The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


October 15, 2012

Injury-riddled Steelers not ready to panic

PITTSBURGH — Larry Foote will save the politically correct talk for his teammates. The veteran Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has never been much for spinning things anyway.

Asked Monday if he’s more than a just little concerned about Pittsburgh’s uncharacteristically slow 2-3 start, Foote just nods his head.

“The panic button, we tapping on it,” he said. “We ain’t got two hands on it, but we’re kind of nibbling on it a little bit.”

Foote laughed as he spoke, but the reality is the Steelers are quickly running out of wiggle room. Pittsburgh is mired in third place in the competitive AFC North heading into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati (3-3) and hardly looked like a team capable of making a postseason run while blowing fourth-quarter leads to the likes of also-rans Oakland and Tennessee.

The Steelers allowed the Titans to score 10 points in the final 4:19, including Rob Bironas’ game-winning field goal. Another stumble on the road would put the Steelers in a precarious position, and they know it.

“We can’t lose no more, that’s the approach,” Foote said. “Five, six losses you ain’t going to be in the playoffs.”

It’s a destination the Steelers have missed just four times this millennium and just once since Tomlin took over in 2007. Pittsburgh began each of Tomlin’s previous five seasons 6-2, a remarkable run of prosperity in a league where parity is the norm.

The Steelers insist there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

“We don’t have to have this great fire-and-ice speech,” left tackle Max Starks said. “It’s just we’re behind the eight ball. We’ve dug a ditch for ourselves. We can still dig out of it though.”

They’ll have to do with a patched together offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert both left the Tennessee game with leg injuries and backup Doug Legursky spoke Monday as if he’ll be in Pouncey’s spot against the Bengals and rookie Mike Adams is expected to replace Gilbert.

Cobbling together enough healthy – or healthy enough – bodies along the line is nothing new for the Steelers. They did it during their Super Bowl run two years ago, but that team could rely heavily on its defense to bail them out of tight situations.

At the moment, it’s the defense that needs all the help it can get, at least on the road. Pittsburgh is giving up 29.3 points per game away from Heinz Field. Cornerback Ike Taylor was victimized repeatedly by Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and now the Steelers face one of the best quarterback-receiving duos in the NFL in Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

And Pittsburgh will almost certainly do it without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who is nursing a strained right calf.

For a locker room featuring more than a dozen players with two Super Bowl rings, there is a sense of urgency, but not desperation. Safety Ryan Clark refuses to place blame in any one direction and has no plans to have a sit-down with Taylor to give him a pep talk.

“When we start saying what can we do to help him, we make him a charity case,” Clark said. “Ike’s not a charity case. Ike’s a very good football player who had a rough night.”

The game, however, was hardly the end of Pittsburgh’s troubles over the weekend. Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was arrested early Sunday morning following a chaotic run-in with police that ended with Ta’amu facing more than a dozen charges, including three felony counts.

The fourth-round pick out of Washington apologized to his teammates on Monday but was not available to the media. Ta’amu was tabbed as the eventual successor to Casey Hampton whenever Hampton retires but has yet to dress this season. Hampton, who has taken on a mentor role with Ta’amu, doesn’t think the arrest will be a distraction and is more concerned about Ta’amu’s future.

“We still love him, but the guy made a mistake,” Hampton said. “Not taking away from what he did, because it was a terrible thing. So, you definitely can’t do that, but any time you make a mistake, you’ve got to ride this out and see what happens.”

General manager Kevin Colbert said Sunday the team would gather facts before making any sort of decision, though the team has a pressing need for depth along the offensive line and the only way to make room on the roster would be to cut at least one player.

The Steelers have shown little patience lately with players who have run into trouble, cutting second-year tight end Weslye Saunders last Friday just four days after he finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Either way, Ta’amu is unlikely to make any impact on the team this year, leaving it to the other 52 guys on the roster to get it together. As difficult as the season’s first six weeks have been, the Steelers are one of eight teams with three losses – including New England, the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos – in the jumbled AFC.

“You’ve got the Ravens and Texans who are ‘running away with it’ right now,” Clark said. “I think we’re right in the thick of it. We haven’t played up to our standards. But we’re not out of it.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 17, 2014

  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Hawks already building toward next season

    Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
    Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.

    April 16, 2014

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0416 Penguins rally to wear out Jackets

    Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
    Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shelley and McElligot Series serves as reunion for former Chiefs personnel

    Not so long ago, Bob McElligott, like most Western Pennsylvania hockey fans, would savor a long Pittsburgh Penguins playoff run.
    The Somerset native followed the Pens’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malkin nearing return

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest NHL team to the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least geographically. The two franchises are separated by 185 miles of highway.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reds swing way past Pirates

    Mike Leake doubled and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, ending Gerrit Cole's winning streak and leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that completed two days full of homers and delays.
    First, the NL Central rivals completed a game that was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain the previous night.

    April 15, 2014

AP Sports Video

Should the NFL get rid of the extra-point attempt after a touchdown?

     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow