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History Doesn’t Bode Well for 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers After Winless Preseason

Is there panic in the streets of Pittsburgh?

Are Pittsburgh Steelers fans starting the Labor Day weekend early by drowning their sorrows in Iron City beer?

Are online ticket prices for Steelers games at Heinz Field plummeting like the prices of bathing suits after Labor Day?

Probably not.

The Pittsburgh Steelers just wrapped up their third winless preseason since 1965, when Mike Nixon was head coach.

Chuck Noll endured a winless preseason in 1987, long after his salad days with the Steel Curtain.

Bill Cowher’s only Super Bowl victory was behind him when the Steelers failed to win a preseason game in 2006.

Mike Tomlin’s Steelers fell 25-10 to the Carolina Panthers Thursday night to finish the preseason 0-4.

Preseason games don’t count, so going 0-4 is no skin off the Steelers’ backside. The slate is wiped clean. What really matters is what the Steelers do beginning Sept. 8 against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.

Before the Steelers’ game at Carolina, Ben Roethlisberger nearly laughed when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson asked if there was concern about the Steelers’ winless preseason.

Sure, if the Steelers bring home a seventh Lombardi Trophy, no one will remember their 0-4 preseason.

However, of the 80 teams who have had winless preseasons in the Super Bowl era, only the 1982 Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl, according to footballgeography.com. That came during a nine-game season that was interrupted by a strike. No winless preseason team has won the Super Bowl after a 14- or 16-game season.

While the Steelers are outwardly downplaying the preseason, and rightly so, there’s got to be at least a little bit of consternation behind closed doors at the Steelers’ South Side facility. The last time the Steelers went winless in August, they flopped to a 2-6 start in 2006 on the way to finishing a disappointing 8-8.

Even more worrisome than the Steelers’ preseason record is the fact that this team has a few holes.

Heath Miller was the Steelers’ most valuable player last season and rookie Le’Veon Bell is the anointed savior of their lackluster running game. Both could miss the first month of 2013.

The offensive line is still going through growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert was ranked No. 125 and starting left tackle Mike Adams was ranked No. 136 among all the NFL tackles who played at any point in the first three preseason games.

Maurkice Pouncey continues to be Pro Football Focus’ whipping boy. He was ranked last among the 67 centers who played during the preseason.

The Steelers also are in the same division as the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals, who have their sights set on Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Steelers’ preseason futility is the least of their problems. However, a deeper look at the fortunes of previous preseason booby prize winners reveals that history is not on the Steelers’ side.

Not only has just one of the 80 preseason O-fers since 1966 won a Super Bowl, but the 2000 New York Giants and the 1990 Buffalo Bills were the only other ones to reach the Super Bowl.

OK, how about the conference championship? Winning the Super Bowl is always the goal in Pittsburgh, but reaching the AFC championship game wouldn’t be a total failure for the 2013 Steelers. They did that in 2004, and it gave them the impetus to finally win One for the Thumb in 2005.

Only the 2010 Chicago Bears and the 1967 Houston Oilers, who lost in the AFL championship game before the merger, have come within a win of reaching the Super Bowl after failing to win a game in the preseason. Of the 80, that’s five teams who have been among the last four standing in the postseason.

OK, how about just making the playoffs? If the Steelers get back to the playoffs, they’d avoid their first back-to-back non-playoff seasons since 1999 and 2000 and have something to build on in 2014.

Well, of the aforementioned 80 teams, only 12 have reached the playoffs. Interestingly, one of those teams was the 2005 Indianapolis Colts. They went 0-5 in the preseason, then went 14-2 in the regular season before the Steelers shocked them 21-18 in the AFC divisional playoffs.

Of course, what really matters in the preseason is staying healthy. The Steelers didn’t get through the games unscatched. First-round pick Jarvis Jones has a chest bruise, but should be ready to go. There’s Bell’s foot injury. Fullback Will Johnson injured his hamstring Thursday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via CBSSports.com. Isaac Redman, who could start at running back in Week 1, is still working his way back from a stinger.

Last year, first-round pick David DeCastro was lost for three quarters of the season and third-round pick Sean Spence still hasn’t returned from the leg injury he suffered.

So compared to 2012, this was a healthy preseason for the Steelers. And that means a lot more than their 0-4 record.

Still, they might want to practice a little harder between now and Sept.  8.

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4 comments

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  1. Mike Batista

    Well, Tomlin is 41. He might be a little old to play. ;-)

  2. Mike Batista

    Interesting point about the 2008 Lions, Tom.

    What concerns me about the Patriots is that Tom Brady can make just about any receiver look better.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Tom Leonard

    Recent history shows that now more than ever, pre season records are not a good indicator of regular season success…

    2011: Atl 10-6, Wild Card 0-4 PS
    2010: CHI 11-5, DIv Title, NFC Title Game, 0-4 PS
    2009: ARI: 10-6, Div Title, beat Aaron Rogers & Green Bay in playoffs, winless PS
    2010 IND: 10-6, Wild Card, winless PS
    2005 IND 14-2, best record in NFL, Div Title, winless PS
    2005: KC: 10-6
    2008 NE: Winless Pre Season with Tom Brady, he gets hurt early in regular season opener and Pats go 11-5 with Matt Cassell

    There are other winless pre season teams such as 98 Cowboys (Div Champs), 2000 NYG (12-4, Div Title, played in Super Bowl), and 90 Bills (13-3, 2nd best record in NFL, played in Super Bowl) that had considerable success but in recent years the trend has been going up.

    Likewise a lot of teams have followed un defeated pre season with lackluster regular seasons including…

    2012 PHI: Michael Vick’s “Dream Team” went 4-12
    2008 DET: Only team to go winless in a 16 game season was un defeated in pre season
    2003 ARI: 4-12
    2004 CAR: 7-9
    2000 SD: 1-15

    There are many more, the point is won lost records in the pre season mean very little (Pgh was 3-1 in the pre season last year but only 8-8 in regular season, they won 3 pre season games in 2003 but finished 6-10, in 2004 they won only one pre season game but went 15-1 in regular season and advanced to AFC Title Game).

    They have a franchise QB, a solid WR roster with at least one Pro Bowl/Team MVP stand out, appear solid at LB with Foote/Timmons, one of the best inside LB combos in the league, Woodley appears healthy and in better shape, we’ve seen very impressive play from their rookie 1st rounder and Worilds has established himself as a good pass rusher, their starting CB’s both appear to be good, and Ryan Clark is back at safety. DB depth and O-line production (particularly at tackle, the middle of the line looks good) are the two big concerns.

    Every team has concerns though. DEN pass rush is in shambles and they are struggling to find a solid replacement for Willis McGhee at RB, BAL lost it’s best WR (Boldin) and stud TE, plus their is concern about Terrel Suggs health and ability to re bound from last year’s injury plagued slow play (they were only a 10 win team anyway, hardly barn burners), NE WR corps looks like it’s weakest in years, they have one TE out till who knows when with multiple arm surgeries (and he’s their best offensive weapon) and the other in jail on murder charges along with a defense that has little pass rush except from their ageing nose tackle and a weak secondary where only Patrick Chung stands out as anything above sub par. CIN hasn’t shown it can score enough or win big games, HOU doesn’t know is they can keep Foster & Shaub healthy and poor Shaub has come up small in several big games last year as they fell apart in the 2nd half, the list goes on.

    No one in the AFC looks like a dominant team. Pgh should be in the mix till season’s end and a 10 or 11 win season and playoff berth is hardly out of the question.

  4. Mike

    Mike Tomlin should not have made the 53 man cut!

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