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What Happened to the Steelers Culture and Identity?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost their way, both on and off the field.

After starting 11-0, the once-mighty Steelers have now spiraled completely out of control. 

Losses to the Washington Football Team and Buffalo Bills were not surprising. Pittsburgh was coming off short weeks, and funky schedule changes for both games were against quality opponents. Monday’s loss to the Bengals, though, has no excuses. 

Sure, the team is dealing with a few important injuries. But the Bengals are horrible, and the Steelers looked silly. It seems like more than an X’s and O’s problem at this point. 

The team has zero identity on the field, and the Steelers culture that was once one of the most respected environments in the league seems to be a thing of the past. 

On the field, the team has a whole host of issues. Poor quarterback play, bottom-tier offensive line performance, and questionable coaching decisions highlight the top of the list. 

Really, it all starts with the offensive line. Remember when teams feared playing the Steelers? Listen to the former players turned analysts talk about it. Back as recently as the early-2010s, teams knew that they were in for a brutal game when they were playing Pittsburgh. They were going to get punched in the mouth, and if they didn’t answer, they would get steamrolled. 

Those days are gone. Now, the offensive linemen are the ones getting punched in the mouth, and they seem to have no answer or response. 

The most frustrating part is that we have seen this offensive line be capable. Early in the year, the Steelers ran the ball very well. Recently, though, they have the worst rushing attack in the league. 

It doesn’t make sense for someone sitting on their couch to question the toughness of the Steelers offensive line. But something is wrong, and it’s not the talent, because not long ago they were just fine. They have been getting dominated against both the pass and the run. 

When teams have zero respect for the running game, it makes passing the ball all the more difficult.

Ben Roethlisberger was horrible against the Bengals. Cincinnati’s defensive alignments clearly showed that they had no respect for Pittsburgh’s deep passing game. Their safeties were close to the line of scrimmage, and the secondary members were flying down on the short passing routes. So when the Steelers can’t establish the run, and they also can’t throw it deep, the Steelers become very easy to defend. 

And it’s not like receivers aren’t running deep routes. 

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Roethlisberger missed Chase Claypool multiple times deep down the field. Not that he made a bad throw, Roethlisberger never looked. Instead, he threw elsewhere. He made some awful throws throughout the game. If he doesn’t get better fast, forget about this team making any kind of playoff run.

Though they have been dominant most of the season, Pittsburgh’s defense isn’t off the hook, either. They got beat by a backup quarterback. Sure, the offense put them in terrible positions, and you can only expect so much from the defense. But that was the case in the first half; the second half was a different story. 

When the Steelers were down 17-10 and the defense might’ve needed one more stop, the Finley led the Bengals on an 80-yard scoring drive. Cincinnati ran the ball on each of their last 15 plays of the game for a total of 78 yards. Sure, it hurt not having their starting linebackers. But the Steelers defensive front couldn’t bear down and get one more stop against a team with a horrible offensive line and a third-string quarterback.

And then there’s the Steelers culture. 

The big news story has, unfortunately, been JuJu Smith-Schuster and his pregame dancing for TikTok on opposing teams’ logos. 

Personally, I don’t really care what he does before the game. He plays hard in the game, and that’s what matters. But clearly, it was becoming a problem. When players all around the league enjoyed Smith-Schuster’s fumble after a hit from Vonn Bell (who spoke out against the dancing), clearly, people in the league didn’t like it. When Steelers teammates and coaches were constantly fielding questions about the TikToks, it was becoming a problem.

At his Tuesday press conference, Mike Tomlin said he’d have a talk with the young wide receiver about his pregame routine. Wednesday, Smith-Schuster announced that he would stop dancing on logos due to the circus it has caused his teammates and coaches. 

Good. Not just because he’ll stop doing it, but also because we can finally stop talking about it. The team has enough problems on the field. There is one legitimate gripe with the situation, though.

When asked about the TikToks previously, Mike Tomlin said he wasn’t concerned about it. Now, he put an end to it. One interpretation of the way it played out is that Tomlin didn’t really care about the shenanigans when the team was winning. Nor did any of the Steelers veteran players or captains, apparently. 

The issue could’ve been stopped in-house, long before it became a media circus. But now, it’s too far gone. Even though Smith-Schuster will stop, it will still be talked about. Years ago, someone in the Steelers locker room would’ve stepped up and tried to stop it. Where were Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey? TJ Watt?

All things considered, the Steelers put a target on their own backs when they were undefeated. The dancing, Chase Claypool tweeting, “Losing? Never heard of her," things like that always come back around, and they finally have. The Steelers went from on top of the league and not caring what anyone thinks to the laughingstock of the league. They put themselves in a position where everyone is cheering against them and hoping they fail. And if the play on the field doesn’t dramatically improve in a short period of time, the team will get bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Everyone else would love that. 

Connor Deitrich is a Contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Connor on Twitter @CDeitrich22, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.