This recent post on BTSC about the clichés and stereotypes of football and how they pertain to the Steelers this year was practically an encyclopedia of such expressions. One the writer omitted was the old chestnut There is no "I" in "Team."
That might have been a deliberate omission, because at this point in the season the Steelers need to take a long hard look at all of the "I's" that make up the team. Hines Ward and James Farrior both said in their post-game remarks that everyone needs to take a look in the mirror. In other words, there may not be an "I" in "Team," but if every single member of the team isn't doing their job, the whole team is in trouble.
I'm sure that you regulars are shocked right now, because I'm generally an optimist, willing to assume that there are good and sufficient reasons for personnel decisions, coaching schemes, and so on to which we as fans are not privy. But I'm also a pragmatist, and the general sense of malaise in the locker room last night during the post-game interviews was unnerving to me.
Fortunately we aren't seeing any finger pointing. But I also didn't get the sense that the guys feel that this is a temporary speed-bump, we know what went wrong, and by gum it will be different next week.
Instead we hear from Troy "only time will tell whether it can be fixed," Heath saying that everybody needs to play better, and so on. These are correct statements, and I'm glad they aren't giving us any braggadocio, but I didn't sense much optimism there, either. Perhaps that was just guys buttoning it down for the press. (Not surprisingly, the person who didn't button it down was James Harrison, who said "we played like garbage.")
Hopefully I'm wrong. But if not, here's what I would do if I were Mike Tomlin.
After everyone watched the tape of yesterday's game, I would start the meetings in my office. First I would ask each position coach to evaluate his unit as well as the individuals that make it up.
I would then ask each player to come to me and tell me what he saw when he looked at his own play. If his assessment of his play didn't agree with his position coach and with mine, I would ask him to defend that assessment.
I would also ask each player that sat on the bench—whether they were inactive for any reason or dressed but didn't get on the field—to say what he saw from the player(s) in his position, and what he thinks went wrong.
I would also ask each player what he thinks could be altered to help the team from the coaching standpoint.
I would then use this information to determine which of the available players start next Sunday and how the coaches approach the game plan.
The reality of this season as it is playing out so far is that we aren't seeing a team that is composed of 22 men giving a consistent, game-long "above the line" effort.
In some cases, inexperience may mean that someone is trying hard, but their efforts aren't sufficiently productive because they make mistakes that a more experienced player wouldn't.
In some cases age, injury, a lack of conditioning, or some combination of those may mean that they can't sustain the effort, or they can't get it going right from the start of the game.
Scheme and/or personnel changes might be necessary. This may mean taking some chances. You may have to sit a veteran in favor of a relatively unproven youngster, and give the youngster enough snaps to show whether they are going to make it or not. You may even have to put in a more experienced but less talented player for a youngster that is making too many mistakes. It seems to me that the latter has been tried a lot more than the former, though.
It also has to be considered that a player might not be capable of filling the role they are in. That's a much more serious problem, because there might not be better options. In this case I might feel the need to seek outside help in the form of some sort of free-agent signing.
I suspect that Mike Tomlin knows almost to the dollar how much spare change could be gathered by rummaging in the cushions. I expect he is also acutely aware of what free agents are available and whether said spare change would be sufficient to bring in someone better than the options they have now. (I noted that Tomlin didn't rule out the possibility of bringing someone in to start at Monday's presser.)
If he finds enough cap room in the cushions, and a sufficient upgrade to make it worth spending the money, he may be able to deal with this problem, at least in a single position. If not, he may have to completely revamp the playbook and/or the personnel assumptions.
The O line, which needs to be in Intensive Care, might have to be completely shaken up. If they aren't going to have a chance to gel anyhow, what with new injuries/recovering starters moving in and out of the lineup each week, then put in a different constellation of linemen each series and see what happens. If something clicks, stick with it long enough to find out whether it is a viable long-term option.
In the meantime, he might want to put a life-sized cardboard cutout of Ben in the backfield, because until the Steelers find a line that can protect him the cardboard cutout will be just about as effective and much less expensive to replace. Or perhaps he could dispense with a standard QB altogether. Have Sanders and Ward, and for that matter any other offensive player who can throw the ball ready to take the snap. Line them up with a couple of tight ends and Isaac Redman. That would at least have the effect of confusing the heck out of the opposing defense, and during the ensuing chaos Redman could unleash his super powers without tipping the Steelers' hand.
Okay, I'm kidding about that last bit...
Since I started writing this post, lawdog put up this one, giving his suggestions for each unit. It was a good start, but I think that the coaches have to go much deeper this week.
For some reason the Steelers aren't functioning very well as a team against strong competition, and they need to get to the root of the problem. They are, however, showing enough to make me think it isn't hopeless.
But turning it around is going to require an honest self-assessment from every player and a consequent stepping up to the plate for those who are, as Mike Tomlin would say, below the line. Those who are already above the line may also need to step up to help compensate for their weaker brethren.
If it isn't possible to turn it around, well, it would be nice to have a high draft pick for once. I would rather see the team take some risks in search of answers, knowing they might lose more games than they would otherwise have painfully eked out. As things stand, it won't be long before the players get discouraged. Some may be already.
It is extremely difficult for a team to win out or even make the playoffs year after year. We've had a good run, and the guys may yet pull it together this season. However, this just might not be the Steelers' year. But they had better not go quietly into that good night.
So guys, look in the mirror. Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires. Or 150+ yards rushing from the opposing offense. Or sacks. Or another L on the schedule.