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Tomlin downplays Roethlisberger comments on offense

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 2:00 p.m.
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley (left) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during practice on the South Side in December 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Maybe Mike Tomlin should hang a sign outside the Steelers' meeting room stating, “No controversy here.”

With his injury-thinned and losses-stacking team facing a playoff-elimination game Sunday against the Bengals, the last thing Tomlin needs is friction between Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Not surprisingly, Tomlin is downplaying Roethlisberger's postgame play-calling analysis in Dallas, citing the frustrations that can surface immediately after a loss as difficult as the 27-24 overtime defeat Sunday to the Cowboys.

At his weekly news conference Tuesday, Tomlin emphasized that:

• He likes Haley's offense so far, but, with all such evaluations, the final determination is a team's won-lost record. And at 7-7, that's not good enough. “I like the direction that we're moving,” Tomlin said. “I'm not satisfied with where we are.”

• Roethlisberger is “on board” with the Haley offense, one that substantially has improved the quarterback's numbers compared to those from a season ago.

• Tight end Heath Miller, who's “a big part of what we do,” was targeted regularly in Dallas and wasn't ignored despite a catch-free second half that followed a dominating first half.

• The Steelers are getting ready to play, um, a pretty big game.

“It's an enormous week for us,” Tomlin said.

One that, to Tomlin, is too important to get waylaid by distractions, especially given the Steelers' four losses in their last five games.

The Steelers (7-7) must beat the Bengals (8-6) for the 11th time in their last 13 games Sunday at Heinz Field to move past them for the AFC's second wild card. If they do, the Steelers would be assured of a ninth playoff appearance since 2001 if they beat the Browns (5-9) on Dec. 30 or if the Bengals lose to the Ravens.

No wonder Tomlin needs Roethlisberger, as he said, “to move forward.”

“That was a tough, hard-fought game, an emotional one, and when you come up short, there's frustrations associated with that, natural frustrations associated with that,” Tomlin said. “I'm sure if anything was read into his comments, it was just that. I met with Ben (Monday), and he's ready to move forward with this week, and he's on board with what we're doing.”

That Monday quarterback-coach meeting, Tomlin said, is held weekly and was not precipitated by any Roethlisberger remarks.

Roethlisberger has been respectful, if not genuinely enthusiastic, about Haley's lower-risk offense, which has trimmed the quarterback's sacks and interceptions but taken away some of the downfield throwing featured by former coordinator Bruce Arians.

Despite missing 3 12 games with rib and shoulder-related injuries, Roethlisberger has 22 touchdown passes, six interceptions and 24 sacks, compared to 21 TD passes, 14 interceptions and 40 sacks in 2011, when he had 115 more attempts than he currently does.

A few times this season, Roethlisberger hinted he enjoyed Arians' more free-wheeling style. Once, he referred to Haley's offense as “dink and dunk.”

Roethlisberger was less veiled with his comments Sunday when, asked why Miller didn't see the ball in the second half, he said, “I just don't think we called the right plays.”

He called it “disappointing” he didn't get to run the no-huddle offense after it was successful early on. Roethlisberger likes it because he calls his own plays. Tomlin said its use depends “on game circumstances.”

And Roethlisberger said he and Miller improvised their 30-yard touchdown pass play late in the second quarter because the play that was called from the sideline “wasn't a good play.”

As for that remark, Tomlin said a veteran quarterback such as Roethlisberger changes plays at the line of scrimmage “all the time during the course of football games. That's really a non-issue.”

Just as what Tomlin hopes these what-did-he-really-mean comments by his quarterback are by Sunday, when the Steelers truly play a must-win game.

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

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