Like the previous two weeks, the down performance rests almost solely on the shoulders of Pittsburgh's offense, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing two picks and losing two fumbles, and running back Felix Jones also fumbling the ball away.
The turnovers directly resulted in 23 Bears points, and though the team attempted an admirable second-half comeback, they ultimately lost by 17.
Though the offense should rightfully be blamed for the loss—they out-gained the Bears 459 yards to 258, but the turnovers were insurmountable—coaching also gets called into question when a team as recently vaunted as the Steelers have such a terrible start to the year. Could this three-game losing streak to start the year put Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin on the hot seat?
The Steelers are a team that has been historically loyal to their coaches. When Chuck Noll took over the job in 1969, he kept it until 1991, through seasons both good and terrible, including two 0-3 starts in 1986 and 1988. He was then supplanted by Bill Cowher, who stuck around until 2006 and, too, had an 0-3 start, in 2000.
Last time #steelers were in sole possession of the division basement 3 weeks in -- 1988; Last time 0-3 and in basement -- '86— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) September 23, 2013
But now, cries for Tomlin's job seem to come louder and more constantly than when either of his two predecessors struggled. Could the Steelers buck tradition and move on from Tomlin at the end of the 2013 season if things don't turn around—or sooner?
That historical precedent is important in this case. The Steelers, as an organization, know the value of coaching stability. They also don't make the hires lightly, preferring not to have the carousel approach other teams employ when their coaches don't measure up for a season or two. While this start is clearly disturbing, this isn't a team quick to pull the rug out from under a head coach.
If any coach should take the blame, it's offensive coordinator Todd Haley, whose play calls—most notably in the Steelers' first two losses—didn't seem to best suit the players asked to execute them. It took a sideline argument for Haley to concede more passes to receiver Antonio Brown, and he shone the brightest on offense in the loss, with nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Ultimately, Tomlin is not the one on the field throwing the interceptions, losing control of the football or making bad reads of the defense. He's not left tackle Mike Adams or right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who were both taken out and rotated with offensive jack-of-all-trades Kelvin Beachum because they struggled in protection.
Should the Steelers be waiting till Sunday to figure out their 5 best OL? Kelvin Beachum is now in at LT. (Yes, they're rotating tackles)— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 23, 2013
He's not running the ball and failing to find a hole, he's not a receiver running the wrong route and he's not a safety-valve tight end on a snap count after returning from a massive 2012 knee injury. There's only so much Tomlin, alone, can be blamed for.
There are problems that can be pinned on Tomlin, however. He had a hand in the hire of offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr., whose move from the power running game to outside zone has particularly hurt the two tackles. The draft-day performance of the Steelers has been increasingly poor while Tomlin has been head coach, with more misses than hits (injuries suffered by rookies notwithstanding).
And as the emotional leader of the team, he's potentially not doling out enough discipline in response to poor play and losses. Instead, he seems to prefer deferring to the concept of "we're the Steelers," as an adequate motivating factor—one that might have resulted in overconfidence and complacency, as seen in Pittsburgh's 8-8 finish last year.
A team that cannot win—including at home, twice—will see its head coach under much more severe scrutiny than a winning one, that is true. There is little question that Tomlin's seat has gotten exponentially warmer with the Steelers going 2-8 since Week 11 of the 2012 season.
But to assume the Steelers' response to this bad start will be to fire Tomlin, this early in the year, would be an overreaction. Yes, should this continue, he could be up for replacement at the end of the season. However, there is still time for the Steelers to turn things around, and they showed incredible promise on offense this week that hints that a turnaround could be coming.
Is Mike Tomlin on the hot seat?
Without the turnovers, the Steelers could have won, and handily. And Tomlin, himself, as a coach, was not responsible for any of those fumbles or interceptions. That's worth keeping in mind when considering Tomlin's future, or lack thereof, in Pittsburgh.
This bad start is unfamiliar territory for the Steelers, especially considering the previous 10 years that saw them win two and play in three Super Bowls. But the worst thing they could do right now is fire Tomlin. It would be a knee-jerk reaction that would hurt the Steelers more than help them at this incredibly fragile time.
Increase the thermostat on Tomlin's seat, yes, but he won't be burned right off it just yet.