Are The Steelers A Paper Tiger?
After 12-weeks of football the Steelers are 11-1 and are at the top of the AFC.
Their .917 winning percentage is matched by only the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Steelers hold the edge with a better conference record due to their undefeated record within the conference. But, are they really one of the top teams in the League?
They came into the season having to face the weakest schedule in the league based on last seasons win percentage of the teams on their schedule.
Not many of those teams seem to have improved much, and in fact I would say that some of the tougher opponents on their schedule actually have declined this year.
The Steelers wins so far have come against the following:
Ravens (7-5) - Played them twice
That list is not an impressive one when you're trying to make a case of why the Steelers are the best team in the league. There are only four wins versus teams with a winning record. The other seven wins come versus teams with a combined 22-60 record.
That's a 26.83 winning percentage.
Right now there are only four teams in the league that have a winning percentage of less than that 26.83. There is not a lot of strength to the Steelers schedule.
The Steelers only loss came against the Football Team (5-7). And, this loss to Washington took place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers did have to play three games in twelve days because of the rescheduling of games due to the Covid pandemic, so I can understand a potential let down when having to lace 'em up with only four days off between games. But, it was more than just fatigue that caught-up with the Steelers in this loss.
The Steelers continue to be unable to run the football. Their 92.6 rushing yards per game is ranked 29th in the NFL, and their 3.7-yards per rush attempt is also 29th in the league. Thru the last seven games the Steelers have rushed for fewer than 100-yards in all of them but one. And that one game they did crest the 100-yard mark was against the Jaguars, who rank 30th in the league in rushing defense.
There are more issues with the Steelers than just their inability to run the ball.
This talented group of wide receivers has struggled catching the football as of late, and they are now 10th in the league in most passes dropped. When you can't run the football you can't drop passes at that rate.
The Steelers defense has now slid to 3rd in the league when it comes to yards against. They still hold the top spot in points against, but it has seen a rash of injuries which could jeopardize their ability to win games with their defense.
They lost MLB Devin Bush in week-5 to a season ending knee injury.
They lost OLB Bud Dupree to a season ending knee injury in week-11.
Robert Spillane, an un-drafted MLB in 2018 was Devin Bush's replacement, but he is now out for an extended amount of time with a knee injury of his own. This linebacking corps is getting real thin.
CB Joe Haden was injured last week and this defense will have to play the Bills without him this week as he recovers from a concussion.
At least they will be getting the other starting CB back this week, as Steven Nelson missed the loss to the Football Team with a knee injury.
It's safe to say that if you're a knee on this Steelers team you may want to hide.
Regardless of any injuries, this team has cracks in its foundation. They have coasted thru this schedule playing less-than-quality competition for the most part and seem to be starting to play their worst football as the playoffs near.
The cold weather is coming and they can't run the football. The cold weather is coming and they can't catch the football. The cold weather is coming and the competition is strengthening. The Steelers didn't wilt in the heat but they may be shivering in their cleats as the cold approaches and three of their last four games are against teams with winning records.
The Steelers have never made it easy on themselves. They play down to their competition often and they lose games that could help them significantly if they had won. It's just what they do.
Earning the top spot in AFC is the only way to get a bye week in the playoffs this year, and the Steelers have it right now. But, it's hard to see this team holding-off the Chiefs for the top spot when it's all said and done.
This Steelers team isn't good enough to be in the top spot in the AFC. Their schedule has put them there to this point, not their ability.
This team may look good from far, but it's far from very good. A closer look and you can see the blemishes on this roster. If they don't find a way to run the football to a degree that will make defenses have to practice defending it their playoff showing will be quick and painful.
Getting James Connor back from the Covid list should help, but even he hasn't been able to generate much in the run game prior to his 2-game absence.
Center Mike Pouncey will also be back this week for the Bills game. Having those two back will definitely give them a boost in the running game. Or, at least they will think it will. I have my doubts.
The Bills are hot and the Steelers are stumbling. This looks like another loss for the Steelers, to me. If the Chiefs beat the Dolphins and the Steelers lose, the AFC top spot will belong to the Chiefs, and the Steelers will have three games remaining and will enter the playoffs as a different team than they were thru 11-weeks.
At least their record will appear that way. Their skill level may have always been the same, it's just that their early competition has made them look like a contender.
They certainly have a chance at their 7th Lombardy Trophy, but I don't think this team can run with the "real" big dogs of the NFL. The Chiefs, Packers and Saints are certainly better teams, in my eyes. The Bills may also be a better team, and we'll get a good preview of that on Sunday night.
When that game is done I think we'll know that the Bills are a better team than the Steelers. I think we'll also realize that this Steelers team isn't what many think it is.
They'll be in the playoffs, but they will struggle to get even one playoff win. Trust me, I've watched every Steelers game for the last 25-years. What I'm seeing right now doesn't lead me to believe that this team is ready to advance deep into the playoffs.
If they are going to make any noise in the playoffs it will come from their defense, but that unit is getting more and more banged-up by the week, and it's starting to show.
It was fun while it lasted, but the undefeated status seems like it's miles behind them.
What's in front of them is a long bumpy road with the potential of a collapse that would overshadow their tremendous start to this season.