Reporting Colin Dunlap
PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – This isn’t one game.
This is a trend.
You go ahead and soothe yourself — if you’d like — and say the Steelers lost an independent game on Sunday when they fell to the Tennessee Titans, 16-9, in the season opener at Heinz Field.
Technically, you would be correct.
But click your heels together all you like, wish on as many stars that have ever appeared in a nighttime sky and something — at least in my view — will never change: The Steelers are stuck in a rut right now.
A bad one. One deeper than many of us are willing to admit.
Technically, this was one game, but this team, from a bigger picture, appears in a pretty bad place.
This a club that has now lost four of five games dating back to last season, the lone win against a wretched Cleveland Browns team in the season-finale of 2012 when there was, accurately, nothing to play for.
The Browns finished 5-11; the Steelers 8-8 and neither were headed for the playoffs on that final day last season.
On top of that, the Steelers have been defeated the past six of eight times they have played, failing to win consecutive games since early-November of last season when they ripped off four straight.
But here is something that might be most telling, something that punches you right in the solar plexus when you see it written: This franchise hasn’t had a player run for more than 56 yards in the past nine games.
Yes, this franchise built on grit and determination, on resolve, vigor, mettle and resolution — they can’t muscle up and beat anyone down anymore.
Real shame, isn’t it? Embarrassing is probably the most pertinent way to put it.
But wait, there’s more…
It might get worse from here. Honestly, what gives anyone any indication that this offense will, as it is currently constituted, get a whole lot better?
All the Steelers could muster — as a team — was 32 yards on the ground on Sunday, with LaRod Stephens-Howling accumulating 19 as he paced the rushing attack.
It was a running game beset by an injury to standout center Maurkice Pouncey, who is most likely out for the season. In his place, Kelvin Beachum slid to center and was underwhelming, so too was the play of tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert and guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster.
“Enough misery to go around in all three phases,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Unacceptable performance; I won’t accept it.”
But this one falls on the offense more than anything. And not just this one, not just this loss to Tennessee on Sunday, but the undisputable trend and direction the Steelers are mired in since beating a terrible Kansas City team in overtime on a Monday night in November of last season.
The worst part, the most cutting and cruel reality is that all the problems can be dissected and this could be a case of not a lot in the way of solutions.
We are loathe to admit this reality in this town, but perhaps, as it is right now, many of the starters on the Steelers’ offense aren’t as good as the men who they are lining up across from — particularly on the offensive line.
Again, what are the true solutions?
Do you pull the plug on coordinator Todd Haley if things keep going this way?
Do you wait around and hope that, when healthy, Le’Veon Bell will provide a punch in the run game to impel this offense to great heights?
Do you keep putting more on the shoulders on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who seemingly has the weight of the offense on him already and has to play behind an appalling line?
“We’ve just got to understand what the standard is and that’s not up to the standard,” Tomlin said in his usual circumlocutory way of getting to his point while dissecting the loss. “We better work to play to it. We’re capable. We’re good enough to win football games.”
That’s the whole point, however.
Perhaps, right now, these Steelers aren’t.
Maybe they aren’t underachieving at all; maybe they are just a poor football team.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.”
You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.