By Christina Rivers
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, their entry into the ‘Black Hole’ at O.com Coliseum proved to be a disaster when the offense could not get any fire against the Oakland Raiders in the first half. Due to ineffective play, the Steelers staged a second-half comeback only to have the life sucked out of them as the final seconds ticked off and the officials were unable to set the ball. Falling to 2-5 on the season, the Steelers remain at the bottom of the AFC North and will face the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Tomlin’s Reaction to Raiders Loss
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin summed up what he felt were true issues during his Tuesday press conference. “A big play on the first play of the game obviously is not how you want to start,” said Tomlin. “But starts don’t determine the outcome of football games, whether they are positive or negative.” Tomlin admitted that the slow start of the offense hurt the team as much as kicker Shaun Suisham’s uncharacteristic two missed field goals. Tomlin also surmised that if the field goals had been made, a punt by Zoltan Mesko hadn’t been partially blocked and the offense had created points, the game’s outcome may have been a lot different. “Obviously, there were some things that were disappointing,” said Tomlin. “But things that we think are correctable. We better do it and do it fast as we prepare for our next opportunity this week as we travel to New England.”
Mesko has been inconsistent of late on punting duties, which was enough of a cause for concern that the Steelers signed punter Mat McBriar who spent eight years with the Dallas Cowboys and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mesko was released.
Several Steelers players were injured during the game in Oakland, but news that most are not serious was welcomed. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton will be evaluated this week in practice following an injury to a finger that required surgery and kept the rookie off the field. Second-year offensive lineman David DeCastro, who had shown improvement with every game thus far in the season, suffered an ankle injury that is expected to limit his participation in practices early in the game, but not necessarily keep him out of action against the Patriots. Guy Whimper, who came in for Ramon Foster after Foster suffered a concussion in the game, hyperextended a knee but Tomlin said, “We expect him to be available, not only to play in the game but practice at some point.” Linebacker Lawrence Timmons hasn’t been hampered from play due to a broken and casted hand, and Tomlin expects him to be ready to go in practice this week and on the field come Sunday.
Tomlin reiterated that the Steelers aren’t going to stop focusing on what they can control as a team regardless of their 2-5 win/loss record this season. “Our record is our record,” said Tomlin. “There’s nothing that we can do about what has been played. What we do have control over is our next opportunity.” The focal point seems to be aimed and focused on performance. “We’ve got to do all the things within our power to put [the team] in a good strategic situation to have success, and particularly early.”
With the trade deadline on Tuesday, Tomlin said that he would be open to taking a look at what the Steelers needs are and doing more evaluation. “I’m not opposed to evaluating anyone at any position that’s capable of helping us get better,” said Tomlin. “We’re probably going to do some of that this week.”
Rookie Jarvis Jones may be on that list. His play hasn’t intensified. In fact, he has shown less intensity over the past two weeks, giving Jason Worilds more opportunities to play. Tomlin attributed that factor as being too detail-oriented when it comes to playing in Dick LeBeau’s defense. Ziggy Hood at defensive tackle, has also watched as Cameron Heyward has spent more snaps on the defensive line. Production is a big concern for the Steelers, and plugging the right players into the weak spots is what the team will continue to do on a game-to-game basis.
Pittsburgh will be looking at how they schedule their travel time for away games as well. Tomlin has traditionally kept the team on familiar turf until the final practice before the game, choosing to let the team travel the following day. Many have questioned whether the Steelers aren’t doing well on the road, outside of their Eastern time zone, due to that tradition. Tomlin said, “It’s our desire to be a good team, to win regardless of circumstance. Game location being one of them, and we have to change that.”
The Steelers are excited by the fact that Troy Polamalu and Cortez Allen were able to secure two interceptions against the Raiders, ending a drought of Pittsburgh defensive takeaways. With the offensive sets of tight ends and receivers on the New England team, stepping up defensively will be key. Polamalu looked like a new man on Sunday, and Dick LeBeau believes that the safety is getting more pumped up every game. The Steelers defense continues to have some areas of concern, but exceptional play from many on that side of the ball, including Timmons, Brett Keisel and Polamalu, have gotten the offense onto the field more often in the last two weeks. It is something that the offense needs to capitalize on.
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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