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Steelers Headed in Wrong Direction on The Stairway to Seven

A year ago at this juncture, the Steelers could legitimately perceive the Patriots as the only team standing between them and yet another championship. Now, a lot more more than just one team is in the way.

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The Eagles won, which means the Patriots lost, which means the Steelers won.

Philadelphia 41, New England 33 in Super Bowl LII denied the Patriots their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy and preserved the Steelers’ status as the only NFL team in possession of such a six-pack of silver.

That’s critically important to the Steelers’ fan base.

That’s critically important to the Steelers’ franchise.

But the bad news is the ongoing climb up that Stairway to Seven looks to have gotten steeper heading into this offseason than it appeared in recent Februarys.

A year ago at this juncture, the Steelers could legitimately perceive the Patriots as the only team standing between them and yet another championship.

But now, a year later, we know the Eagles are better than the Patriots.

And the Patriots are still better than the Steelers.

And the Jaguars –– 2-0 against the Steelers at Heinz Field this season including a KO in the playoffs –– are, too.

The Eagles’ victory over the Patriots also, in retrospect, shot down the theory that the Steelers had only been a couple of injuries away in recent campaigns.

They didn’t have Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell in January of 2016 in Denver; they could have won otherwise, the Steelers suspected.

They didn’t have Bell for more than six carries in January of 2017 in New England; that could have made all the difference, the Steelers maintained.

And they lost Ryan Shazier in December of this season; that was devastating and the Steelers had no answer.

But then the Eagles had the audacity to lose their starting quarterback, a starting linebacker, their starting left tackle, a running back and their kicker –– among others –– and still find a way to keep playing until it was time to cue the green & white confetti.

So it appears injuries aren’t a deal-breaker after all.

The Steelers’ immediate response to the early exit from the playoffs this season has been to allow offensive coordinator Todd Haley to seek greener pastures (he settled for Cleveland).

The subsequent announced resignation of defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was the first but perhaps not the last alteration to a defensive staff that will be tasked with picking up the pieces of a defense that got embarrassed by Jacksonville in January.

At least that debacle cleared up the direction in which the Steelers will need to proceed in the draft.

That’s assuming Bell comes back, something that may or may not happen (and something that may or may not benefit the Steelers given how much he’ll cost and Bell’s penchant for courting controversy and periodically coming up unavailable or ineligible).

The Steelers should probably figure that out sooner rather than later, lest Bell eventually follow in the footsteps of LeGarrette Blount and James Harrison and disgruntle his way off the team and on to New England in mid-stream next season.

Likewise curious is the decision to indirectly hand the keys to the offense over to Ben Roethlisberger via the decision to replace Haley with quarterbacks coach and noted Roethlisberger confidant Randy Fichtner.

Even franchise quarterbacks tend to need a little coaching now and then, and Roethlisberger is no exception.

Giving him free reign to no-huddle himself silly every Sunday may yet result in the Steelers achieving some eye-popping numbers in 2018.

But it seems less likely than it did a year ago that the No. 7, as it relates to the franchise Lombardi collection, will eventually be one of them.

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