By Jeremy Hritz
Just when you think that it can’t get any worse, it does.
And though the season could devolve even more this year, it is difficult to imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers playing more terribly in the final eight games.
55 points and 610 yards given up by the once proud defense doesn’t seem to be a reality in Pittsburgh, but unfortunately it is, and whether it is the result of a lack of talent, assignment discipline, or effort, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change the result which is a repulsive 2-6.
This season is somewhat of an enigma because when examining the roster on paper and when considering the coaching staff based on prior successes, it is difficult to understand the futility of this team.
Has the talent on this team been severely overrated, as many of the early draft picks from the Mike Tomlin regime have failed to thrive?
Has Dick LeBeau lost touch with a constantly-evolving NFL as he remains committed precepts of his legendary 3-4 defense?
Is Ben Roethlisberger as good as we have all believed him to be? His greatest successes have occurred when the Steelers have had outstanding defenses, and now without one, are we seeing a more accurate version of what type of QB Big Ben actually is?
Is Tomlin nothing more than a fountain of pithy quotations and clichés who lacks the ability to effectively manage the game and to efficiently manage the clock?
While nobody knows the answers to the aforementioned questions, the reality is that dark days are unavoidable in the NFL, and sooner or later, there has to be a transition period, and while many will point to the sustained success of the Patriots, they are the exception and not the rule.
The Steelers, as hard as it is to admit, are in a storm again this year, though the rains and winds are much more violent and destructive that 2012’s 8-8.
As common as losing seasons are in the NFL, it doesn’t excuse pathetic performances such as the one on display in New England last weekend, and the reason why the concern is so great in Pittsburgh is not because they are losing, but because of the way they are losing.
There has been quite a bit of discussion surrounding which heads will roll in the Steelers coaching ranks if the losing continues, and while I agree that Tomlin’s job is safe, if more losses similar to last week’s occur and if more massive splash plays are surrendered in these final eight games, it could slowly chip away at that security. Should the Steelers finish between 5-11 and 8-8, there probably won’t be any questions about his job, yet if the Steelers conclude 4-12 , or even worse 2-14, they would have to take a intensely critical look at the state of the Tomlin-led Steelers.
The Steelers have not given up on the 2013 season, and it is not a stretch to believe that everybody in the organization is playing and coaching for their jobs. This weekend, they are gearing up to take on a Buffalo Bills team that can do two things that correspond directly with the Steelers weaknesses: run the football and rush the passer. Considering how they have played the last two weeks in addition to their other losses, is there any reason to believe that today will be any different?
Sure, Dick LeBeau is 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks, and he guided his unit to a win against neophyte Geno Smith earlier this year, but the Jets didn’t have talented runners like C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson that can easily and frequently knock out huge gains. Earlier this week, LeBeau said that he expects the defense to improve: “We are leaving too many windows, and we are getting hit in some of those windows. We are going to close them up.” While not as spirited and fiery as Tomlin’s “unleashing hell,” it is evident that LeBeau is frustrated yet believes in his players’ ability to improve.
The offense scored 31 points against the Patriots, which should be enough to win a football game. Roethlisberger put up gaudy numbers, including four touchdowns, but he was still turnover-prone which he cannot be while the defense is not playing up to the standard.
The Steelers will need their running game to be efficient to slow down the push from the likes of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Kyle Williams, who combined have 19 sacks (compare that to the Steelers who only have 13). With that said, the Bills are not a great defense, and the Steelers should be able to move the football; however, they must protect the ball in order to keep the game from serving as a duplicate of the six losses that they have suffered this season.
3-6 surely sounds better than 2-7, and while many are rooting for an early draft pick in 2014, the younger Steelers need to build the confidence essential to being quality players in the league, something that will be evasive should the losing continue.
There is not much to be confident about for the Steelers heading into this matchup, but the fact that they are at home against a rookie quarterback returning from injury leans this one slightly in the struggling Steelers favor.
Though I’m not confident about this one, the Steelers should have enough to slip out of this one with a win.
I just don’t believe this Steelers team is as bad as the evidence currently indicates.
They can’t go 2-7, right?
Steelers 29 Bills 27