The Steelers are a serious Super Bowl contender.
That's what many of the NFL experts are saying this week after the Steelers' convincing win over the New England Patriots last Sunday. It's funny how one victory can change people's opinions.
The Steelers are playing defense better than any other team right now, Ben Roethlisberger is gaining more confidence as his shoulder heals, and the running back tandem of Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore seems like a winning combination.
Yes, the Steelers have many ingredients necessary to make a strong finish to the regular season and a successful playoff run. But every team is flawed in some way, and the truly great teams either improve in those areas or find ways to overcome their deficiencies.
Amid all of the euphoria emanating from the Steel City this week, here are three areas worth pointing out that could ultimately prove to be the Steelers' demise:
n The offensive line. The Steelers' line has been the team's biggest weakness all season, and despite its strong performance last Sunday, it still hasn't developed the consistency needed to produce a run through the playoffs.
The Steelers are averaging just 3.7 yards per rush, which is 28th best in the league, and they've only had six runs of 20 or more yards. Despite a cutback on sacks the last two weeks, Steeler quarterbacks have been taken down 36 times, sixth highest in the league. Tennessee and Denver, two other AFC Division leaders, have each given up just eight sacks all year.
n Penalties. The Steelers are taking too many penalties - they have the fourth most penalty yards in the league (672). The penalties haven't become too much of a hindrance because their opponents are also committing them at a high rate (fifth most in the NFL).
When you have two teams getting penalized as much as the Steelers and their opponents have, games tend to be sloppy, which helps inferior teams.
n Punting. The Steelers have the second worst punting average in the NFL. How the Atlanta Falcons have a worse average than the Steelers' 39.5 is beyond me. The Steelers are slightly better in net punting, ranked 22nd at 36.6.
When it's late in the season and the weather is colder, field position becomes a huge factor in important games.
The Steelers certainly showed they're among the NFL's best teams this past week. But if they want to take it up another level, these are the major areas they need to keep addressing.
NFL Week No. 14
Game of the week: Cowboys at Steelers, 4:15 p.m. Sunday (FOX).
Upset special: Eagles (+8) at Giants.
Fantasy tip: The Jets had trouble scoring on an earlier trip to the West Coast and could have problems again in San Francisco.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.