The loss to the Tennessee Titans dropped the Steelers below 500, making the next three games critical if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs or even finishing with a winning record.
Their next three opponents are the Cincinnati Bengals, 3-3; Washington Redskins, 3-3 and New York Giants, 4-2.
All three teams have outstanding offenses but questionable defenses. The reason their offenses are clicking is they have outstanding quarterbacks. Steelers’ fans will get to see two of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Andy Dalton with the Bengals and Robert Griffin III with the Redskins, and then one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the game in Eli Manning with the Giants.
The Bengals made the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record and appeared to be on their way this season before losing to a winless Cleveland Browns team last weekend.
Dalton was 31 of 46 for 381 yards and three touchdowns, with his main targets being last years’ rookie sensation A.J. Green, 7 catches for 135 yards, and Cedric Peerman, 8 for 76 yards. But even though Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis is having a solid season rushing, they miss Cedric Benson who left for more money.
They come into the game with their defense ranked 22th in points allowed compared to their offense which ranks 10th. The Steelers rank 16th in offense and 18th on defense in points allowed, which means they are going to have to score touchdowns if they are to defeat this young Bengals team.
Even though the Steelers are sixth in passing yardage they are 20th in rushing yardage which spells out the fact that they need Rashard Mendenhall extremely bad. Mendenhall at 80 percent is better than any of the other backs they have on the team. Plus he makes others better because of the attention he draws.
The Redskins are led by rookie sensation Robert Griffin III who is one of the most exciting players to enter the league in a long time. RGIII can throw the ball as his 101 quarterback rating illustrates, and he can run as his 132 yards rushing in last weeks’ game attest to. They rank seventh in the league in points scored which will once again put pressure on the Steelers defense to stop them and the offense to outscore them. However, their defense is one of the worst in the league, ranked at 27 in points allowed. They have simply been outscoring their opponents, while their young defense is developing.
Then the Steelers face the defending NFL champs who have been playing just well enough to win. Behind Manning, who has an abundance of talent around him, they are fourth in the league in points scored, and are looking better as the season progresses. The defense was a problem early but has begun to jell as they illustrated against the San Francisco 49ers, 26-3 last week, as they dominated a team many are picking to win the Super Bowl.
Good news for the Steelers came from Baltimore, as several of their top defensive players were injured and may be out the rest of the season or part of it but the bad news is that the offense has matured into one of the best in the league. So far they have been able to overcome the defensive weakness, but it remains to be seen if they can do it for the rest of the season, especially if Ray Lewis is out.
Because the Ravens have built such a big lead, they will have to fall apart for the Steelers to have any chance of catching them for the AFC North title. However, with the New England Patriots and most of the other teams in the AFC struggling, the Steelers still have a chance as a Wild Card, but they need to get back on track. And that means winning their next three games, which is a big, big, challenge. They will have to do it against the Bengals and Giants on the road.
This will decide if they are contenders are pretenders.