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fordfixer
12-12-2009, 02:16 AM
Steelers' Tomlin isn't worried about division

By Scott Brown, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, December 12, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 57447.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_657447.html)

Hines Ward distilled a mystifying five-week stretch into three words when the Steelers wide receiver said, "Frustrating. Disappointing. Embarrassing."

"Good word by Hines, embarrassing," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, "and disappointing."

Where the free-falling Steelers go from here is anybody's guess.

After a 13-6 loss to the Browns on Thursday night, one that left their playoff chances on life support, coach Mike Tomlin said changes could be coming.

But he said the same thing earlier in the week, and the Steelers' starting lineup remained intact for the must-win game against Browns.

The much-anticipated changes amounted to minor ones in Cleveland.

Rookie cornerback Joe Burnett spelled both William Gay and Ike Taylor. Rashard Mendenhall replaced Mewelde Moore as the Steelers' third-down back. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes saw his first action as a punt returner this season.

"None of those things were effective in determining the outcome of the football game," Tomlin said. "We will continue to take that approach (of making changes) while moving forward."

Rookie cornerback Keenan Lewis, whom Tomlin had said the Steelers wanted to take a good look earlier in the week, didn't even dress against the Browns.

He could get an opportunity Dec. 20 when the Green Bay Packers visit Heinz Field, especially with Taylor coming off another lackluster performance.

Tomlin may also focus on the offensive line during the extra time he has to scrutinize and try to fix the reigning Super Bowl champions.

The Browns, who entered Thursday night's game last in the NFL in total defense, sacked Roethlisberger eight times. Several of those came after a defender got a free run at Roethlisberger because of confusion among the offensive linemen.

The Browns, in fact, beat their archrivals at their own game by disguising their blitzes and keeping the Steelers guessing as to which players were rushing and which ones were dropping into coverage.

That is something that Steelers have long done to their opponents, and especially the Browns, under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"It was something that was just very brand new for us," left tackle Max Starks said of Cleveland's scheme. "We were kind of slow to pick up on it, but we finally did. They blitzed (defensive backs), linebackers, dropped (defensive) linemen. It was something that was tough at the beginning."

Tomlin's assessment: "The protection of our quarterback was a big-time issue. Once we got some things communicated, I thought we were soft at times, and we lost a few individual battles."

One of the biggest battles facing the Steelers is not turning on one another.

Tomlin said he is not worried about a "close-knit" group coming apart in the midst of a five-game losing streak.

But the Steelers entered the season with their sights set on nothing less than a return to the Super Bowl. It will now take a minor miracle just for them to make the playoffs.

If there is one consolation to the way the Steelers are playing: there shouldn't be too much of a concern about the players watching what other teams fighting for a postseason berth are doing since the Steelers have to focus on themselves.

"We can't even worry about playoffs until we win a game," veteran cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "We've got to prepare like that's our motto."

As the Steelers search for answers foremost among the questions are why their defense has lost its mojo and why an offense that will have a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers this season still comes up short at times this much as certain: they have been sufficiently humbled.

"Any given Sunday, any team can win," Starks said. "Everybody's a professional at this level, everybody made it here because they're the best at what they do, so you have to respect that, and you have to appreciate that."

Not that Casey Hampton wanted to hear that following the Steelers' third loss in four weeks to teams that have a combined nine victories.

"We're too good to be losing these types of games, to these types of teams," the veteran nose tackle said. "You can say there's parity and (expletive), that you can lose to anybody, man that's ridiculous. It's embarrassing."

Tomlin's immediate task will be tapping into such pride and using it to get the Steelers out of their current funk.

With the players gone for the weekend Tomlin said it had been determined before the loss in Cleveland to give them an extended break the third-year coach said he and his staff will "work our tails off to put together a good plan."

Executing whatever plan emerges from a long weekend at the Steelers' practice facility will ultimately be up to the players.

"Fighting and sticking together are not going to win football games," Tomlin said. "Performance is."