Let's get this out of the way: the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers are a slightly average team, and perhaps I am being generous in even giving them that label.
Remember when the defense was the team's most reliable unit? Since their tie against the Detroit Lions, their inability to stop the run has been fully exposed for other teams to take advantage of. Instead of turnovers, we can only hope they force a punt. Against a talented Cincinnati Bengals team, they struggled mightily to get the stops on third down. It seemed as if they knew the Steelers' defense was not up to the task, especially against Joe Mixon. The once-11th-ranked defence entered this game ranked 23rd; they will undoubtedly fall after today.
As for the offense, it was essentially the same themes that have plagued them this season; miscommunication, questionable protection, little production on the ground and creativity. In the last few weeks, their most reliable player on that unit has been Diontae Johnson. This game was no exception. Perhaps it is convenient to blame their coordinator, Matt Canada, or the aging Ben Roethlisberger. The fact is, they are not a cohesive unit and they have found few ways of solving this problem.
If there is a definite truth about this year's team is their lack of physicality, the very thing that has been their identity for decades. Perhaps it was former Steelers safety Mike Mitchell that said it best on his Twitter page:
Whether this is due to poor coaching or fear of penalties, this team has been soft in the trenches for the majority of the season, with the exception being Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills.
When watching this team collapse, it reminded me of Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd's comments back in their first meeting, about how this team quit. For the longest time, the team vigorously defended themselves, equating his comments to nonsense. Then came that sequence in the third quarter, when rookie Najee Harris was hit hard. The most telling part of that sequence was watching the offensive line look at him while he was on the ground. That was the moment when I realized Boyd's comments had real merit. This team may have given up on themselves.
There is not much more that can be said other than this game was a complete albatross, one of their most embarrassing showings in recent memory. What we saw in this game is not an indictment on the players, but on the coaching staff and the front office. As teams like the Bengals continue to evolve, the Steelers look outdated. There is no question they will have their work cut out for them this offseason, as they have little and need a lot in all areas of their organization.