Steelers Fans Need to Take a Deep Breath
A buddy of mine tells me that I'm too optimistic when it comes to the Steelers, and sometimes I tell him that he's too pessimistic. This is definitely a week when the pessimism in Steelers fans has won out. There's reason for some doom and gloom, but as bad as the offensive line looked last week, this Steelers team is a win on Monday away from being in the driver's seat in the AFC North.
The offensive line is bad, but it's no arguably no worse than it was last year, when the Steelers made the playoffs. And the reality is that poor offensive line play has been a Steelers' trademark for several years. The same line that led the Steelers to a Super Bowl title in 2005 gave up five sacks to the Raiders and nine to the Ravens in 2006.
Last year, the Steelers offensive line was simply blown off the ball, last Sunday they were confused and allowed blitzers to come in unblocked. Confusion is bad, but confusion is at least somewhat correctable, while simply being physically beaten is much harder to fix. Sean Mahan was too weak to keep nose tackles out of the backfield, which isn't a problem for Justin Hartwig. With some better communication and some better play-calling, the Steelers can paper around this year's o-line problems.
This was a playoff team last year, and one that was a pretty good one until Aaron Smith went down. The defense (if it can get Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel back) is better than last year. The offense, with the exception of last week's debacle, looks to be the equal of last year. And most importantly, the AFC is an entirely different conference this year. Last year, the Patriots were on the way to an amazing 18-0 start and choke job in the Super Bowl. The Colts and Chargers ranked among the elite as well.
This year, the AFC is wide open. The three remaining undefeated teams in the AFC consist of two teams that didn't make the playoffs last year (the Bills and Ravens) and another that is playing its backup quarterback (the Titans). The AFC West's top team (the Broncos) just lost to the Chiefs, and with a win tonight, the Steelers would be one of four AFC teams with three wins.
The Steelers have some pretty obvious flaws, but everyone else in the AFC does too. If the Steelers can end up playing their best football at the end of the season (like they did in 2005), then there's no reason this team couldn't end up in the Super Bowl. But everything starts with pulling out a win tonight.