Steelers Preseason: Leaking Ships Don't Always Sink

Larry French

Relax, Steelers Nation. Don't run for the lifeboats. Yes, the Steelers looked abysmal on Monday night, but there's no reason to panic yet.

Like most folks here, I didn't like seeing the Steelers abused by their Washington counterparts on national TV one bit. But I was shocked to see so many of my fellow Steelers fans, people whose opinion I unequivocally respect, be ready to jump off the boat and declare the death of the Tomlin regime, the Haley 'experiment', the offensive line makeover, and pretty much everything else connected with 'our' franchise.

Let's not forget that this is still preseason. Last I checked, they don't count these games toward our contention for Super Bowl XLVIII. All they are meant for is to see where the team and its players stand, to choose the right players for the season, and to make corrections so that the same mistakes won't be repeated in the regular season.

Want to know how little these games count? I think we all have seen the Detroit Lions argument: in 2008, the Lions won all four of their preseason games by pretty good margins, only to stay winless until the next year with the first 0-16 regular season in NFL history. But hardly any Super Bowl participant in the past few years has come out of the first two preseason game without a blemish.

I saw the 2011 Ravens being brought up multiple times as an example who seemingly switched to a zone-blocking scheme without missing a beat. But that team scored just 6 points in its preseason opener before beating the Chiefs 31-13 with a 21-0 scoring outburst in the fourth quarter that came after being down 13-10 after three (also known as the time when people who actually make the team get their playing time).

Perhaps most maligned after game against the Redskins was our offensive line, who admittedly looked incapable of football through much of Monday night. It has been argued on here that the development of a new scheme is difficult for our young linemen to pick up immediately, and I'll take that argument one step further: the offensive line success in the first game against the Giants actually hurt that development.

We've all had to learn something new to us at some point in our lives. In my experience, it is actually beneficial to fail at that something new first, and then slowly build your way up to mastering the task at hand. When we try something new and are immediately successful (and by all accounts, the offensive line was), we are much quicker to rest on our laurels and stop putting in the work necessary to actually improve. It's a flaw, but a basic human one that I think most people have experienced at some point or another.

Following that theory, it would have actually been better for the development of our young line to be really bad the first game, and then gradually improve. All the good first game followed by an awful second showing means is that the potential for success is there, even though there is still work to do.

Next: the special teams gaffes and undisciplined actions of players, two aspects that I think are brought up as an indictment of the Steelers regime under Tomlin quite often. But, once again pointing to the transition to a new special team coach and system, aren't these gaffes somewhat explainable? And wouldn't you say that in a vacuum, our special teams looked much improved (if still not great) against the Redskins in comparison to the debacle against the Giants? Correct me if I'm wrong, but outside of a couple of 20 yard returns late in the game along with an almost-turnover by a player who in all likelihood will not make the team, I can't think of anything that unit should be chastised for against Washington. And isn't that what we're looking for most in the preseason, gradual improvement?

Yes, the plethora of flags against the Steelers are an issue. Some of them are directly related to the offensive line transition (see above), while others are the undisciplined actions by specific player (looking at you, Jason Worilds). But once again, it's preseason - now is a good a time as any to make and correct these mistakes. To point toward penalties (as it's often argued, a direct result of a lack of discipline) as a trend under Tomlin is simply wrong.

In Tomlin's six years at the helm, the team has ranked in the top ten of having the least penalties per game three times, finishing 6th with 5.8 per game in 2012 (as a comparison, the Rams came in dead last with 8.1 per game). The team's worst two years were 2008 (21st with 6.1 per game) and 2010 (23rd with 6.3 per game), and I don't think I have to explain what happened at the end of those years. A history of a lack of discipline? Please show your work.

Not to mention the many positives that have come through in the first game. After many had declared the end of GM Kevin Colbert's drafting success (I'm starting to sense a trend here), our rookie class is looking promising and strong. Our backup inside linebackers, a subject of much concern this summer, looked solid in game 2 after a stellar showing against the Giants. Despite the fact that our proclaimed savior of the offense can't make it out of the trainer's room, our running backs look good. And we have one of the best problems a football team could have at WR, where there seem to be too many young talents to pick one for the 5th roster spot.

Are there concerns? Absolutely. My point is not that we should just ignore what happened in the first two games, close our ears and sing to ourselves. But to make bold proclamations about the end of the season and the doom of the Pittsburgh Steelers? I think it's just a little early for that. This ship looks like it's leaking, but it hasn't even left the port yet. Maybe we should have just a little trust that the crew that has gotten us to the promised land multiple times can handle a little leak. If we start the season 0-5? You may want to get those life vests ready.

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