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Tomlin doesn't 'run away' from Keisel's criticism of Steelers

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 7:46 p.m.
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel sits on the bench in a game against the Chargers at Heinz Field on Dec. 9, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

The Steelers weren't in a state of readiness before playing the oft-beaten San Diego Chargers, and defensive end Brett Keisel sensed it.

Keisel even warned his teammates beforehand of underestimating a struggling opponent but one with talent. Final score: Chargers 34, Steelers 24.

Mike Tomlin not only didn't object to Keisel's candidness, he agrees with him.

Tomlin made a surprising admission Tuesday by saying Keisel's analysis was correct.

“I don't mind a guy speaking the truth as he sees it under any circumstances,” Tomlin said. “I'm a result-oriented guy, and the result of that performance would lead you to believe that's a possibility. So I don't run away from that. ... I felt good about our preparation and our overall game-readiness, but our play didn't display that. I agree with him.”

What particularly bothered Tomlin was the lack of rhythm and execution by an offense that, even with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback for the first time in nearly a month, punted on its first six possessions and was stopped on fourth-and-1 on the 7.

At the same time, a Chargers offense that included a pair of tackles making their first starts of the season — an almost unheard-of development so late in a season — produced points on four of five possessions during one productive stretch.

“Our inability to establish rhythm and convert third downs and their ability to do it and to play on our half of the field, obviously, that's a concern,” Tomlin said. “That's not a good feeling when you're not establishing rhythm and moving the chains and possessing the ball.”

This week's concern: the Dallas Cowboys (7-6), who have resurrected their season by winning four of five. Dallas has two receivers with at least 75 catches — tight end Jason Witten (92) and receiver Dez Bryant (75) — but they will be defended by an increasingly injury-thinned defense.

“Dez Bryant is a serious matchup problem,” Tomlin said.

Not only will the Steelers be without top cornerback Ike Taylor (right ankle fracture), backup Cortez Allen (hip flexor) might not play. If Bryant plays despite a fractured left index finger — and he plans to — he could be defended by Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and/or DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Victorian is just off the practice squad. Van Dyke has been in uniform in only two of the past seven games. Allen and Brown gave up completions on 12 of the 13 passes sent their way by Philip Rivers for 130 yards, with 10 catches going for first downs or touchdowns.

“I think it's appropriate that we build a (game) plan around the guys having the capability to execute — and execute at a high level,” Tomlin said. “That may mean a smaller menu. We are fine with that. We are worried about execution.”

Troy Polamalu (calf) apparently is fine after playing his first two games in eight weeks, but his injury remains a worry, especially given that he must help defend against the much-targeted Witten.

The Steelers responded to their previous losses to sub-.500 teams by beating better opponents the following week. They beat the Ravens after losing to the Browns, the Bengals after losing to the Titans and the Eagles after losing to the Raiders.

“We have two football teams that have had ups and downs but still have life,” Tomlin said of Sunday's game at Cowboys Stadium.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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