Each year, the Steelers will lose a tough game early in the season, and fans will call for the heads of the incompetent - everyone from the head coach to the coordinators, to their families to the pets. The devil we don't know is always better than the devil we know after a defeat.
My common belief has been rooted in a joke phrase mentioned about the common mentality of the Irish (of which I share ancestry): "We don't know what we're fighting for, but we'll fight you for it anyway." We aren't aware of everything that just happened in a game, but we know the end result, and that's enough to make half of a direction-shifting decision apparently for the better of that franchise.
While I'm not of the belief coordinators should be rotated in and out like Yankees managers during the 1980s, I don't think their place in the team's yearly media guide should be etched in stone, either. There's a battle, and there's a war. Sometimes battles are lost before wars can be won. Sometimes it's the battles from previous years that lead to a war being won.
The Steelers are faced with the harrowing and embarrassing mark of 1-1 on the season. As painful as it is to lose to the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers did not lose twice at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday night. That's one perspective of the loss. This will not kill their season. The Steelers have never won a Super Bowl or even gone into the playoffs undefeated anyway. On the other hand, we saw a team pretty substantially outplayed on a snap-per-snap basis, and many of our fears were realized and exposed.
But did we not see this coming? Who among us said "the plan this year is to fire the coaching staff if the Steelers finish 1-1 after the first two games"?
Believe it or not, there are reasons outside of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau that lead to road teams losing three of four games on Thursday night. Todd Haley only has a few of several visiting losses inside the unfriendly confines of M&T Bank.
Starting 1-1 isn't a tragedy, nor is it shameful to lose as the road team in the most home-slanted game of the week. Lots of teams lose to the Ravens when they're in their white jerseys. So what's the main issue here? The lack of bragging rights over the Ravens? Both franchises win a lot of games, and Baltimore leads the last 29 games in this series 15-14, not exactly a dominant advantage.
It's fully possible both options are on the table here - I think it would be fair to suggest changes are in order if the Steelers put up 14 more 26-6 losses this season. One thing I'm confident in this horribly unpredictable football season is they won't drop 15 straight losses to end the year 1-15. Going out on a limb with that prediction, but feel free to get after me if that happens.
To be blunt, if you didn't see a game like this happening this season, your glasses are way too rosy. Conversely, if you think this will happen every single week because the Steelers cornerbacks play too far off the line of scrimmage, you're just looking for a reason to complain. Both sides are off-base and both sides are slanted toward opinions that sit in a far-too-general place of perspective.
Why would you think teams wouldn't challenge a rookie linebacker? We saw it all the time last year. Why would you also think that linebacker, after two games, is now doomed to eternal damnation with no chance to improve? A novel concept that's both emotional enough to satisfy our basic need to provide a knee-jerk reaction, as well as boost our self-esteem by citing "The Steelers Way," is that linebacker, along with the others around them, will review what happened objectively, work on those things and, when the Steelers' next opponent tries to do the same thing, they'll attack it and they'll succeed.
This isn't to suggest it's a guarantee, but it's certainly a reasonable point of confidence. Watch the Steelers' offense last season in Week 1 vs. Tennessee. A far worse performance, believe it or not, than what we just saw against Baltimore. The ship was eventually righted and this team was hitting a hot streak by the end of the year. The overwhelming majority wishes to credit the no-huddle offense, and how Haley finally got out of Roethlisberger's way and just let him call everything. What's more likely is the Steelers couldn't run a no-huddle offense due to the lack of experience on their offensive line. Adjustments need to be made seamlessly and quickly in that style of offense and, with a new starting center in Week 2 (who hadn't set foot in a Steelers offensive line meeting until after Week 1) and a new starting left tackle after Week 4 (two of them, actually), was it illogical to think, among the group that must play with the highest level of cohesion on the field, they needed time to figure out what they were doing in basic stuff before ramping up the speed at which they needed to react?
The no-huddle worked because of the lumps they took in that middle-stretch of games. Even then, they used it on a third of their snaps. It wasn't their entire offense. Still, they managed to succeed.
The Steelers' defense still needs work. It simply isn't realistic to have thought a team with three new starters, including a rookie at a position manned by someone inexperienced last season to rough results, was going to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Add in the previously mentioned lack of road success on Thursday night, and the logical prediction for the team's first two games was 1-1. And here we are.
The end of the 2014 season isn't as important as Week 3. That's the mentality of the players and coaches at the moment. Let's consider Week 2 a loss, because they lost, and Week 1 a win, because they won. Let's let the players be dissatisfied with both results, and continue to strive to get better. The reality is, we don't know everything that happened within the game, and whatever reason we come up with may have been a contributing factor, but all we're doing is throwing darts at a board with a thousand potential landing spots. You may be right, but it may be lots of different things - none of which fairly overwhelm the simple facts the team's defense needs some time to gel and Baltimore is a solid team that typically is damn tough to beat at home.
The season's young. I get your frustration, let's just keep in mind this game is more about where you're going as opposed to where you've been. It's still the same team we were excited about in July, and they've provided reasons to justify that excitement. There are some fleas that come with this dog, but the success of efforts provided to remove those fleas is the real job of the coordinator, and it's done Monday through Saturday. Let's see how they respond.