The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 29, 2013

Steelers and Tomlin not dwelling on rough start

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin is only too aware of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ numbing 2-5 start.

To wallow in it wouldn’t do anybody any good.

“Our record is our record,” Tomlin said. “There’s nothing that we can do about what has been played.”

Maybe, but the Steelers have to do something – anything really – if they want to try and turn things around.

The usual things have not worked. Tomlin tinkered with the lineup after a winless September. He barred shuffleboard, pool and ping pong in the locker room, too.

Victories over Baltimore and the New York Jets followed. They proved to be a temporary salve.

The bottom fell out in a 21-18 loss to Oakland on Sunday with no area of the team above reproach, including a punter who now finds himself out of a job.

The Steelers cut Zoltan Mesko on Tuesday after weeks of inconsistency that manifested itself in a partially blocked punt in the first quarter that helped stake the Raiders to an early 18-point lead.

Mesko bobbled the snap from Greg Warren and wasn’t helped by a missed block that allowed Oakland’s Rick Jennings to slip through and get his hands on it. Tomlin refused to place blame in one spot, figuring there was enough to go around.

“Obviously it takes two to tango in that circumstance and the bobble created an out time that wasn’t ideal and obviously the pressure was the pressure,” Tomlin said. “It’s tough to analyze which was more significant. Obviously, together, it was catastrophic.”

Pittsburgh signed Mat McBriar to replace Mesko before Sunday’s game at New England (6-2), though it’s hardly the kind of move likely to shake the roster out of its funk.

The Steelers’ problems extend far beyond the kicking game, including an inability to get things early.

They have been outscored 54-19 in the first quarter this season and 84-54 in the first half.

Tomlin, curiously, doesn’t see the lopsided numbers as any major cause for concern. Though he allowed “it’s important to start the game off with rhythm” he doesn’t want to get too caught up in the notion things are over one way or the other after the first 15 minutes.

“The starts of games don’t determine the outcomes of games,” he said.

“We need to keep that in mind as we prepare, too. I don’t want to get lulled into a sense of comfort if we should go up to New England and come out and have a successful start. We’ve got to play football for 60 minutes and winning football.”

Something the Steelers have done only once. They controlled a 19-16 win over Baltimore two weeks ago, the kind of performance that seemed to hint they were starting to figure things out.

They haven’t. The offense expected to click in its second year under coordinator Todd Haley has been unable to find anything close to consistency.

The Steelers are tied for 27th in the league in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game. The four teams ranked below Pittsburgh are a combined 4-26.

While Pittsburgh place-kicker Shaun Suisham has been steady, he’s also not perfect. He shanked a pair of chip shots against the Raiders – his first two misses of the season – that could have made a significant impact on the outcome. The bigger issue, Tomlin said, is the fact Suisham is needed so much in the first place.

The Steelers have scored touchdowns on just 40 percent of their trips inside the opponents’ 20.

Only Philadelphia and Jacksonville have been worse at cashing in.

Even as Pittsburgh tried to mount a late rally, they shied away from the end zone. Only two of Roethlisberger’s 45 passing attempts against Oakland were intended for players who were already across the goal line.

A constantly jumbled offensive line hasn’t helped. Roethlisberger has spent so much time under duress, there haven’t been many opportunities where he’s had enough time for his players to get downfield.

There was a bit of good news on Tuesday. Starting guards Ramon Foster (concussion) and David DeCastro (right ankle), who both left early in Oakland, may play against the Patriots. Foster has been cleared to practice while DeCastro will be limited early in the week before being evaluated.

Whoever is on the field, Tomlin expects his team to play like a contender, not one that is trying to get on a winning streak.

“They know what we are capable of,” Tomlin said. “They work. They put their hand in the pile. They see why we are successful. They see why we are unsuccessful, and they realize they have control over that.”

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