Steelers still have room to grow

October, 26, 2008
10/26/08
11:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- After the Pittsburgh Steelers gave up 12 unanswered points and blew a fourth-quarter lead to the reigning Super Bowl champions Sunday, they came to the realization that the New York Giants are not only better than them, but they're also better than everyone else.

"They are Super Bowl champions for a reason," was the general quote uttered at least a half-dozen times Sunday night.

 
  Rick Stewart/Getty Images
 Stopping (and sacking) Big Ben seems to be the key to beating the Steelers.
Chalk up Pittsburgh's 21-14 loss and fourth-quarter meltdown as a learning experience.

The Giants (6-1) are the cream of the crop at the midpoint of the season. They earned that honor by doing what championship-caliber teams do: hang around on the road, then kick it into another gear in crunch time.

The Steelers (5-2) showed they are not far behind, but they still have a ways to go in terms of executing against the NFL's best for four quarters.

Here are some other observations in the wake of Pittsburgh's loss:

Pressure busts pipes (and Big Ben)

At the midpoint of the season, the book is out on beating the Steelers: beat up "Big Ben" and you have a great chance to win.

Coming off a 38-10 thrashing of the Cincinnati Bengals in which Ben Roethlisberger wasn't sacked, the Steelers gave up five sacks and several more shots on their quarterback against the Giants on Sunday.

As a result, Roethlisberger was never able to find a comfort zone. He completed only 13-of-29 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and a season-high four interceptions. It was the first multi-interception game of the season for the Steelers' quarterback, who also bore some of the responsibility for the sacks after holding the ball too long.

"It's disappointing offensively from top to bottom and it starts with me," Roethlisberger admitted. "We're just not getting it done ... We saw some things today that we didn't see on film."

Steelers lag behind the NFC East

This brings us to our next point: Pittsburgh doesn't match up well against the NFC East.

Not many teams do against what is widely considered the best division in football. The Steelers are 0-2 against the NFC East and 5-0 against everyone else.

Similar to the Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles were aggressive in getting to Roethlisberger in a 15-6 victory earlier this season. In two games against the NFC East, Pittsburgh has scored 20 points and given up 13 total sacks. That is the blueprint to beating the Steelers, although not every team has the personnel to do it.

Unfortunately, all the teams in the NFC East have the personnel to pressure the quarterback. Luckily for the Steelers, their road will not be impeded by these teams come playoff time. But it could hurt postseason positioning if they continue to drop games against the NFC East, especially with the Tennessee Titans (6-0) off to a blazing start.

The Steelers travel to play the Washington Redskins (6-2) next week and face the Dallas Cowboys (5-3), presumably with a healthy Tony Romo at quarterback, on Dec. 7.

Injuries, at some point, take a toll

Overcoming injuries has been the story of Pittsburgh's season. But at some point the team needs to avoid injuries and has yet to do so.

The Steelers lost two more key players Sunday in starting safety Ryan Clark and Greg Warren, the long snapper. Clark separated his shoulder and probably will miss time, and Warren is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Don't think a long snapper is important? After Warren was hurt, Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison volunteered to step in. Harrison had practiced snapping some in training camp, but he'd never long snapped in a game. He sailed one way over punter Mitch Berger's head for a safety during Pittsburgh's fourth-quarter collapse.

"Nobody has two long snappers on their team," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said afterward.

The Steelers should have a new snapper in the building this week. But this is only the latest chapter of missing players that also includes starting tailback Willie Parker (knee), left tackle Marvel Smith (back) and receiver Santonio Holmes (discipline), all of whom could have been used in a big game against the Giants.

"You definitely need all your guns when you're playing the world champions, but it is what it is," Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward said.

Defense will show up every week

The Steelers' defense was solid and continues to be one of the few units that has yet to have a bad game. They entered this week ranked No. 1 in the NFL, allowing just 236 yards per game.

But because of Roethlisberger's four interceptions, Pittsburgh's defense was put in bad spots time after time. It responded by holding the Giants to one touchdown in six trips to the red zone. New York had to settle for four field goals and one turnover on downs in the other five trips, which put the Steelers in a position to win.

It's obvious the offense is lagging behind the defense at this juncture, and if both sides ever click simultaneously on a consistent basis, Pittsburgh could be something special in the second half of the season.

But at this point the Steelers are in the category of a very good team that still has room to grow.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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