There has been no bluff by coach Mike Tomlin this time, only determined action. Without warning, the Steelers coach has demoted four long-time veterans over the course of the season, the latest guard Chris Kemoeatu.
Doug Legursky will start at left guard Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, the second such lineup change on offense in two games. Hines Ward, one of the biggest stars in franchise history, lost the starting job at wide receiver he held since 1999 in Cincinnati Nov. 13.
Along the way, two other veterans were demoted in favor of younger players, starting cornerback Bryant McFadden and longtime backup nose tackle Chris Hoke.
The four changes mark a notable difference from how Tomlin stayed with his lineup through a five-game losing streak in 2009. Even after he threatened changes before a Dec. 10 loss in Cleveland, they never came.
- Matchup: Steelers (7-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-6).
- When: 8:20 p.m.
- Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
- TV: WPXI.
"We're analyzing all aspects of what we're doing here," Tomlin said back then, "specifically this week, and are going to be aggressive in terms of looking at potential changes in not only what we do schematically, but who we have do it in all three phases."
He made no promises this year, but the lineup changes have come this time.
Unlike Ward, Kemoeatu said he was informed of the change and told why.
"They kind of talked to me about it today," said Kemoeatu, who was in his fourth season as their starting left guard. "I haven't been playing well enough, I guess.
"I feel like I've had some bad games. I didn't think they were bad enough to probably get demoted, but it is what it is."
Kemoeatu, a sixth-round draft pick in '05, is the team's highest-paid offensive lineman. He signed a five-year, $20 million contract in '09.
Legursky, an undrafted rookie signed in '07, started the first three games at right guard this season but missed the fourth game with a shoulder injury. He started the next two games at left guard because Kemoeatu had a knee injury. A dislocated toe knocked Legursky out of action for three games, and Kemoeatu returned to health and his starting job.
This time, no injuries were involved. Ramon Foster long ago nailed down the starting right-guard spot he held all last season and has been playing well.
"You'll have to ask the coach about the specifics of the whole situation," said Legursky. "I got a lot of practice in today, and it felt good to get back on the field and test the toe out a little bit."
The change comes after the offensive line had reached a more stable state with the same five players starting the past four games after going through the first seven games with seven distinctly different lineups.
"We've all settled down and have a better knowledge and better chemistry as a whole front to be able to communicate more cleanly," tackle Max Starks was explaining about the importance of having continuity in the line.
Inserting Legursky at left guard, however, is not seen as a disruption of that continuity because he has played so often. He started four games at guard in 2010 and then the Super Bowl at center.
Bruce Arians talked to his offense about setting aside their goals for individual stats and Pro Bowls to focus on team goals and the Super Bowl.
That's what Ben Roethlisberger said his coordinator told them before practice Wednesday.
"For this team, for all of us, there's a lot of great players who have opportunities to put up big numbers, stats, and things like that," Roethlisberger said. "But, as coach touched on today, for us to be a true Super Bowl contender, he wants to put their own personal goals, Pro Bowl things and things like that on the back shelf for the betterment of the team ...
"Coach said if you're a team that's not doing very good record-wise and you're not a Super Bowl contender, then you're fighting for Pro Bowl. For a team that's a Super Bowl contender, you shouldn't really care about the Pro Bowl, it should be more about Super Bowls.
"I think we have a locker room full of guys who care just about Super Bowls, and that's what's most important, sacrificing whatever it might be for the betterment of the team."
Was that necessary?
"No, but I think it's good for our offense to hear it because we have a lot of young guys, guys who can put up huge numbers," Roethlisberger said. "If they're starting to double guys like Mike Wallace, who is on pace for unbelievable numbers, he shouldn't get frustrated for the simple fact that if we're winning games that's all that matters. Same thing for Antonio Brown and what he's done the past couple weeks."
Those two might have been the target of the message. Wallace is the No. 2 receiver in the AFC with 922 yards and Brown is ninth with 626 yards.
Wallace said he is more concerned about team goals, not that individual honors aren't nice side effects.
"It's true. You have to forget it," Wallace said. "But don't ever get it twisted for a second that we don't want to go to those places, we definitely want to get to those places. But it's all about the team, really. That's where we're trying to get, we remember that feeling last year and we still have that on our minds. So, we need to get back to the Super Bowl, and you have to put all of that other stuff on the side.
"As a player, you want to be the best you can be, but, as long as you handle the business for your team, I think you'll get where you need to go as well as where the team needs to go."
Other wide receivers around the league have thrown fits if they do not see passes as often as they believe they should.
"I've never been a fit-thrower type of guy," Wallace said.
For the second time in five days, the Steelers will have a chance to sit back and root for the Baltimore Ravens to lose.
The Ravens play tonight at home against the San Francisco 49ers, who, at 9-1, could be the biggest threat left on the Ravens' schedule. The Steelers need the Ravens to lose at least one of their final six games to have a shot at winning the AFC North Division.
The Steelers and Baltimore are tied at 7-3, but the Ravens hold the tiebreaker after sweeping the season series.
"Of course, we're all going to be paying attention," Roethlisberger said.