All of us here at Steelers Depot remarked many times in the days leading up to the Steelers-Ravens game just how winnable the contest was, even with Mike Vick at the helm on a short week. Baltimore, especially in their current banged-up state, was simply one of the more winnable games on Pittsburgh’s upcoming slate, considering the team will likely be without the services of Ben Roethlisberger for at least two more weeks.
Now currently sitting at 2-2 and 0-1 in the division, the Steelers desperately need a win this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers to stay in competition for a playoff spot. At Week 5 that may be a bit unexpected, but with Arizona’s ferocious defense up on the schedule next, Pittsburgh can’t afford to fall to 2-4 in the faint hope that Roethlisberger can return for Week 7 at Kansas City.
San Diego is a winnable game, despite the fact that Pittsburgh has to travel across the country for the Monday night contest. The Chargers aren’t exactly desperate for wins, but with Denver moving to 4-0 this past week, Oakland getting tougher by the game, and Kansas City’s defense still playing at a high level, San Diego can’t afford to fall much further in the division.
The Steelers know the feeling, battling to work their way back into contention for the division title despite being firmly behind the 4-0 Cincinnati Bengals. The division has been less competitive in recent years with the Ravens and Browns both at 1-3, but they likely won’t make them any easier for Pittsburgh to handle than in years past.
It is still very early, but if the wild card route continues to be the most likely avenue of playoff entry for both the Chargers and the Steelers, winning this game becomes even more of a necessity for both teams. Not only will it represent the tiebreaker should the two teams have identical records at the end of the season, but it will also improve the winner to 3-2.
That’s more of a big deal for the Steelers than the Chargers, as they face a talented Cardinals team in two weeks without Roethlisberger. Bruce Arians will be ready to throw the kitchen sink at Vick and Todd Haley, something he’s been highly successful at during his time in Arizona. I’m not saying the Steelers can’t beat the Cardinals, but Vick is going to have a tough time figuring out a complex defense with blitz packages galore and versatility at almost every position. Not to mention the Cardinals passing attack is currently ranked seventh in the NFL thanks to a trio of threats like Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown.
Should the Steelers drop both of their next two games, and Roethlisberger returns to travel to Kansas City, Pittsburgh would basically be facing must-win games for the next several weeks, given the slate of games they have to finish the year. That means beating the Chiefs, and it means beating the currently undefeated Bengals the following Sunday as the beginning of a three-game home stand. That’s assuming Roethlisberger makes a recovery well ahead of schedule, but either way those games are must wins if the Steelers drop the next two.
That dreaded slate to finish the season? From Week 12 (directly following the bye week) on: at Seattle, vs. Indianapolis, at Cincinnati, vs. Denver, at Baltimore, and at Cleveland, where the Steelers lost by 21 last year. Have to figure at least two probable losses amongst those six games, meaning the comparatively easy games on the Steelers schedule now are quickly becoming must-wins.
This brings us back to San Diego, a game Pittsburgh needs to have mostly because of how catastrophically they blew their shot at 3-1 against the Ravens. Obviously Roethlisberger’s return, should it be a bit earlier than expected, would be a huge lift for the Steelers, but Vick and co. need to figure out how to win at least one of the next two during his absence. They might not get a better chance than this Monday night, facing a Chargers team that is ranked 29th in points per game and 29th against the run. Both numbers bode well for Pittsburgh’s offense, but if they can’t find a way to capitalize on the Chargers’ weaknesses, 2-3 could be the second step towards an impossible hole for the team to climb out of.