Marc Uhlmann

Every Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan has different teams that they despise but you would be hard-pressed to find any that don’t have complete hatred for both of the AFC Championship game participants today.

Obviously Baltimore is to Steelers’ fans what a poopy diaper is to a baby. New England isn’t really much better when you consider the fact the Patriots have gotten the better of us in the playoffs several times including some at home.

For me personally, the only way this final four could be any worse is if Dallas were in Atlanta’s position. Why do I hate the Niners you may ask? Simple. They are on the precipice of their 6th Super Bowl victory for starters and I don’t feel like sharing. Sorry, but I don’t. Secondly, the 49ers were the team on the rise in the 1980′s when our beloved Steelers were on the decline. Don’t forget the Harbaugh factor in a couple of cases as well.

What the Steelers can learn from these teams is actually pretty straight-forward and we need only to look back over the last couple of seasons.

Since the Steelers lost in Super Bowl XLV, they are a combined 2-4 against the four teams remaining in the NFL. The breakdown is this:

  • 1-3 vs the Ravens
  • 0-1 vs the 49ers
  • 1-0 vs the Patriots

In those games, the Steelers were beaten soundly by Baltimore in the opening game of the 2011 season and then by San Francisco with a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger. The other two losses to Baltimore were tight, down to the wire games as was the single win which occurred this season behind Charlie Batch.

The loss to San Francisco was brutal. The 20-3 loss wasn’t really even that close as Ben Roethlisberger put on a valiant effort but still threw three picks and was sacked three times despite throwing for 305 yards.

The win over New England should have been a blueprint for the rest of the season but was not. The team came out throwing to tight end Heath Miller and the Patriots had no answer. When they adjusted, the Steelers offense did not and had to settle for field goals. It nearly cost them as New England had several shots late but came away empty.

The win that came over Atlanta was a 15-9 overtime win at home to open the 2010 season which was the opening game of the Super Bowl season so I did not include it here.

Admitting you can learn something from someone else can be tough but being educated by teams you literally hate is downright nauseating. The Steelers can make excuses about being old or having to deal with injuries more-so than others but the bottom line is that in those three losses to Baltimore it came down to making plays and the Ravens made more than the Steelers did.

In the loss to San Francisco on a Monday night where a victory would have given the Steelers control of the AFC North, Pittsburgh was man-handled and we all know it. It’s not often when you see the Pittsburgh Steelers get ‘out-toughed’ up front on both sides of the ball, but it happened in that game.

So what can the Steelers learn and is it anything we don’t already know?

1. Our offensive and defensive lines have to get better and more aggressive. There have certainly been attempts to do that especially in the last calendar year or two, but the Steelers struggled to control the line of scrimmage more this year than many recent ones. The defense may have ranked number one overall, but their numbers against the run slipped significantly. Offensively, two big draft picks did not come to fruition simply because of injury and you can argue the line had good moments prior to Roethlisberger’s injury but I saw more regression than progression as the season wore on.

2. Drafting must get better. When you look at the four teams left, each one, especially the Ravens, Niners, and Pats have drafted and gotten more out of those picks than the Steelers. Whether those were in key positions or on special teams, GM Kevin Colbert cannot afford to miss on his selections in April because if you look back, he’s missed an awful lot more than you think.

3. The Steelers have got to score more points. Sounds pretty simplistic doesn’t it? All of the final four teams scored more points per game in 2012 than the Steelers did. Success therefore is not a coincidence. The Steelers blew a prime opportunity in my opinion in 2012 when they could have used three excellent wideouts and an all-pro tight end in three-wide sets but blew it in favor of a fullback and two tight ends. This league is a scoring league now and we have to do more of it.

4. Get to the bakery and score some turnovers. Again, all four teams remaining were in the top ten in the league in turnover differential while the Steelers for the second straight year were near the bottom. This means getting younger on defense and getting more creative which leads me to beat my head against a wall because I know Dick LeBeau just isn’t going to change much. You can’t get turnovers if your defensive backs give 10 yard cushions and tacklers aren’t trying to strip the ball. Watch the teams today and you’ll see they all go after the ball with more aggressiveness than do the Steelers with the possible exception of Cortez Allen.

The Steelers aren’t light years away from these ball clubs by any stretch but there is work to do if we want to get back into the conversation as one of the top teams in the NFL. I continue to argue this off-season will be one of the most significant in recent memory for the black ‘n gold.

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