The Calm Before The Storm - By Tim Bodamer

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-1 for many reasons: improving pass defense, efficient quarterback play, scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and finishing key drives late in the games. But the critics have a different take of the Steelers' success: their schedule.

The Steelers have beaten the Oakland Raiders (2-2), Miami Dolphins (0-4), and Cincinnati Bengals (1-3). A combined 3-9 record. Not good. They lost to the 2-2 Baltimore Ravens convincingly. With a rookie quarterback and a somewhat alarming leak in their run defense, it might be said that the Steelers are using the proverbial smoke and mirrors approach.

And the NFL schedule makers don't make it any easier. Following the Cleveland Browns this Sunday, Pittsburgh goes on the road to Dallas, and plays NFL champion New England and the NFC's top team Philadelphia back to back. A bye after the Cowboys game might give the Steelers an opportunity to develop a game plan for the league's best.

In a way, the three game stretch will confirm a couple of unknown issues about the Steelers: 1) How will rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger react to playing attacking well coached defenses? 2) How will the Steelers fair against solid offensive lines without the possibility of having Kendrell Bell playing linebacker? 3) Will the secondary continue to improve against the likes of Deion Branch, Terrell Owens, and Terry Glenn?

If the Steelers can get by Cleveland this week, and there's no reason to believe they can't, they will stand at 4-1. If they can pull out a victory out of the aforementioned tough stretch will put them at 5-3, a pace of 10-6 with a key divisional matchup with Baltimore looming at home.

As Steelers coach Bill Cowher often laments, there is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. Coaching, holding on to the football, controlling the clock, winning the field position game are all part and parcel to that success. And do those precursors to winning, the Steelers have fit the bill. Save Duce Staley coughing the ball up twice last week, they have been relatively careful, especially with an inexperienced Roethlisberger at the helm. They are also have caused 11 turnovers in just four games, and have relied on solid special teams to win games.

The Steelers aren't writing their ticket to Jacksonville and the Super Bowl as of yet, but if they can weather the tough stretch of October, they might return as kings of the AFC North.