NFL: Steelers' offense searching for a spark
PITTSBURGH — Unlike most of his teammates in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery knows what rock bottom looks like.
This ain’t it.
If any of the other Steelers want to know what true despair is following their own lifeless 0-2 start, Cotchery will grimly fill them in on the details.
Cotchery was in his first year starting for the New York Jets in 2007 when they opened with losses to New England and Baltimore. Then came a narrow victory over Miami in Week 3 that proved to be a mirage. New York dropped six straight on its way to a 4-12 season that taught the then-24-year-old Cotchery a thing or two about adversity.
“You need to share the burden,” Cotchery said Wednesday. “No one guy needs to be over here sitting in the corner moping because of the loss. Everybody needs to share that burden with them and that’s how you can move forward. When that doesn’t happen, that’s how you get it to snowball and it becomes the avalanche I experienced in that ’07 season.”
And because Cotchery survived that miserable fall, he’s sure the Steelers can survive their pratfall out of the gate.
“We have a good group of guys and I think it’s going to turn in the right direction,” Cotchery said.
It needs to turn around soon if Pittsburgh is going to salvage its season.
The Steelers will try to avoid falling to 0-3 for the first time in 27 years on Sunday when they play host to the Chicago Bears (2-0). Considering only three teams since 1990 have overcome losses in their first three games to make the postseason, Pittsburgh understands the urgency of the situation.
To be honest, however, winning a game is too big a picture. At the moment, the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense would settle for moving the ball without stumbling all over itself.
“Whether it’s guys just not doing their jobs, turning the ball over ... there are a number of issues, and we just need to get those things fixed,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Pick a problem, and the Steelers probably have it.
The offensive line is struggling to find any kind of cohesion without injured Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. The carousel at running back keeps on spinning, with Isaac Redman and Felix Jones unable to make something happen while rookie Le’Veon Bell recovers from a sprained right foot.
Pittsburgh’s 75 yards rushing through two games are fewer than 34 players have all by themselves, including quarterbacks Michael Vick, Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
Roethlisberger isn’t getting much time in the pocket, but he hasn’t been sharp either. He’s completing just 58 percent of his passes and his quarterback rating (74.6) is 26th in the league. The wide receivers are getting pushed around at the line, disrupting the timing of their routes.
The result is two touchdowns in eight quarters. Not exactly the recipe for winning football. And while the Steelers insist they’re not panicking, they are getting prickly.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown downplayed reports he exchanged words with offensive coordinator Todd Haley during Monday night’s 20-10 loss to Cincinnati. On a night when he finished with six receptions for 57 yards, Brown acknowledged approaching Haley wondering what needed to get done for Pittsburgh to break out of its funk.
“I did what every good player should do,” Brown said. “I went to the person who controlled the scheme of the game to see what he could do to get me involved more and see what he could do to get things going. ... There’s only one ball, and I can’t have it in my hands every time.”
Some of the time might help. The Steelers have been most effective working out of the no-huddle. It led to a touchdown at the end of the first half in Cincinnati in what is easily Pittsburgh’s best drive of the year, preseason included.
While Roethlisberger feels a sense of comfort when given more freedom to call the plays, he’s aware it’s not a practical long-term solution for a team that’s not quite ready to just give up on the run entirely.
“We need to figure out what’s best for this offense, what’s our best tempo,” Roethlisberger said. “There’s times to go up tempo, to go two-minute type mode and there are times to substitute.”
While the Bears are unbeaten, they haven’t looked unbeatable. Chicago needed late rallies to squeeze by Cincinnati and Minnesota at home. The Bears are 17th in yards allowed and aren’t generating much in the way of a pass rush.
Given a little bit of room to maneuver, Roethlisberger remains confident the Steelers can locate the spark they desperately need.
“We’ve got a big one this week at home against a really good team,” he said. “If we can get this one, who knows what it will translate into?”
NOTES: TE Heath Miller (knee) participated in a full practice on Wednesday, a major step in his recovery from right knee surgery. ... Bell returned to practice in a limited capacity and almost certainly won’t play against Chicago. ... CB Cortez Allen (ankle) and DE Brett Keisel (heel) did not practice.