Out-of-sync passing game contributes to Steelers' woeful start

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 8:18 p.m.

Call it the Steelers' season of disconnect and discontent.

They returned Wednesday to the practice field and again began looking for a way to halt a September slide that is threatening to ruin their season almost before it has begun.

They're also trying to stop mounting speculation that the offensive players are increasingly unhappy with coordinator Todd Haley's play-calling, personnel groups and passing-game strategy.

At least one player, No. 1 wide receiver Antonio Brown, acknowledged talking to Haley about the direction of the offense during the 20-10 loss Monday in Cincinnati.

It's a direction that, to date, is all downhill. The running game is producing at the lowest rate in team history (37.5 yards per game), and the passing offense looks to be badly out of sync.

“Whether it's guys just not doing their job or turning the ball over, you can point to a lot of different issues,” Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “We just need to get those things fixed. It's early in the season, and we need to get it turned around quick.”

The Steelers, 0-2 for the first time since 2002, must beat the Chicago Bears (2-0) on Sunday night at Heinz Field to avoid their first 0-3 start in 14 seasons. They've never reached the postseason in any of the 12 seasons they were 0-3.

One reason the offense has produced only 17 points in two games is that Roethlisberger has an uncharacteristically low 58.6 percent completion rate (41 of 70). He's not finding a rhythm with any of his receivers, who already have dropped four passes.

He's also repeatedly overthrowing receivers — mostly Brown and Emmanuel Sanders — or not finding them downfield as they get manhandled and pushed off their routes by bigger defensive backs.

“There is a little bit (of disconnect),” Roethlisberger said. “They aren't the biggest guys in the world, so it's easy for defensive backs to hold them, push them and arm-bar them, and they aren't getting the calls. So it's tough. They just need to keep fighting through those things.”

Roethlisberger and Brown could be seen holding an animated discussion Monday night, apparently about how Brown ran a pass route. Brown also said he and Haley talked, but Brown denied “pointing fingers.”

“It's a little bit frustrating when you're 0-2 and want to be contributing to your team and be a difference maker out there,” Brown said. “But you can't hang your head.”

Brown needs to stay confident and composed, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said, “Because he's our best player apart from No. 7 (Roethlisberger), and you just have to stay locked in as best as you can.”

Cotchery watched the Jets unravel while opening the season 1-8 in 2007, and he knows what the Steelers must do to avoid such a ruinous start.

“You reinforce the sticking together. When you have tough games and guys have tough games individually and collectively, you need to share the burden,” Cotchery said. “No one guy needs to be over there in the corner moping. Everybody needs to share their burden with him, and that's when you move forward. When that doesn't happen, that's how it continues to snowball and it becomes an avalanche.”

Another loss or two, and the Steelers might begin wondering if they're heading into an early winter.

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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