A Balancing Act On A Fine Line
It's more "Redemption Week" than "Ravens Week" for the Steelers. More than trying to snap a three-game losing streak against a hated division rival, more than trying to keep their faint division title hopes alive, the Steelers will be out to rediscover themselves in Baltimore. And they're apparently "all in" toward that end. At 6-5 they're still on the right side of the line that divides playoff participants from wannabes. And with three of the four games that conclude the regular-season dance card scheduled to be played at Heinz Field, including the most significant AFC North rematch, the one against Cincinnati, the Steelers' position can still be accurately assessed as advantageous. But none of that seems to matter given what transpired last Sunday in Cleveland. Losing to a 2-8 but still much-improved Browns team wasn't the issue. It's all the turnovers and penalties and examples of just-not-good-enough quarterback, running back, wide receiver and offensive line play that have apparently gotten to Mike Tomlin. Enough is enough, he appears to be saying. It seems an appropriate response. 'Cept I can't tell his courage from his desperation (yeah, an introspective Springsteen lyric fits right about now, doesn't it?). Is Brian Hoyer really a legitimate option at quarterback in the event Charlie Batch once again falters? Is it inspired or insane to even consider moving your All-Pro center to left guard because your starting left guard might not be available and your backup interior offensive lineman apparently isn't as position-flexible as originally suspected? Does it make sense to demote your No. 1 running back for a guy with zero career TDs? Has the problem with Mike Wallace of late been what Wallace has or hasn't been doing or has it been the guy doing the throwing? And is playing a fivesome up front that includes Kelvin Beachum rather than David DeCastro really in the best interest of the Steelers being all they can be? The Batch saga will be resolved once Ben Roethlisberger returns, so that's much less of a concern. DeCastro's gotta be a factor sooner rather than later no matter how they line up against the Ravens. And the long-term answer for the rest of this season, for December and January and hopefully February has to include Rashard Mendenhall and Wallace being part of the solution, doesn't it? For the time being, at least, Jonathan Dwyer replaces Mendenhall at running back. Dwyer's challenge is to "show he can take the bulk of the carries without needing a break or taking a few plays off on the sideline," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "Hopefully, he goes in and takes this role seriously and won't let us take him off the field. "He needs to prove he wants to be and stay out there all the time." It may yet play out that way. Or, perhaps this latest response is merely Tomlin's non-rhythmic approach toward eventually getting where he intended to be all along. Attention-getting, public humiliation as a catalyst for determined response and eventual redemption, repeat as necessary. Then again, as Bubby Brister once observed after a long-ago, similarly-apocalyptic afternoon in Cleveland, it could be that the Steelers are "fixin' to come unglued." The Ravens game probably won't provide anything definitive along those lines. But even if it doesn't, we'll know soon enough.