The Pittsburgh Steelers are a proud franchise, having won two Super Bowls since 2005. It's an organization that routinely churns out competitive teams, no matter the turnover in personnel. The Steelers have had just one losing season 2000. That type of consistency is no fluke.
Yet in 2012, cracks started to show. The power run game, a staple of every Steelers offense in recent history, disappeared behind an offensive line that also struggled to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright. Coupled with an aging defense, Pittsburgh finished just 8-8 last year.
Things haven't been any better this season, with an offense ranked dead last in total yards and rushing yards, and 26th in passing. The defense has fared well against the pass (9th overall) but they rank 25th in the league in stopping the run. As a result, the Steelers have started 0-2 for the first time since 2002.
"The initial response is one of frustration, which is very natural, but that doesn't solve the issue or get us anywhere," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said on conference call this morning. "We're back to business today and about the business of preparing and putting together a good plan and working and trying to grow individually and collectively in preparation for this opportunity."
The winless record is bad enough but Pittsburgh has looked sloppy, out of sync and overmatched the first two weeks of 2013. They lost in the opener 16-9 at home against the Tennessee Titans, a team that finished 6-10 last season, and followed that up with a 20-10 loss to the Houston Texans last week, a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicates.
The Steelers have turned the ball over four times through two games – two interceptions, two fumbles – and the defense hasn't forced a single turnover. The club's -4 ratio is second worst in the league.
"I've never started a season like this since I've been in Pittsburgh. It's a challenge for us," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "We need to score more points. We need to run the ball more effectively. We need to be better throwing the ball. And turning the ball over just kills you. That eliminates points."
Pittsburgh this week will host the Chicago Bears at Heinz Field and on paper, this one looks like a potential rout. Yet that's exactly why the Bears can't take this one too lightly. The Steelers haven't started a season 0-3 since 1999 and they know, if they lose this week, their odds of making the playoffs this year will be slim to none.
When you face a desperate team on the road, especially one with as much pride as the Steelers, you know it's going to be a hard-fought victory. Dating back to 2008, Pittsburgh has won nine straight home contests against NFC North opponents and has won three of the last four meeting against the Bears. Since taking over as head coach in 2007, Tomlin is 17-7 against NFC teams, including 11-1 at home. It doesn't matter their record at this point, Pittsburgh is going to bring it on Sunday.
"I think there's enough natural urgency just involved in football," said Tomlin. "It's Sunday night. We've got a 2-0 football team coming in here. I think there's enough motivation in itself from that standpoint, beside the obvious. There's going to be a natural response to want to rise up in the face of some of the circumstances that we face."
Chicago fans now get an opportunity to see how Trestman-led teams handle success. The Bears are currently undefeated and certainly have the right to believe they are one of the top teams in the NFC. If that goes to the player's heads, and they stroll into Heinz Field like they own the place, the Steelers will emerge victorious. No matter how poorly they've played this year, this is not a team to take lightly.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.