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Steelers hoping to flip the script; parting ways with punter Mesko

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 1:36 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko practices Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, on the South Side.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin reacts after a partialy blocked punt by the Raiders in the first quarter Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Oakland, Calif.

The Steelers keep following the same old script: Get behind early, lose all momentum or rhythm, then lose the game.

Maybe that's why quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thinks a team that has been outscored 54-19 in the first quarter this season should begin altering its script.

Roethlisberger said the Steelers always script their first 10 plays and don't vary from that. He also seemed to question if that was the best approach for a team that constantly falls behind.

“When we go into games, we have our top 10 plays, our first 10 plays of the game. We put them together the day before or two days before, and those are dictated way before,” he said Tuesday on his 93.7 FM radio show.

“Sometimes, all of a sudden, if you're down, maybe our game plan going into the game was three straight run plays with big personnel, to establish some physicality. Now, all of a sudden, you're down but they're still the top plays, and you get caught, so maybe we need to change some things up.”

However, the play selection during the 21-18 loss to the Raiders on Sunday doesn't suggest that offensive coordinator Todd Haley was being too conservative or was intent on running the ball despite two early Oakland touchdowns.

Following Terrelle Pryor's record 93-yard touchdown run on the opening play, Roethlisberger threw on three straight plays ahead of a punt. And, after the Steelers went down 14-0 as a the result of a blocked punt, he threw four straight times before the Steelers punted again.

Coach Mike Tomlin, aware of how troublesome his team's slow starts have been, emphasized the script can be altered depending on the game situation.

“The script is just that, it's a script,” Tomlin said. “It's re-evaluated each and every week as the game unfolds. It's not something that we're married to. Obviously, we're capable and willing to change due to game circumstance.”

Still, Tomlin said it's up to the coaches to do a better job of making sure the Steelers are prepared to start games well.

“We've got to do all the things within our power to put them in a good strategic situation to have success and particularly early,” Tomlin said. “It's important to start games off with rhythm to get some things started — to look at some things, to look at personnel matchups, just really to start the game off to a good footing. Obviously, we didn't do that.

“But, positively or negatively, the start of games don't determine the outcome of games.”

The Steelers' poor punting contributed to several losses — most notably Zoltan Mesko's blocked punt in Oakland.

So the Steelers changed punters for the second time, cutting Mesko — not long after getting an apparent endorsement from Tomlin — and signing former Cowboys Pro Bowl punter Mat McBriar.

McBriar averaged a league-best 47.9 yards in 2010 but dropped to a 43.8 average in 2011. He spent last season with the Eagles, averaging 46.5 but was not in the league this season.

Mesko's 42.5 yards per punt average was the NFL's second-lowest.

“The punting (Sunday) was very similar to how it's been the previous weeks,” said Tomlin, who last week said Mesko was experiencing one “junior varsity” punt every game. “He's had his moments positively and negatively. He's been inconsistent, and that's not good enough.”

Much like the team he played for.

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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