Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Cold winds of panic flow through the streets of Steelers Nation as the team's struggles continue.

Tempting the gods. A commentary (or would that be a rant?)

Homer J hit the nail on the head with this

We may soon find out who are the sunshine patriots among us. Those of us in Steeler Nation who count ourselves as winter soldiers will stand by this team as they sort things out and/or rebuild. Hopefully sooner, rather than later. But we will stand by them as we always have. Hope for fair weather. But prepare for a cold, difficult winter, just in case. The harder the conflict, as Tom Paine told us, the more glorious the triumph.

So here is the question: should more be given to those who don't appreciate what they already have?

In the early 1990s the Pittsburgh Pirates suffered a bitter playoff loss in Atlanta. As I watched the image of Andy Van Syke sitting on the outfield grass and fingers began being pointed at Barry Bonds for 'choking' I don't think anyone knew at the time that a generation would pass before the Pirates would play relevant baseball in October, or even September.

The Cleveland Browns stunned the football world this week when they traded their number one draft pick of a year ago, Trent Richardson, to Indianapolis. They also changed quarterbacks. Like Pittsburgh they are currently 0-2. Unlike Pittsburgh it has been fifty years since they won a championship. For the better part of twenty years during the late 40s, 50s and early 60s Cleveland had been what the Steelers have been for the past 40+, the most successful franchise in professional football. When Jim Brown and company won the NFL Championship in 1964 did the good people of northern Ohio have any inkling that they, their children and grandchildren would not taste that sort of thing again for nearly five decades?

Philadelphia Eagles fans had worked themselves up into a real lather, perhaps for good reason. After all, their championship drought has been longer than that of Cleveland's. So they got it in their heads that life would be so much better if they could just get rid of head coach Andy Reid, and they did. Last night (Thursday) Reid returned to Philly with his new team who had been in a bit of a drought themselves. Ahem.

For years I couldn't comprehend fans of the New York Yankees or Los Angles Lakers. It seemed that the more they won, the more they bitched. Winning was a boring entitlement and every flaw or setback was magnified. It seemed beyond their understanding that fans of other baseball and basketball teams would give anything for a crumb of their success. Yet they were so very unhappy because they believed perfection was their birthright. And I look at Steeler Nation and see those Yankee and Lakers fans.

As SamTheButcher expressed it

but i’m having a hard time with some of the reactions amongst my fellow steeler fans. is the confluence clogged with those who have pitched themselves off the many lovely bridges of the pittsburgh area? i’m imagining a scene out of the rime of the ancient mariner, only blacker and golder.

and are people really surprised that the team is struggling? really? my breatheren steeler fans are spoiled babies.

And my reaction to Sam

Part of me almost wishes we could go something like 3-13 so some of us could truly understand what bad really is.

I am old enough to be part of that cohort that experienced bad, when the Steelers were what the Browns are now and worse. And, I'm sorry, as much as I dislike and am even somewhat disheartened by an 0-2 start that follows an 0-4 preseason that follows an 8-8 2012 campaign, I think I can handle it. I think I can even handle 0-3. Because as distasteful as it is its not bad. We're not in the same area code as bad, not yet.

What concerns me is cosmic justice. How often do we not appreciate a relationship, a job, good health until it is taken away? Acquaintances outside of the Nation are generally surprised by our struggles. Some are secretly or not so secretly pleased. But all are incredulous at the panic, especially that there is actually conversation of firing coaches and front office personnel. But this is how spoiled people think. Or as PaVaSteeler characterizes it more succinctly, this is the consequence of "hubris". And the only known cure for hubris are massive doses of humility.

I hate to suggest such a thing because I would suffer as a result, but perhaps the best thing for the Nation at this juncture is to spend some time in Purgatory in order to get our heads right and develop an appreciation for what bad really is. Maybe it would be best to fire Tomlin and let him go to a place where folks are wiser and more appreciative, and then have him return with his new team and kick our brains out. If we become the Pirates or the Browns for a while maybe some will eventually understand that three Super Bowl appearances in a decade is a golden era, good times. But some spent so much energy complaining about shortcomings they apparently missed it. The 1976 Steelers are considered by those who were fortunate enough to witness it the greatest Steelers team ever. Because of injuries and bad luck they started that season 1-4. And, no, they did not win a championship that year, but ask anyone who saw it play out if it was anything but glorious.

All of this to say that the top story this week is not the struggles of the team, but the cancer of panic that threatens the Nation. As we spent last season chronicling the injury epidemic, this season, for as long as it lasts we will chart the sad, undignified deterioration of confidence that accompanies, and may yet negatively impact the team's efforts at rejuvenation.

Injuries

In the wake of the loss to the Bengals some of best news of the week went relatively unnoticed, no significant injuries. As a consequence we did not have to endure another disorienting week of roster moves. For the time being those who are left, who have not been ruled out for the season are slowly creeping back to relative health. Le'Veon Bell has returned to the practice field while Heath Miller has ramped up to full participation and is expected to be on the field Sunday night.

Rebecca Rollett takes on the big picture in a fine piece that is part one of a two part effort to get the root of why injuries continue to increase dramatically, not just in Pittsburgh but throughout the league, despite the best efforts of many to achieve the opposite. At SI.com a couple of piece address why players are seeking second opinions for evaluation and surgery of their ACL injuries, while the other makes a claim that there exists a training regimen that could dramatically decrease the occurrence of such injuries.

