Steelers Halfway There: Five Relevant Questions For The Final Eight Games
By Jeremy Hritz
2012 Steelers Remaining Schedule
|5 home, 3 away||27-39|
It’s hard to believe there are only eight more games to go in the 2012 regular season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a slow start, the Steelers have rebounded to finish the first half at 5-3 and are beginning to show the look of a team that can contend for a championship.
The Steelers will compete in the first of five remaining home games against the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night and will only have to travel three more times before the season’s end, with the longest voyage being to Dallas. With the opponents left on the schedule marked by a 27-39 record, there is no reason why the Steelers should not, at the very least, match their first half of the season record and finish 10-6. With that said, these final eight games will reveal the true mettle of this team and will indicate their potential success moving forward. Here is a look at the most intriguing questions that will be answered on the back nine of the schedule.
1. Can the Steelers avoid playing down to their competition?
Nobody has yet forgotten the wretched losses to the Oakland Raiders and the Tennessee Titans, games that if the Steelers had won would have made them tied with the Houston Texans for the best record in the AFC at 7-1. With multiple games against teams of lesser talent in the next eight weeks, the Steelers must demonstrate that they have worked out the kinks and win the games they are supposed to. Dropping a game to the Chiefs or the Cleveland Browns could spell the difference between playing a home playoff game or going on the road for the duration of the tournament.
2. Will the Steelers extract revenge for last year’s embarrassing losses to the Ravens?
Remember week one from the 2011 season? Of course you do. What about that Sunday night matchup against the Baltimore Ravens that ended with Torrey Smith breaking the hearts of Steelers fans everywhere? While the Steelers/Ravens matchups are always big tickets, this year’s series carries an even greater importance not only because of the playoff implications of the games, but also because of the revenge factor that will definitely be there. The Steelers have not forgotten the absolute annihilation in Baltimore last season, or the gut-wrenching last second loss in the second match-up. The success of the season rides on these two games, and the Steelers will be primed for both of them.
3. Can the Steelers avoid major injuries?
The Steelers have had bad luck regarding the health of their players so far this season, which contributed to their struggles early on. However, in order to improve on their recent solid performances, they need to get and stay healthy. Getting the likes of Troy Polamalu back will help to bolster the defense, and if and when David DeCastro returns, he will provide for some depth on the offensive line. Also, as more time passes, hopefully James Harrison can get somewhat closer to his level of play in previous years. The Steelers have paid the injury taxman in full and then some this season; hopefully, the he goes go knocking on another team’s door in the second half.
4. Will the defense start to generate more sacks and turnovers?
It is no secret that the defense has struggled to force fumbles and interceptions, and that has largely been the result of a lack of pressure on the quarterback. As the defense begins to play at a higher level, one would believe that the turnovers would start to increase. With Harrison and LaMarr Woodley finally getting some continuity by being on the field together, and with Polamalu being close to returning, the defense could see a spike in turnovers in the final eight games.
5. Will someone emerge as the figurehead of the backfield?
Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have shown that they can be effective in piling up yards carrying the football. While Rashard Mendenhall has yet to return from his Achilles injury, the sentiment from running backs coach Kirby Wilson is that Mendenhall is still the starter. Will he be able to produce as Dwyer and Redman have when he returns? Or will his return to the lineup have a detrimental effect on the offense? Common sense would have Dwyer and Redman getting the bulk of the carries, but their recent performances seem to not be enough to supplant Mendenhall upon his return.