The Steelers’ problems are many, and they are great.
But most of their difficulties can’t be overcome because of one overriding difficulty: The one guy who couldn’t get hurt, did. Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are lousy.
The standard isn’t the standard, after all.
It’s time for Coach Mike Tomlin to get a heavy dose of criticism. He’s never lacking for empty platitudes, but his team lacks discipline. That was on display at Cleveland.
There’s no denying that certain injuries have been crippling. Tomlin, to his credit, hasn’t used the absence of Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown, etc., as an excuse.
But there is simply no excuse for some things.
Eight turnovers in one game is pure absurdity. Tomlin’s schoolyard method of punishment – you fumble, you sit – seemed to make his backs self-conscious and scared to move forward. Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey should all jump out of the same Volkswagen bug during pre-game introductions.
Four backs, four fumbles (one each): Impressive. That’s got to be a record.
Even more amazing: The Steelers fumbled thrice more, but kept the ball on those occasions. They put the ball on the ground eight times total.
What back starts at Baltimore? Tomlin has sabotaged the psyche of all his backs. They’re all thinking too much. Instead of childish manipulation, Tomlin needed to pick a No. 1 back. Give him the ball and confidence. Tomlin made fumbling more likely, not less.
Did Mendenhall getting just four carries help? Did no back getting more than nine totes help? It worked, but should 5-foot-9 Chris Rainey get the rock at the goal line? Tomlin mangled the running back position. He could not possibly have done worse.
As for Charlie Batch’s three interceptions, management shares blame. The Steelers entered the campaign with extremely flawed backup for Roethlisberger. Byron Leftwich sustained his fourth season-altering injury in as many years. Batch, 37, just can’t play anymore.
Between losing to Baltimore and Cleveland, Leftwich and Batch threw long more than Roethlisberger has all year. Todd Haley keeps trying to surprise the video game.
Eight turnovers is a reflection of lackadaisical execution. Lackadaisical execution is a reflection of poor practice habits. Poor practice habits are a reflection of bad coaching. Have I witnessed such? No. But we all witnessed the fruit thereof. Don’t be afraid to use logic.
Not content with merely giving the ball to the foe with frightening regularity, the Steelers also gave the Browns real estate, committing nine penalties for 68 yards. Six of those flags were for holding. Does anybody wearing black and gold know how to block?
Despite being 2-8 before yesterday, the Browns came into the contest with one huge advantage: They actually catch interceptions. Cleveland made three picks to the Steelers’ one, giving them a 13-6 edge on the season. Lawrence Timmons did provide the Steelers a pick-six, running 53 yards without dropping the ball.
Perhaps Timmons should start at running back next Sunday.
Bill Cowher intimidated his players, and to good effect. Tomlin intimidates the media. He’s buddy-buddy with his players. Distance equals credibility. Tomlin should put some distance between himself and his players. His credibility took a big hit yesterday.
Tomlin’s errors aren’t the Steelers’ primary problems. But they exacerbate what’s gone wrong. Tomlin needs to get his act together almost as badly as he needs Roethlisberger.
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