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Pittsburgh Steelers season starts behind one big 8-Ball

There were plenty of expectations that the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers would pick up where their record-setting offense left off at the end of last year. Then Maurkice Pouncey went down with a serious injury and Martavis Bryant got hit with a 4-game suspension for drug use. Then there's that issue of the first team defense stinking it up all preseason. How this season ends might depend on how things start.

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Normally I'm not a negative person, or at least I try not to look at the downside before assessing a situation and then lending an opinion. That was the thought process going into this analysis, since I knew I'd be writing this today as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepared for the New England Patriots.

Everybody knew Le'Veon Bell would miss the first two games of 2015 for his actions last preseason. That was set in stone. As for Tom Brady, well that was another story, but he won his appeal and is set to play. That's a loss for the Black-and-Gold, but give Mike Tomlin credit as they've prepared to face him anyhow.

Actually, this ship took a wrong turn in early August, when a series of events occurred, putting this franchise's season in a decidedly gray area. It's something that can't be overlooked because it's the obvious, 800-pound elephant in the room. You can't ignore it and it's not going away.

Starting with the Maurkice Pouncey injury in the Green Bay preseason game, and continuing to the 4-game suspension that the NFL laid on Martavis Bryant because he couldn't put the bong down, we witnessed a weekly assault on the Steelers' first team offense, along with the promise of a big season for Ben and Company.

I've been critical of certain things when they're warranted, but some fans participating on this site dislike that. For that, I cannot apologize since I'm paid to give opinions on what I see and the facts involved. I stopped being a 'fan' years ago, as my career in media grew. Is it good to watch the Steelers do well? Of course. When the home team wins, fans are happy, they support the local economy and all is well.

But having spent most of my days working in sports-talk radio, it's always been better for business when things don't go so well. Fans take losses even harder than players it seems, now more than ever. Losing when you are so accustomed to winning hits home harder and lingers much longer with fans.

And therein lies my quandary.

Before this preseason started, I was on board with the idea that IF the Steelers could show some slight improvement on defense, despite the losses of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor to retirement, the players in the secondary would improve and step up their games. This viewpoint assumed that the linebackers who are crucial to creating pressure and making things happen in this defense would improve. It was also predicated on the notion that the defensive line would get back to stopping the run.

But after five preseason games, have you seen any of that? 

I sure didn't.

Combined with the loss of your All-Pro center for at least the first eight games, plus losing your stud RB for the first two and your No. 2 wideout who helps draw attention away from your all-world No. 1 wideout, you now have a recipe that even Bobby Flay can't improve.

But maybe it's just me. Maybe I have it all wrong because preseason games really don't count for anything, right? I mean the results are, for the most part, gathered up by guys who won't be making a living in the NFL. That 80-yard opening drive that the Packers put together at Heinz Field doesn't really account for much, right?

Or that 41-yard run Fred Jackson gashed against the same defense on the first play of the game doesn't count since he was cut only 10 days later, right? Or the fact that, not one, but four Bills QB's shredded our secondary throughout the game, missing on only three of 33 passing attempts for 395 yards.

"A mirage" some might say. "Means nothing," others would chime.

Not so fast my friends.

The simple truth is that we knew our offense would have to score a lot of points each week to keep this team in games. We knew that the defense needed to make four or five stops per game, either forcing a punt or taking the ball away to assist in that process.

My question is: Did you see anything in the preseason that would lead you to believe the defense can do that?

Count me in the 'no freaking way' group.

The bottom line is that this team may not have enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to get those four to five stops per game. The secondary is a total wreck and who knows how the linebackers will play. Outside of Cam Heyward, where is the proven commodity on the defensive line whom you can count on?

I want to be wrong on this. It's never easy to admit when your team is trending downward. But as I see it right now, anything over 8-8 would be a small miracle. Perhaps that might be a possibility when Week 5 arrives. If this team can go 2-2 to start the season, I'd feel better about them winning nine or 10 games.

But I just don't see it happening right now. What I see is 8-8, and that won't be good enough for the players, the Rooney family or Steelers Nation.

John Phillips is the author of this article. When he's not sleeping, you can hear him on CBS Radio in Pittsburgh doing updates and reporting for 93.7 The Fan and News Radio 1020 KDKA. Follow JP on Twitter @PGHJohnPhillips