Steelers' OLB to teammates: 'Do your job'
As coach Mike Tomlin ponders change, several Steelers said the key to snapping a four-game losing streak may lie in something as simple as players not overextending themselves.
And outside linebacker James Harrison had a message for whoever is playing defense for the Steelers on Thursday night in Cleveland.
"Do your job, and after you did your job, then you can help your partner," said Harrison, one of the Steelers' defensive co-captains. "But don't worry about helping your partner until you do your job. If you don't do your part, then the defense breaks down. If you take care of your part and the other 10 guys do the same thing, then we should be fine."
If the Steelers weren't in such a dire situation — they almost certainly have to win their last four games to make the playoffs — they might able to appreciate the irony: Freelancing has evidently become an issue while the player most associated with that style, strong safety Troy Polamalu, is sidelined with a knee injury.
The perception that some players are trying to do too much may be a result of the struggles the defense has experienced late in games.
The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in total defense (297.3 yards per game), but they are giving up just over an average of 105 yards in the fourth quarter this season. Of the six games the Steelers have lost, they had fourth-quarter leads in five of them.
"When you're put in these situations over and over again and keep coming up short, I think guys tend to press," said inside linebacker James Farrior, who is also a defensive captain. "It's just human nature to try to do more, to try to get better, try to help somebody out, but in actuality, it sometimes hurts you even worse."
Casey Hampton agreed.
"I think guys have been pressing a little too much, trying to do too much, and that's not us," the veteran nose tackle said. "We pride ourselves on being an unselfish defense, and everybody just taking care of their job and not trying to make plays that's not your play to make. I think when we do that, we'll be OK."
The Steelers are mired in their worst losing streak since 2003, and they are in enough of a funk that Tomlin said earlier this week he is considering shaking up the team.
Tomlin said the Steelers want to take a long look at rookie cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis. What that means for starters Ike Taylor and William Gay remains to be seen.
Gay practiced yesterday despite sustaining a concussion late Sunday, and he could play against the Browns. Taylor, meanwhile, got a tad defensive when asked how he would react if he had to accept a reduced role.
"There ain't nothing I can do but just keep playing football," said Taylor, who lost his starting job in 2006. "We're going to get criticized, regardless of what we do."
Asked if he expects to start in Thursday's 8:20 p.m. game, Taylor said, "No question."
There didn't appear to be much questioning inside a subdued locker room yesterday of Tomlin's decision to at least consider making major changes.
"He's the head man. He's got decisions to make, and we're trying to win some games around here," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We're trying to win a game. You can't fault him for trying to do that."
Hampton said Tomlin struck the right tone when he said Monday that he was re-evaluating all aspects of the Steelers, including the makeup of the team's starting lineup.
"I think guys definitely need to be challenged," Hampton said. "I believe in the coach, and I think he's going to put the 11 guys out there that are going to give us the best opportunity to win."
Free safety Ryan Clark said he hopes the players that have been starting in the secondary get the opportunity to turn things around. But, Clark added, "They don't pay us to compete. They don't pay us to keep it close. They pay us to win football games, and when you don't win football games, they try to figure out why."