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Steelers/NFL

Rossi: Time for Steelers to turn it on

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, November 6, 2014 11:40 p.m
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Steelers' Lawrence Timmons celebrates after sacking Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, at Heinz Field.
ptrsteelers05110714
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Steelers' Lawrence Timmons celebrates after sacking Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, at Heinz Field.

Lawrence Timmons doesn’t believe there are any bad teams in the NFL. He can think of “at least three or four Pro Bowl-caliber players” on every club. He can’t think of any bad coaches. And he has played enough games to know every win is earned.

“For me, it’s all about that movie ‘Little Giants,’ ” Timmons said. “Remember the bus scene, when John Madden told the little kids what football was about, how it was 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical? Well, that’s really what it is.”

OK, then. If that’s the case, the Steelers are in a dangerous spot given their recent history with that 90 percent.

The only thing standing between them and a four-game winning streak are the terrible, lousy, dreadful, pick-an-adjective-for-bad New York Jets, who are 1-8, who have lost eight consecutive games, who have surrendered 98 more points than they’ve scored and who are the worst passing team in a passing league (184 yards per game). The Jets have produced eight touchdown passes — four fewer than Ben Roethlisberger has thrown in his past eight quarters.

It doesn’t really matter what else the Jets do well, even if there are some things. They average the third-most rushing yards (139.9), and they are seventh and 12th, respectively, in average rushing and passing yards allowed.

The Jets can’t fly, and the Steelers have become the NFL equivalent of the Air Force, with Roethlisberger leading awesome strikes that light up scoreboards.

Sunday might as well represent the first of two byes for the Steelers. They will win, and they better do it in a convincing, everybody-plays manner. While I appreciate that Timmons believes there are “no easy victories in the NFL,” that just isn’t true with the Jets, who have lost by at least 14 points in four of their past five games.

Of course, the Steelers lost at home to Tampa Bay (1-7) and responded with an uninspiring road win at Jacksonville (1-8). Those gruesome games were not that long ago. Nightmares tend to stick with people, and the Steelers have had a few against some of the NFL’s lesser opponents over the past three seasons.

They are only 11-8 against teams with losing records during the past three seasons, including an 8-7 mark that contributed mightily to the past two winters without playoff football for Steeler Nation.

Didn’t always used to be the Steelers struggled to put away the poorest of opponents. Coach Mike Tomlin’s teams were 29-7 against squads with losing records over his first five seasons, including undefeated marks in his second, fourth and fifth campaigns. Tomlin’s two Super Bowl teams went a combined 13-0 against teams that finished under .500, and his four playoff teams went 26-3.

Forget establishing an offensive balance, winning the turnover battle, and all the other cliches that usually are true about successful teams. There is one sure way to make the playoffs: Bully the weaklings.

The Steelers made a habit of bringing playoff games to Heinz Field when that has happened under Tomlin. His three teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs went a combined 11-11 against teams with losing records.

Some numbers don’t lie.

Some wins are more telling than others.

It is easy to look at what the Steelers have accomplished in the past two games, thumping contenders Indianapolis and Baltimore and looking like the Air Coryell San Diego Chargers in the process, but I am much more interested in their next two games against opponents that (sorry, Lawrence) shouldn’t provide much of a challenge.

The Jets stink. The Tennessee Titans, at 2-6, clearly have their issues.

The Steelers are going on the road to face both, and they better come home with wins. Only an 8-3 record heading into the actual bye week is acceptable, unless the Steelers are a lot more pretender than the contender they seemingly showed themselves to be of late.

The Steelers have four must-win games if they are to claim the AFC North: the next two against the Jets and Titans, and two divisional showdowns against Cincinnati in December. Sweep those, and they will play at least one game at Heinz Field in January.

First, they have to beat the woeful Jets and lowly Titans. That is going to require something the last couple of Steelers teams have lacked, something I must see to believe is part of this team, something that also is a cliche for successful NFL teams: taking care of business.

“That’s the sign of a professional,” linebacker James Harrison said.

I have a feeling the Steelers are finally ready to do that.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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