No quick fixes this season for Tomlin, 0-4 Steelers going into bye
By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
The Steelers are trying to find an explanation for the inexplicable, a fix for something that's never needed fixing before, a reason to believe in a season that is becoming totally unbelievable to them.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown uses “breathtaking” to describe the 0-4 start, one that is baffling, perplexing and confusing everyone from Dan Rooney to Kevin Colbert to Mike Tomlin to Ben Roethlisberger.
The grim looks and blank stares on the faces of dozens in the organization who traveled nearly 8,000 miles roundtrip for the 34-27 loss Sunday to the Vikings in London illustrated how the Steelers are dealing with an early-season collapse unlike anything the franchise has experienced since it played before thousands of empty seats at Pitt Stadium in the 1960s.
Tomlin, who is watching a team that won 53 games the previous five seasons implode, sounded angrier in London than he did after the losses to the Titans, Bengals and Bears. He suggested there will be personnel changes — and that means players changing uniforms or changing professions — unless there is an abrupt turnaround.
“I have great patience,” Tomlin said. “We'll continue to work and get better, as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail, because that's what's going to change the outcome of these games. Those that don't, they won't be part of it, whoever it may be. It's just that simple.”
What's not simple is finding a way to turn around a season that, even if it can be restored to some semblance of Steelers normal, still might not be salvageable.
So what can Tomlin do short term, as in the two weeks before the next game Oct. 13 at the Jets? Probably not much.
Roethlisberger isn't about to sit down for Bruce Gradkowski despite his onslaught of turnovers. The Steelers aren't considering that any more than they are firing Tomlin or Colbert, both of whom own as much job security as anyone comparable in pro sports. And a midseason replacement of Todd Haley, for example, would go against everything the Rooneys have practiced for decades.
Elsewhere on offense, Le'Veon Bell will get more and more carries as long as he stays healthy, with the idea being that a strong running game will relieve some of the incessant pressure on Roethlisberger. Markus Wheaton is likely to take more snaps, but at whose expense?
Unless an outside personnel move is made, there's little that can be done along the offensive line. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are second-round draft picks and major investments who must play; sitting Gilbert for Kelvin Beachum won't tell the Steelers if Gilbert is worth keeping long-term.
As badly as Adams played Sunday, he has played only slightly more than a half-season in the NFL. He'll look a lot better if Bell can break off some big runs and the offense isn't constantly operating on second-and-8 and third-and-7.
Defensively, the Steelers are paying the price for some disappointing recent draft picks, including Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward.
LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aren't sitting down, though Shamarko Thomas could soon find himself in a much-expanded role. Kion Wilson and Vince Williams already are splitting time at inside linebacker.
So who comes off the bench and makes a difference? Curtis Brown? Chris Carter? Robert Golden? In seasons not that long ago, they probably wouldn't even have been Steelers.
The Steelers might not find relief for some of their major problems until the 2014 and 2015 drafts.
“Things are going to turn around for us,” Bell said. “We're so close.”
Yet so far away.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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