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August 16th, 2014, 7:30pmET

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Old 12-15-2009, 04:10 AM   #1
Galax Steeler
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Default Do the Steelers have any fight left?

Is it too late to add linebacker James Harrison's mother to the Steelers' roster? At least she showed some fight during the game in Cleveland last week, according to the news reports. That's more than can be said about her son and many of his teammates.

Sure, some of the Steelers showed up to play the Browns on a frigid night on Lake Erie. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes made plays all over the field. So did linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Defensive end Brett Keisel played hard, as always. So did linebacker James Farrior, even though he did not have a good game. Wide receiver Hines Ward cared so much that he nearly was in tears after the 13-6 loss.

But the rest?

Shame on 'em.

What a poor reflection on the players that they couldn't give a better effort against the Browns -- a sorry excuse for a team -- with so much at stake.

What a poor reflection on their coach, Mike Tomlin.

I'm not completely buying what veteran cornerback Deshea Townsend was selling after that debacle.

"We're still a good football team," he insisted. "If personnel is an issue, we wouldn't have won two Super Bowls."

That's not necessarily true. The same personnel can get old -- or fat and happy -- and lose its effectiveness. But the Steelers still have too much talent -- old, fat, happy or otherwise and even without injured safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith -- to lose to the Browns, the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs. As the boss, Tomlin has to take the biggest part of the blame for a hideous five-game losing streak that has many of us counting the days until the 2010 NFL draft.

It's 128 by the way.

Clearly, Tomlin has lost his way with this Steelers team. He promised to "unleash hell" after the loss to the Baltimore Ravens Nov. 29. His team was beaten at home the next week by the dreadful Raiders, who, in case you missed it, were crushed by the Washington Redskins Sunday in their next game. Tomlin threatened the players with major changes after the Raiders game. His team responded by doing little more than going through the motions in the lame loss to the Browns. As for those changes? What changes? Working in rookie cornerback Joe Burnett for a few series and using Holmes and Mewelde Moore as return men hardly qualify as major changes. All those moves did was make inquisitive folks wonder why Stefan Logan still has a roster spot.

Tomlin's problems go far beyond his inability to correct a season-long issue with the special teams. It's almost as if the players have tuned him out, which is, by far, the worst thing that can happen to any coach. That doesn't mean Tomlin can't regain control. It just means that these next three weeks will be the most important and telling of his early coaching career.

Tomlin has proved to me he can handle the tough challenges. In his first year, the 2007 season, as a rookie head coach, he took over a veteran team under tough circumstances, a team that was angry because one of Bill Cowher's assistants -- Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt -- didn't succeed him. Tomlin not only dealt with that dismay, he ably handled All-Pro guard Alan Faneca's messy contract situation, one that was so ugly that Faneca said he didn't want to play for the Steelers and refused to be their captain in his final season here. The team won the AFC North Division. Then, it won Super Bowl XLIII last season.

That's pretty good coaching if you ask me.

Even earlier this season, Tomlin appeared to be at the top of his game. He publicly called out underachieving running back Rashard Mendenhall by benching him on offense in a loss at Cincinnati Sept. 27. Without question, that was the right button to push. Since then, Mendenhall has shown signs of being a big-time back, worthy of being a No. 1 pick.

But somewhere along the line, the Steelers started to get sloppy. It began with the defense, which had fourth-quarter collapses in five of the team's seven losses. It continued with the special teams, which allowed four kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns in a five-game stretch and a long punt return to set up a field goal against the Browns. Finally, it hit the offense in a major way when it couldn't score a touchdown against Cleveland's defense, the worst in the NFL.

Tomlin was powerless to stop it.

Now, the season is down to three games. Some would describe them as meaningless because any realistic chance of a playoff spot is gone. But that couldn't be further from the truth. The games are very important -- if not for this season, then for next. It won't be at all good for Tomlin moving forward if the five-game losing streak turns into eight games.

Forget about unleashing hell against the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Heinz Field or making major changes. It would be a significant improvement if the Steelers play the game as if they care. That would be a big step in the right direction.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09349/1020983-87.stm
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