The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying not to point fingers at one another.
As the frustration continues to mount and the losses continue to pile up during Pittsburgh’s miserable start to the season, the players are making a concerted effort not to call each other out in the media.
The defense knows the offense is committing too many turnovers. The offense knows the defense isn’t forcing any takeaways. Yet nobody seems willing to step up and speak up, including coach Mike Tomlin.
“We’re all falling short right now, and I mean that, coaches included,” Tomlin said this week. “We’re not trying to throw anybody under the bus or identify anybody as an Achilles’ heel or weak link.”
“Hopefully, we can get more turnovers and we can hold onto the ball better,” Brett Keisel said, putting the blame on the defense first, not the offense with a minus-9 turnover ratio.
So when Ben Roethlisberger made a borderline critical comment earlier this week on his radio show, it created a stir.
“Honestly, I have no idea with him. You can’t get a read on him,” he said of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell on Tuesday. “One day he’s practicing, one day he’s not. One day he’s going hard, one day he’s not.”
Some questioned whether he was calling out the prized rookie, but Roethlisberger dismissed the statement a day later as nothing more than a comparison to veteran tight end Heath Miller, who was also dealing with an injury to this point of the season.
“Oh, gosh, yeah, that’s more just me knowing Heath,” Roethlisberger said.
“I meant that as a compliment to Heath and just saying that I know Heath, and I’ve been around Heath for long time. He’s the second-oldest guy on the offense after me and Jerricho. It was more just about me saying that I know Heath, and I just don’t know Le’Veon well enough yet to know. Can he play through pain? How much pain can he play through? I just don’t know him well enough. That’s all that was meant by those comments.”
The Steelers are doing a good job at sticking to the talking points: that no loss is one individual’s fault and that the Steelers are just a frustrated team, but not a fractured one.
They want to give the outward impression that they’re a tight-knit group, and presumably don’t want to give ESPN a reason to turn their locker room into a circus like other high-drama NFL teams.
“We’re still a close team,” Keisel said. “I love these guys. These are my brothers, you know. That has always been the Steelers mentality.
“This is a frustrated team. We want to win. A lot of us work hard. We come to work and we work hard trying to win. And we’re used to winning. That’s the biggest thing is we’re in a situation that a lot of us have never really been a part of and we’re trying to find answers to get out of it.”
Although the Steelers are saying the right things, from where I stand this doesn’t seem like a close group, and that’s as much a part of their problem as their lack of execution.
Pay attention and you’ll rarely see Ben Roethlisberger talking to his receivers on the sideline between possessions like so many other top-level quarterbacks. There doesn’t seem to be a bond there.
The locker room also doesn’t have the same vibe it always had, and it won’t until the Steelers start winning some games.
Winning creates harmony, and harmony is a key element of a close-knit team. Winning is fun, and the players need to have fun together instead of just wallowing in their own misery to grow together.
This current group of Steelers has never tasted victory together. The group that puts on the Black and Gold every Sunday has never walked off the field victoriously.
Whether they want to admit it or not, that can create a toxic environment, one ripe for a fractured locker room.
Only winning will bring the Steelers closer together, and today would be a good day to start.
Mirza Zukic is in his third season covering the Steelers for The Indiana Gazette. Twitter: MirzaZuka.