By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a wax-on, wax-off team during the 2013 NFL season and the loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday was an example of disappointing results. Backed into a corner, the Steelers (5-7) have few options left to enter the playoffs, but no plans to give up.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was hounded by the media about the mentality of the team as they head into a divisional game with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals and forced to be on the defensive. The fact that the Steelers have had to look at their season as a ‘must-win’ game-to-game since their 0-4 start has shown some cracks in the mental armor. Despite the breakdowns, Tomlin insists that this week will be all business and the team will not simply play the season out as an evaluation period for next season.
The Steelers have needed to use available personnel to put a complete team on the field for several games this season due to injuries. Sunday was no different, and Pittsburgh will apparently continue that course. To his credit, when Tomlin was asked by members of the press if he would play to get looks for next year, he was visibly taken aback. He said there was no question about the fact that the Steelers would go into their final games of the season with the best players in the starting lineup.
“I didn’t lead any of the discussion in that direction,” Tomlin responded, “so that would be very clear, yes.” It wasn’t the only slanted question he was asked during his Tuesday press conference.
In what resembled an inquisition, several players were called out by the press. When asked specifically about the play of Ryan Clark, Tomlin defended Clark’s “tackling techniques,” saying, “I think (Clark) is a very good technical tackler and has a very sound approach to his tackling.”
When asked about a catch that Emmanuel Sanders had an opportunity to make against the Dolphins, Tomlin was asked how many chances he would give his receivers before he pulled them from the playing field. The insinuation that Sanders was not a capable option led to Tomlin saying, “Obviously, (Sanders) didn’t make the play in that circumstance…there have been other circumstances where he hadn’t made plays, but I’m sure you could say the same thing about guys that you might deem reliable like Antonio Brown or Heath Miller for that matter.” Tomlin’s final response on the issue: “So, if I took that approach, I wouldn’t be playing with any eligibles.”
To close the door on speculation that the Steelers will simply coast through the rest of a difficult season, Tomlin said his mentality isn’t about evaluating players for anything outside of how they can contribute to a given game or week of practice.
“That’s not my mentality,” said Tomlin. “I am continually evaluating young talent in the midst of doing the things we desire to do, which is prepare and win this week.” Tomlin called that practice “ongoing.” “I really think it’s kind of naive and not realistic to assume that…I am always in continual evaluation of the talent. And I also put preparing and winning this week at a premium.”
Tomlin hasn’t been the only one under public scrutiny. Following the Miami game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked if he believed the team needed to be “ripped up” due to 2012 and 2013 being the first time in his NFL career with consecutive non-winning seasons.
“I am not going to answer that question,” said Roethlisberger. “We are just going to give it everything we have every day. There isn’t going to be any quit from anybody.”
Cornerback Cortez Allen, when confronted with a comment that the loss to Miami knocks the Steelers out of the playoffs for the second season in a row, said, “We have Cincinnati (on Sunday). That’s the focus.”
Early week injuries
Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum is expected to be limited during the early part of the preparation week, as is defensive end Brett Keisel. Offensive Guard David DeCastro, defensive tackle Steve McLendon and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley are expected to move forward in their participation without serious setbacks. Ziggy Hood has an ankle injury that was sustained during the Dolphins game, but is not expected to lose much practice time. Receiver Jerricho Cotchery will be evaluated for a shoulder contusion that may limit him during the first half of the week. Otherwise, the Steelers are looking at a roster that is a bit healthier than it has been throughout the season.
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on