By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the preseason 0-4 for the fourth time in the last 48 years, and each previous time that they did, they failed to make the playoffs. But despite the historical record, this year’s preseason finish does not have to be indicative of what is to come.
The Atlanta Falcons, a team that finished 13-3 last season and played for the NFL Championship, joined the Steelers in the preseason basement this year, and in Atlanta, there is similar concern as to the significance of such a putrid record.
In an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writer D. Orlando Ledbetter acknowledges some interesting statistics regarding winless preseasons. He says,
No team has gone 0-4 in the preseason and won the Super Bowl in a full 16-game season…. The 1982 Washington Redskins won the championship in the strike-shortened season after going 0-4…. The 2000 New York Giants were 0-4 in exhibition games and reached the Super Bowl…. The 1990 Buffalo Bills were 0-4 in exhibitions and reached the Super Bowl….
While a winless preseason isn’t a reason for confidence, it doesn’t necessarily doom a team’s impending season. And as far as the Steelers are concerned, there are two ways you can perceive their preseason performance.
The optimistic view of the winless preseason is that the Steelers did not game plan and that their objective in those contests was to experiment and to evaluate, not necessarily win. Confidence can also be taken in the performance of some of the youngsters on the team, specifically Jarvis Jones, Markus Wheaton, Shamarko Thomas, and even Vince Williams.
The pessimistic viewpoint is that the Steelers have no talent beyond their starters and that their depth leaves much to be desired. Additionally, many will also point to the leaky performance of the starting offensive line and the inconsistency of the running game.
Despite which way you decide to look at it, the bottom line is that come Sunday, September 8th, the 0-4 record means absolutely nothing. The 57-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz means nothing. The Ryan Kerrigan pick six means nothing. And the seemingly constant pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and the four sacks that he took mean nothing.
While the preseason performances may say otherwise, they are in no way absolute indicators, and to condemn the Steelers season before it even begins would be foolish. There are more than a few questions that surround this team, and there is no denying that predicting what type of success the Steelers will earn this year is a difficult exercise. But when you consider the players that are the heart of this squad like Roethlisberger and a healthy and explosive looking Troy Polamalu, the experience and leadership that is essential to making a run at a championship is in solidly in place.
The media doubt that accompanied discussion about the Steelers after the 2012 season has been rekindled as a result of the 0-4 record, and despite the Steelers being somewhat of a dark horse pick for a while in mid-summer, they are back to being considered nothing better than the third-best team in the AFC North.
Ultimately, it is difficult at this moment to interpret what kind of team the Steelers will be, but in a little over a week, they will get their first opportunity to assert themselves and give an indication of what their identity will be in 2013. An early look at the Titans starting defense shows a team vulnerable against the run, and it could be the perfect opportunity for the Steelers to get their running game off to a productive start.
But more than anything, they can make the lowlights of the preseason shrink and fade away by accomplishing one goal: winning.