On Sept. 8, 2013, Ben Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers down the field with less than two minutes left in a game against the Tennessee Titans to score a touchdown. However, the touchdown was essentially useless, given that until that point, the Steelers had only two points on the board, which came within the first two minutes of the game. Needless to say, the Steelers lost that game; to make matters worse, they also lost all four preseason games.
Judging even by how the first quarter of that game went, anyone could tell that the Steelers were going to have their work cut out for them this season, and that was before Maurkice Pouncey got injured. By the end of the game, the Steelers put together a dismal 32 rushing yards on just 15 attempts, and the passing game was not any better. The offensive line played poorly in all aspects, and the Steelers only put together 141 yards of total offense. This is not the way they wanted or expected to start the season.
Things didn’t get any better after that game, as Pittsburgh lost their next three games, and going into the Week 5 bye, they were win-less at 0-4. It seemed like there was no hope for the run game or the offensive line; Roethlisberger was turning the ball over and he just looked generally uncomfortable with his receiving core. The defense was not that of a Dick LeBaeu football team. They had forced zero turnovers through four games and had turned the ball over 11 times. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was receiving a lot of criticism for running the ball too much, the locker room was a mess, and Mike Tomlin was angry. The arrow was pointing South for the Steelers.
However, the Steelers came out of the bye looking very good on defense, and finally forced turnovers the other way, causing Geno Smith to throw two interceptions in an impressive win over the New York Jets in Week 6. They weren’t neceserily convincing anyone, at least not me, but there was definitely a glimmer of hope for the organization; in fact, so much so that they were one point favorites over the defending champion Baltimore Ravens in Week 7. That seemed a little bit much for a team that started 0-4, but Baltimore was struggling themselves so they definitely had a chance. Nonetheless, they came up big and snatched their second straight win in a nail-biting fashion at home.
That brings us to today. The Steelers are still sitting at the bottom of the AFC North, but not by much. At 2-4, they’re just one win behind the Ravens and Cleveland Browns. They take on the Oakland Raiders this week, which is by no means a guaranteed win, but the Steelers should be able to continue this sudden surge of a run game against Oakland. If they do win, that will put them at 3-4 and right back into contention. While it does seem like a stretch for any team besides the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North, the Wild Card isn’t out of the question just yet. Certainly it would be contingent on the Steelers continuing to win games, and although they have played well recently, you can’t just ignore the issues that were prominent in the first four games.
But when analyzing the other teams in the AFC that aren’t leading their division, it would be foolish to state that the Steelers are out of contention for a playoff spot. With Brandon Weeden under center for the Browns, it seems like they’ll go back to their normal ways, and Baltimore is struggling tremendously on offense. The Steelers’ remaining schedule isn’t exactly the toughest either; they face only four teams currently over .500 in 10 remaining games, and none of those teams are very good on defense. If the Steelers can continue this resurgence of a run game, continue to cause turnovers and hold onto the ball, and get their pass rush going again, they have a shot at finishing the season at or above .500. After all, crazier things have happened.
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