Mark Madden: The Steelers stink, and a fix could be years away

The Steelers stink, and the horse manure is flying.

Mike Tomlin threatened changes after Sunday’s 38-3 loss at Buffalo, be it to personnel or staff. But any change Tomlin makes will be to something he puts in place.

Kenny Pickett’s performance in his first NFL start is being overrated. Pickett taste OK. But he’s thrown no touchdowns and four picks in six quarters, and the offense looks only marginally more dynamic with Pickett than it did with Mitch Trubisky. (Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will be the next scapegoat. Trubisky, then Canada. That was always the timeline.)

The Steelers’ secondary was banged up. But Buffalo was missing three-quarters of its defensive backfield.

TJ Watt remains injured. In fact, he’s more injured. (Get used to that. Watt is brittle. Fortunately, his contract only guarantees him $80 million.)

Ditch the excuses. The Steelers are a stink sandwich, and a lot more bites will be taken. Very likely past 2022. This is a two- or three-year rebuilding job.

When you allow a 98-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage, you stink.

When you allow 31 points in a half, you stink.

More on the Steelers loss to the Bills:

• Bills throttle Steelers in Kenny Pickett’s 1st start
• Steelers’ 38-3 loss to Bills marks most lopsided defeat in Mike Tomlin era, worst since 1989
• Kenny Pickett shows fight in losing 1st start with Steelers
• Steelers lost 4 starters to injury during blowout loss to Bills
• Steelers unhappy no penalty was called on Damar Hamlin hit to QB Kenny Pickett

The defense got no sacks and only one quarterback hit. That reflects Watt’s absence, but where’s Alex Highsmith? Where’s Cam Heyward? Does that $108 million defense depend solely on one player?

Devin Bush does drive-bys. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen might go on IR with windburn. Oh!

The defensive backs can’t cover anybody.

Najee Harris stinks. Diontae Johnson drops. Pat Freiermuth is a concussion magnet.

It’s the cheapest coaching staff in the league. There’s no improvement individually, or as units, not on either side of the ball. Turns out Brian Flores isn’t a miracle worker. There’s no one there to challenge Tomlin. He doesn’t want that.

Tomlin’s message seems lost. I’m not even sure what it is.

Arthur Maulet called teammates out for laughing and smiling on the sidelines while trailing 38-3.

Maulet is right. The team has no culture, no pride. That’s steadily eroded since Tomlin lost the leaders he inherited from Bill Cowher: Alan Faneca, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, etc., and it died outright when Antonio Brown ran roughshod.

It’s not the Steelers anymore. It’s just a bunch of guys who wear the logo.

It’s a soft organization. It drafts shiny new toys when the trenches need fixing. It signed Watt’s brother and drafted Heyward’s brother because it’s a big, happy family.

A big, happy, losing family.


• Madden Monday: After Steelers’ ’embarrassing’ loss in Buffalo, there’s no doubt they’re ‘going to go into the bye 1-7’
• Airing of Grievances: Blame for every aspect of Steelers as they got ‘smashed’ in Buffalo
• Steelers vs. Bills: What they’re saying in Buffalo after rout

Tomlin has never had a losing season. That was for one reason and one reason only: Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger retired, and now look. Roethlisberger’s game management and guile were the main reason the Steelers somehow went 9-7-1 last year.

This collapse didn’t happen overnight. Remember when Minnesota led the Steelers 29-0 last season? The Steelers have trailed in their last three playoff games by 35-7, 28-0 and 28-7.

Sure, Buffalo is good. New England, Cleveland and the New York Jets aren’t, and the Steelers lost to all three. They would be 0-5 if Cincinnati’s long snapper didn’t get hurt.

The Steelers will be no better than 2-6 at the bye. Some of their remaining games have the potential to be as humiliating as this past Sunday’s. The Bills could have won by 50 or more, but they got bored.

The Steelers need humility. Humility is a valuable teaching tool. They might not have it. Ask Maulet.

They also need to win no more than four or five games in total, get a top-five draft pick and draft an elite offensive lineman. Or an elite defensive lineman. Heck, they might need to post awful records two or three years in a row before they fix everything.

But the Steelers won’t tank. Too much pride.

But the Steelers don’t need to. They just really stink. It’s organic.

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