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Tim Benz: Time for Steelers to panic? No, they’re beyond that already

October 3, 2018

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlieberger is sacked by the Ravens’ Tim Williams in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018 at Heinz Field.

For those saying, “It’s not time to panic” about the Pittsburgh Steelers, they are right.

That time has come and gone. They should be way beyond panic already.

The Steelers have put themselves in a position where a playoff spot is in peril, and they haven’t even played a game in October.

“We’re a team that historically has been able to pull out wins,” guard Ramon Foster said after Sunday’s loss to Baltimore. “It’s just that right now one or two things are catching us.”

Yes, the Steelers have rebounded to make the playoffs after bad starts in the past. They were 4-5 in 2015, 1-3 in ’02, 2-3 in 1989, 1-4 in 1976.

At this rate, the 2018 Steelers, though? They’ll be exceedingly lucky to get the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoffs.

“We don’t like the state we are in, being a 1-2-1 football team,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “We kind of did a quarterly report (on Monday). We talked about our current status. None of us like it.”

Quarterly report? It should read the Steelers’ stock is way down.

I never anticipated this team replicating last season’s 13-win campaign. I saw them as a 10-6 team coming into the season.

That record still should be good enough to make the AFC playoffs, maybe even win the division. But getting to 10 wins now would require winning nine of 12 over the last three quarters of this season.

Even if Le’Veon Bell returns in shape and is productive, do you feel this year’s edition of the Steelers has a charge like that in it?

Yeah, neither do I.

The adjusted hope should be -- with that pesky tie -- that the Steelers can hang in a soft middle of the AFC and scrape into the playoffs with roughly eight wins.

There were many reasons why I saw the Steelers dropping off from last year. Chief among them was the organization’s failure to adequately replace Ryan Shazier and improve the defense.

I’ve seen nothing thus far to make me feel I misread that issue.

I was also concerned about the schedule. I believed it was more difficult than it looked on paper. That’s also proving to be the case. The first month to six weeks was supposed to be the easiest part of this haul.

Opening with the Browns. Getting a bad defense and a new quarterback versus Kansas City. Seeing a backup QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick at Tampa Bay. Concluding with the home half of the annual set against the Ravens.

Three or four of my 10 wins were supposed to be packed in that sequence. Now I find myself thinking the Steelers should feel fortunate they managed a win in Tampa.

Heck, they should still be thanking their lucky stars they emerged from Cleveland with a tie.

For those thinking this is too bleak of a picture, keep some of the following facts in mind:

• The Steelers failed to win their first two division games, and they have yet to play either game against division-leading (by virtue of a win over the Ravens) Cincinnati. Plus, the second half of the Ravens’ home-and-home is in Baltimore.

• The Steelers also failed to win their first two home games.

• Three of their four losses last year came against Jacksonville and New England. They get the Jaguars on Nov. 18 and the Patriots on Dec. 16.

• After four weeks, the Steelers are 29th in pass defense. So along with lining up opposite of Tom Brady again, they still have to face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. They rank in the NFL’s top 10 in terms of passer rating. Also looming are Derek Carr and a second date with Joe Flacco. They are in the top 10 when it comes to passing yards.

• The schedule still calls for road trips to Denver and Oakland, places where the Steelers have struggled historically regardless of how competitive the Broncos and Raiders might be.

But aside from that, yeah, no problems at all.

The calendar, the roster and the history books suggest there’s no reason for alarm at Heinz Field. Yet.

A reality check says something different.

“I’m not worried about everybody’s record,” cornerback Joe Haden said Sunday. “Our record isn’t good enough. We’ve got to come out and win games.”

The Steelers aren’t cooked at this point. But an immediate turnaround and an extended hot streak against a brutal schedule will be necessary if this team is to make the playoffs for a fifth straight year.

Given their performance so far, I’m extremely skeptical.

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