By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com He took a shot with what had been the tried-and-true method of using a hated rival to focus his team. But alas, Redemption Week ended with a loss to the Ravens in Baltimore.
Then he tried a pop culture reference, that being a line from "Gladiator" in which Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, responds to a precarious situation by promising to "unleash hell." That week ended with a loss to the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field.
Maybe it was because his players didn't back up his words the previous two weeks, or maybe because at 6-6 the Steelers truly are facing a win-or-go-home scenario when it comes to remaining in playoff contention, but during his news conference on Monday Coach Mike Tomlin said he now will take matters into his own hands.
"I think it's appropriate at this time that we acknowledge we have an undesirable pattern of behavior, which produces a series of outcomes that are not what we're looking for," said Tomlin. "Moving forward this week and beyond, we can't continue to do what we've been doing and assume that pattern of behavior is going to change and those outcomes are going to change. We're analyzing all aspects of what we're doing here, specifically this week, and we are going to be aggressive in looking at potential changes. Not only what we do schematically, but who we have do it in all three phases because it's appropriate. I think that's evident."
The Steelers currently are mired in a four-game losing streak, their longest since 2003, but possibly more galling than that is how this version has included losses to a 2-7 Chiefs team in Kansas City and then to a 3-8 Oakland Raiders team at Heinz Field.
In both of those games, the Steelers had leads in the fourth quarter and could not do what was necessary to ensure the victory.
"We have some things from a personality standpoint that are occurring continuously that are not acceptable," continued Tomlin. "We're not making plays at the end of games, particularly defensively on the back end – opportunities to close games out from an interception standpoint, allowing people to get big plays on us.
"Offensively we're squandering scoring opportunities. We had two opportunities in the red area that were unsuccessful (against the Raiders). We got stopped on fourth-and-a-half-yard on a quarterback sneak and we threw an interception on first down in the red area that took other points off the board. We were in very reasonable field goal range and got sacked on a third down to put us on the outer perimeter of field goal range, of course, which we missed.
"When you're squandering scoring opportunities offensively, when you've giving up plays and not making plays defensively, you have a pattern of behavior that's unacceptable that's going to produce some losses, which of course is what has happened."
Steelers fans typically respond to losing streaks with a demand for accountability in the form of benchings/firings, and to whatever is a reasonable degree Tomlin appears ready to accommodate.
It seems a safe bet to assume there will be changes in the secondary, one of which figures to be necessitated by the concussion William Gay sustained late in the loss to the Raiders. There were no pronouncements about his availability for the game against the Browns, but since it will be played on Thursday it seems very unlikely Gay would be clear of all symptoms in that short a period of time.
Tomlin said rookie Joe Burnett would start in place of Gay, and that Keenan Lewis, another rookie, also would get an opportunity to play, with Deshea Townsend remaining in his role as a defender in the slot. On offense, there figures to be a change at receiver necessitated by a hamstring injury to Hines Ward that Tomlin believes has little chance of healing in time for a Thursday night game.
Outside of that, what might Tomlin have in mind?
"You know, it's very early in the week … we're in the early stages of development of our playing adjustments right now," said Tomlin. "But I can assure you, there are going to be some (changes). Whatever we think is appropriate in terms of giving ourselves a chance to win based on the matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Subtle in some areas, not so subtle in others, but I'm acknowledging that I'm very open to that."
By BOB LABRIOLA