Mike Tomlin can’t count on a committee to get him to the playoffs for the first time in three years, and if the Steelers performance in the preseason is any indication, he just might be looking at his third straight year without a postseason appearance.
It’s easy to dismiss the preseason record as meaningless, but recent Steelers teams had bad regular seasons after losing three or four exhibition games.
An 0-4 preseason last summer led to an 8-8 regular season.
Bill Cowher went 0-4 in his last preseason in 2006 and finished 8-8 in the regular season. He finished 6-10 in 2003 after a 1-3 preseason and in 1999 a 1-3 preseason was followed by a 7-9.
If Tomlin ends up having three consecutive nonwinning seasons for the first time since Chuck Noll from 1969 to 1971, legitimate questions will be raised about his ability to maintain a winning program.
He inherited a good nucleus of players, including two possible Hall of Famers in Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, the second-best quarterback in franchise history.
He also got a couple of good years out of Hines Ward, another possible Hall of Famer and one of the best wide receivers in Steelers’ history.
Where would Tomlin be without Heath Miller, Ike Taylor, and Brett Keisel, not to mention the defensive coordinator he inherited from Cowher, Dick LeBeau?
Aaron Smith, one of the Steelers’ best all-time defensive linemen, started 16 games in the Super Bowl season of 2008.
Then there were inherited players such as Casey Hampton, Max Starks, Larry Foote, Ryan Clark and James Farrior, who made major contributions. Willie Parker gained 1,300 yards for Tomlin in 2007, his first season as head coach.
Cowher inherited a good nucleus from Chuck Noll, but also won with players drafted and developed after he arrived.
Can the same be said for Tomlin?