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Robinson: Reading between the Steelers' lines

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu plays against the Browns in December 2012 at Heinz Field.

Sometimes it's not what a team executive says, it's what he doesn't say. Or as in the case of Steelers president Art Rooney II, it's the message within the message.

During his annual postseason interview, Rooney emphasized that he felt everything was on track with the Steelers' offense until Ben Roethlisberger was injured nine games in. And that turnovers — too many by the Steelers, too few by opponents — haunted them in the five games they lost by three points.

(He's right; 22 of their 30 turnovers came during their eight losses.)

But Rooney seems as perplexed as anyone why a team with the Steelers' talent is sitting on the sideline in January. And while he didn't chastise Mike Tomlin — who signed a contract extension only last summer — it was obvious that as the coach's boss, he wasn't satisfied with the playing or the coaching.

Some of Rooney's more telling comments, and how they could be interpreted:

• “When you sit here and look at the teams in the playoffs, we feel like we can play with those guys. .... You feel like if we had gotten into the playoffs, we could have been on the same field with those teams and been competitive.” So why aren't we on that field?

• “We have young players that need to get better, and they need to do everything they can to figure out how to do that, whether it's focus, whether it's conditioning, whether it's working in the film room. There's no question that players that work hard wind up being better players than players who don't work hard.” They'd better get better and work harder, and in a hurry, or they won't become old players with us.

• “Whether it's Rashard (Mendenhall) or Jonathan (Dwyer) or Isaac (Redman) or somebody else, we have to be better at that position, as well as others, but certainly at that position.” Somebody else should be expecting a phone call on Day 1 or 2 of the draft.

• “We obviously will look at the injury situation, our conditioning programs and all those kind of things and see if we can make sure that we have guys who can stay on the field longer.” Darn right we're looking at it. We devoted $33.2 million of cap space to just Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and how often were they healthy at the same time?

Matter of consistency

Since 2003, the Patriots (126 wins), Colts (112 wins) and Steelers (103) are the only teams to win at least 100 regular-season games. No NFC team has done it, the Packers with 98 wins coming the closest.

But while the Steelers missed the playoffs four times over that span (2003, '06, '09 and '12), the Colts (2011) and Patriots (2008) sat out only once — and New England went 11-5 in the season it didn't make it.

The Patriots also are 10 for 10 in 10-win seasons since '03, the only team to do so. The one constant to the Patriots' success is Tom Brady, who continues to play at a high level at age 35; Rooney envisions his own quarterback doing that.

“Certainly when you look around at some of the other high-level quarterbacks in this league, they're still doing pretty good at 35 and over,” he said. “There's no reason to think Ben can't be that kind of player.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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