The Cincinnati Bengals destruction of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium was a turning of the page in the AFC North division, the end of an era if you will. Not just because the Bengals have now defeated the Steelers three times in a row, but because of the manner in which the Bengals have beaten the Steelers. They bullied them all over the field.
The Bengals abused the Steelers from pillar to post. They have proven to be the more physical team, with the more talented roster. That is a troubling development, but it gets worse. The Bengals were superior in every conceivable aspect of football; offense, defense, and coaching. To the point that the Rooneys and the Steelers hierarchy need to do some serious soul searching moving forward, because there are no easy solutions for what ails the Steelers currently.
The foundations of any team are the offensive and defensive lines. The Steelers are simply not good enough in either area. This reality is negatively impacting the Steelers ability to both run the football, and stop the run. If you watch the other three teams in the division, the difference is both staggering and undeniable.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a proud franchise, and for good reason. Their sustained success and consistency is without compare in the NFL. The players want to uphold the standards achieved by the legacy of performers that preceded them, but the available talent leaves much to be desired. That statement rings true for the current coaching staff as well.
Only the players and coaches know if they are even capable of being competitive in their remaining games this season, and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to do so.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Draft positioning
After the most thorough and humiliating Steelers defeat in recent memory, I found myself struggling mightily to think of a single player, coach, or positional group that deserved being mentioned as trending up. That is actually mind blowing for yours truly, a self proclaimed optimist who prides himself on always being able to locate the silver lining in the worst case scenarios.
I considered Cameron Heyward for his QB sack, and Minkah Fitzpatrick after his first interception of the season. However, both players made little impact otherwise. The special teams didn't make any huge errors, and Derek Watt had a huge hit on kick coverage, but nothing worthy of acknowledgement. Yes, the situation was that bad.
My son, in what I believe was a lighthearted effort to help cheer me up, tried to point out a rather humorous bright spot in all this mess. He suggested the very real possibility that we could probably get some great seats on the cheap for one of the remaining home games this season. He gets his sense of humor from me, and we have needed it over the years, seeing how my family and I are long suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fans also.
I finally settled on draft positioning as the most logical answer for what is currently trending up for the Steelers, because if they can't dig deep enough to find the intestinal fortitude necessary to compete far better than they did against the Bengals on Sunday, this team won't win another game this season. With all the parity around the NFL at the moment, that should garner the rebuilding Steelers a top ten selection.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Basically everything else
That was hard to watch, especially for a diehard Steelers fan who is too committed to the team to turn the game off and find something enjoyable to do. There was nothing entertaining nor enjoyable about the Sunday's game. If that wasn't rock bottom for the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers, I don’t want to see what is.
Mike Tomlin recently stated that the Steelers wanted volunteers, not hostages. I couldn't agree more. Now it's up to Tomlin and company to find some. To send a clear and precise message that the Steelers will proceed forward from the debacle against the Bengals by utilizing individuals who care enough to take pride in their performances and the product on the field. That was in short supply on Sunday.
Your individual effort is the only thing any player can control on the football field, and too many participants were found wanting against the Bengals, in both games of the season sweep. A few Bengals players suggested that they sensed the Steelers basically quit in the Bengals Week 3 victory at Heinz Field. That's about as disrespectful as it gets, possibly even worse than being labeled "soft".
If I am being honest, I can't even fathom how a Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Greg Lloyd, or James Harrison would have responded to such an accusation, but I have a sneaky suspicion it wouldn't have been pretty. Probably more than a few penalties and fines from the league after the rematch. So what was the 2021 Steelers response to the quitting accusation? They took it one step further; they didn't even bother to show up.
The Steelers got punched in the face for the third consecutive game against the young and improving Bengals, and this time they didn't even bother trying to get back up for the standing 8 count.
I have heard people suggesting the Steelers have a talent and quality depth issue, and that is definitely true, to a point. I have witnessed far less talented Steelers rosters manage to be far more competitive through hard-nosed determination and intensity. Leadership and coaching should never be overlooked in the process.
So where do the Steelers go from here? Tomlin needs to identify the volunteers, and bench the hostages looking for personal gratification and their paycheck.
Hopefully that will be the last time we ever see Cameron Heyward taking snaps at nose tackle. If sitting Isaiah Buggs and having Heyward take some of those snaps inside was Keith Butler's solution to the Steelers struggles against the run, then he may need to move on to his life's work.
It has become painfully obvious that the Joe Schobert/Devin Bush pairing is a mitigated disaster. Both players are more finesse than physical Mack linebackers. Even worse, Bush plays like he is contact adverse. He shows zero passion or intensity. Maybe a seat on the bench will reignite the fire inside, because apparently his pilot light has went out.
It's time to insert Isaiahh Loudermilk into the starting lineup, and utilize Chris Wormley more situationally. Many depth players eventually struggle as full time starters as teams start to gather film of their weaknesses, and game plans can easily be formulated to exploit them. Wormley can be consistently blocked one on one, and moved off the spot, creating plentiful running lanes.
It's also past time to see what Buddy Johnson has to offer in the equation. He is the only true Buck LB on the roster, and his athleticism and physicality could be a welcome addition. Truthfully, what could it hurt at this point, especially with Robert Spillane currently dealing with a knee injury. Maybe he makes a few inevitable rookie mistakes, but hopefully he would play like he actually wants to be out on the field. Can anybody say that about Devin Bush at this point? While there are no easy fixes for what ails the Steelers, you have to start somewhere.