Steelers in search of identity
In a season that got off on the wrong foot in Denver, the Steelers were haunted throughout by an assortment of ills — injuries, untimely turnovers and uncharacteristic distractions.
The wounded list was long: safety Troy Polamalu, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, cornerback Ike Taylor.
The turnovers too many: Roethlisberger's back-breaking picks against Dallas and Cincinnati — losses that banished the Steelers from the postseason for the second time during the Mike Tomlin era.
The distractions significantly impacted the team's psyche: Alameda Ta'amu's suspension for drunk driving and Rashard Mendenhall's suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Yet, perhaps the most telling mark on this sometimes-inconsistent team is its lack of an identity — except for a defense that consistently plugged every hole until the dam broke at Heinz Field because of another game-changing interception by Roethlisberger.
“They're not coming together for us ,and I'm not going to try to make excuses in that regard,” Tomlin said during his Monday news conference. “We just collectively have not made the necessary plays at critical moments to win enough of these close football games to not be having this discussion.”
Jerricho Cotchery, a veteran wide receiver, diligently searched for the right words to describe the Steelers. Or, at least, explain their apparent identity crisis.
“We wanted to come out and establish the run against Cincinnati,” he said. “In key situations, like third down, we couldn't capitalize.
“Eventually, we had to flip the ball to give the defense some breathing room. We just didn't have anything going on. Once we get a first down, we stalled. It's been that way pretty much the whole year with inconsistent play.
“Once you establish an identity, say you're a passing team, but once we had Ben go down (with shoulder and rib injuries), we had to go back to establishing a run. I really can't put a finger on it.
“Once you pop a big run on first down, then someone runs through the gap and we're back to third and long. We feel like we get something going, then something negative happens. We're behind the sticks.”
The Steelers haven't resembled the team that went 12-4 the previous two seasons. Those teams often were defined by an innate ability to overcome adversity.
“When we were 12-4, we didn't blow people out,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We found a way to make a play in the fourth quarter. The story all this year: We found a way — offensively, defensively, special teams — not to make a play.”
And when the defense conjured up a command performance, a seemingly stage-fright offense squandered its line with so much at stake.
Even the league's top-ranked defense couldn't stand up to the mountainous adversity it faced during a three-game losing skid. It was put into the unenviable position of having to defend a short field over and over again.
Ultimately, but especially down the stretch, that's how the Steelers' identity evolved. The offense kept pushing the defense to the brink. Finally, the season slipped away.
“We have a good, quality team here,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “But at the end of the day, you are what your record says you are.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ Wheaton adjusting his game moving to slot receiver
- Steelers RB Archer trying to catch up after tough rookie season
- Inside the Steelers: Ventrone suffers right ankle injury
- Steelers LB Timmons has grown into leadership role on defense
- IOC urges US to come up with another bid city for 2024 Games
- Steelers notebook: Backup QB Gradkowski remains out with shoulder issue
- Butler, Steelers defense take on new challenges
- Steelers tackle Beachum braces for competition along offensive line
- Steelers notebook: Rookie CB Golson still dealing with left shoulder pain
- Steelers RB Bell ready despite being in limbo
- Steelers’ Brown arrives in style, vows to be ‘the best in the world’