Share This Page

No quick fixes this season for Tomlin, 0-4 Steelers going into bye

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end David Johnson blocks for running back Le'Veon Bell for a third-quarter touchdown against the Vikings on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, at Wembley Stadium in London.

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 arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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.