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Steelers

Tim Benz: Steelers talented enough to overcome immaturity

| Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, 6:57 p.m.
Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward celebrates with coach Mike Tomlin after their 39-38 victory over the Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward celebrates with coach Mike Tomlin after their 39-38 victory over the Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, at Heinz Field.

Just add "Todd's Tequila Cowboy Tale" to the list.

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley suffered a hip injury thanks to a fall outside Tequila Cowboy on New Year's Eve. This after Haley's wife was reportedly involved in a skirmish.

That makes a pair of bar-related incidents surrounding coaches dating to the start of last year's playoffs. Joey Porter had one after the team beat Miami in the first round.

"The situation, though not of my doing, has been made clear to me by the Steelers that it is a non-issue to the team and the organization," said Haley, addressing the matter for the first time Thursday.

Clearly, those in the coaching offices aren't immune to falling into the 2017-18 vortex of salacious Steeler storylines.

The club has had 13 victories this season. They've had just about as many clickbait-worthy sidebar plots to hold our interest between kickoffs.

Le'Veon Bell had his contract dispute, then said he should've gotten the ball more after a loss to Jacksonville. Antonio Brown threw a water cooler. The Steelers became the center of the NFL's anthem controversy. Marcus Gilbert got suspended for PEDs. Martavis Bryant got suspended for ripping JuJu Smith-Schuster on social media. Smith-Schuster got suspended hitting Vontaze Burfict. Ben Roethlisberger wondered allowed if he was washed up. James Harrison forced his way to New England.

Oh, and Jesse James didn't "survive the ground."

The bigger question is: How have the Steelers survived this season?

"Those kind of things either 'fraction' the team or galvanize it," Haley said. "In our case, every one of those things you spoke of have brought our team closer together.

"Everybody is fair game for (ribbing). When we see some of those things going on, it shows our guys care about each other and are comfortable enough to be open."

I asked Haley if he has received any of that joking.

"Everybody is fair game," Haley reiterated.

In my mind's eye, I can picture a "slippery when wet" sign and a bottle of tequila wearing a cowboy hat next to Haley's office right now.

Offensive lineman Ramon Foster credits the "maturity" and "professionalism" of his team as reasons why it has yet to become unglued.

"Any other team would fold under these situations that we have had this year," he said. "They would let it be a distraction. They would let it linger on. There would be more of a conflict about them."

We've seen that circus act in Cincinnati fall from the high-wire during games year after year. Infighting away from the sidelines, on them, and nearly in the stands helped erode a nonplayoff season in Seattle.

So, Foster could be onto something. But if this Steelers team is so mature, then why doesn't it avoid such situations in the first place?

Maybe the word isn't "maturity." Maybe it's "resilience." As in: They are resilient enough to absorb the blowback from these weekly land mines.

Actually, forget the mincing of words.

I simply think the Steelers are talented enough to overcome incredible immaturity. Could I argue that, Ramon?

"You could," Foster said. "But I want to give more credit to the guys for their maturity, in the sense of them being professionals.

"There was some crazy stuff that happened this year. And we pushed through."

I'll meet Foster halfway. The leadership within the locker room deserves credit for keeping the season on the rails despite some wildly immature moments. Veterans such as Foster, Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have countless times said the right things and stood up to answer fan and media criticism.

Roethlisberger and Haley successfully kept a hyperbolic group of skill position players happy and effective since mid-October.

And Tomlin, while partially culpable for assembling and overseeing a roster that keeps creating messes like this, has managed to douse any flames from mid-week to the following kickoff.

Most coaches carry around a whistle and a playbook. Tomlin should carry a fire extinguisher as well.

Perhaps soon, he won't need one.

Perhaps.

That would be a true sign of maturity. Failing that, the Steelers may just be good enough to excel without it.

For at least another two weeks anyway.

At that point, it would be in the team's best interests to be as buttoned-up as possible before another potential AFC championship game in Foxborough.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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