Ed: Eagles Game Now a Crucial One for Steelers


Good morning,

With everyone else but the Steelres and Colts at the one-quarter pole of the season in the AFC, it’s time to take a look at where things might be headed.

For one, the Steelers do not find themselves in good company. Of all the teams with just one victory in the AFC, they are the only ones anyone might consider a contender. Here are the others with just one victory: Miami, Indy, Jacksonville, Tennessee,

Oakland and Kansas City. The Browns are the only winless team in the conference. Anyone see a contender among the bunch?

It may be too early for any game to be crucial, but the one the Steelers play at home against Phildelphia Sunday approaches that for them. Cincinnati and Baltimore are each 3-1 and look to be what was predicted for them in the preseason, division contenders. The Steelers cannot afford to fall two or 2 ½ games behind them with a loss to Philadelphia. A victory pulls them even at 2-2 with a quick turnaround game in Tennessee the following Thursday night. It’s a chance to go 3-2 heading to Cincinnati for an Octoberfest division showdown.

That at least would give them a fighter’s chance. However, lose to the Eagles – who just beat the World Champs last night to lead the NFC East at 3-1 – and it might be over quickly for the Steelers. A 1-3 start? It’s not insurmountable, but it’s also a hole difficult in which to emerge.

The 2006 Steelers started 1-3, then 1-4. It was a small miracle they finished 8-8.

The one which did make it was the 2002 Steelers. They were 1-3. They inserted Tommy Maddox during the third game for a struggling Kordell Stewart and he led them to a comeback victory at home against Cleveland in overtime, 16-13. After losing 32-29 at New Orleans, Maddox and the Steelers won four in a row, had that epic 34-34 tie against Atlanta at home, lost at Tennessee in another epic in which Maddox was temporarily paralyzed and then finished with five wins in six games.

They made the playoffs, came from behind again to beat Cleveland at home in another memorable game 36-33, then lost in overtime at Tennessee 34-31 on a controversial penalty that gave the Titans a second chance after missing the first field goal try in overtime.

Notice anything about those scores? There were plenty in the 30s, on both sides. In their final three games, the Steelers allowed 98 points.

In their two losses this season, the Steelers have allowed 65 points. Perhaps we’re heading toward the same kind of scenario that developed 10 years ago. They did it in 2002 with a high-flying offense and a defense that generally couldn’t stop much.

That 2002 team showed it could be done, starting 1-3 and nearly reaching the AFC championship game. It’s not the model way to go.

--- YOU: Ed, I'm not among those questioning LeBeau. He has nothing to prove to me. I do question the players effort. It seems there is a sense of entitlement of sorts. Because I am a Steeler defender, I will be respected. Thats not how the Steelers defensive reputation was earned and maintained through the years. Are the Steelers lacking someone to set the tempo? If not, what? I buy that James And Troy playing will go a long way to help the overall defense but what does it take for Hood and Timmons and others to step up and own their contribution to success. They seem to very methodically run through plays with no personal investment. No sense of pride to perform. No drive to be the best at what they do. They don't seem to represent what we have come to expect from Steeler defenders.

ME: You can’t say there’s a lack of effort. You can call them old and slow, if you want, say there is not enough talent, but there is no lack of effort. They rank again among the top 10 as a defense. What they’re not doing – again – is making Mike Tomlin’s fabulous “splash” plays. They have five sacks, one fumble recovery as a defense and one interception. That’s not going to cut it.

--- YOU: Sounds to me from your post today that you are pointing in the direction that Harrison’s season and potentially career are coming to a close. I myself, started to think this way during training camp as due to age, and mileage great players like Harrison can see the sun set on seemingly minor injuries (See Jack Lambert). Do you think retirement is on his mind? Would the Steelers try to retain him for next season if he does not play, and play at a high level at some point this season? At his salary level, along with some of the players well over 30 on defense, I would like to see the Steelers mindset of the middle of the previous decade take force and clear out the salary cap space for players teetering on the end.

ME: All athletes hit the end of the line, some earlier than others. James Harrison is 34 and with his knee problem, it does not look as though the line is far off.

--- YOU: Ed, is Saunders return day on Oct 7th?

ME: No, Oct. 8. He was forced to miss five weeks instead of four because he had to miss four games and the Steelers had a bye week. Both Saunders and the Steelers originally thought he would miss only three games and four weeks.

--- YOU: Count me as one who likes Haley's O. A quick check shows our 3rd down efficiency (53%) leads the league, our TOP is 2nd in the NFL, and our Red Zone efficiency is 64% (7th in the league), as compared to 51% last year (17th). Are Haley's schemes/play calling that innovative or is Ben just healthy and on target more this year?

ME: It’s a combination of a new emphasis on high percentage passes and not throwing deep as often. Also, Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers are among the best in the league.

--- YOU: NOW can we panic about the defense?

ME: Have at it, many are.