On the Steelers: Daunting task falls on Tomlin, veterans

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A large test looms in front of coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers this week and it has nothing to do with playing the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in London.

It is themselves.

This may be Tomlin's most severe test since he arrived as coach in 2007. Losing has become an epidemic -- three to start this season for only the fourth time in franchise history since the 1970 NFL merger, and five of seven to end 2012.

That means eight losses in their past 10 games, or 2-8. General manager Kevin Colbert earlier this year refused to say his was a team in transition. So here's another 'T' word: A team in trouble.

"I don't know if we can't dig out of it," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We are going to have to give it everything we got to get out."

"Total panic" set in last week, the Post-Gazette was told by one member of the Steelers. It followed receiver Antonio Brown confronting offensive coordinator Todd Haley along the sideline in Cincinnati, complaining he wasn't seeing enough passes. Then a veterans committee met Wednesday to discuss what to do about their 0-2 start, and one idea that came out of it was to ban those who are not yet veterans from playing pool, pingpong and shuffleboard in the locker room.

What's next now that they are 0-3?

"We're frustrated and disappointed but we are not going to lose our confidence," Roethlisberger insisted. "We are going to have to put it together, and put it together fast, though."

Tomlin indicated there will be no rah-rah speeches from him to his players about keeping their mind on the job at hand this week.

"I expect them to, I'm not going to encourage them to. I'm not going to pat them on the back for sticking together, for continuing to work or for being mentally tough. I expect them to, and that's what I just told them in there," he said moments after he left the locker room Sunday night.

This is like no other situation he has faced as head coach. He's used to fast starts, not 0-3. The Steelers did not make the playoffs after their previous three 0-3 starts, though they came close in 2000 when they rebounded to go 9-7.

"Basically, just get back to grinding," safety Ryan Clark offered as to how they approach this week. "Get back to understanding that we aren't playing good football. People on this team assembled haven't played good football in 2013 as a whole and we need to improve.

"You have to approach it just winning one game. Just focus on winning the next game we play. I think you do that every week. You can't win 13 on one Sunday. All you can do is win one.

"No matter how many we lose, we're going to play 16. They're not going to stop games, let us forfeit because we're not winning."

Players are paid to play, but it goes deeper than that, Clark said.

"Our job is not to play football. Our job is to win football games and when you don't win football games, things change, people change. We don't want that to happen."

Turnover margin abysmal

The surprise isn't that the Steelers lost to the Chicago Bears at home, 40-23. The wonder is that they trailed the Bears by only four points in the fourth quarter even though they had lost three turnovers by that time (on their way to five) and had forced none.

According to statistics kept by Boyd's Bets, over the past 20 years teams that have one fewer turnover covered the spread in 67.2 percent of the games. That grew to 80.9 for those with two fewer turnovers, 88.8 for three, 92.6 for four and 95.7 for five or more.

Another amazing stat: That the Steelers were able to win as many as they lost in 2012 despite losing 10 more turnovers than they gained.

After three games, they already are minus-9 in that category. That ties them with the Giants at the bottom of the league. The next-worst ratio is minus-6.

The Steelers were the only team that had not forced a turnover after three games. Oakland, which played Monday night at Denver, had none through its first two games.

"That's part of our job, we haven't done that," Clark said of the defense. "You can see how significant and big a part turnovers play just by watching this game. The turnovers they created definitely helped them win the game and we didn't create any. It's definitely on the defense. We need to do more, but we've been saying that each and every week."

Musical tackles

That was a strange merry-go-round at offensive tackle Sunday night with Kelvin Beachum replacing Mike Adams at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert moving to right tackle and then Adams going back to left and Beachum going to right and then Adams and Gilbert teaming back up.

Tomlin said he was looking for the right combination because his tackles are not playing well.

"They hadn't played well enough to justify otherwise," Tomlin said. "We're going to look at viable guys. We're going to turn the stones over in an effort to find a winning formula, and we're not going to be bashful about that. Kelvin Beachum has earned an opportunity to play in the rotation."

Roethlisberger said he was initially unaware of the changes.

"I didn't even notice it at first. I looked up during one of the series and saw Kelvin Beachum in, and then realized that they were rotating, so it didn't really affect me."

Turning 40

The Steelers became the final team in the NFL to allow 40 points in a regular-season game at home in this century, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Chicago's 40 points were the most scored by the opposition at Heinz Field in a regular-season game and the most overall there since the New England Patriots beat the Steelers, 41-27, in the AFC championship Jan. 23, 2005.

The previous team to score that many against the Steelers anywhere was the Falcons at Atlanta, 41-38, in 2006.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 24, 2013 4:00 AM

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