Answer Man

After the Mike Tomlin press conference, kick back and read what the Answer Man has to say about the 0-4 Steelers. Satisfyingly salty today.

JW: OK, how deep of a morass is this? Are we on the verge of the 1980s?

AM: Oh, I don't know about the eighties, in terms of it being a decade-long situation, but this is not good where they are now. But, hey, as Tomlin likes to say, 'You can talk yourself into anything.' So if you want to be depressed now, we can get depressed. If you want to glass-half-full it, there are some things there, too.

I look at -- and it's not necessarily the same position -- but, I look at Greg Little. Awful. Didn't he lead the league in dropped passes a couple years in a row? Now he's a player. Maybe that happens with Mike Adams, only at a different position. The 49ers, before that offensive line was dominant, didn't it stink? In the NFL, it's a handful of plays in every game that decide the outcome, and your identity can become that of a team that doesn't make those plays. That's the way it's going. I mean, look at the Giants.

Seriously. The Giants? Their offensive line was a major reason that they won those two Super Bowls, wasn't it? Eli Manning? He looks like Mike Tomczak. Victor Cruz? He could play. Justin Tuck? He can play. (Chuckles) I got no answers for this.

JW: We know that a coach just keeps his head down and works his way through this. But will that work in this instance? Isn't it a lack of talent?

AM: No. This team is not without talent. The talent may need to be developed more. The talent may need to grow up some. But (chuckles) Kansas City has talent? I mean -- do you know what I'm saying? Yeah, yesterday, the Cowboys? That offense? Are they that talented? I don't know. They've got a couple of good players, but 500-some yards and 5 touchdowns and all the fireworks? I don't know. But let me say this: I never saw this coming. You're at camp every day watching. Didn't you think this was a representative group? Whether it was going to become a championship contender, we'll have to see. At that time that's what we were all thinking. I never saw 0-4 coming. I never saw the kinds of breakdowns that this team is having. I mean, that comical defensive performance in England. Cortez Allen missed Greg Jennings twice on the same play. Just think about what is required as a corner to get yourself in position to miss the two tackles he missed. He caught the guy and missed him again. I was fairly amazed at what was required athletically and from a resolve standpoint for him to get himself back into that play, and run that guy down, and he missed him again inside the five. Why does that happen? I have no idea.

Troy. Troy's not guessing right anymore. There were times when he would guess wrong before but then he would make up for that by guessing right. I haven't seen it. I don't believe for one second that Troy is kissing off his responsibilities and not studying and not preparing himself and not doing whatever he was doing before. It's just not working now. The longer I'm around this, I'm disagreeing with those who say 'It's not mystical.' Yeah it is. Yeah it is. I mean, Troy's flying around. You watch him, you watch the game, he's flying around. So you can't say it's his leg, his Achilles', his knee, whatever. It's none of that stuff.

JW: Well, some are saying he plays too close to the line.

AM: Is that an excuse or an explanation?

JW: He's not playing deep and reading the quarterback.

AM: But when he was doing that a couple of years ago, it was 'Well, he can't make any plays because they have to keep him in center field.' So now he's not in center field and that's why he's not making any plays. That's what I mean by saying that whatever needs to be explained you can explain it, but I don't know if that really is the root cause of the situation we're seeing. And I was just looking at the stats and there are too many guys that aren't producing. Lawrence Timmons. How is it that Brett Keisel has 13 pressures and Cameron Heyward has 9, and combined they only have 1 sack?

JW: I don't know. Maybe the coaches are generous with the 'pressures'?

AM: Maybe, but Heyward has 9 pressures and 2 passes defensed, which he blocked at the line of scrimmage. To me that's a lot of close. There's seems to be a lot of that: close.

JW: Do you wonder if there's some kind of loser's snowball that's rolling through?

AM: Could be. But there's a lot of this stuff. I mean, the Indianapolis Colts were 2-14 two years ago. They drafted Andrew Luck, but they lost a lot of others -- Dwight Freeney, all those people. Is the Colts' offensive line that much better than ours? It baffles me.

JW: If you were to put your finger on one thing, would it be the offensive line?

AM: Yes. If you don't have that stabilized to some degree, really, anything you're trying to do is hit and miss. Look at the London game. Mike Adams was knocking some people off the ball on running plays, and then he looks like me trying to pass block. I mean, it's not even where you can look at him and say what you could say about other stiffs who've come through: 'He stinks. Get him out.' It's not that. It's not that he stinks in everything all the time. It's just that he stinks too often in some critical areas.

You always bring this up at draft time: The Steelers like young people, young people, young people. Birthdays. That's what you get from young people. What's Adams? Twenty-three? Back in the day he'd still be in college. What I think that you have to really guard against is that you throw out the window everything that you have done and believed in all along and say 'We've got to change.' I think that that's crazy. And the coach stuff, too. This amuses the hell out of me. Tomlin. The same people who want to run Tomlin will vote for Andy Reid for coach of the ------- year. (Laughs) Really? OK.

