Even Stevie Wonder could have seen this coming. The Pittsburgh Steelers started their season at 0-4 for the first time since 1968, and the natives of Steeler Nation have been, predictably, restless. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette has pointed out, no player on the roster or the head coach for that matter was even born the last time this happened. So, needless to say, this is a something of a new experience for the team and the majority of its employees. Just so you understand the context of which we speak; in '68 the Tet Offensive occurred in the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, Richard Nixon was elected President, Tommy Smith and John Carlos gave their clinched fist salute at the Mexico City Olympics, our opponents next week, the New York Jets won the Super Bowl (the first and last time they played in the game). We were still a year away from landing on the Moon, and a year away from the beginning of Chuck Noll's tenure as head coach. So it has been a while.
However, even though it has been multiple generations since Pittsburgh has been this inept starting a season, if you are sad or upset primarily because of the team's start in the standings I have to say your priorities are a little out of line. The more important reason to be sad and upset would because of..
L C Greenwood
The great Steelers defensive end passed away this past Sunday at the age of 67. The Steel Curtain defensive line, the greatest part of the greatest defense to ever play the game is now down to one living member, Joe Greene. Besides the fact that the mid 60s seems a tad early to be leaving the world these days (writer Tom Clancy also died this week at 66), it offends my sense of justice that Greenwood was denied the opportunity to put on the yellow jacket as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He probably had the lowest profile of the members of that famous front four, but when he left the game he was the franchise's leader in sacks. JJ Watts had nothing on him during Super Bowl IX when he blocked two Fran Tarkenton passes, one leading to an interception by Joe Greene. In Super Bowl X he sacked Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach four times. One suspects that the reason that Greenwood was denied admission to the HOF is the feeling that to let too many Steelers in would somehow be unfair or unseemly. And for LC that's a shame.
Obviously, if you are under the age of 50 you probably have no memory of this unit's play (highlights can in no way do them justice) If you were lucky enough to be a witness than they are impossible to forget. At their peak they pretty much did what they wanted against offenses that were both impotent and literally terrified of them. Greenwood may get in soon now that they can play the death porn angle ('a great player taken from us too soon'), but he deserved to have been able to enjoy the moment while he was still here. Yes, I'm ticked off this week, but not because of 0-4.
Yes, its hard times for Steeler Nation, but even in the depth of this current funk there is some good fortune for this team that provides just the faintest glimmers of hope in an otherwise dark situation. This team could not withstand another week like the first one on the injury front, and in this regard the fates have been relatively kind. There were no significant injuries (where players missed games) in Weeks Two and Three. Against the Vikings Ben suffered a dislocated finger but continued to play through it. Markus Wheaton had surgery for a finger injury that he suffered during the game. Ramon Foster had a chest injury and is the only player who might not be able to take the field when the Steelers take on the Jets next week.
Tight ends Heath Miller and David Johnson have played like they are fully recovered from their injuries. Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell left the ranks of the injured and contributed two touchdowns. In most respects the team is now healthier than it has been in quite some time. Of course, the downside is that we can no longer blame our troubles on injuries.
The AFC North
In a normal year an 0-4 start in the usually tough AFC North would have probably meant that the Steelers would have been toast by now. But the Steelers are not alone in their struggles as what was once arguably the most feared and competitive division in the NFL has fallen on hard times. So, in spite of their utter lack of competence over the first quarter of the season, the Steelers find themselves only two games out of first place and a possible playoff spot. This little unearned benefit is yet another piece of good fortune for this organization.
The timing of the Bye week is always an area of concern for fans when the schedule is released. Normally it is preferred to come along later rather than sooner as a means of getting some rest and healing up in preparation for a run in the latter portion of the season. An early Bye is usually viewed as a waste. This year you couldn't ask for the Bye to come at a more fortuitous time. Injuries and rest are not a concern, but breaking negative momentum and having an opportunity to reboot is. These are small things to be sure, but provides a young struggling team enough space to not abandon all hope. It would not be the wisest thing for fans to attach themselves too tightly to these sparse threads, but the team will definitely benefit in their development to have reasons to keep fighting and grinding. In spite of the certainty of the optimists and pessimists respectively, the direction and fate of this group continues to hang in the balance. Anyone who claims to know its future is probably engaging in hubris. The past does not equal the future, and the story has yet to be written. That is the appeal of the coming weeks. How will this team respond to the challenge.
Adams and Levi Brown
Head coach Mike Tomlin intimated in the aftermath of the loss in London that, if necessary, heads would roll in order to right the ship and attempt to save the season. Those threats have been made before to little real effect in the past. But this week the guillotine fell on left tackle Mike Adams. Adams, who was abused by Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, was removed from the starting lineup and replaced by Kelvin Beachum. Then the team made a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for Penn State alum Levi Brown.
Not unexpectedly Adams has received much of the brunt of Steelers' fans frustrations over the team's circumstances and has been dismissed as a total bust by some despite his relative lack of experience and the quality of his opponent. Whether these sentiments turn out to be true or if Adams is just suffering a particularly difficult initiation remains to be seen. Many were also somewhat mystified and frustrated by the deal for Brown who has been experiencing similar struggles during his time with Pittsburgh West. Neal Coolong and Rebecca Rollett add their perspectives on the trade and its possible rationale.
When hard times come the journey from genius to bum is a swift one. Players, coaches, front office personnel, in short no one can be trusted to do their jobs with any level of competence. PaVaSteeler examines the fall from grace in the eyes of fans of General Manager Kevin Colbert.
Rooney and Clark
It is to be expected that some (many?) in Steeler Nation have either written off or turned upon this team and its management. Team president Art Rooney II has released a message indicating that the organization intends to stay the course. Captain Ryan Clark refuses to yield to the lower impulses of media and fans.
Johnson (David), Heyward and Beachum
Good news seems to be non existent or just irrelevant at times like this, but there were some good performances that came out of the Vikings game. Tight end David Johnson and defensive end Cameron Heyward were recognized for their efforts by Pro Football Focus. Ben Roethlisberger was named the Steelers Digest Player of the week. I mentioned last week that Kelvin Beachum's stock was continuing to rise, and in the category of one man's misfortune is another's opportunity, Beachum gets the starting assignment at left tackle for the game against the Jets next week.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Adjustments the Steelers defense could make
- Coming to grips with surrendering big plays
- Nowhere for the Steelers to go but up from here
- NFL All Pro Offensive team through Week 4
- The Levi Brown trade and the power of change
- Tony Dungy says Steelers defense 'is old and doesn't have any playmakers'
- NFL Week 5 picks: Steeler Nation's eyes on the Jets and Falcons Monday night