Veteran safety Clark says Steelers need to stay positive, focused
The Steelers' key players met privately at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's request not just to sort out why they are 0-2 but to prevent the team from possibly falling apart amid its worst start in 11 years.
“It wasn't a rah-rah, let's win one for the Gipper-type deal,” safety Ryan Clark said Thursday. “(It was) let's come together.”
Only the team's most experienced players took part, Clark said, and they acknowledged what is obvious: The Steelers aren't close to being a Super Bowl team. Or a playoff team. Or the team they're accustomed to being — even in September.
“We understand that we're not a good enough football team to focus on those things. We've got to focus on beating the Chicago Bears (on Sunday),” Clark said. “I think losing two games has put us in that mode that we need to win one, and that's been everybody's mindset.
“I think that's good for our team.”
The Steelers have been outscored 36-19 and outgained 636-472. A third straight loss might derail their season, given that only three NFL teams have overcome an 0-3 start and made the playoffs.
That's one reason why the players huddled, Clark said, in essence, to prevent a bad start from quickly turning into a very bad season and to “keep everybody positive,” he said.
“Ben is the leader of this team, and it's something he wanted to do, clear the air and communicate. ... It was more of a situation to put everybody at ease and keep us together,” Clark said.
There is plenty of blame on both sides of the ball.
Roethlisberger is lacking his characteristic sharpness as his smallish wide receivers struggle to get free at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line's inconsistency and the lack of a featured back have translated into 75 yards rushing, the fewest after two games in team history.
No ground game means the defense is on the field longer — the opponents' time of possession edge to date is nearly 10 minutes — and it isn't generating sacks or turnovers.
With a roster that includes 10 rookies or first-year players, Roethlisberger felt the meeting was vital to turning around a team that reached the playoffs eight times from 2001-12.
There were signs of unhappiness during the 20-10 loss Monday in Cincinnati. Wide receiver Antonio Brown expressed concern about his role in the offense to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, although Haley emphatically denied Thursday there was any sideline rift or confrontation.
“It did not happen,” Haley said. “That's all I can say.” But, he added, “We are frustrated. ... I'm not happy with anything right now.”
With the offense operating so inefficiently — only Jacksonville's is worse — and the defense underperforming, the Steelers' veterans are very aware that another loss or two could fragment the locker room.
“When you've been really successful, you become very big-picture oriented,” Clark said. “We're in Pittsburgh, we're Super Bowl oriented. Everything has to point to the Super Bowl. ... (But if) you don't focus on that day-to- day, if you don't focus on the week-to-week, if you don't focus on beating the team you play Sunday, you don't ever get to that goal.”