No Strings Attached

With dissatisfaction growing among the fan base, there's really no one to blame, writes Jim Wexell.

The first time I heard the term "Rooney Puppets," I was in the Steelers' media room transcribing taped interviews before heading out for practice on Thursday.

After Thursday practices the football media can interview the coordinators, so the expansive conference room was filling up with entertainment types who were there to ask offensive coordinator Todd Haley about ChiefsSuck-Gate -- the sad and pathetic story you can find any and everywhere else here on the 'net.

So some of us football types were already in the interactive process of informing message boards and twitter-verse that we would not be participating in such a sham.

"That's because you're Rooney Puppets," someone wrote back. "You do whatever the Rooneys tell you to do. Look at the way you're protecting Haley."

And this e-mailer did not care about ChiefsSuck-Gate, either. He was referring to my column after the 16-9 debacle on opening Sunday in which I wrote I was not having a problem with Haley, but with the talent.

I stand by it, even more so after watching tape the next day.

How am I supposed to criticize the coach -- head coach or coordinator -- if he doesn't have a professional running back?

And I'll admit to making that mistake. I thought Mike Tomlin should've committed to Isaac Redman last year, and when he proved inconsistent then I thought Redman must've been injured in a way that he wasn't telling the media.

So I hoped Redman would be the man to replace Le'Veon Bell as the starter for this opening day, too. But, I was/am clearly wrong. Redman not only lacks any kind of cutback skills, but it turns out he's a bit of a fumbler himself.

I do stubbornly believe that Redman will have another good game some day, but I accept any and all criticism for supporting him, and believe I have no stand now from which to argue.

The other two backs -- LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones -- had their own debilitating issues last week, and that became obvious after Tomlin tried to find a replacement for Redman.

Did I say there were cutback lanes?

Yes, amid that morass of bodies flailing away up front, there were cutback lanes, because the Titans had no regard for Redman's outside running skills. They didn't just pinch ends, they threw them on top of the pile. It not only made the line look bad, but the lack of a running game made teeing off on Ben Roethlisberger so much easier when the Titans knew he had to throw.

Roethlisberger, of course, wasn't helped much by his receivers. Emmanuel Sanders dropped a bomb on the first play, and showed that most passes to him will be a struggle, because he's not getting any separation, nor does he have a size advantage.

And the tight ends? Well, that position's so wracked with injury that it needed a converted tackle, Kelvin Beachum, in order to formulate a basic game plan. When Maurkice Pouncey went down and Beachum slid inside, the edge blocking was further obliterated. The fullback -- out with a hamstring injury -- wasn't there to pick up the slack, either.

But the point of all this is that it isn't fair to blame a coach unless he actually has something to coach.

Maybe some day I will hold my breath and stomp my feet for another new coordinator, but, hey, give him at least one running back that hasn't been cut in the last four days.

And some blocking would be nice.

Maybe that's coming soon, because in my mind the line is young, but has the talent. The backfield does have a fullback -- a talented one, too -- and the aforementioned Bell will get outside once he gets on the field -- even if Jones eventually learns the playbook. And receiver was the position I wanted to draft in the first round last April. That will likely happen next year -- if the general manager still has his job.

That's definitely not a change I would be interested in making.

Yes, the problem is a lack of talent, but, no, I'm not blaming the man in charge of personnel.

No wonder they call me a Puppet, right?

Nah. The draft order was instituted so that no team could dominate the league very long. It's inevitable that even the greatest collection of talent will age, and it's inevitable that drafting so far back in every round, so often, will one day cause a dip in performance.

The Steelers did not stay too low in their last dip -- 2003 -- because they were fortunate to hit on some great draft picks with Troy Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes and Lawrence Timmons in successive years. Had they only drafted Duane Brown in 2008 instead of Rashard Mendenhall, they would've had a franchise left tackle and a new rock for an offensive line that didn't begin reconstruction until 2010 with the drafting of Pouncey.

Of course, Mendenhall represents that missing thoroughbred at tailback, which is my main complaint today.

Am I to condemn Colbert for a pick that I loved at the time? Or for making the necessary picks along the defensive line in subsequent years? And rebuilding the linebacking corps?

My biggest problem with Colbert is his inability to find a mid to late-round quarterback, but that's not the team's problem right now. Or, yet.

Same with the bean-counters within the organization. I'm not about to blast them for paying a franchise quarterback $102 million, and then also trying to pay players who got them to three Super Bowls.

Super Bowls cost money. Wait until the Seattle Seahawks find out what it's like to pay for a championship-caliber team when QB Russell Wilson isn't making minimum wage anymore.

It all comes around, so there isn't a chance in the world that I'm blasting the current coach and/or coordinator. Nor will I blast the organization for making the necessary change away from Bruce Arians a few years ago. He wasn't interested in rebuilding the crumbling foundations that are the offensive line, the running game and in general the protection of the major investment. Duck and chuck will not work as Roethlisberger moves through his thirties, but play-action off an effective and physical run game will.

That's the process they're still rebuilding. You just hope it doesn't take much longer.

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