham in that situation was ridiculous. Going for an unnecessary 2-point Conversion in the 1st Half against the Bengals also made zero sense. Remember the Fake Field Goal against the Giants? Or how about last night’s choice to run the slow-footed Redman with a short play-clock on 4th Down from mid-field instead of trying to pin the Chiefs back in a tie game?
Speaking of ill-fated Redman rushing attempts, can I be frank and just say that the “Fat Back Shotgun Draw/Dive” needs to be phased out of the playbook, Mr. Haley? Do not get me wrong, you have done some fabulous things with this Offense, but attempting to run larger Backs out of the Shotgun as opposed to an I-Formation or Pistol makes zero sense when they have no “head of steam.”
As far as the undisciplined nature of this team goes, I am downright sick of it. Pittsburgh has averaged 67.1 Penalty Yards per game this season (30th out of 32 teams), and taken two Special Teams Touchdowns off of the scoreboard because of them. Speaking of the coverage units, please stop with the penalties. It is bad enough when scores are being taken away, but when solid returns/coverages are negated, it is disgusting to watch. Also, Willie Colon, if you do read this, please refrain from swearing at the officiating crew. Did you not see what happened to DeAngelo Hall at Heinz Field close to a month ago? I love your aggressive nature on the field, but there is no need for that type of undisciplined behavior which you and your teammates appear to practice and not be outwardly punished for by your Coaching Staff.
If I wanted to, I could have gone into how Pittsburgh allowed their fifth 4th Quarter meltdown on the season, but that would have only made my stomach turn even more. For now however, I will simply say that with these aforementioned issues working against them, Pittsburgh will be in a load of trouble unless they are fixed.
So what exactly do I see on the horizon for the 2012 Steelers? Well, I am sure that in the weak A.F.C. Pittsburgh will back-door themselves into the playoffs much in the manner that the Bengals did last season. Although they will be nowhere the team they were before Ben’s injury, the team’s schedule features some favorable opponents (Cleveland x2, Cincinnati, Dallas, San Diego). And with 6 wins already, Pittsburgh should be able to win three or four of their final seven games to make the postseason via the Wild Card.
As for winning on the road in the postseason, that will likely be a different story. Houston, Baltimore, Denver, and New England are in my opinion far more talented than the Steelers. Things could get ugly for Pittsburgh if any of the A.F.C.’s best are ready for them and take advantage of their postseason home games’, and I try not to think of the immense whippings which might indeed occur down the road.
I will continue to hold out hope that the issues plaguing the Steelers can be fixed and “The Standard” is not deviated from to a large extent. I however will not dismiss any of the problems that I discussed above as “easily fixable.” and am definitely not sold on a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger and others against the best of the A.F.C. “The Standard” should be in question right now, because what exactly is it at this point, “Steeler Nation?”
On paper, the “Standard is the Standard” and “Next Man Up” rhetoric championed by Mike Tomlin appears to be pretty inspiring. But you know what readers? These phrases and mantras do not apply and work in every circumstance. In fact, each could be essentially moot if Pittsburgh’s Pro Bowl Quarterback is sidelined due to injury/is in the delivery room for what could be the most important stretch of the 2012 regular season.
All I can say now is that I am definitely intrigued to see what happens against the Ravens on Sunday evening.
Chime in readers: Are the Steelers doomed? Can they rally together? Does it matter? Etc..
Injury Reports Courtesy of: Steelers.com