By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — By stumbling to their first 0-4 start since 1968, the Steelers had completed their time warp. Believe it or not, we’ve returned to a time similar to 1968, when they are less relevant than the local baseball team, and their inter-state rivals are fighting for divisional supremacy.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d say someone was messing with Google when you looked up the latest NFL standings, which have the Browns, Bengals, and Ravens all tied for the AFC North lead, and the Steelers buried in the basement.

But Tom Read, a Browns reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, says it’s no joke the team in that division that typically holds laughingstock status is now in a playoff hunt.

“The Steelers are victims of their own success and an NFL system that favors parity. Reaching three Super Bowls in a six-year span is a remarkable achievement, but it’s difficult to maintain without quality drafting,” Reed writes. “The Steelers’ track record since 2008 has been suspect although this year’s class with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and running back Le’Veon Bell might reverse the trend.”

Click here to check out the full post by Reed.

Bell, who missed the start of his rookie season with a midfoot sprain, debuted at London’s Wembley Stadium in Week 4, and the Michigan State alumnus was one of the only bright spots for the Steelers in a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, and he also caught four Ben Roethlisberger passes for 27 yards.

The Steelers rank just 29th in the league in rushing yards, and one of the reasons the offense has not been consistent is it hasn’t been able to use Roethlisberger as a crutch. He’s thrown just five TD passes against five interceptions and has been sacked 15 times.

Cleveland, meanwhile, has stockpiled 2014 draft picks, so they’ll have multiple chances to atone for one of that franchise’s biggest mistakes: not taking Roethlisberger.

Since Big Ben’s magical rookie campaign in 2004, the Browns have started a dozen different players at the position, including top draftees Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden, who just got the job back from Brian Hoyer after the latter suffered a season-ending knee injury last Thursday night.

The Browns are one of three 3-2 teams battling for the AFC North Lead, and on Sunday, they welcome a 3-2 NFC North team, the Detroit Lions, to FirstEnergy Stadium. The Steelers visit the 3-2 Jets at MetLife Stadium on KDKA-TV Sunday at 1:00.

Left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Ziggy Hood, two of those aforementioned underachieving draftees, have been scratched from the Steelers’ starting lineup in lieu of offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Levi Brown, and defensive lineman Cam Heyward.

Beachum has shown flashes of respectability while subbing for All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, who, while unable to get out of his own way health-wise, has also contributed to the offensive woes with his own misfortune.

Head coach Mike Tomlin called Brown, who arrived in Pittsburgh via Arizona, a “critical acquisition” at his Tuesday press conference on the South Side, while Heyward, to this point, further illustrates the untapped potential of those recent draft classes.

Then again, with Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith coming off a signature win at Atlanta, and the Steelers yet to force a turnover this season, anything Tomlin can do to get any sort of an old-fashioned, Steeler-esque pass rush going is probably a good thing.


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