I've written before about the strange similarities between the two seasons of 1994-1995 and the two seasons of 2001-2002. Surely, most of you know that the Steelers struggled the first two months of 1995 as well. What I found striking is the similarity of the problems and the rhetoric coming from the Steeler players themselves. Lake showed some leadership and helped turn the Steelers around from a 3-4 start to an appearance in the Super Bowl. Who will lead the Steelers this time around?
The Steelers were forced to make a number of radical defensive adjustments on defense in 1995 in order to put a stop to the big plays. In the second game against Jacksonville (the expansion Jaguars who were sitting strangely in first place at the time), the Steelers switched up some personnel and basically ran the defense out of the nickel. S Carnell Lake had already been switched to corner back. ''The pressure has to fall on someone when you're struggling", Lake commented, "and I accept the challenge.''
Who will accept the challenge this season? CB Chad Scott certainly will not. He's a hot dog who plays when he wants to play. He's not a leader. Might S Lee Flowers step up? He seems content to quietly play out his last contract year in Pittsburgh. Did the Steelers vote OLB Jason Gildon captain because he went to the Pro Bowl? Jason was awfully quite during the September swoon.
After the Bengals QB Jeff Blake torched the 1995 Steelers defense Lake spoke up, ''We can't blame anybody but the defense. We gave up big plays.'' What did Chad Scott offer after the Steelers were burned by big plays against the Saints? Scott told Steeler Insider Dale Lolley this, "We've got a whole lot of football left. We're going to make the playoffs. Understand that. We're going to make the playoffs. I have that much faith in this team." Sure, some Steelers during the 1995 dark days still spoke about the playoffs, but the leaders of the team stood up and held themselves accountable.
The 1995 Steelers team might have been jinxed. Players were injured, shot, and suspended. They were undermanned. The 2002 Steelers don't really have that problem, unless you consider the talent level that the Steelers are attempting to start. Yet, despite all the adversity lumped on that '95 team they persevered. They were struggling at home, but they turned it around.
Sometimes, there is no place like Holmes. Maybe last year's Steeler defense was overrated. But there was only one major change made on this unit, replacing ILB Earl Holmes with James Farrior. On the field, Farrior has looked like an upgrade. But off the field, the Steelers seem to miss Holmes' leadership. The Steelers have been rather adept at replacing aging vets just past their prime for up and comers that upgrade the defense in some way. What the Steelers have not done well is replace the leadership that followed the dollars out of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers spent the coin this off-season, but did they spend it wisely? Did the Steelers lock up a leader for the defense for 3 or 4 seasons? Right now, the Steelers look to have miscalculated. Holmes' leadership appears to be sorely missed and may have been more important to the Steelers defensive success than the coaches and front office realized.
Against the Jaguars, the '95 Steelers switched up the defense and started 4th round pick LB Donta Jones, who had been only a special teams player until then. After the victory Jones talked about what the Steelers tried to do, ''We wanted everybody playing their position. Everybody had an assignment and they were to get it done correctly.'' Can someone pass that along to this year's 4th round pick LB Larry Foote?
Perhaps Carnell Lake would come in for visit and tell him…