Haley and LeBeau

The Nation was in a foul mood after the Week One,

Everything from the intestinal fortitude of the players to discernment of the front office has been fair game. But the trophy for chief scapegoat would have to go to offensive coordinator Todd Haley whose alleged crimes are so heinous that some apparently have been driven back into the arms of Bruce Arians.

With Week 2 being no more successful than Week 1, the mood remains foul. In spite of increasing and determined competition Haley has managed to retain the title of chief scapegoat. The offense has been anemic, and the buck stops with the coordinator. Somewhere Ben Roethlisberger, David Paulson and Jerricho Cotchery are breathing a sigh of relief.

Much has been made of an alleged confrontation between Haley and wide receiver Antonio Brown during the Bengals game. Haley now denies the confrontation occurred, at least how it has come to be characterized. Haley does acknowledge that offensive performance is below the line and has to improve if there any hope of defeating Chicago. Where is the hope? Velasco played well as a newcomer, as did Derek Moye. While Bell is still too far away in his rehab to help this week, Heath Miller is back. How close he would be to 100 percent remains to be seen. Ben couldn't play any worse,could he? And Haley intimated that a key factor in seeing more of Markus Wheaton is dependent upon the offense being able to stay on the field a bit longer

On the defensive side, LeBeau acknowledged that the inexperience of inside linebackers Kion Wilson and Vince Williams was the cause of a defensive breakdown that led to a Bengals score. There is grumbling about the lack of sacks and turnovers from this group. And they will, once again, be without the services of cornerback Cortez Allen. The responses of both coordinators is available here.

The good and the bad

Looking at things from a strictly bottom line perspective Steelers/Bengals was a loss, pure and simple. There were enough bad individual performances to cause indigestion as well. Ben was erratic (Andy Dalton wasn't much better btw), Cotchery dropped too many balls for being the 'stabilizing veteran presence', David Paulson's blocking skills are alarmingly inadequate and his fumble was back breaking for an offense that is trying to find its confidence. Tackle play was below the line for much of the night. Kion Wilson blew a defensive call that led directly to a Cincinnati touchdown, the pass rush could not get Dalton on the ground. Tackles were missed.

On the other hand.

Troy Polamalu and Emmanuel Sanders received high grades from Pro Football Focus. Antonio Brown is wearing the mantle of number one receiver well. For the second week LaMarr Woodley is looking formidable. Velasco proved to be an adequate replacement at center and can only project to be better as he becomes more familiar with the offense. Derek Moye's first NFL catch was for a touchdown. Jarvis Jones is showing all the signs of being that next great Steeler linebacker. Cam Heyward appears on the verge of breaking out. Ike Taylor held A J Green to a pedestrian night. Felix Jones had a pretty good night. Special teams was solid in all phases. Little things for the most part, but little things add up.

Technical difficulties

At BTSC we don't stop at providing the what, we also give you the why. Steel34D and Paper Champions continue to provide us with valuable tutorials through their film sessions available here and here.

Leadership

A valuable resource for any team with high aspirations is the presence of veterans with championship experience. There is simply no substitute for having been there and done that. This has proven to be a tremendous advantage for the Steelers over the years insofar that their cup overflowed with players of this type who could be counted upon to be able to roll with the punches and maintain focus even at, especially at challenging moments. That number is dwindling and unless the team can regain championship form in the next couple of years or so, that institutional memory may well be lost. The ten remaining veterans from the 2008 group (Roethlisberger, Keisel, Clark, Polamalu, Woodley, Taylor, Miller, Warren, Timmons and Foote) met to determine what could be done to right the ship.

Larry Foote will only be able to provide moral support given his season came to a frustrating end after just one half of play. Nonetheless he will continue to be a presence with the team, helping out in any way he can as the season progresses. Given the circumstances this is no small thing.

AFC North

If you are looking for any scrap of good news there's this; the AFC North (like the NFC East) sort of sucks top to bottom. So far the only wins that have been accumulated are because they have been forced to play each other and somebody had to win (If I were a Bengals fan I wouldn't exactly be making my hotel reservations in New Jersey for February based upon that display on Monday night). With that in mind, and the Bengals and Ravens having challenging contests upcoming with the Packers and the Texans respectively, with a win on Sunday the Steelers could, amazingly, find themselves in first place.

The sleazy NFL

Last week I had some harsh things to say about the National Football League based upon observations I made in viewing a live game in Washington.

(I)t is becoming increasingly apparent that both fans and players are being ripped off to facilitate an obscene level of profitability for the league. Its called killing the goose.

Well, who cares about the crazy rants of someone writing on a blog. So maybe you might want to check out what Gregg Easterbrook has to say about the same topic in The Atlantic. A word of caution; you not like the workings of the sausage factory.

Harrison

When James Harrison and the Steelers parted ways this spring many of us viewed it as a tragedy, in part because it seemed to have been avoidable. Harrison left a legacy of high performance and was one of the important faces of the franchise throughout the latter years of the Cowher and the Tomlin Eras. The move and its impact has faded some as life in the NFL has moved on. But on the occasion of Harrison's first confrontation against his former team this clip brought into sharp focus the pain of the separation.

Listen to "The Standard is The Standard," BTSC's weekly radio show hosted by Neal Coolong and Lance Williams:

The Standard is the Standard - Episode 3

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