Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh+Steelers

There is nothing quite like playing under the spotlight of Monday Night Football and for the Pittsburgh Steelers this would be their only opportunity this season.  Coming off of a loss to the New Orleans Saints, the team headed into Cincinnati to face the 2-5 Bengals in a critical AFC North showdown.  Cincinnati had to win to realistically still have a shot to turn their season around and the Steelers needed a win to keep pace with Baltimore who also held a 5-2 record.  The team came out victorious, but the game wasn’t pretty.  After jumping out to a 27-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, the previously dominant defense began to falter as the Bengals scored fourteen points in a four minute-span.  The poor defensive play in the fourth quarter should not take away from the quality 27-21 win, but it should have raised some red flags that continued right into their next game against the rival Patriots at Heinz Field.

According to www.espn.com, Tom Brady, New England’s quarterback, absolutely picked apart the Steelers defense as he went 30-43 for 350 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 39-26 blowout victory.  According to www.si.com, Tom Brady is now a whopping 6-1 against the Steelers, including capturing two AFC Championships at Heinz Field.  It seems as if he is the only quarterback in the league that Dick LeBeau’s defense cannot confuse or contain.

On this particular night the defense was minus two of its starters, exposing the lack of depth on the Steelers’ aging defense.  According to www.steelers.com, defensive ends Brett Keisel (hamstrings) and Aaron Smith (triceps) both sat out due to injuries.  This, however, can’t be used as an excuse for getting lit up in your own stadium.  In fact, the thirty-nine points given up were the second most in the history of Heinz Field, behind only the forty-one given up to New England in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.  The best thing we can hope for is that the Patriots just have the Steelers’ number.  If not, we could be looking at a much bigger problem.

These last two games are reminiscent of the way the defense struggled down the stretch last season as the team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.  This could lead to a similar midseason losing streak, but I do not think that will be the case.  I believe that the upcoming schedule, including the Raiders and Bills, is too easy for the team to lose.  Many Steelers fans may recall, however, that the Raiders are the team that killed the Steelers’ playoff hopes with an upset victory last season.  It should make for an interesting game on Sunday that will also feature new kicker Shaun Suisham, after the sudden release of Jeff Reed.