By Jeremy Hritz
Wow, nobody saw that one coming.
Or did we?
Throughout the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a mixed bag, earning some impressive victories against the Bengals, Giants, and the Ravens, while at the same time losing to league doormats in the Raiders, Titans, and Browns. While after each poor loss, a valid excuse was always handy for justification, there is just no way to explain their pathetic performance, at home nonetheless, against the now 5-8 San Diego Chargers.
The Steelers were dominated Sunday, both offensively and defensively, as they struggled to score points and to keep points off of the scoreboard. Most disappointingly about the Sunday showing was the performance of its defense, which for several weeks has been dominant, despite its inability to produce turnovers. Normally effective in getting teams off of the field on third downs, the Steelers allowed the Chargers a third down conversion percentage of 55%. What is terrifying about this is that the Chargers offense has been mediocre on third downs this season, converting only 39%.
While it would be easy to point to the return of Ben Roethlisberger as the result of the disjointedness on offense, that cannot account for the inability to produce in the running game. Roethlisberger definitely showed signs of sitting out for three games, yet more dropped passes by Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown called into question the ability of these receivers to produce when needed to. For example, in the second quarter, Roethlisberger threw a catchable ball to Wallace that, if caught, could have possibly resulted in a touchdown. If the Steelers were able to score on that play, or at least get the ball into Chargers territory, this could have been a totally different game.
Unfortunately, the Steelers were not able to get the types of breaks that have escaped them all season.
And again, the turnovers escaped the defense, as they were unable to record any fumbles or interceptions. Ultimately, the failure to build any momentum through splash plays hurt this team and ultimately sealed their fate.
While the Steelers are still in line to earn a trip to the playoffs as a result of the Cowboys victory over the Bengals, the lifeline of the team when it gets there definitely has to come under serious scrutiny, that is assuming that they win the necessary games to get in.
What cannot be avoided or overlooked with this team, though our first response is to try and do so as a result of the numerous injuries that the Steelers have struggled with all year, is the fact that this team is inconsistent, at least offensively, and it plays down to the level of competition.
For whatever reason you want to attribute it to, injuries, dropped passes, or penalties, this team just cannot seem to capitalize on and extend momentum they have built in previous games, and today’s game against the Chargers is a perfect example following the huge win in Baltimore.
While still on pace for the playoffs as the sixth seed, it would be foolish to ignore the flaws that continue to plague this team. While nothing is written in stone, and it is definitely possible for the Steelers to make a run in the playoffs, it is simply impossible to explain away the deficiencies of this team. Are the Steelers much better than a 7-6 team and are simply not living up to expectations? Or are they truly only average?
This much is true: if the Steelers want to get into the playoffs, they have to improve and prove that they can be consistent.
If they can’t, there will be an agonizing repeat of last year when the Steelers were one and done.
And as of right now, the body of work for the 2012 Steelers is not providing many reasons to believe.