Hello, Rock Bottom: Steelers Suffer Crushing Defeat
But those types of rules weren't meant for debacles like Thursday night. Playing for their playoff lives, the Pittsburgh Steelers put up one of the least-inspired games they've played in years. Against a Browns team that was 1-11, Pittsburgh gave up nine sacks, scored only six points and were embarrassed, 13-6.
A few weeks ago, a loss to the Chiefs looked like one of Pittsburgh's worst defeats in years. That loss seems positively unimportant lined up against the disaster that was Thursday night's game.
Two weeks ago, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin promised his team would "unleash hell." Pittsburgh followed that up by losing its fourth straight game against the previously inept Raiders. This week, Tomlin promised there would be significant changes in the lineup, but with the exception of replacing injured players, Pittsburgh put the same lineup on the field as last week.
Now that the Steelers are 6-7, their playoff hopes are effectively finished.
Not only is their record the 10th-best in the AFC, but with a division loss to the Browns, Pittsburgh is guaranteed to lose any tiebreaker with the Ravens, which means that in a tie that involves the Steelers and Ravens, the Steelers will be staying home. At this point, Pittsburgh will be staying home unless Baltimore finishes 8-8 or worse -- and the Steelers need a lot of help on top of that.
Actually, all that is pretty meaningless to even consider -- teams that lose to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns in the same season have no reason to even think they can make the playoffs.
If nothing else, Thursday night's loss eliminates any attempts to excuse away Pittsburgh's record. The Steelers did everything they could to keep the Super Bowl champs together in the 2009 season and beyond. Now Pittsburgh has to start looking at making significant changes. If there is any accountability, players will likely be cut and an assistant coach or two may be fired.
The Steelers' special teams again gave up a big play against Cleveland -- reminding everyone, again, that Pittsburgh special-teams coach Bob Ligashesky may need to bring packing boxes to work the day after the season ends. But beyond that, Pittsburgh's front office has to look at players who are either giving lackluster efforts or simply don't have the physical ability to make plays.
In strong safety Tyrone Carter's case, it seems to be more an issue of physical ability than effort, but facts are facts. On a fumbled punt that could have been a game-changer, Carter was flagged for holding that brought the play back. Three plays later, Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs ran over Carter, which helped turn a 10-yard gain into a 37-yard run.
James Farrior has been one of the stars of the Steelers defense for years. But on Thursday night, he was a step slow getting outside on Chris Jennings' second-quarter touchdown run. Farrior also failed to get outside on Cribbs' 37-yard run, then added to his mistake by missing a tackle downfield on the same play. While Farrior was slow to track down Jennings on his touchdown run, though, it was a much better effort than fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons -- Cleveland guard Eric Steinbach drove Timmons 10 yards off the ball into the end zone on the play.
Offensively, the Steelers' offensive line has regressed to its 2008 form. It has struggled to pick up blitzes and can't get any push in the running game. Offensive line coach Larry Zierlein does have a Super Bowl ring, but the Steelers' group is again one of the worst in the league. To fix that problem, it seems like Pittsburgh will either have to change the players or the coach, and they've re-upped most of the players to long-term deals.
Losses like Thursday should force the entire Steelers organization to reassess where they are and where they are going. Right now, there are very few who can say they aren't part of the problem.