The Steelers are 3-7. They have a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs. But they’re not throwing the towel in yet.
“We’ve got to be better,” Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmitgh said after Sunday’s 37-30 loss to Cincinnati. “We’re going to test the character of our team right now with how we respond.”
The team’s character will be tested, sure. But so will its performance. And, the fact of the matter is, this team simply hasn’t played up to expectations, particularly on the defense end. And now, buried in the AFC North standings, it appears like the rough ten games to begin this 2022 season will be enough to lead to Mike Tomlin’s first losing season as Steelers head coach.
“It’s very frustrating,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. “We gave away a key opportunity. We talk about climbing out of a hole, but we just keeping digging ourselves, more and more, into that hole.”
Defensively speaking, the Steelers were a major disappointment Sunday, allowing 37 points to a Cincinnati offense that was without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase and that lost its top running back, Joe Mixon, during the game.
The performance comes a week after the group, with TJ Watt back, blanked New Orleans in the second half and allowed just ten points in a 20-10 victory, reigniting the locker room and, potentially, their playoff ambitions.
“We went from ten points to 37 points. It’s not acceptable,” said Highsmith. “We’ve got to get back in the lab, starting (Monday), and we’ve just got to really lock in on our execution.
“Whatever it takes. More time in the film room, take care of your body more, whatever it takes. We’ve got to start stacking wins and we haven’t done it yet.”
And that’s where the frustration seems to sit for Pittsburgh. After beating the Bengals in Week 1, they lost to New England 17-14, with the defense getting gashed on a fourth quarter drive to solidify the Patriots win.
After scoring a win over Tampa in Week 6, the Steelers got ripped to shreds in the first half in Miami, and lost the game, 16-10.
Both of those follow-ups certainly include a lackluster showing from the team’s offense, which scored 30 points Sunday against Cincinnati, but looked constantly stymied after halftime.
That said, the defense took this one hard.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Highsmith said. “Good teams and good defenses are consistent. We haven’t been consistent. We’ve got to find that.
“We’ve got a big game coming up next Monday (against the Colts). We have seven games left, so we’ve got to bounce back and continue playing. We have a core group of guys who have got to step up and everyone has to hold each other accountable, because tonight was not it. We have to execute better.
Execution, recovery, film study, that’s all great. But can this team, seemingly with almost no shot at the postseason now, actually dig deep and find something to play for down the stretch?
“I know the guys in this room,” Highsmith said. “I know that when adversity hits, guys in this room can bounce back.”