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For the Pittsburgh Steelers, their problems go far beyond just one game

The Steelers lost 31-10 in Cleveland on Sunday to a Browns team they traditionally have owned. Maybe that seems like a rather large exception to the rule. But if you've been paying attention over the past three-plus seasons, you already know Sunday's beat-down is par for the course for this new era of Pittsburgh Steelers football.

Gregory Shamus

"It's only one game!" That's been the common theme for the Steelers this year and in recent seasons during their current "Got .500?" era of 19-19 that started in Week 1 of the 2012 regular season.

During a 31-10 blowout loss on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, Pittsburgh was beaten, bruised, battered and just plain humiliated by a Browns team that has been looking for quite some time to have such a game against its long-time black and gold tormentors.

If it was just one game and only one such occurrence, and if it was more the exception than the rule, it probably wouldn't be much to worry about. But when a team has the kinds of deficiencies the Steelers have shown in many areas during the past three-plus seasons (can't ignore the fact that a lot of the problems began during the 12-4 campaign of 2011), that starts to become the identity of a team, and not some mirage to be laughed off.

From 2004-2010, the Steelers didn't just employ a few great players and one singular identity; they had many great players who managed to find several ways to win football games, both in the regular season and in January/February, when it really mattered the most.

You could count on Troy Polamalu to come up with a Hall-of-Fame-worthy play at a key moment in the game; you could count on Ben Roethlisberger leading the team from the jaws of defeat to an exhilarating victory--and not just once, but many times.

You could count on consistency and solid football three out of every four games. (The Steelers averaged a remarkable 12 wins a year over that aforementioned, seven-year span of glory).

There was a reason you could rely on the Steelers like one relies on an old clock that always keeps correct time, and when fans boasted about them, they had legitimate and sound reasons to do so.

But times have certainly changed and this didn't happen overnight. To reiterate, the problems really started for Pittsburgh in Week 1 of the 2011 season, and they encompassed many key areas, including a defense that suddenly found it difficult to get after quarterbacks or take the football away from opposing offenses.

Here we are, some 54 games into the defense's struggles in those two very important areas, and there doesn't appear to be any end in sight. Everyone keeps talking about execution and better practices. But assuming those things are being worked on already, there comes a time when you have to point to talent and to the fact that some below-the-line players are being asked to take the places of some legendary figures who wreaked havoc on the grass of Heinz Field in the previous decade.

As for the offense, the things plaguing it in 2014 are the same things that have been hurting it for a number of years. Like in previous seasons, the Steelers are well on their way to having a 4000-yard passer, a 1500-yard receiver and a 1000-yard rusher, yet here they are after six weeks, averaging the same old 20 points per game that has become so familiar, you really could set your watch to it.

The problems protecting Roethlisberger still exist, as do the problems with scoring in the red zone and turning the football over at the most critical times.

There does seem to be some promise on the offensive side of the football, where most of the high-end talent appears to be. As for the other side of the line of scrimmage, that might require a few more drafts before any true transformation back to dominance can be seen.

So far in 2014, the Steelers needed to hang on to win a game they once led by 24 points; they got blown out by two AFC North rivals on the road by a combined score of 57-16; they lost at home to a Buccaneers team that was blown-out at home by Baltimore on Sunday; and they needed all of their might to defeat a Jaguars team that was starting a rookie quarterback and some rookie receivers, and which was outscored 152-41 in its previous 14 quarters.

This isn't all just a one-game problem for Pittsburgh, nor is is just an early-season problem. This is a new era of Steelers football and it might be a long time before we can all turn the page.