The Pittsburgh Steelers, as we know them, are dead.
This is particularly true on defense. Oh sure, the Steelers will win some games. They will beat the Jacksonvilles and Clevelands and Tennessees of the world. They will have moments, like they did against Carolina last week, because they have pride. Then again, they just lost in Week 4 to a team that gave up 56 points to the Falcons in Week 3. There are no more sure things in Pittsburgh.
This team is no longer great. This franchise is no longer elite. The Steelers are the Dallas Cowboys of the AFC. It's time to face the fact they're just not that good and haven't been for some time.
This franchise reeks of ineffectual, of ripe-for-the-taking. I'd take Cleveland's roster over the Steelers'. Or I'd take the Vikings', even. No, this isn't reactionary to possibly the worst regular-season loss in the recent history of the Pittsburgh franchise, the Steelers falling 27-24 to the Buccaneers on Sunday.
The Steelers, especially on the defensive side of the football, have been slipping for some time. This loss, the biggest upset of the NFL season so far, just epitomizes that disturbing fall.
I also get that the Steelers have retooled and gotten younger in spots, but they just brought back James Harrison, who is 200 years old. That speaks volumes about their young talent.
When you look at what has always made the Steelers so formidable—that defense—there are very few players you look at and say: Let's build around that dude. The Steelers aren't tough. They're not fast. They're not wise or sharp. They're an average franchise, at best, and this is what we will see from them all year.
Ben Roethlisberger has carried them, the way Tom Brady has shouldered the Patriots, despite some poor personnel decisions and shaky drafts. There is only so much Roethlisberger can do. He can't tackle. He can't hide the fact that Troy Polamalu is worse in coverage than he's ever been, that the team can't make basic plays on that side of the ball.
Mike Glennon is solid, but he's a guy Dick LeBeau, not long ago, would have sent crying to the film room. Now LeBeau is a general who has lost some of his fastball and doesn't have the talented personnel to enact even his most rudimentary commands.
Some fans will say you can't talk about the Steelers this way. They'll get angry. They'll spit and curse. Others will say the Steelers have been sliding for several years. To some degree, yes, but not this bad. You cannot tell me anyone saw this Bucs monstrosity coming. No one did.
When asking scouts and personnel around football about the Steelers following the Tampa loss, there was one general consensus, and it was something similar to what I stated before. The franchise has relied too heavily on Roethlisberger in every way.
As one scout explained, every franchise in every sport has done the same—from LeBron James to Brady to Big Ben. You think: We can cut any veteran we want and replace him with a younger, cheaper guy, because Ben will save us. We can take a chance drafting this guy because Ben will save us.
There is such a lack of discipline and an inability to do even basic things, like tackle. It's not like the Buccaneers have this abundance of slippery and great offensive players. They don't have Darren Sproles, yet there were so many times when a Buc would shake a Steeler.
The responsibility lies with Mike Tomlin, who is an excellent coach and someone who deserves respect. Still, Tomlin is a defensive-minded coach, and his defense looked horrible. And please don't mention the injured Pittsburgh starters. That would matter against the Packers. The Steelers are supposed to be plenty good enough to beat a Tampa team that was reeling.
Think back to 2010 when the Steelers won the AFC title. There was a time when Tomlin and this team could seemingly do anything. He had one of the most brilliant coaching runs of the past five or 10 years. Teams were actually scared of the Steelers.
Now, a quarterback named Mike Glennon, in just his second year, looked like he relished the chance to play Pittsburgh. He was far from scared. Glennon passed for 302 yards. The last time a Tampa quarterback threw for over 300 yards was Josh Freeman in December of 2012.
Tampa opened the third quarter with a brutal eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The Steelers looked helpless.
The Steelers made Mike Glennon look like Mike Fouts.
Because the Steelers, as we know them, are dead.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.