MIRZA ZUKIC: Talk about a Steelers turnaround ...
Since their disastrous, winless September to start the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been in turnaround mode.
And it begs the question, when will the turnaround be complete? And what follows it?
With Sunday’s dominant 27-11 win over the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers have five victories in seven games since their bye week, they’ve pulled ahead of someone in the AFC North for the first time all season, and most importantly, they’re in great position to snatch the final playoff spot with five weeks of the regular season remaining.
It’s not lost on me they’re still one game under .500, but realistically, they’re back from the dead.
So can we now say the Steelers have turned it around and move on?
The Steelers are relevant again. They’re in the playoff picture. NBC might even keep the Bengals-Steelers clash scheduled for Dec. 15, a game that a couple weeks ago looked like a sure victim of the NFL’s flex schedule late in the season.
“That’s the good thing: We’ve won enough games to make games important,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We’re not playing for nothing. We’re excited about that.”
You want turnaround? What the Steelers have done is a complete 180.
Pittsburgh is playing its best football of the season, by a wide margin.
The offense is playing well, once Ben Roethlisberger stopped being the turnover machine he was early in the season.
He’s got one interception on the current three-game winning streak, during which he’s shown he can step up and put the team on his shoulders, like he did against the Lions. He engineered a 97-yard drive and finished with 367 yards against Detroit.
At the same time, the Steelers can be just as potent when Roethlisberger has a quiet 217 yards like he did Sunday in Cleveland.
The offensive line has enjoyed probably its finest two-game stretch the past couple weeks. Roethlisberger has been sacked once in the past two games. As much as that’s a product of the variety of quick passes he has been calling in the no-huddle offense, it’s also direct proof the offensive line is improving.
The Browns have a formidable nose tackle in Phil Taylor, and left guard Ramon Foster handled the challenge well. That was a week after David DeCastro kept one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, off the stat sheet.
On the other side of the ball, the defense is becoming what Steelers fans expected.
Turnovers, touchdowns, sacks. They have come in bunches recently, and they’re making a huge difference. The Steelers got their first defensive touchdown Sunday, and with 17 points off turnovers against the Browns, the Steelers have scored 34 points off turnovers the past two weeks.
The Steelers look to be making a conscious effort to get the ball.
And with the exception of one horrendous quarter against Detroit, the Pittsburgh defense has given up 21 points in the other 11 quarters since the embarrassment at New England three weeks ago.
“We just wanted to represent Coach (Dick) LeBeau,” said William Gay, who scored the Steelers’ first defensive touchdown of the season, a 21-yard pick-six. “It’s like trying to make your father proud.”
What a tale of two seasons it’s been for the Steelers.
They committed 11 turnovers on offense, didn’t force any on defense and had only four sacks during an 0-4 start. Meanwhile, they’ve forced eight turnovers during their three-game winning streak, they had five sacks alone in Sunday’s win in Cleveland, and the offense has had one giveaway in three straight wins.
The Steelers have made a turnaround, but it’s not time to look back and admire it yet. The focus turns to being the best team they can be over a five-game season.