Clock ticking on Steelers’ muddled season
PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin remains as sure as ever the Pittsburgh Steelers are good enough to play well into January and beyond.
Of course, getting that far at the moment is kind of a problem. Pittsburgh saw its grasp on a playoff berth vanish in a loss to Baltimore Sunday. Now the Steelers need to win in Cleveland this weekend and hope the Buffalo Bills knock off the New York Jets to get back to the post-season.
It’s less than ideal situation for a team that looks as dangerous as any in the league, at least when it’s not giving away games against lesser opponents.
“We’re not a group that lacks confidence,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We’re a group that believes what we’re capable of. We’ve got to deliver the goods.” Preferably in a rush. While Tomlin and first-year defensive co-ordinator Keith Butler have delivered on a vow to get to the quarterback more this season — Pittsburgh’s 41 sacks are tied for fourth in the league — the Steelers have just three in the last two weeks while facing Brock Osweiler and Ryan Mallett. Tomlin can live without the sacks so long as opposing quarterbacks are forced to make decisions under duress. That isn’t happening as frequently as it was earlier in the season, either.
There are times when Pittsburgh’s offence can help make up the difference, as it did while rallying past Osweiler and the Broncos Dec. 20. When the offence stumbles as it did in a bewildering performance against Baltimore, the Steelers can let ordinary quarterbacks look considerably better than their pedigree.
“I didn’t think we created enough pressure,” Tomlin said. “I think that pressure creates an environment that produces splash for us, whether it’s negative plays for the offence or turnovers. There wasn’t enough negativity for them.”
Given a choice, Tomlin would prefer to parse out the blitzes and let the front four do most of the work. That didn’t happen versus the Ravens, giving Mallett all the time he needed to extend drives and keep Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown on the sideline.
A week after Denver converted eight straight third downs to start the game, the Ravens went nine for 18 on third down while hogging the ball for more than 34 minutes. Several times, Baltimore would appear to back itself up with a penalty only to wriggle loose by turning a second-and-long into third-and-short and ultimately a first down.
“I think we ran out of time,” Tomlin said. “We ran out of time because we turned the ball over and lost a couple possessions. And our inability to get off the field consistently on defence created an environment where time was a big-time factor in the second half of the game.”
Now time may be running out on Pittsburgh’s muddled season. Tomlin stressed there is plenty of blame to go around. The issue, as it has been for much of the year, isn’t what opponents do to the Steelers as much as it is what they do themselves.
Pittsburgh has been on the wrong end of the turnover battle in all five of its losses. While Roethlisberger is having one of the most productive (if injury marred) seasons of his career, he’s also thrown at least one interception in nine of his 11 appearances.
Tomlin declined to get into specifics about Roethlisberger’s play, saying there are 10 other guys on the field with Roethlisberger who have jobs to do to.
He’s more focused on trying to get his emotionally rattled team refocused. If the Steelers can’t regroup, what happens in Buffalo is meaningless.
“It’s less about the nameless grey faces that we play this week that happen to be the Browns,” Tomlin said. “It’s more about us getting rightly focused and getting back on track, getting that stench off of us from our last performance.”