Kevin Gorman: Time for Steelers to stop talking about winning and handle business
Mike Tomlin issued a declaration Wednesday that was a bit of bravado tinged with a touch of truth, one that perfectly captured what is wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Football is our game. Our business is winning,” Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. “So, we haven’t been handling business.”
You can say that again.
And Tomlin did, again and again.
The Steelers are 0-3 — their worst start to a season since 2013 — heading into their game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night at Heinz Field. I can’t imagine “Monday Night Football” is thrilled about the winless AFC North matchup.
“I think the competitor in all of us is a little bit excited about that,” Tomlin said of the stakes. “Also, I think the competitor in all of us is a little bit (ticked) off — and appropriately so.”
That line forms to the left.
The Steelers talk as if they are still a Super Bowl contender that just has to correct a few mistakes when they haven’t resembled anything close to that since going 13-3 in 2017. Even that record proved to be a mirage. The Steelers won eight games by single digits, including five by three points or fewer, and lost at home to Jacksonville in the divisional playoffs.
The Steelers, in fact, are 9-9-1 since the start of the 2018 season, the very definition of average. They are 2-7 in their last nine games, same as the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. The only teams to fare worse: the Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, N.Y. Jets and Washington Redskins.
Business is far from boomin’.
Without All-Pros Antonio Brown (who coined that catchphrase), Le’Veon Bell and a future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are short on star power on offense. They have fewer distractions and drama but also less dynamic playmakers.
As Trib Steelers beat reporter Joe Rutter tweeted Tuesday: “Remember that faction of Steelers fans who were sick of the drama and said they’d rather lose without guys like Bell and Brown than win with them? Well, you’re getting your wish.”
Remember that faction of Steelers fans who were sick of the drama and said they’d rather lose without guys like Bell and Brown than win with them? Well, you’re getting your wish.
— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) September 23, 2019
But the Steelers aren’t devoid of talent. They still have Pro Bowl players in left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro, running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on offense and defensive end Cameron Heyward on defense, not to mention a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback in Joe Haden.
The Steelers are paying a price to field a veteran-laden team, so they should be in win-now mode. Trading draft picks to acquire free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and tight end Nick Vannett might seem like desperation moves but are a sign the Steelers are trying to salvage this season. The job security of Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert could depend upon it.
That the talent hasn’t translated to victories is one problem. That the Steelers can’t stay healthy is another issue. That they continue to lose games they should win can become corrosive.
The Steelers have lost their past two games, at home to the Seattle Seahawks and at the San Francisco 49ers, by a combined six points. They have kept the games close, despite losing Roethlisberger for the season to elbow surgery. But single-digit defeats don’t count any different than lopsided losses.
“We’re not looking for positive things to glean from,” Tomlin said. “We’re not being weak-minded in that way. We’re acknowledging that winning is our business, and we’ve got to handle business.”
Yes, the Steelers continue to talk like contenders, even if the percentages suggest they will miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. They talked last week about stacking wins when they should’ve been concentrating on getting their first.
That talk starts with Tomlin. He has never endured a losing season, even overcoming a 0-4 start in ’13 to finish 8-8. So, I asked the Steelers coach how he manages a team so accustomed to winning through a three-game losing streak.
“It’s not anything to manage,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t come into this thing with any preconceived notions about us being anointed in any way. Each season starts anew and past experiences or successes mean very little in this thing.
“I think that culturally, we spend a lot of time talking about that. From that perspective, we’re not combating that in any way directly. More than anything, we’re dealing with the fact that we’re not getting the job done and managing that frustration and channeling that frustration into productive work in a desired outcome.”
Simply put, the Steelers need to stop talking about and start winning football games. They need to handle their business, before it goes ka-boom.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .