One month ago, all was well in Steelers Nation. The Pittsburgh Steelers were 4-1 and scored 30+ points in four of five games played. Le’Veon Bell returned from his suspension and the Steelers were looking to keep momentum moving forward on their way to the playoffs.
No one was pondering if the Steelers can make the playoffs…it was a forgone conclusion. Super Bowl or bust, baby!
One month later and coming off four straight losses, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-5 and two games behind the division leading Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers will be fighting for their playoff lives over the next seven games.
What are the Pittsburgh Steelers Playoff Chances in 2016?
Where’s the Offense?
After averaging almost 30 points a game through the first five games (28 points/game), the Steelers offensive production has been abysmal en route to 18.75 points/game. It’s hard to fathom with this much talent the Steelers are struggling so badly on offense.
It’s not just the fact of not scoring, either. Some of the offensive game-plans conjured up by offensive coordinator Todd Haley and head coach Mike Tomlin have been for lack of better word, pathetic (vs. Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens).
Granted the Steelers offense looked somewhat like themselves against the Dallas Cowboys. The offense put up 30 points and engineered a ‘would-be’ game-winning touchdown drive with 41 seconds remaining. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott had other ideas as the Dallas Cowboys handed the Steelers their fourth straight loss.
Defense Where Art Thou
The Steelers defense has been hard to watch at some points this year. As a whole, the unit has been on the field too much this year to be effective. Part of that falls on the offense for not staying on the field. The other part is the lack of turnovers and splash plays.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler employed a “bend but don’t break” strategy in 2015, and, for the most part, it worked quite well. The Steelers would surrender yardage and bunker down in the red zone with interceptions, sacks and field goals.
Unfortunately, in 2016, the turnovers and splash plays just aren’t there. As a team, the Steelers are second from the bottom in the NFL in interceptions. As a team, they have four interceptions. Four.
The only member of the secondary with an interception is rookie first round draft pick Artie Burns. The other three belong to linebackers James Harrison, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. As you may deduct, that’s not a winning recipe for a defense.
To make matters worse, defensive end and team sack leader Cam Heyward announced on Monday he will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Not only is Heyward the teams sack leader, he’s the heart and soul of the defensive line as well as the team. Make no mistake; the loss of Heyward is a huge blow to the Steelers defense.
Do the Steelers Still Have Playoff Life?
Quick answer – yes. The Steelers next seven opponents have a combined record of 21-31-1. That number is slightly inflated as the Cleveland Browns account for ten losses and zero wins. Basically, the Steelers will be playing teams at or around .500 the remainder of the season. If the Steelers beat who they’re supposed to, they will make the playoffs in 2016.
But everyone knows the game isn’t played on paper, and the Steelers need to take care of business. Let’s peek at their remaining schedule.
If the Steelers can’t beat the winless Browns twice to make the playoffs the season is utter disappointment any way. Let’s hope they take care of business against the Browns – that’s two wins.
The remaining opponents are all in playoff contention, or still playing for a chance to make the playoffs. There will be no “easy games” against teams mailing it in for the year. The second half of the season will be extremely hard fought.
The Steelers will need to earn hard fought victories on the road against the Indianapolis Colts (4-5), Buffalo Bills (4-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1). Winning two of those three road games is essential if the Steelers want to make the playoffs.
They also have home games against the likes of the New York Football Giants (5-3), Cleveland Browns (0-10) and hated-rival and division leading Baltimore Ravens (5-4). The Steelers must beat Cleveland and Baltimore at home.
If the above were to hold true, Pittsburgh would be 9-7 and battling for the AFC North title with the Baltimore Ravens. It remains to be seen what the wild card situation would look like, but 9-7 will put you in the playoff discussion and in the running for the division title.
Can it be done? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not. Do I still have faith the Steelers will make the playoffs though? Damn right, anything can happen.
One thing is for certain…It’s going to be an interesting final seven weeks of the season!