By Chris Gates
I fear we\’re on the cusp of falling in to a far too familiar place.
Right after the 2010 NFL Draft I analyzed the Steelers entire roster. Later I went on air and said that this team could very well repeat 2009 with another disappointing second half. Now, after season-ending injuries to both Willie Colon and Max Starks on the offensive line and defensive end Aaron Smith out until at least the start of the playoffs, my bleak outlook may be coming true.
And the situation is so similar: the Steelers are currently 6-2 and viewed by many as one of the elite teams in the league. Doesn\’t the schedule look eerily the same as well? Oakland and Buffalo loom, which look like easy wins just as Kansas City, Cleveland and the Raiders did in 2009.
And this vaunted Steelers defense is not exactly “vaunted” in the second half. Even though the Steelers allow the fewest points in the NFL (15.4) and rank fourth in the league in total defense, they have given up 63 of their 123 total points allowed in the fourth quarter. That\’s nearly 50 percent of the opposition\’s points.
And it has been the most severe the last two weeks. The Steelers allowed 14 points to both New Orleans and Cincinnati in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, the Steelers ability to run should only suffer from Stark\’s injury. Rashard Mendenhall has done well for the most part this year, nearly reaching 100 yards against Cincinnati Monday night. However, since the opening three games of the season he has averaged just 74 yards a game.
Keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright is always an adventure with the Steelers, considering his style of play and the sometimes-weak offensive line. That will only become a bigger adventure with Starks joining Colon on the IR. New Orleans provided many teams with a blueprint on how to frazzle the Steelers\’ offense, and now teams will be even more willing to throw every last defender at Roethlisberger with weaker protection up front.
It\’s all very scary. On paper, the Steelers should have at least four more wins — Oakland, Buffalo, Carolina and Cleveland. But last year proved that nothing should be taken for granted.
Especially on a bruised, beaten and aging team such as the Steelers.