Three weeks into the 2009 NFL season and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record stands at a disappointing 1-2. After losing consecutive games to the Chicago Bears and the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are already two games behind the undefeated Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. It is obvious that this is currently a team that has a lot of questions on both sides of the football. The Steelers’ season up until this point, can be summarized by missed opportunities, mental mistakes and poor execution. With the San Diego Chargers coming to Heinz Field on Sunday night, things will not get any easier for the Steelers, who are in desperate need of a possible season-saving win.
Entering the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game, the Steelers were leading the Bengals 20-9. Throughout the first three quarters the Steelers’ defense held the Cincinnati to just 119 yards. However, the fourth quarter was a different story. On the Bengals’ last two offensive drives Pittsburgh’s defense allowed a total of 156 yards. The game-winning drive was sixteen plays, which consumed 74-yards, and ended in a Carson Palmer touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell. The week before, Jay Cutler led the Bears on a 72-yard drive which resulted in the winning field goal by Robbie Gould. Both of these games had eerily similar outcomes in which the Steelers defense allowed two game- winning drives. Translation, the defense is not closing out games. Could the struggles on defense all be due to the absence of Troy Polamalu? This team is too strong and talented to be so dependent on one player. The fact is, the Steelers are not getting enough pressure on the quarterback. Thus far this season, the Steelers only have five sacks and two turnovers. In 2008, the Steelers had one of the best defenses in NFL history and built quite a reputation for themselves. It seems as though this year’s defense is trying to live off of reputation alone instead of making the needed plays on the field.
All the talk this week from fans and media has been the debate on whether or not the Steelers are suffering from the dreaded “Super Bowl hangover”. One player that certainly seems to be playing with his head in the clouds is wide receiver, Santonio Holmes. Holmes has had numerous drops this season, and ran the wrong passing route last Sunday, which led to a pass by Ben Roethlisberger to be intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Super Bowl hangover or not, it is clear that this team has some issues. Whether it’s Santonio Holmes dropping balls, the defense looking sluggish or Jeff Reed missing field goals, the Steelers just do not appear to be playing with the same competitive edge that they had last season. It looks as though the Steelers are just expecting to win each week, rather than playing the full sixty minutes and executing their game plan.
There is no doubt that the season is on the line for the Steelers, and it is an absolute must win situation. The Steelers have to come out against the Chargers and make a statement to the rest of the league that they are still the defending Super Bowl champions. Without question, the Steelers are facing a crossroads in their season. With this team’s back against the wall and facing adversity, the way they respond will make all the difference. Sunday night’s game will show us all what kind of team the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers really are.
Michael C. Smith