How bad are the Steelers?
Well, 0-4 speaks directly to that. So does the fact they've been equally bad on both sides of the ball.
• They opened the season by scoring 19 points in two games while getting defensive performances that might otherwise have produced a victory.
• They followed that with consecutive games in which the offense produced 50 points, often enough to win, while the defense was being savaged for 74.
The defense cannot produce a turnover. It, stunningly, has zero in four games. The offense, specifically quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, cannot stop turning the ball over. He stunningly has six in the past two games.
But here's what is the really bad part of this winless start: It could get worse before it gets better. And by worse, I'm not talking about October games with the Jets and Ravens. I'm talking about 2015 and 2016. At least.
There's nothing to indicate this team will turn it around in the foreseeable future. Sure, they might beat the Jets in two weeks. They might win more games this season than many people suspect. But it looks like the team isn't going to be good -- as in Steelers good -- for a number of years.
At the start of the season, I thought they could go 8-8, but had the possibility of going two above or two below that number. The basis for that optimism was the belief that any team with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback is a playoff contender.
That thinking, however, was based on Ben the quarterback who produced fourth-quarter victories. The current Ben, still eminently capable, has become the quarterback who turns possible victory into near-certain defeat.
Seriously, how many games of the past handful has Roethlisberger made the crucial turnover that turned a chance for a win into a loss? In his past seven games, he's thrown 13 touchdown passes and committed 14 turnovers.
It's not all his fault. He is playing behind an offensive line that is rich with potential but putrid with performance.
Take your pick of the snapshot you prefer of the O-line. The second-quarter possession in which Roethlisberger was sacked three times. Or the final two offensive plays of the game, the first of which he had but an instant to hurl the ball over the end line before he himself was hurled to the ground. Or the second, in which he and the ball were thrown to the ground together, only he got there without the ball.
It's still too early to completely write off left tackle Michael Adams, but he has been abysmal and must be replaced.
Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell had a promising debut but you never know with running backs. Jonathan Dwyer had two 100-yard games last season. Isaac Redman ran for 147 in another. Bell gained 57 on 16 carries, and 12 of those came late in the first half when the Vikings were fully expecting a pass play.
The defensive performance was the most disheartening aspect of the team's play yesterday. This unit is too old and too slow. It's failure to stop big plays speaks to the lack of speed. The defense has allowed five plays of 51 yards or more in the past three games. They Steelers defense use to go seasons without allowing that many big plays.
If anything speaks to the way the drafting has gone with the defense, it is that the injury to Larry Foote, a solid player but little more than a journeyman, has left the unit absent of anyone who can fill his middling shoes. Whatever anyone might think of Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward, both are keen disappointments as No. 1 draft choices. You can't be so wrong on No. 1s and not have it affect the performance of the team.
The Steelers have gone through a preposterously successful run in terms of the salary-cap era of the NFL. Since 2004, the franchise has won two Super Bowls, been to three and and also had a 15-win season.
The last time the Steelers exited a run of glory was in the early 1980s and they wandered in the wilderness of mediocrity for about a decade. Their current banishment from the elite might not be that long this time. Or it might be longer.