On the Steelers: Destination unknown after 2-6 start



The Steelers have reached the halfway point, but to what? If they equal their accomplishments through the first eight games, they will finish 4-12. Should they manage to flip-flop their 2-6 performance, they will finish 8-8 for the second consecutive season.

What does a team play for when it seems hopelessly out of contention for the playoffs after losing six of eight through the first half of the season?

Would you believe the ... ah ... er ... playoffs?

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"A playoff berth is still within reach, that's first and foremost," offensive guard Ramon Foster had the audacity to answer when presented with the question.

He knows some people will laugh at that.

"They probably will but they call them fair-weather fans," Foster responded.

They laughed, too, when they had to win four consecutive games to make the playoffs in 2005 and eight in a row to win a Super Bowl. At 2-6, the Steelers are 250-1 to win that championship this season, according to odds provided by Bovada. Realistically, they would have to win no fewer than seven games to go 9-7 to make the playoffs, all eight to assure it.

Perhaps the words "Steelers" and "playoffs" should be banned from any discussion about this season right now, but Foster is the one who mentioned it as the main goal that can be accomplished over the next eight games.

"It's the second half of the season right now," Foster said. "We have five home games, a lot of AFC ball left, too. There's a shot there. We just have to not lose, that's the biggest thing."

Perhaps fellow offensive guard David DeCastro had the most straightforward answer to his and his team's goals the rest of the way after they find themselves buried so far behind.

"It's a job, and we have to go out there and do what we're paid do to and that's block, win the battle in front of you and win football games," DeCastro said. "That's what we got to do. Even when it gets tough, it's still our job, and that's what we have to do."

What one person described as "total panic" when the team started 0-2 has devolved into anger and frustration, and that came out when Mike Tomlin spoke to his team Monday. He let them have it good, ripped into them one day after their record 55-31 loss in New England.

Foster has never seen his coach give it to them quite that harshly

"Not like that, uh-uh, not like that, which is rightfully so. We deserved it. Our performance has to be a whole lot better."

Perhaps, they can derive inspiration from one of their AFC North Division opponents, the Cincinnati Bengals. Back in their first season in the NFL after the merger with the AFL, the 1970 Bengals were, like the Steelers, 2-6 after eight games. They actually were 1-6 at the midway point of that 14-game season. The Bengals won their final seven to go 8-6 and win the AFC Central Division.

But then, no other 2-6 team since then has rebounded to make the playoffs

"It's not easy," DeCastro said of his team's current predicament. "You're not in the business to enjoy losing or enjoy where we're at right now. But it is where we're at, and we have to get ourselves back out."

LeBeau's goal: Close windows

Dick LeBeau promised his defense will close the "windows" they have left open, particularly in that 55-31 loss against the Patriots.

"We've got to make sure we get back to our fundamentals," LeBeau said. "We've gotten away from those too far. That's on me.

"We are leaving too many windows, and we are getting hit in some of those windows. We are going to close them up."

As for Tomlin's vote of confidence Tuesday, LeBeau said: "I'd rather the situation not be where that type of question comes up. But we are all in this together. If we play bad, and we all have a bad game, I certainly take my full ownership to that. We aren't going to duck our head. We aren't going to tuck our tail. This is a league of competitors. We are going out to compete. That's what we are going to do."

Haley's goal: Sack the sacks

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley acknowledged that the Steelers need to do a better job to avoid sacks, including one caused by the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 31 times, on pace to set a Steelers record.

"We need to protect better and do a better job of getting the ball out," Haley said.

"It's not any one thing there with sacks either for us. It could be coverage sacks, it could be not throwing the ball away, it's a breakdown up front that you're not expecting -- it's been a little bit of everything."

Quick hits

* Cornerback Ike Taylor went through his first full practice, but another player who left the New England game with a concussion, inside linebacker Vince Williams, was limited. Both starting offensive tackles were limited, Marcus Gilbert (high ankle sprain) and Kelvin Beachum (knee).

* For the second consecutive Steelers game, the head linesman hails from Pittsburgh. This Sunday, it is Natrona Heights native Tom Stabile. In New England, it was Jerry Bergman.

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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