The Steelers are overhyped and overrated
Now that we’re through with the first quarter of the NFL season, it’s almost time to start determining whether teams are contenders or pretenders. The Steelers have started off the year 3-1, even without their suspended star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Now that Big Ben is coming back in Week 6 after the team's bye week, many experts, including a majority from ESPN, have picked the Steelers as the top team in their most recent Power Rankings. But the Steelers aren’t as good as everyone says they are, even with an exponentially better quaterback returning to the field.
First off, the myth that the Steelers have had a tough schedule to date couldn’t be further from the truth. They have faced two elite teams this year in the Falcons and the Ravens, and have come away with one win and one loss. Their other two wins were against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans, two matchups in which any decent team should come out victorious. In their first game against the Falcons, the Steelers' famous defense showed why they are feared year in and year out, as Pittsburgh held Atlanta for a mere nine points and won the game in overtime. However, the Pittsburgh offense couldn’t get anything going against division rival Baltimore, as the Steelers lost on a last-second drive, which accentuates a big issue: The inconsistency of their powerful defense.
The Steelers’ defense often fails in the clutch. This past weekend, the Ravens went four plays and 40 yards for a touchdown in less than a minute to seal the victory for Baltimore in a very important divisional game. Forty yards in less than a minute? This is what happens when you blow a coverage late in the game: Good teams make you pay for it, and that is what the Ravens did. Now flash back to last year when the Steelers were fighting for a playoff spot in a very competitive conference. During their Week 3 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, they had a 20-9 fourth-quarter lead against the eventual AFC North champions. They proceeded to lose that game by giving up two huge touchdowns in that final quarter. Furthermore, the Steelers had an even more devastating loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 13 of last season. Many Steelers fans remember this game, as the Raiders scored a touchdown with nine seconds left to beat Pittsburgh and put a damper on the team's playoff hopes. To be a championship team, your vaunted defense has to perform in the clutch, which hasn't been the case the past two years.
The main reason why the defense struggles in the clutch is due to the weak play of the team's secondary. It starts with the two cornerbacks, Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor. McFadden, who was brought in from Arizona to try and solve this problem, was repeatedly burned by Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin. In fact, McFadden was the culprit on the 18-yard touchdown pass that won the game for the Ravens. On the other side of the field, Taylor hasn’t been much better. Add this to nickelback William Gay, who is most known for getting trucked by Adrian Peterson in the Steelers' game against the Vikings last year, and you get a mediocre secondary playing for a good team. With the NFL becoming a passing league, the weak secondary will pose a problem for a team that looks to return to the Super Bowl. When you have Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and many other premiere quarterbacks in your conference, you better be ready to stop the pass, especially in clutch situations. I’m not convinced the Steelers can do that.
The Steelers are still one of the top teams in the AFC and potentially the league. One thing they must be careful of is leaning too much on the passing game on the offensive side of the ball, especially when Big Ben comes back. Last year, the Steelers were too much of a pass-happy offense, even though they have a premiere running back in Rashard Mendenhall. Last year, Mendenhall averaged a very solid 4.6 yards per carry, yet only had 1108 yards on the year. This just shows that the Steelers threw the ball way too much, and for them to reach their highest potential they will have to run the ball enough to keep the opposing defense honest. If they can do this, they will be able to hang with the best in the AFC.
Fans in Pittsburgh expect the best out of their Steelers team, but they have to understand that the Steelers' playing style has glaring holes that need to be fixed. Polamalu can’t blitz and be a ball-hawk on the same play, meaning McFadden and Taylor will have to step up for the Steelers to become Super Bowl favorites. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.