Steelers might cruise to NFL playoffs, but what lengths can they go?

The Steelers are 7-2, atop the AFC North with a three-video game advantage over the field, and residence of the league’s No. 2 security. It will require a small miracle for anyone else to win their division.

After that, things get somewhat blurrier.

Pittsburgh has emerged as one of the AFC’s best contenders, but like the Patriots and Chiefs, Mike Tomlin’s team features flaws so noticeable no amount of foundation could covers them. On Sunday, they possibly got uncovered by the most detrimental Colts group of the last twenty years never to feature Curtis Painter.

Three-win Indianapolis looked like a gimme about the team’s calendar, however the Colts made their opponent grind through every second of a Week 10 matchup the Steelers just escaped with a last-second field goal. It was a better result compared to the group had come to expect after weekly off – Pittsburgh had dropped its last three video games arriving off a bye – but still a troubling path to get there.

So should the Steelers be worried?

Ben Roethlisberger looks like a man who considered retirement this offseason

Pittsburgh’s 2000s success possesses been defined by the man who’s taken home behind center since 2004. Roethlisberger is 1 of 2 quarterbacks who have ever won a brilliant Bowl for the Steelers, but his time as one of the league’s best passers – and potential as an NFL player – is coming to an end.

Roethlisberger features struggled this fall despite being surrounded by just about the most explosive sets of skill players the franchise comes with ever had. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell offer him two All-Pro targets downfield, however the contributions of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and a pre-crisis Martavis Bryant – along with an unpleasant line that’s allowed just 1.2 sacks per video game — make this one of the league’s most dynamic devices on paper.

In practice, Pittsburgh ranks 12th in the league in offensive efficiency. 2017 marks the third straight yr of a decline in moving offense, falling from 301.2 found in 2014 to 251.9 this fall.

Roethlisberger’s slipping play has been a part of this. While it’s unclear if his lackluster performances are the reason for unpleasant coordinator Todd Haley’s raised reliance on the operating video game or if that reliance has got affected Roethlisberger’s passing overall performance, it’s apparent he’s not similar quarterback he’s experienced years past. With just 12 touchdown passes this fall, he’s identified the end area at his lowest amount since 2008. The same applies to his completion percentage. His moving yards per game are the lowest they’ve experienced five years.

It’s possible that is a slump that dissipates in the final seven weeks of the growing season, but signs don’t look best for the Steelers. Roethlisberger isn’t the only person in his cohort to show indicators of deterioration. His fellow 2004 draftees Philip Rivers and Eli Manning possess each struggled in 2017; as the late 30s loom, 300+ backyard, three-TD passing games become harder and harder to come by.

That shouldn’t be a problem for a group with Bell and Conner waiting in the backfield, but …

The Steelers are relying more on a running video game that’s hit-or-miss

Le’Veon Bell complained about not getting enough bears after a Week 3 reduction to the Bears. Since then, Haley possesses shifted toward a run-heavy offense that’s devastating when it gets results and a grind when it doesn’t. On Sunday, and despite participating in from behind the majority of the game, Pittsburgh ran the ball 30 situations for just 88 yards – an interest rate that falls squarely in to the second category.

At 3.6 yards every rush this fall, the Steelers rank 26th in a 32-team group in terms of rushing productivity. Bell leads the group in carries with 220 touches through nine video games, but his yards-per-carry standard has fallen from 4.9 to 3.8 this season, taking the edge off the team’s explosive enjoy amount. Conner has been sound in limited duty as a rookie (19 bears, 101 yards), but Bell’s receiving ability and durable play has pretty much maintained him from the field and it’s uncertain whether he’s greater than a change-of-pace again behind Bell.

The problem for Pittsburgh is there’s no reasonable time to pull again from Bell. Games where he’s had fewer than 20 carries have been the team’s most detrimental this season – losses to the Bears and Jaguars and a narrow success against the Browns. When he doesn’t get the ball, Haley risks an unhappy operating again and a star player who isn’t afraid to voice his displeasure.

Actually if Pittsburgh slides back again to a pass-big offense, Roethlisberger’s 2017 raises questions about whether or not that’s a switch this group can flip anymore. The 20-point performances and three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dirt runs from Bell job against the Browns and Colts. It will be a different tale in the playoffs.

Counterpoint: that security is **kisses fingers**

The Steelers have invested heavily in revamping their security with high capital draft picks in recent years, and that strategy has paid. Homegrown stars like Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, and Vince Williams possess turned Pittsburgh into one of the league’s most exciting fresh units.

The club ranks second in the group in total security, fourth in defensive efficiency, fourth in opponent third-down conversion rate, and tied for second altogether sacks. This is practical; since 2013, the franchise has utilized 10 of its 16 picks in rounds 1-3 on defensive players, emerging with studs like Watt, Dupree, Artie Burns, Shazier, and Stephon Tuitt. That’s the kind of defense that may survive a 210-backyard, two-interception time from Roethlisberger or a 26-carry, 70-backyard performance from Bell.

That theory played out in earnest last January. The Steelers didn’t score an individual touchdown in their Divisional Playoff video game against the Chiefs, but a smothering security limited the house team to just 16 points and pushed Pittsburgh to the AFC subject game. This season, they repeated that overall performance at Arrowhead Stadium, possessing Kansas Metropolis to 13 points in October – evidence plenty of this team is capable of beating anyone en route to a brilliant Bowl.

A weak back-end schedule sets the Steelers up for an AFC bye, but then …

Only three of Pittsburgh’s last seven game titles are against teams with winning records. One of these is a Packers group that’s 1-3 behind backup quarterback Brett Hundley. Another is normally against a Titans group who had to beat up on the Colts, Browns, Ravens, and Bengals to rally to 6-3. The last is normally against the Patriots, but it’s likewise at Heinz Field.

It’s easy to visit a 12-14 win landing zone for this Steelers team, but what goes on next is still a mystery. Roethlisberger isn’t participating in in addition to he has during the past, but Big Ben’s capability to intensify in the clutch and deliver big has is as unquantifiable as his capability to get swallowed-up by a collapsed pocket and emerge scrambling toward the sideline before firing off a 33-backyard completion.

Pittsburgh will remain a dangerous team with its sights collection on a seventh Super Bowl subject – however the seams holding this franchise together are actually more visible than ever, and that’s exactly what opponents will take aim at come January.

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