There are holes to climb out of and then there craters to climb out of, and the Steelers have dug themselves quite the crater this season. Yet, with a victory over Detroit the Lions on Sunday the Steelers would improve to 4-6 and still be alive for the playoffs. Yes, I said it, the playoffs. Hard to believe that a team that started 0-4 can even dream about making it to the postseason, but our feisty Steelers still have a shot.
Of course it all hinges on beating a hot and potent Detroit team boasting the games’ best WR in Calvin Johnson and a QB in Matthew Stafford who is enjoying one of his best seasons. If Pittsburgh can beat the Lions, their last six opponents are the 4-5 Browns (twice), the 4-5 Ravens, the 4-5 Dolphins, the 6-4 Bengals and the 5-4 Packers. That’s hardly a murderers’ row of opponents there, so if the Steelers can manage to find that Steeler magic as they did in 2005 when they won their final four regular season games to propel themselves to an eventual Super Bowl championship, then 10-6 isn’t out of the question. In a very mediocre AFC, 9-7 might get them in as well.
Yes, the team is battling a slew of injuries to key personnel and there are a few issues on both sides of the ball, but in a league where the Kansas City Chiefs can go from 2-14 to 9-0 a season later, anything can happen. There are very few truly ‘dominant’ teams in the NFL and anyone can beat anyone on any given Sunday, so look for coach Mike Tomlin and OC Todd Haley to pull a few tricks out of their sleeve to make up for the injuries and jump to an early advantage as they did against the Jets a few weeks back.
Much has been made of the match up between “Megatron” Johnson and Ike Taylor, and I don’t see Taylor winning the 1 on 1 battle. DC Dick LeBeau will certainly rotate a safety over to help double Johnson and maybe have a linebacker drop back as well. This could open things up for TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, so they need to be careful with coverages which has been an issue this season. Ryan Clark needs to have his best game of the season both in coverage and coming up to stop RB Reggie Bush. Stafford has enjoyed great protection all year and the Steelers pass rush ranks near the bottom and with leading sacker Lamar Woodley questionable, someone else, either Jarvis Jones or Jason Worilds will have to step up. Cam Heyward has been a very nice surprise this year, finally shedding his ‘bust’ label, and while he’s no Casey Hampton, NT Steve McClendon has quietly done a solid job inside. Lawrence Timmons is one of the most unsung players in the NFL, but he also needs to step up and make up for the potential loss of Woodley (and perhaps Brett Keisel, although Keisel said he’s a go).
On offense, with Ben under center, no game is out of reach. WR Jerricho Cotchery is having his best season as a Steeler and TE Heath Miller continues to be a reliable security blanket. Both need to have solid games to help stretch the Lions defense out and open up for the deep ball to Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders. Pittsburgh has to be able to establish the run as well, both to keep the Lions defense honest and keep Stafford, Bush and Johnson off the field.
As I said, the entire season hinges on what happens Sunday. 4-6 gets them back in the picture, 3-7 makes that crater a little bigger. However, if Tomlin can work that mojo that won him a Superbowl in his second season, nothing is out of the question.
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