Call me naive; call me delusional; call me just plain stupid. But I haven't given up on the Steelers.
I expect them to win this afternoon against the New York Jets and to eventually reassert themselves in the AFC North Division race. That's not to say they'll make the playoffs, but people will be talking about their chances.
They are not an outstanding team. But a team does not have to be outstanding to move into contention for a playoff spot, particularly in the AFC North where no team is better than 3-2. If the Steelers can beat the Jets today, they'll be, at the most, 2 1/2 games back with 11 to play. Their challenge is not easy, but nor is it impossible.
They have a first-rate quarterback, who, if he ceases to be a turnover machine, can help them win games against a schedule that is not all that difficult.
The Steelers return to respectability and beyond won't happen without improved play from Ben Roethlisberger. The fact he long ago established himself as one of the better NFL quarterback and that he remains at least close to being in his prime are reasons enough to believe he can regain his form.
A lot of things can be done with statistics and they can be used to show Roethlisberger hasn't been the same since offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was fired after the 2011 season. That's nonsense. Roethlisberger was outstanding for most of the Steelers first nine games last year when they were 6-3 and considered a Super Bowl contender. He played three games in which his passer rating was over 120, which is exceptional. He had thrown 17 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. The Steelers had won four in a row.
But he was injured in that fourth straight win, missed about a month and has not been the same since. There's strong reason to believe -- his age, his recent play, excluding the turnovers -- that he can regain that form. Indeed, in games this season he has shown more than just flashes of the talent than helped the Steelers get to three Super Bowls and win two of them.
If Roethlisberger can return to his early 2012 form, the Steelers, who have scored 50 points in the past two games despite all the turnovers, will have the type of offense that can win games. Yes, the line has been terrible. It can get better. So can the running game with Le'Veon Bell healthy. Those factors should help Roethlisberger get better.
There's no reason to be as optimistic about the defense. After playing well in the first two games, the defense was terrible in the past two -- giving up 40 points to Chicago and 34 to Minnesota. There does not appear to be anything approaching a quick fix for the defense. Coach Mike Tomlin tinkered with his starting lineup this week. Maybe that will help.
The schedule is not difficult. With the exception of New England, 4-1 but not that impressive, the remainder of the Steelers opponents are either 2-3, 3-2 or 2-2.
This is no suggestion the Steelers are guaranteed to turn their season around. Only that such a reversal is possible. But if it is to happen, it must start today against the Jets.
First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM