Steelers Are Still Confident...

NEW ORLEANS - After putting together a steady run of solid performances, both offensively and defensively last season, the Steelers find themselves unable to repeat that recipe for success this season. When the offense plays well, the defense falters. When the defense plays well, the offense struggles. And they've already had games this season where both the offense and defense haven't gotten the job done.

It all adds up to a 1-3 start after Sunday's 32-29 defeat against the New Orleans Saints.

But the Steelers haven't given up on this season, despite the fact they have already matched their loss total from last year.

"We've got a whole lot of football left. We're going to make the playoffs," said cornerback Chad Scott, who looked Sunday like he was auditioning for the next superhero movie that Hollywood produces - one entitled The Human Torch. "Understand that. We're going to make the playoffs. I have that much faith in this team," Scott continued, a sly smile crossing his face.

Whether Scott's pronouncement is sound or not is debatable. But make no mistake, this group of Steelers is a confident bunch, perhaps too confident.

It could be that the team's confidence in its abilities has caused a bit of complacency to set in. That's what happens when there are very few jobs that are actually up for grabs.

Or it could be that the Steelers know they play in a weak division, one where the winner could easily finish 9-7. That may be where some of Scott's conviction stems from. It certainly couldn't be from his own play against the Saints, which he admitted was "lackadaisical."

The Steelers feel that they can still win their division going away. Problem is, with each passing week that they sleepwalk through another game, the division may be going away from them. This is a team with holes big enough for Jerome Bettis to run through.

Despite Tommy Maddox's decent performance at quarterback Sunday, that position must still be considered a question mark. And in three of the team's four games this season, the defense has hemorrhaged yards and the offense has been unable to run the ball effectively. The special teams? They've been the only consistent things about this team. Of course they've been consistently bad, so that's not really a good thing.

The question is, how did a team that was 13-3 last season and a couple of plays away from going to the Super Bowl become the group of players now attempting to pass themselves off as a playoff contender?

The Steelers will likely be favored to win at least four of their next five games, starting next Sunday at Cincinnati. If they do win at least four of those five, they will likely find themselves right in the middle of the AFC North playoff race. Of course, winning this division is a little like being named the most popular guy in the leper colony. It's a nice honor, but it's not something that's going to help you down the road.

The Steelers are not a very good football team right now and it doesn't seem likely that even the return of Pro Bowl linebacker Kendrell Bell sometime in the next couple of weeks is going to change the situation that dramatically.

"If you break this season into quarters, we lost the first quarter," said linebacker Joey Porter. "But we'll turn it around and win the final three quarters."

In other words, they'll do today's work tomorrow. That leaves you twice as much work. And right now, the Steelers have theirs cut out for them.

--Dale Lolley

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