The reigning Super Bowl Champions will meet in a showdown this Sunday against the Pre-season Super Bowl favorites in a game that should make most of us....cringe. Neither the Steelers nor the Panthers have lived up to their pre-season prognostications or aspirations. Both teams are similiar in their philosophies. Both teams focus on stopping the run and effectively running the ball thus controlling the clock and the game of field position. Ironically, neither team has acheive their goals to date, not consistently anyway.
The Panthers started the season off without their star wide receiver Steve Smith who succomb to a hamstring injury, however the Panthers we positive that with the addition of Keyshawn Johnson via free agency and DeAngelo Williams in the draft that Smith's absense would have less of an impact than previously thought. The Panthers were wrong. The Cats dropped their first two games of the season and couldn't manage a win until Smith returned to the line up in week three. The team's offensive woes continued due to several factors, some of which were the losses of starting left tackle Travelle Wharton and starting center Justin Hartwig. The offensive play calling is vanilla at best and the run game was sporadic, if not just ineffective most of the time. Jake Delhomme has had a typical season as far as percentages go, but without the late game heroics and spectacular grabs by Steve Smith the offense finds itself ranked among the worst in the leage.
The defense isn't without their fair share of the blame though. Also riddled by injuries they have surrendered 5 fourth quarter leads and allowed much too many big plays, not to mention they can't seem to create a turn over to save their collective lives. Dropped interceptions and botched fumble recoveries are only a small sample of what has lead this defense and it's team to a 6-7 record with three games left, two of which are on the road against divisional opponents. The outlook is bleek. Dan Morgan's penchant for concussions has left the LB's corps thin at best, you take Ken Lucas out for an array of minor injuries, add in Chris Gamble's inability to cover anything with legs, suddenly age Mike Rucker and Mike Minter and what you have is a team that looks to be it's rookie CB, Richard Marshall, to be it's second best defensive player behind Julius Peppers. It's not the recipe for a championship team.
The Steelers started off as cold as anyone in the NFL, a lot of their failures were hinged on Big Ben's inability to stay health for a myriad of reasons. Along the way they have suffered several other injuries and weren't able to hit their stride until recently when their run game, anchored by Willie Parker, started to live up to it's expectations. The defense is starting to remind team why they shouldn't attempt to run against their front seven and forcing a lot of teams to go to the passing attack. The Steelers are back to their old tricks, controlling the line of scrimmage, running the ball and stopping the run. The Steelers resurrgence has come a couple games too late and they will still find themselve on the outside looking in come play off time.
The Panthers have and outside....very outside chance of making the post season, however their chances are hinged on a lot of unlikely scenarios playing out in the Panthers favor. They must win their three remaining games to stay alive in a very unstable NFC where the 49er actually have a shot at knocking the former NFC Champion Seahawks out of the lead in the NFC West. It's a crazy conference to say the very least.
So, what we have is two grossly underacheiving teams facing off to accomplish...very little Both teams are fighting for respect by pulling off a late season surge, more realistically, they're battling for draft positions. It's unfortunate to see both these teams in their respective positions, but it further proves the old adage: "If you're not going forward, you're going backwards."