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Steelers

Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Steelers must turn focus to Patriots

Kevin Gorman
| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, 4:30 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks to pass before being sacked by Raiders defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (during the first half in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks to pass before being sacked by Raiders defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (during the first half in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.

That Mike Tomlin spent most of his weekly news conference Tuesday dwelling on the defeat at Oakland instead of focusing on New England tells you everything you need to know about the state of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“We’re licking our wounds, as we should when you’re unsuccessful in this business. But there’s not a lot of time for that. Sunday’s coming. We’re excited about an opportunity to compete and get this negative taste out of our mouths, as I’m sure New England is,” Tomlin said, referring to the last-second lateral loss to the Miami Dolphins. “They’re coming off a bitter, disappointing game. It’s going to be high stakes. It’s going to be a big-time atmosphere. I’m looking forward to it.”

So, of course, Tomlin spent the rest of the time looking in his rear view.

1. Ben’s injury

Tomlin stuck to the same story as Ben Roethlisberger did on his weekly radio show on 93.7 FM about inconclusive X-rays on his ribs.

Tomlin added it was “probably a dated piece of equipment.”

So he refused to blame the field conditions at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for the footing on the final field-goal attempt but had no problem blaming an outdated X-ray machine.

As much as the unknowns surrounding the injury factored into the decision of whether and when to use Roethlisberger, something to take into consideration is he received medication at halftime (likely a shot of painkiller) that took time to kick in.

And Big Ben couldn’t play until he was cleared.

2. Emergency time

Tomlin said the Steelers “followed a very similar template” to the AFC wild-card playoff game at Cincinnati in 2016, when Roethlisberger returned from a shoulder injury to rally the Steelers to a comeback victory.

“Because of the situation, we felt the most prudent thing to do would be only to make Ben available in emergency-like situation … because of lack of information,” Tomlin said. “We would only reinsert him into the game if we felt it was necessary.”

Once the Steelers were losing, they were forced to break glass.

3. Open tryouts

Tomlin acknowledged kicker Chris Boswell, who has missed six field goals and five extra points this season, “has struggled to find consistent footing” this season.

And he wasn’t even referring to Boswell’s slip on his game-tying, 40-yard field-goal attempt with five seconds left.

Tomlin said the Steelers are “willing to explore options” and would hold open tryouts for a kicker but added, “those options include Chris.”

That’s because Boswell signed a four-year, $16.8-million contract in August, so the Steelers have to be concerned with how the dead money will affect their salary cap if they cut him.

But Boswell already missed a winning kick in overtime at Cleveland, as well as field goals in close losses to Kansas City, Denver and an extra point against the Chargers before missing a pair of field goals at Oakland.

The Steelers need to put the ball through the uprights and simply can’t count on Boswell anymore.

4. Up front

Tomlin acknowledged the offensive line shared blame for the Steelers rushing for 40 yards on 19 carries (2.1 yards per) and only three first downs.

The front five had to adjust their blocking from James Conner, who was out with a sprained ankle, to rookie Jaylen Samuels and veteran Stevan Ridley. And they had nowhere to run.

“I think there’s subtle nuances that are based on the ball carrier, but that’s nothing new,” Tomlin said. “That’s always ongoing, whether your featured runner is available to you or not, whether you’re just simply giving him a break and somebody else is coming in.”

But Tomlin also pointed to the play-calling being “schematic-specific,” as the Steelers attempted to “highlight the specific talents of the runner.”

That’s where Tomlin admitted the field conditions did play a role but not one he was willing to blame exclusively.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of sustaining blocks,” Tomlin said. “I thought our footing was an issue with that, not only in terms of the line but the runners. Such is life. Footing is going to be an issue when you play on natural surfaces outside. We’ve got to be better.”

It starts up front.

5. No defense

Tomlin was particularly displeased with the Steelers defense, noting for the second time in two weeks it wasn’t able to “stand up in the moment.”

For that, he promised changes.

Tomlin compared it to the kicking scenario, where the changes could come from within. But he said there would be consequences for a defense that has allowed five fourth-quarter drives of 64 yards or longer, including two winning drives, in their three-game losing streak.

“One thing we’re not going to do, is we’re not going to hope and wish,” Tomlin said. “We’re not going to go through our processes in the manner which we have and just hope that the outcome changes. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to do things dramatically different, but we’re not going to sit on our hands. We’re not going to hope. That’s not what professionals do, particularly ones in the position that we’re in.

“We’re going to actively seek victory. We’re going to actively seek the change necessary, the outcome of a few plays, which will change the outcome of the game. That’s life for us.”

These Steelers could use a life-changing experience.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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