Steelers rise to top of AFC without playing their best football

The Steelers' offense has continued to run through Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell in the season's first half. Justin Berl/Getty Images

Here's a look at the first half of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a preview of what to expect in the second half:

First-half snapshot: The Steelers are tied for the AFC's best record despite underachieving as an offense, which can be considered a good sign. Pittsburgh has shown resiliency by going 4-1 on the road. The identity of the Steelers is clear-cut: run the ball with Le'Veon Bell at least 25 times, create turnovers/sacks on defense and win close games in the fourth quarter. That the Steelers rank in the top five in total defense (No. 5), scoring defense (No. 2) and sacks (No. 4) shows the Steelers' defensive rebuild is nearly complete. Grade: Above average

Midseason MVP: LB Ryan Shazier. Antonio Brown could easily win this. He leads the league in receiving yards (835) by a margin of more than 100. But Shazier's complete game has catalyzed the defense. He's the league's only defender with at least 50 tackles (64), at least five passes defended (eight) and at least two interceptions (two), according to the Steelers. Add two forced fumbles and Shazier is a big play waiting to happen. Bell is a candidate, too. He's pacing for 1,958 total yards.

Best moment: JuJu Smith-Schuster's 97-yard touchdown in Detroit was timely. The Steelers' offense was reeling, with the Lions basically daring it to do something by attempting a fourth-and-goal at the 1 a few plays earlier. Smith-Schuster beat man coverage, Ben Roethlisberger dropped a dime between the corner and safety, and Smith-Schuster was off. The play reminded that the Steelers didn't need a big play from Brown or Bell on the road to win. And Smith-Schuster's bike-chain celebration fired up the sideline.

Worst moment: Roethlisberger's back-to-back pick-sixes against Jacksonville in Week 5 marked an absolute low, raising questions about Roethlisberger's game, from the quarterback himself. The Steelers considered the five-interception game an aberration, and Roethlisberger has since cleaned up his play. But Jacksonville's defense showed reaching the explosive passing levels of 2014-15 won't be easy for the Steelers.

Second-half outlook: The Steelers can get so much better on offense, starting with finding a way to take pressure off Bell and Brown with Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant. They play five of their final eight games at Heinz Field. Getting home-field advantage for the playoffs should absolutely be the goal. Something to watch: how the defense responds from giving up 423 passing yards to Matthew Stafford in Week 8. The Steelers know they need to be more versatile in coverage, mixing zone and man. They'll need to show it in November and December.