Through eight games and coming off of a dominating win against the Denver Broncos two weeks ago on national tv, the Steelers were 6-2 and back in the mix as one of the elite teams in the NFL.
Two weeks later that’s no longer the case. After two straight losses at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals and the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champs have fallen to 6-4 on the season.
They are still in position to earn a playoff berth as 66% of teams who started 6-4 have made the playoffs since 1980, but the Steelers week 12 matchup against the 5-5 Baltimore Ravens will be the key point in the season as to whether the Steelers have it in them to right the ship and get back to being among the NFL’s best teams.
A loss doesn’t kill the Steelers chances of earning a wild card berth. 10-6, maybe 9-7 gets a team in this season but were going to find out what this team is about Sunday night.
Despite the fact that the Ravens have lost 5 of 7 games, winning at Baltimore is never easy. If the Steelers are truly elite, they will find a way to get it done, the same way that the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts have done in going into Baltimore and winning.
The Steelers got a big break with Cincinnati (7-3) losing to Oakland on Sunday. A win in Baltimore is mandatory for the Steelers chances of having any hope of winning the division.
It’s hard to write this team off because of how talented they are at the skilled positions but they don’t have the look of that 2005 Super Bowl winning team that was 7-5 through 12 games and able to get back to being an elite team.
But, there are still 6 games remaining and a healthy Troy Polamalu could change that perception.
*Regarding Polamalu, as I mentioned on twitter today, team sources are denying a national report that Polamalu will be sidelined for up to a month. There is still a decent chance that he will play against Baltimore.
The Steelers expect Ben Roethlisberger (mild concussion) to be okay. This is now 4 concussions for Roethlisberger in his NFL career, counting his motorcycle accident.
*Will Mike Tomlin make a bold move and fire third-year special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky
No but Tomlin has already started to take a bigger role with his special teams unit. That will continue this week. Tomlin has been coy on using veterans Brett Keisel or James Harrison on special teams.
Many insiders attribute the Steelers struggles on special teams to personnel and the players not having the “will” to get the job done. In 2008, the Steelers led the league in kickoff coverage, at 19.1 yards allowed. The team also allowed zero touchdowns.
Pittsburgh clearly made a mistake in getting rid of special teams aces like Anthony Madison and Carey Davis ( now back with the team, injured) who were key parts of the No. 1 ranked unit in 2008.
*Pittsburgh did not have a dominating rushing attack against the Chiefs 27th rank run defense but Rashard Mendenhall did some nice things late in the game.
He made a key eight yard second down run in overtime which set up the blown 3rd and 2 playcall at the Chiefs 35 yard line.
Bruce Arians is taking a lot of heat for the “right toss” playcall to Mewelde Moore which resulted in a three yard loss and took the Steelers out of field goal range.
Why even consider taking Mendenhall out of the game in that situation?
*The Steelers defense has no excuse for letting the Chiefs score a late touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 24-24 and drive 72 yards on 5 plays for the game winning field goal in over-time.
*Without Troy Polamalu, the Steelers secondary is average. They lack playmakers to make plays and the team made a mistake last off-season in showing too much faith in William Gay, which turned free agents away.
The Steelers made an attempt to re-sign Bryant McFadden but after McFadden signed with Arizona for $10 million over two years, Pittsburgh missed on cheaper alternatives that could start here due to the fact that the team made it known that William Gay was their starter and there would not be an open competition in camp.
This is a reason the Steelers ended up with Keiwan Ratliff instead of their top target Leigh Bodden (Duquesne College), who signed with the New England Patriots ( 1 year – $750,000).
Bodden, 28, leads the Patriots with 5 interceptions.