Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) heads to the locker room after a 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Roethlisberger left the field after the game without shaking hands with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. (Gene Puskar/AP)
Finish middle. Draft middle. Stay middle.
The Steelers are in a rut. They’re 7-5 and headed for a third consecutive non-playoff season. The Steelers are a mediocre football team.
On Sunday, they lost at home to an underdog. New Orleans had a short week. The Steelers were coming off the bye. More preparation lost to less preparation.
Records don’t lie. The Steelers’ record certainly doesn’t. Mediocre.
They beat some better teams, and lost to some worse teams. Mediocre.
They’re good at some things, bad at some things and OK at some things. Mediocre.
They have some good players, some bad players and some in-between players. Mediocre.
Perhaps it’s time to stop wondering what the Steelers must do to escape the web of mediocrity. Perhaps they can’t. Perhaps no adjustment will help enough.
The Steelers are entangled, and in a way that seems long-term. They are exactly what a 23-21 record over the last three years suggests: Mediocre.
Sunday’s implosion at Heinz Field was ignited by the star quarterback. The Steelers’ offense underachieved in the red zone early, then Ben Roethlisberger started throwing interceptions. Roethlisberger handed the baton of ineptitude to the defense, which totally collapsed.
Dick LeBeau may be a defensive genius, but the Steelers’ defensive coordinator couldn’t game-plan to stop a Pop Warner team with this bunch. All bluster, no results. Ike Taylor returned. He shouldn’t have.
Roethlisberger has one big problem: He never gets to throw against the Steelers’ defense.
Le’Veon Bell had another big game: 95 yards rushing and a monstrous 159 yards receiving. But Dri Archer, the new No. 2 back following LeGarrette Blount’s departure, barely got on the field and had just one carry (for zero yards).
If Coach Mike Tomlin plans to run Bell until the wheels fall off, they probably will. It’s a two-back league.
Ray Rice is available. Just sayin’. Let another team be football’s moral compass. Rice could room on the road with James Harrison. Take the steps, not the elevator.
There was a modicum of good news: Antonio Brown had eight catches for 97 yards, preserving his record. What’s that record again? Anybody know?
The Steelers have three legit stars on offense: Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger. That may be the most perplexing thing about the Steelers’ mediocrity. How can a trio of weapons like that not be enough?
Yinzer Nation glories in criticizing Roethlisberger, like they were all eyewitnesses to whatever didn’t happen in Milledgeville.
Roethlisberger did have a bad game. He was too often wild high. But some catchable balls were also dropped. Roethlisberger was sacked just once but was under siege all afternoon. The Steelers’ offensive line exemplifies mediocre.
No excuses. Roethlisberger makes the most money. He plays the most important position. He needs to do better.
But New Orleans, at one point, scored touchdowns on five of six possessions. Four of the Saints’ scoring drives were 79 yards or longer.
The Steelers visit Cincinnati next Sunday. The Steelers are a game-and-a-half behind the Bengals in the AFC North, so the trip to Cincinnati is must-win when it comes to having a legit shot at the division championship.
It’s probably must-win when it comes to getting a wild card, too. There is no shortage of teams with seven wins in the AFC.
Here’s the best bet: The Steelers will go 9-7 and just miss the playoffs. That’s what mediocre teams do. What mediocre organizations do. Again and again.
Next year? More of the same. That prediction is easy to make because the Steelers do the same things over and over. Being right is more important than the result.
Mediocrity is the NFL’s version of opiates. Easy to get hooked on, hard to kick.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).
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