The Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4, and that hasn't been the case since 1968. As there now is some reason to speak of the 1968 season, it should be remembered as a turning point in franchise history.
This 2013 season could end up as one, too.
The Steelers are 0-4 following their loss to the Minnesota Vikings, previously a winless bunch themselves. And because the Steelers' deficiencies over this opening month of the season have spanned the gamut of the many elements of the sport without them able to show consistent improvement in any particular element of their weekly performance, it's fair to come to the conclusion that they're just not good enough.
This team as currently constituted isn't good enough right now to win in the NFL. And this isn't about winning a championship. It's about winning a game. One would be a nice place to start.
The not-good-enough in 1968 was about talent. Years and years of trading draft picks in bunches for veterans closer to the end than the beginning laid the foundation for their situation back then, and history proved Chuck Noll correct when he told them after taking over in 1969 that the Steelers would win a Super Bowl but most of them weren't good enough to be there when they did.
The not-good-enough in 2013 could be a lack of experienced talent, or maybe introducing age into it is just a different way of making an excuse. There are 12 games spread over the next 13 weeks, and that time should be used wisely by both evaluators and those being evaluated.
The offensive line has been a weakness in each of the games this season, and Jared Allen sure put an exclamation point on that. The defense has been unable to create any turnovers, with the young players so far unable to live up to their perceived potential in that area, and the experienced players who once created turnovers mired in a long enough drought that it's fair now to wonder whether they still have the knack for it anymore.
Outside of those two specific areas, the only consistency of performance has come in the complete inconsistency of performance.
The defense goes from stingy against Tennessee and Chicago to looking like the football version of the Washington Generals – nothing but props for a highlights reel – against the Vikings. The offense has gone through parts of games where it efficiently moves the football and scores, but it hasn't been able to do either of those things when presented with opportunities at the times when the outcomes of those games are determined.
Mixed in has been just the right cocktail of turnovers, penalties, special teams gaffes, guys trying to do too much, and guys not knowing what they're doing to keep the losing streak going and thereby build on the cloud of negativity under which they must work to fix all of it.
The 2013 Steelers are a group made up of a shrinking core of veteran been-there done-that guys plus a larger number of young talent who came too late to partake in most of the successes of those veterans. The story this season is telling so far is that some of the been-there done-that guys have lost their superpowers, and that the assessment of the other group as "young talent" could be wishful thinking.
The decision-makers have to figure out which is which. The way that's done is by playing each game to win, without regard for individual accolades or standings or anything except team success each time the ball goes onto the tee, and see who gets on board.
"We are going to focus on getting better," Mike Tomlin was saying behind a microphone at Wembley Stadium. "That's what's going to change the outcome of these football games. Those who don't aren't going to be a part of us. I have great patience. We'll continue to work and get better, as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail, because that's what's going to change the outcome of these games. Those who don't, they won't be a part of it, whoever it may be. It's just that simple."
Sounds like something Noll might have said to the players from 1968.
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