The New York Jets will be coming to Heinz Field for a Sunday game matching two of the four teams in the AFC that currently have won at least nine games, and as Coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday news conference, "That's what you wish for this time of year. It's good to be in significant games. That means that you have done what you needed to do to this point."
One season after missing the playoffs, the Steelers have done what they needed to do to climb back into the thick of the playoff chase, and the NFL is certain to release some scenarios later in the week that will describe what must happen for them to clinch a spot officially.
But there also are things teams need to do to be able to make deep runs into the playoffs and get themselves into those games that end with trophy presentations.
One of those things unquestionably is scoring offensive touchdowns, and right now that has become an issue for the 10-3 Steelers.
In the past three games, the Steelers offense has scored two touchdowns – one of those came on the opening possession of the game in Buffalo and the other came in the fourth quarter in Baltimore but only after the defense presented the ball at the Ravens' 9-yard line. Against the Bengals, who arrived here with a defense ranked No. 28 in the NFL in points allowed – they scored none.
"We want to score touchdowns," said Tomlin. "In the recent past we haven't done as well as we would like. There are a myriad of reasons, and usually they're centered around execution."
That really is the confounding part of this, because it's not as though the Steelers offense has been inept in those three games. The unit has put up 1,068 net yards of offense, converted 48 percent on third downs, averaged 21 first downs in each of the games and possessed the ball for an average of 38 minutes per game, and they committed a total of only two turnovers.
But still no touchdowns, and Tomlin wasn't interested in offering any excuses, especially when it came to the possible impact of the injuries to the tight end position.
"I am not going to blame anything," said Tomlin. "If we want to employ three tight ends, and we only have two of them suited, we can tell No. 79 (Trai Essex) to report as eligible and go about our business. We are not executing in that area to our liking because we are not executing in that area to our liking."
Tomlin may not be interested in blaming anything, but there would seem to be a couple of obvious culprits: penalties and sacks. Both of those things are damaging to an offensive unit on the field while having minimal impact on the stat sheet.
In the last three games, the Steelers have committed 13 offensive holding penalties and allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked 12 times. As has been well-documented, the pass protection issue is shared by the entire unit, and there are times when Roethlisberger holds onto the ball instead of throwing it away. But there are more times when Roethlisberger's holding of the ball leads to big plays for the offense, and lately it seems there have been even more of those than normal.
Penalties, though, are another matter entirely.
"We've been holding, and we need to stop. We need to cut down on holding," said Tomlin. "No question holding occurs just about on every snap in the National Football League. I think anybody in this industry will acknowledge that, and so what we need to do is cut down on the actions that are triggering the flags. Those actions are grabbing and restricting the jersey coming away from the body, and so forth. We need to do a better job. We need to do a more detailed job of playing technical."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE: "Flozell Adams continues to deal with his ankle sprain. He might be limited in the early portions of the week. He was able to play in the (Bengals) game, probably not to the level he'd like, but he should be better this week. Bryant McFadden continues to deal with a hamstring injury, but of course he was able to play, at less than 100 percent but that can be said about anyone in the NFL at this time of the year. Troy is still dealing with his situation, and we'll follow the same protocol in terms of not letting him practice in the early part of the week. Aaron Smith has started lifting. We're still optimistic about him possibly joining us at some point. We like the progress. Anthony Madison has a knee contusion, and he should be fine. Keyaron Fox hyperextended his left elbow. He didn't miss any action in the (Bengals) game, but that created a lot of discomfort. He should be fine. Heath Miller worked out this morning and passed his post-concussion test. He has absolutely no symptoms, and he's a full-go for practice on Wednesday, and we anticipate having him back in the fold."