Despite suffering a disappointing loss last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers did get a bit of a break as three of the other teams they are competing against for playoff positioning also slipped up, and now there are six different teams in the AFC with a 7-5 record, looking to capture one of the two Wildcard spots.
But the Steelers still have their sights set on the division title, which they have failed to win over the past three seasons. The control their own fate in their own hands in that regard, but the most pivotal game in that quest, perhaps, is this afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals on the road, who pace the division with a 8-3-1 record.
To come out on top, there’s no question that the Steelers must get better play out of the quarterback position, as Ben Roethlisberger has thrown five interceptions over the course of the past three games, versus only four touchdown passes, all of which came in the fourth quarter—two of them in losing efforts with the game very nearly already out of reach.
Roethlisberger’s passes have been more erratic over the course of the past month or so, which has coincided with some mechanical breakdowns, but a couple of his turnovers have also been the result of poor decision-making.
To help their quarterback, the offensive line needs to do a better job of giving him a clean pocket to work from. A number of his errant throws were influenced by running out of space in the pocket, with a few instances last week resulting in poor third down efforts.
With Marcus Gilbert out, it would be wise to give Mike Adams some help as often as possible. The Steelers started out the last game doing just that, but provided less and less help as the game wore on, influenced, obviously, by what the scoreboard was telling them.
The offense turned to shorter drop backs and a quicker, more rhythmic approach to the passing game to great effect toward the end of the season a year ago, which helped keep Roethlisberger upright. Perhaps they could turn to that more through the final quarter of the season.
Two great assets to that end will be tight end Heath Miller and running back Le’Veon Bell. Each of them caught eight passes in the last game, with Miller gaining 82 yards and Bell putting up an impressive 159 yards through the air.
Of course, Bell also has 299 yards on the ground over the course of the team’s last two games on 54 carries. His 476 total yards in the last two games has certainly been impressive, as had been his workload. Among the 10 players this season with at least 200 offensive touches, Bell’s six yards per play ranks at the top.
Antonio Brown has been the only consistent spot amongst the wide receivers for much of the season, but with the Bengals’ strong secondary, the Steelers may need a big game from either Markus Wheaton or Martavis Bryant.