So, again, I think that now the true test is staying the course and sticking with what you believe in, sticking with what has worked. I'm talking to a lot of fans when I say the Kansas City Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since 1993. So when we're getting all excited about the Chiefs this year, think about that: 1993, haven't won a playoff game since then. This team's been to four Super Bowls and won two, to say nothing of the playoff games and division championships and 15-1 and whatever. And I'm not saying that this is therefore excusable -- 0-4 -- because it's not. But, there are cycles. It's unfortunate but I just don't think anyone saw this coming. I just don't. One of the other things -- and this is a perception, but Cowher always said 'Perception is reality' -- that I like the unwillingness of the coach and the general manager and the team president to say 'We are in transition.' In other words, 'We're not competing this year. We're building for the future.' That's crap. That to me is an excuse, because if you say 'We want to be 8-8 this year,' and you're 8-5 with 3 games to go, everybody relaxes. You're 8-8. You did it (mock cheers). But people take that, and they say that stuff, and don't understand why or the context in which it is said. When Colbert refuses to say we're a team in transition, that doesn't mean necessarily that he doesn't understand that this roster is shallow. He does. But if you start saying that -- and I truly do not mean to demean the military by comparing football to combat -- but if Patton steps up in front of the troops and says 'We're going into this battle and I don't know if we can win or not.' You can't do that. You have to, as a leader, try and instill confidence in your people, so you have to be saying things that are definitive and positive and rah-rah.

JW: One concern I have is Ben. Are you worried that he's lost that winning charisma he once had?

AM: Don't know, but you're right. Ben's magic's gone. Troy's magic's gone. The big-play magic is gone. The splash-play magic is gone. How can the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, with Dick LeBeau, not have a takeaway in four games? I mean, this takeaway problem has been around for a few years now.

JW: Someone on the radio said it's because LeBeau's too old and everyone gets the zone blitz now and that it's time for a new defensive coordinator.

AM: I don't know, but I'll tell you what: I could make a few changes in personnel and I'll bet you it's pretty damned magical.

Here's one: Let's take Ike out and put Rod Woodson there. Let's take Ryan Clark out and put Darren Perry there. Not that Ryan Clark's a bad player, but he's not a takeaway guy. Or, let's go back and institute the pre-2010 player safety initiative rules again and let's let those receivers think about running down those seams with the old rules. Super Bowl 45, all of that stuff about Aaron Rodgers and what a great game he had. Remember the '08 playoffs when the Ravens tried some of that stuff? They carted Willis McGahee off. But you don't do that stuff anymore. The rules changes, to me, were pointed directly at this football team, this organization. Don't get me on the soapbox, but this (Dashon) Goldson, his suspension gets reduced to a fine, and another guy who was suspended got reduced to a fine. James Harrison, as of that 2010 game against the Browns, had never been flagged for a personal-foul penalty in his entire NFL career, and they called him an habitual offender. How can you be an habitual offender if you've never had a personal foul? I'm not an habitual burglar if I never got caught robbing anybody!

But there are a lot of things that I think are kind of coming together at this particular time that are hitting the Steelers. I mean, the Giants are 0-5. Look at the way the organizations are run. The philosophies might not be identical but fairly similar. They believe in stability. They believe in drafting and developing your own players. They don't believe in making big splashes in free agency. Are we to believe that all of that stuff is now the wrong approach? In February of 2011, we were in Arlington and Dick LeBeau was the smartest man ever. The Steelers' way was the best way ever. So now what you're telling me is that 24 months later all of that's crap and we need to throw it all out and do something else? I'm not saying you don't adjust and maybe tweak some things and try and do some things better, but your general framework of your procedures and beliefs should not change now, because then you become a rabble.

JW: OK, so the focus is still on the offensive line. Can Adams get better?

AM: I think it would be a little bit premature to say he can't play left tackle ever. What do you think?

JW: I would have to be an offensive line coach to make the intelligent decision that needs to be made there. Does this team have that? Can Jack Bicknell coach this guy up?

AM: I don't know. That's his job. You know, I'm not a big fan of that, of changing the staff constantly, constantly, constantly.

JW: Could you see moving Adams to left guard and drafting the left tackle next year?

AM: I'm not opposed to anything. I think the one thing we definitely agree on is you need more than five. There's barely five. Without Pouncey there isn't five. This is what the rest of this season needs to be about, for the personnel evaluators. For me, the rest of this season needs to be about trying to win every game you play. I understand how trite that sounds, but let me explain myself. This isn't the preseason. I'm not putting anybody in to 'Let's see what he can do.' ---- that. I'm trying to win the game. If there's something, a move that can be made within the realm of the reality that can help us win, I'm in. But I'm not into 'Let's see what he can do.' Or 'Let's try this there.' No, that (stuff) is for the off-season. That's for then. And I also believe you set yourself up for future success by how you handle these kinds of situations. By that I mean this: The coach, the coaches, need to do what I just said because nobody wants to waste a year of their career. You want to lose credibility with your players, start doing that (stuff). OK? They want to win every week; you try and win every week. And how it ends up, it ends up and you deal with it after that. That, to me, is important to maintain your credibility. You need to impress upon them what is important, and that is we're in the business of winning games. This is the game we have to play now; we want to win this. We're not tanking for draft picks or we're not trading away our best running back to draft a quarterback next April. None of that (stuff). You cannot have that. You can't talk about that. You can't think like that.

And then I think you have some ability to establish some credibility with your players in that respect, so that if you have to go to them and say 'Jim, I've got to move you from this position to this position to get this guy in because you two guys playing next to each other instead of competing for the same spot gives us a better chance to win. I understand you're not going to be able to touch the ball as much, but this is what I need to happen.' Well, Jim, then you're more likely to say to me 'OK,' because I've taught you through my actions that I'm just trying to win. There's no bull(stuff) here. I believe that helped Cowher in a bunch of different instances, where he was a hard-nosed prick but what he did -- whether it was right or wrong, too; sometimes it was wrong -- but, the purpose was what's best for the team, so that when he would then go to people and try and get them to buy into something for the good of the team, at least they knew he was pure of heart. Again, whether he was right or not, who knows? But that's what's important. Otherwise you become Tampa Bay.

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