Steelers bracing for changes after 8-8 season

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 31, 2012
The Pittsburgh Steelers spent all fall claiming the chatter generated by various off-the-field issues was only so much background noise. Through Mike Wallace's contract status to the relationship between quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley to the injury problems that kept bold-faced players out of the lineup for long stretches, the Steelers insisted they were focused. Standing in the corner of a quiet locker room after an 8-8 season ended with a 24-10 win over rudderless Cleveland, wide receiver Antonio Brown begged to differ. ''We wasted a lot of energy worrying about things that were out of our control, pointing a finger here, pointing a finger there,'' Brown said. ''People mad here. People mad there. And as a team collectively you can't have that.'' And the Steelers know they can't have another season like 2012, one that included flashes of brilliance but also too many times where they shrank from the task. Pittsburgh lost five games by a field goal, most of them the result of uncharacteristic mistakes in critical situations by players used to the guys in the other uniform being the ones who fail to deliver in the clutch. ''The good teams, the dominant teams, aren't necessarily dominant inside stadiums but they are dominant largely in moments, and they do what is required to get out of stadiums with victories,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ''We didn't do that consistently enough.'' The revamped offense brought in by Haley designed to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger operated in fits and starts over the second half of the season. Having the franchise quarterback miss three games with a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib didn't help. Neither did injuries along the offensive line that made getting any sort of rhythm in the running game impossible. Still, Tomlin refused to place blame in any one specific place, be it the relationship between Roethlisberger and Haley or the running back rotation that failed to produce consistently. Taken as a whole, it just wasn't enough. The Steelers finished 21st in total offense - down from 12th in 2011 - and averaged 21 points a game, less than a point more than the year before. ''Offensively I thought we started off on the right foot in terms of dominating time of possession and converting third downs,'' Tomlin said. ''We did what was required in those areas to possess the ball and win football games. Obviously we didn't ascend in the second half of the season in those areas. It was an Achilles' heel for us.'' The defense finished No. 1 overall for the fifth time in the last decade but had issues generating turnovers. Pittsburgh's 10 interceptions were tied for the second fewest in franchise history and the Steelers needed seven takeaways in the final two games to reach 20 on the season. Safety Troy Polamalu, linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and cornerback Ike Taylor - fixtures on a team that's made two Super Bowl appearances in the last five seasons - all missed extended time with injuries and the backups were disciplined but not exactly dynamic. The lack of playmakers enabled opponents to take advantage late in games, namely road losses to woeful Oakland and Tennessee that put Pittsburgh in an early 2-3 hole. ''It was a really good defense in the latter portions of season, particularly in those settings,'' Tomlin said. ''I think the statistics show that. But again, not enough significant plays in those moments at the early portion of the season that produced wins.'' Even so, don't expect 75-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to go anywhere. LeBeau pledged to return in 2013, a decision Tomlin endorsed on Monday. ''He's a special guy, a special man and a special coach,'' Tomlin said. He's also one of the reasons Pittsburgh remains a sea of calm in a constantly evolving league. Pittsburgh is perhaps the best team in the NFL in providing continuity, there is a sense significant change is coming. Fixtures like nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebacker Larry Foote and running back Rashard Mendenhall will become unrestricted free agents. So will Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis. Wallace pledged Sunday he would love to return, though the math could make that impossible. The Steelers will have to get creative to get under the salary cap next year, and Wallace is expected to be in high demand on the open market. ''It's a business, but at the end of the day this is all I've known,'' Wallace said. ''I want to be here.'' If Wallace does come back, he won't holdout as he did during training camp, the start of a season-long list of distractions that led to four months where things never really fell into place. If he bolts, the Steelers believe they have the parts in place to return to their usual spot in the postseason. Starting in 2000, the Steelers have missed the playoffs every three years - 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012. If the pattern holds, they'll be playing into January next year, hopefully a wiser group than the one that let this season slip away. ''The best team that I've been on is when a group is collectively a team, people not playing for money or playing for (themselves),'' Brown said. ''A collective effort for the team and that's the mentality we've got to carry around next year.'' --- Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP --- Online: http://pro32.ap.org/pollhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Seahawks extend Pete Carroll through 2019

LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye releases first statement following car crash

Report: Brock Osweiler could have made more money staying with Broncos

Andrew Luck: Feels `as good as I've ever felt` for training camp

Amar'e Stoudemire announces retirement after signing one-day contract with Knicks

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Gregory failed multiple drug tests since suspension

Olympian Abby Johnston: Worst thing about Olympic village is no Pokemon

Reggie Bush reportedly closing in on contract with Bills

Report: Eric Berry planning to no-show training camp

Eagles could have interest in Gordon if Browns trade him

Report: Fitzpatrick, Jets not likely to have deal before camp

Shattenkirk for Krejci trade rumor still floating around

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman denies link to C.T.E.

Michael Vick: Cam Newton can’t beat me in 40-yard dash

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

Odell Beckham Jr. says Giants will play in Super Bowl LI

Iowa researchers say they can optimize Monday Night Football ratings with scheduling

Terrelle Pryor can visit Ohio State as five-year ban comes to a close

Rudy Gay admits to having ‘no idea’ about what the Kings are doing

Report: Kansas City Chiefs' Justin Houston likely to miss regular-season games

Padres reportedly making progress on Cashner trade

NFL Network to stream on PlayStation Vue

Report: Eagles’ Nigel Bradham charged for assaulting cabana boy

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

One Gotta Go: NBA players make tough choices on their favorite rappers

One Gotta Go: NBA Summer League is not about that Game of Thrones life

The top NHL free agents available as offseason winds down

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker