And just like that, the Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the basement.
Many, no doubt, would argue that that’s just where they belong. And I’m not sure I could give a compelling enough argument to the contrary.
The basement of which I speak is, of course, at the bottom of the AFC North division, of which they now hold sole possession as the only team in that group without a winning record.
After losing to the division rival Cleveland Browns in humiliating fashion yesterday afternoon, the Steeler dropped to 3-3 on the season, while the Browns elevated themselves to third place with a 3-2 record and back-to-back victories.
The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, put a stomping on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to run their record up to 4-2, while the Cincinnati Bengals narrowly avoided a victory, coming away with a rare tie, and now lead the division at 3-1-1.
It’s not as though this is unfamiliar territory, of course. The Steelers spent much of last season living in the basement after they dug themselves an insurmountable hole after they managed to lose their first four games.
The Steelers may have a marginally better record right now than they did a year ago, but it’s hard to look at this team and say that it’s better.
Parts of it are better, to be sure. The offensive line is certainly improved from a year ago. Le’Veon Bell is emerging as one of the best—and one of the few complete—running backs in the league. Antonio Brown’s game is as good as ever.
But many of the same issues that plagued the Steelers in the first half of last season are still there, or have gotten even worse.
Anybody who thought the defense worked out many of its kinks last week against the lowly Jaguars were rudely awaken after the Browns torched the secondary with chunks down the field at a time. It wasn’t long after that the running game opened up.
Meanwhile, the red zone defense is porous, while its offensive counterpart can’t make up its mind in either play-calling or execution.
It’s easy to grow pessimistic after an embarrassing 21-point defeat in a game that wasn’t even as close as the scoreboard suggested after the first quarter.
It’s easy to just throw your hands up and wash yourself of the team entirely, as some likely will. It’s equally likely that some will feel everyone should be either fired or benched, not that that makes it any more likely to happen.
But the truth is that the issues we saw on the field yesterday haven’t been a new development, nor have they merely been lying dormant.
I wrote after the Steelers’ last loss that they were a better team than they were a year ago, but in worse shape due to improvements around the division.
But I have trouble now maintaining that this team is better. In many areas, on paper, they should be better—and maybe they will be, in time, and with more development.
With the way the rest of the division is playing right now, however, the Steelers may spend a long time knocking on that basement door begging to be let upstairs.