Saturday, September 20, 2014

This is the kind of game the Steelers used to win

A measuring-stick kind of game, and a good road test to see what kind of team the Steelers really are in 2014. That's what they have on Sunday night vs. a Carolina Panthers team that has gone 13-1 in its last 14 games (best in the NFL).

The Panthers lay in wait with a very good defense that has gathered six turnovers so far this season and has enabled Carolina to register a +17 turnover differential since Oct 13th. On offense, the Panthers seem to have just enough to get by, but with a defense that has allowed just 14.6 points per game over their last 14, the offense doesn't have to do much.

Luke Kuechly, tearing it up.
Carolina plays a base 4-3 defense anchored by third-year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and second-year defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (6'2", 320), who is everything the Detroit Lions probably hoped they were getting with Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. Both Kuechly and Lotulelei are fierce and mobile, and it's doubtful the Panthers would trade Lotulelei for Suh if given the option.

Many in Steeler Nation took encouragement from the Steelers' 6-2 record down the stretch in 2013, even if it included that inexcusable loss to the Miami Dolphins at home in the snow on Dec. 8th.  Still, 6-2 is 6-2. But 8-8 is 8-8, which is the record the Steelers have had the past two years. Not good.

This test in Charlotte will be a good game by which to measure the 2014 Steelers. If they can win on the road vs. a team that's gone 13-1 in its past 14 games, then we might begin to feel reasonably confident this year's edition of the Black 'n Gold is one to take seriously. If they lose, however, it will begin to look like more of the same of what we've seen the past two years and take on the look of an uphill struggle to the playoffs.

This is a big game for the Steelers. Although it's early in the season, it's later than you think.

No comments: