With his team angry and disappointed after losing five in a row, with players saying doubt is creeping in and confidence leaving, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wants to switch their tenses. He wants his Steelers to forget the past and concentrate on the future.
It will not be easy.
"We're a 6-7 team, which is a losing record at this point, so it's disappointing," Tomlin said at his longest news conference of the season yesterday. "It hacks you off. I think the team itself shares those same feelings because they are extremely competitive and want to do well and want to play winning football.
"But the reality is we are at this point, so it's important that we channel those emotions and feelings into productive action, which leads to preparation and ultimately a change in some of the outcomes of these performances."
• Game: Steelers (6-7) vs. Green Bay Packers (9-4), Heinz Field.
• When: 4:15 p.m.
• TV: WPGH.
Although he said jobs are not necessarily on the line over the next three games, Tomlin said he will continue to look at his lineup and make changes where he sees fit. He cautioned that it's not about sending messages but finding those he feels give them the best chance to win.
Some changes he tried in Cleveland will remain. Rashard Mendenhall has taken the third-down duties from Mewelde Moore who "has not been consistent from a blitz pick-up standpoint." Santonio Holmes will return punts in certain situations. Rookie cornerback Joe Burnett will continue to take some series at the expense of William Gay and Ike Taylor, and Ryan Mundy will continue to get time at safety. Burnett played four series in Cleveland. Performance, particularly making a big play, will determine who continues to play.
"Whoever the playmakers are will get an opportunity to stay on the field," Tomlin said.
Tomlin expressed disappointment in his running game even though he said in retrospect they should have run in Cleveland on their first third-and-1 play that failed when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for a 9-yard loss.
"We haven't been as dominant as we'd like to be running on third-and-1 or third-and-2. I think Rashard is 6 of 12 on the season in less than 2 on third down. Fifty percent is not good enough. It's not. So we're not running away from that assessment of the situation either."
Tomlin, citing third-down failures as a big reason for their losing streak, went into detail about what caused the first two in Cleveland, both ending in sacks.
On the first, "His primary receiver, Hines Ward, trips over one of the interior nickel guys and falls coming out of his break or else he's going to be open for an out route. His secondary receiver, Heath Miller, the guy took an inside position and really did a good job covering him. And then our center, Justin Hartwig, got beat pretty cleanly by Corey Williams."
On the second third-down play, the snap either came too soon or the quarterback mistakenly expected it to come later. Tomlin blamed the noise from the "Dawg Pound."
"So communication is very difficult and we were working on a silent count. Ben was scanning the secondary. The snap came before he was ready to receive it. They brought a guy off the open side. It's a catch and throw. You move the ball versus the hot in that situation on a first down. But because the snap came before he was prepared to get it, it surprised him, he spun out versus the edge pressure guy. We got sacked again."
As for his edicts such as "unleash hell in December" falling flat and suggestions in the media that he has lost control of his team, Tomlin said it comes with the territory.
"No, it doesn't upset me. I think those kind of judgments come with losing. That's a by-product of losing. If you're in this industry and you're a competitor, you wear that. I wear that. I accept that. I'm always less worried about what's said from an outside standpoint and more concerned about what I see from the people I interact with and deal with and coach on a day-to-day basis."
Chris Kemoeatu, who has had injuries to his right wrist and right knee, will be given time to rest and recuperate. Rookie Ramon Foster will start at left guard against Green Bay Sunday.
Also, Tomlin ruled Troy Polamalu out of the game Sunday, his fifth in a row with a knee injury. The coach acknowledged the initial prognosis of "day to day" was too optimistic.
"I really just think the healing process is maybe a little slower than we anticipated."
• The odds on the Packers-Steelers game is a pick 'em. It is the only time this season the Steelers have not been favored to win.
• A reminder: Kickoff Sunday was moved to 4:15 p.m. from its original time of 1 p.m. The Steelers' game against Baltimore Dec. 27 at Heinz Field remains at 1 p.m.
• In order for rookie cornerback Keenan Lewis to play, Tomlin said he must first win a special teams job or else he will not dress for the game.
• Hartwig had a knee drained of fluid but Tomlin expects him to play Sunday after a slow early practice week for him.
For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .