Pittsburgh played a fairly inconsistant game against a Bengal's team that has no real chance at a successful season. From their misbehaving talent, to their overall discord in the locker room, Cincinatti looks to be quickly heading to the first overall pick in next year's draft along with a new Head Coach. Yet in the first three quarters of the game Sunday they held the Steelers to within striking distance of a win. In the first drive Pittsburgh proved it was the rightful owner of the Division crown. Cincinatti disagreed for most of the rest of the game. While I could write a whole article explaining all the ills of the Cincinatti Bengals; This is a Steelers fansite and this article is about the next several games coming up that declared this to be the single toughest schedule a team has had to face since 1976. (Some stat by a host on the NFL Network one day)...
I think that most of us are already in agreement that Bruce Arians isn't up to the task of being an NFL Offensive Coordinator at this time, and those that disagree with that statement can't deny that it's possible. If he's ever going to "get it", he had better figure it out soon. But it wasn't Arians that called the complete game this past Sunday and Big Ben has to take some of the onus from what could have been a disaster during the first three quarters. Ben had several options presented him during each down from Arians and he often picked the one that would net the big score if successful. Who doesn't want to score those highlights on the news? He should have probably concentrated more on a diverse package of attacks. Run plays, short routes, play action, and even some "keep them honest" tricky plays. In the end Cincinatti self destructed like spoiled toddlers ready for a nap and Pittsburgh ran away with the game. So it's really moot. This, however, will not work against the next several opponents... So let's take a look at our next four games and try to get an idea of where we stand.
The New York Giants - Yes it is true that Cleveland had their way with the Super Bowl Champions the other week. Any given Sunday right? Cleveland also should have been much better this season than they have shown, and Washington managed to put them right back where they belong this past Sunday. No. The Giants shouldn't be taken lightly at all. In the conference where Dallas is self destructing without Tony Romo at the helm, the Giants are the favorite to go to the Super Bowl this season for the NFC. The Giants will be one of the two toughest games we play this season in my opinion. First, they have a very good running game, and their defense is pretty good at shutting down quarterbacks. But as I see it, their biggest plus and their biggest minus is Eli Manning. Aside from having that famous last name, he shares very little in talent with his older brother. And if you fluster him he will begin throwing the ball right into the arms of our secondary. So here, pressure is even more key than in any of the other games we have or will face this season. I trust our defense to shut down their running game to at least manageable proportions. Our main problem there is our Offensive Line. We've suffered some injuries and to be honest I think it improved our line. Big Ben didn't suffer a single sack against Cincinatti this past Sunday and that's real improvement. Even if the Bengals are subpar team, I think it speaks more to solid line play than to crappy defensive play of the other team. Is it good enough to face the Giants though? I think it is. I mean, I don't see the Steelers getting out of the game without suffering a sack but I do think they'll do their job good enough to finish the game with a good offensive showing. After all is said and done, the Giants don't have Michael Strahan anymore and it shows. I see absolutely no reason why the Steelers can't beat this team on the ground and in the air.
The Washington Redskins - This team makes me scratch my head often times. Beating tough teams and yet losing to a winless St. Louis team. Yes, I know that St. Louis beat Dallas this past weekend, but Dallas is currently broken. We'll see if down the road the Rams can keep it up. Washington has some interesting weapons and Portis seems to be on his game once again this season. But once again our defense is geared to shut down guys like Portis. I look for Washington to try and short pass us to death in this game and we'll have to adjust to meet that attack. I don't see their defense presenting any major difficulties to Big Ben and the Offensive Line either. In my best guess I see this team as much more beatable than some we've already played. The main problem I see though is that they can beat get pretty fired up and carry through with a win. All of their wins have been by slight margins of less than 10 points. The Steelers will need to score often and keep the Redskin offense off the field as much as possible at the same time, but I think we can and will do that.
The Indianapolis Colts - These aren't the Colts that we played on our way to the Super Bowl a few years back. Having gotten his "ring", I think Peyton is satisfied and no longer has anything to prove. Still quite capable of putting up huge numbers and easily defeating just about any team, they seem to be sleeping this season. Perhaps Peyton is thinking more about his future career in acting than he is about football these days? Who knows... I do however know that our beloved Steelers can not afford to take this 3-3 team lightly at all. They need to face the Colts as if it will decide their season outright. Another loss here doesn't ruin the Steelers playoff bid, but I do think it would damage their morale beyond what would allow us to make a Super Bowl run. That may seem extreme, but this team and the Patriots are basically the measuring sticks of the AFC in just about everyone's eyes besides us Steelers fans. Under Peyton manning, the Colts have been in the playoffs every year except for two during his tenure. And they still haven't gotten over Big Ben's shoe string tackle that ended their Super Bowl hunt in the same year the Steelers went. Like with the younger Manning, it's all about pressure. But unlike the younger, the Defense also needs to provide great coverage. Dick LeBeau is always challenged when he comes up against Peyton Manning's ability to read defenses. Hopefully he's on his game this time. It may be why he's been saving his exotic blitzes...
The San Diego Chargers - Phillip Rivers may seem like a lesser quarterback than Big Ben, but he has a nearly identical win percentage. He got a later start and suffered from a partial team rebuild, but he's actually pretty good. No matter how you look at it though, the Chargers are 3-4 this season while the Steelers are 5-1. I don't see a huge problem with this game and I think if we stick to what we do best and don't underestimate Rivers, we should come out of this ok. There's not a lot I can say about this team that would make you wonder about our chances at this point since the Chargers pretty much said it all in their wins and losses. They're a solid team that could beat the Steelers, but likely won't in my opinion.
There are still the Patriots, Dallas, and the Titans ahead of Pittsburgh after these four games, but I think the Steelers will be around 10-2 or 9-3 by the time we meet them. Hopefully the former or better. This will give our team a morale boost that is beyond measurement at least and should carry Pittsburgh through them and possibly to a second seed behind the Titans in the playoffs. Ring number 6 anyone?