It's become increasingly obvious that is the case as the Steelers struggled through yet another inept effort in the red zone in Sunday's loss to to the Cleveland Browns.
Pittsburgh went 0-3 in the red zone in this one, making the Steelers 1-7 scoring inside the 20 the past two weeks against Jacksonville and Cleveland, two of the worst-ranked defenses in the NFL.
Of course, we know rankings are meaningless. Heck, look at the Steelers, who have an offense ranked in the top five in total yards and the last five in scoring inside the red zone.
Cotchery, who signed as a free agent with Carolina in the offseason, had 10 touchdown receptions in 2013 working the middle of the field. All 10 of his touchdowns came from 20 yards and in.
Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore, the players brought in to replace Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, who also left as a free agent, looked like they were playing with a different playbook than the one quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was using Sunday.
Wheaton, in particular, looked out of sync all day with Roethlisberger.
"I don’t know," Roethlisberger said when asked about why he couldn't seem to hook up with Wheaton all game. "I’ll take the blame for some of those. I’ll be able to look at it and give you a better answer, but it’s probably my fault."
@ I've been in funeral homes that were more lively than the Steelers' locker room was following this loss.
And before you get the idea that players take all losses equally hard, that's simply not the case.
This was more akin to how a team reacts to a postseason loss, when it knows its season is over.
"This is one of the worst losses I've been involved with," said linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
"It’s very frustrating. We’re all frustrated but we’ll stay together," said defensive end Brett Keisel.
"When we did what we were supposed to do, we kicked their asses," said safety Mike Mitchell. "They got us on a couple of trick plays that hurt us, got some momentum going. Those two throws, that’s probably 100 yards right there. We don’t give those up, I’m not sure they get touchdowns. Hats off to them, though, their coordinator called it. We didn’t defend it well enough."
Overall, there was a feeling of disbelief, disbelief that the Steelers had just had their heads handed to them by the Browns. Disbelief that they are now in last place. Disbelief that things have gotten this bad.
@ I've already seen the same, old, tired "they came out flat," nonsense bandied about.
That's ridiculous. Was the defense flat when it forced two three-and-outs to start the game, holding the Browns to minus-8 yards?
Was the offense flat when it ground out 57 rushing yards in the first quarter?
The team was ready to play.
But the red zone issues and Brad Wing pulling a Lucy Van Pelt on Shaun Suisham killed any momentum the Steelers had. And then the Browns grabbed the momentum with a 42-yard throwback pass to Jordan Cameron that even Keisel running down the tight end from behind couldn't regain.
@ Prior to the game, Joey Porter was pounding his chest and yelling at the Browns as they warmed up. In fact, he was yelling at practically anyone who would listen.
There's no way you come out flat seeing that happen.
@ As bad as things are, it's easy to lose sight of the fact the Steelers were playing their fourth game on the road in the past five weeks.
They get the next three at home, even if it is against three teams - Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore - who would seem to be a step up in class.
Can they turn this malaise around?
"Losing isn’t tolerated," said Mitchell. "Part of why I came to Pittsburgh was to win and win championships. We’ve got to get the ship righted. We can’t win one, lose one, win one, lose one. That’s 8-8. You’ve got to be able to string together a bunch of wins. Obviously, this next stretch is big. This one was big. We’ve got to rebound. Hopefully we’re able to get a win next week and keep it going for a while."
Certainly there has been nothing from this team that suggests it is capable of playing consistently enough to do that to this point.
But there also was nothing to suggest the team would finish the season 6-2 in 2013 during its 0-4 start.
@ How an offense that is on pace to have a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,700-yard receiver and a running back with 1,800 total yards scores 10 points in back-to-back weeks against terrible defenses is beyond me.
It's easy to pin everything on offensive coordinator Todd Haley. But the Steelers were 12th in red zone scoring in 2013 with a rushing attack that wasn't nearly as potent as it has been this season.
Can rookie Martavis Bryant solve the team's red zone problems? I'm not sure. But at this point, anything's worth a shot.