To open the 2012 season, a 2-3 start left fans wondering where the Steelers were headed. They showed incompetency on the road, particularly against Oakland and Tennessee, and fielded a defense that crumbled like coffee cake in the clutch. In the last 3 games, though, the Steelers have settled into a groove and imposed their will rather than being dictated to and becoming victims. The difference through the first 8 games is clearly defense-oriented rather than offense-focused. While the team scoring averages are similar between the wins (23.6 points/game) and losses (24.3 points/game) the points allowed discrepancy is a marked difference between wins (14.6 points/game) and losses (30.3 points/game). You cannot give up an average of 30+ points/game and expect to win consistently.
In the past three games, though, the defense has stepped up against teams in the top half of the league in scoring average (Bengals, Redskins & Giants). Couple that with the fact that the offensive line has settled into a groove and helped the running game explode the last few games (155 yards/game), the Steelers closed out the first half in a strong way.
So what does all of this mean for the second half?
- By closing out with 3 wins, the Steelers remain within a game of the Ravens. At one point, the race looked like it might be a runaway but the Ravens have issues of their own so staying close was a key before starting the second half.
- The Steelers face opponents with a collective 19-30 (.633) record. With 5 division games - Cleveland (twice), Cincinnati and Baltimore (twice) - the Black ‘n Gold hold fate in their hands. Add Kansas City, San Diego and Dallas, all winnable games, and fans can be optimistic about a strong run down the stretch.
- The Ravens face a stronger strength of schedule facing opponents with a 29-29 (.500) record. They square off against Oakland, Pittsburgh (twice), San Diego, Washington, Denver, the New York Football Giants and finally Cincinnati. Clearly a tougher path in the second half.
While nothing in the NFL is a given, as witnessed against the Raiders and Titans this year, looking at the next 8 games certainly leaves more room for optimism now than it did several weeks ago.
My Notables from the First Half
- Offensive Line – this crew has stepped up and been the biggest surprise to me. If they can stay healthy, I’m looking for them to continue to develop an identity and some nastiness as they build cohesion as a group and with the Todd Haley offense.
- Special Teams – my choice isn’t because of the mistakes made but because of the number of return plays that were generated. There are multiple players that can generate the big play and that depth is important. If they can keep the penalties under wrap I think the ST unit could have a major impact on the second half.
- Heath Miller – finally Heath is appreciated by his coordinator and it shows. With 1 more TD, Miller ties his single-season high for TD’s.
Other notables: Jon Dwyer (5.2 yards/carry), Larry Foote (leading D with 40 tackles & 17 assists).