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Old 12-06-2009, 11:07 PM   #1
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Default Harris: Tomlin needs to unleash answers

Harris: Tomlin needs to unleash answers
By John Harris
Monday, December 7, 2009

Unleash hell?

Heck, no.

The chickens have come home to roost on Mike Tomlin's doorstep.

Was that Tomlin, or Jim Mora, answering a question about the Steelers' dwindling playoff chances following Sunday's dreadful 27-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field?

"Hah!,?" retorted Tomlin, sounding too much like Mora when he shrieked his infamous "playoffs?" response upon being asked several years ago about his struggling Indianapolis Colts advancing to the postseason.

I take that to mean no, the 6-6 Steelers won't make the playoffs a year after winning Super Bowl XLIII.

It's 2006 all over again, with Tomlin assuming the role of Bill Cowher, who was coaching during a lame-duck season with his players not knowing if he was leaving or staying.

"Hah!" I mean, really.

Tomlin, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, can do better than that.

What else does Tomlin have up his sleeve?

"I'm just trying to win a game," said Tomlin, who became the first Steelers coach in six years to lose four in a row.

Unless it means that Tomlin is already out of answers, that his tough talk and inspirational words from a week ago failed to jump-start the Steelers in a must-win game.

Yesterday's game was so important that wide receiver Hines Ward predicted the Steelers wouldn't make the playoffs if they lost to Oakland. My take is the Steelers don't deserve to go to the playoffs if they can't beat the Raiders at home.

The Steelers were so inspired to go out and beat the Raiders that they failed to score on two of their three red-zone possessions in the first half.

Oakland scored its first touchdown after Tomlin gambled on Jeff Reed's 53-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. Reed missed, giving the Raiders the ball at their 43.

It goes without saying this wasn't Tomlin's finest hour. How did it all fall apart so quickly?

How did the Steelers fall from winning the franchise's sixth Super Bowl, led by one of the all-time great defenses in NFL history, to allowing the Raiders to score 21 points in the fourth quarter?

The Steelers' secondary played so poorly in the fourth quarter that it made Oakland quarterback and local product Bruce Gradkowski look like Kenny Stabler, when Gradkowski wasn't imitating Daryle Lamonica.

Bottom line: There's a lack of cohesion between the cornerbacks and safeties, with big plays by the opposition late in games being the unfortunate result.

Troy Polamalu, please report to the starting lineup.

On Louis Murphy's 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, Murphy got inside cornerback Ike Taylor and there was no help over the top.

"He's supposed to stay inside of him, inside of that man and potentially could pick up some help from the backside," Tomlin said of Taylor. "Of course, neither happened."

Of course. But why did the same thing happen a week earlier, when Baltimore's Derrick Mason caught a 46-yard bomb in the fourth quarter against William Gay and safety Ryan Clark?

And why did inside linebacker James Farrior, who calls the defensive signals, confess that, yes, there was confusion in the secondary on the play call before Oakland's game-winning touchdown?

Inexplicably, it was a defensive breakdown similar to the one that occurred two weeks ago at Kansas City right before the big pass play in overtime that set up the Chiefs' winning field goal.

Either the players aren't getting the message, or the players don't understand the message.

Following the Kansas City loss, Tomlin accepted blame and said he didn't have his players ready to play. Two losses later, Tomlin indicated he may be considering personnel changes -- especially after his most recent fighting words fell flat.

Nothing like shifting blame when the heat is on.

"I don't know about changes, possibly. Yes," Tomlin said. So much for clever retorts.

And so much for Tomlin's Cover-2 defense, which, in case Tomlin hasn't noticed, isn't working.

The Cover-2 is supposed to prevent the big play, not encourage it.

And while we're on the subject, how about making sure the defensive players receive the proper calls during crunch time? And how about going to the no-huddle earlier than the fourth quarter when the offense limps along for the first three quarters?

Just asking.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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