At a 4-5 record, there is plenty to disappointed about when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ execution so far this season.
In a division that is in shambles, it appeared the Steelers would have a fine opportunity early this year to build themselves a cushion on their way to becoming Division champions once again. But instead, they’ve dropped four straight, including one to division rival Baltimore, and subsequently crumbled when protecting a late lead against Dallas. This is not the type of play that most fans are accustomed to as of late. Sure, they’ve dropped some questionable games to underwhelming teams, and have had generally upsetting losses, but four in a row is certainly an outlier for the Mike Tomlin era.
Tomlin has lost four or more games in a row three times in his tenure as head coach (5 in 2009, 4 in 2013). The Steelers did not make the playoffs in either of those years, and there has been only one other year that the team has not gotten to the postseason under Tomlin. But I must say, there is a silver lining, and that is that Mike Tomlin’s teams are built for the second half of the season.
Here’s a look at how the Steelers have finished in the final eight games since Tomlin took over as head coach:
2007: 4-4 (Made Playoffs)
2008: 6-2 (Won Superbowl)
2010: 6-2 (Lost Superbowl)
2011: 6-2 (Made Playoffs)
2014: 6-2 (Made Playoffs)
2015: 6-2 (Made Playoffs)
2016: 0-1 (?)
Backtracking just a bit, I mentioned that the Steelers did not make the playoffs in 2013, a year in which they suffered four straight losses. The difference was how the team started the year, which was 2-6, the worst start in Tomlin’s career. The fact that they rebounded to win six of the last eight was impressive, though the totality of the season was disappointing. This season, the Steelers started 4-4, certainly not up to standards, but a leg up in terms of their potential impact going forward.
Given that the Steelers have finished 6-2 in six of the past eight seasons should account for something, and that points to the culture of this team. They finish strong, and continue fighting until the final game. They’ve been plagued by injuries, lost critical games, and have underperformed in several areas, but it’s not time to right off the team just yet. There’s a lot more football to play, and you can bet the Steelers will have a chip on their shoulder heading into the final seven games of the year.
They’re not off to the best start of the second half, with the loss to Dallas, but they have an opportunity to turn things around and start building momentum with an AFC North matchup versus Cleveland this Sunday. And despite their record, this team has a legitimate shot at taking the division, a gift they likely would not have been granted last year. But the Bengals seem to be regressing fast, and the Browns are the Browns. The Ravens are good, don’t get me wrong. They’re much better than I expected, but they’re only one game ahead, and I don’t see them maintaining this much longer.
There’s seven games left, and winning at the very least five of them would appear to be a necessity for playoff contention. But if there’s a team that could pull it off, it’d be the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it all starts Sunday against Cleveland.