Seeking Help, Tomlin Names Names

The Steelers' coach indicates that a couple of rookies, and perhaps a free-agent find, can help Monday night against the Houston Texans.

Mike Tomlin said he's not adverse to making personnel changes this week in anticipation of Monday night's game against the visiting Houston Texans, and Tomlin named some names.

His first area of concern is red-zone personnel. The Steelers were 0-for-3 Sunday to drop their touchdown percentage for the season to 36.8, 31st in the league.

"The schematics and personnel that we're utilizing need to be evaluated," said Tomlin. "We can't fail in that area, particularly when we're working short-handed defensively with some backup-like people in. We've got to score when we put the ball in scoring position. We haven't done it consistently enough and we better fix it."

Tomlin was asked if rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant might be able to help.

"Given some of the things that have happened in the red area," Tomlin said, "we'll explore the possibility of utilizing him this week."

Bryant was the Steelers' fourth-round draft pick last May and showed talent but also a lack of understanding throughout camp and preseason. But at 6 feet 4, with a 39 -inch vertical jump, Bryant can go up and get it.

"We need to look critically at what it is we're doing. We need to look critically at who we're doing it with. We're open to all of those things this week," Tomlin said. "An extra day of preparation playing on Monday night is going to aid us in that. We're going to turn over all the stones to produce more playmaking, particularly situational playmaking, whether it's third down, red zone, short yardage on both sides of the ball. We've got to get better in that area."

"Short yardage on both sides of the ball" might indicate an opportunity for another heretofore inactive rookie, sixth-round pick Daniel McCullers, a 6-7, 348-pound nose tackle who, like Bryant, was both impressive and confused in his assignments throughout camp and preseason.

McCullers and fellow rookie Stephon Tuitt, the second-round pick who's shown steady improvement throughout the season, will help Cam Thomas replace nose tackle Steve McLendon, who's out with a shoulder injury, and possibly Brett Keisel, who'll be monitored this week after leaving Sunday's game with an injured left knee.

"He's worked hard," Tomlin said of McCullers, "and has improved over the course of the last six weeks. We'll see if he gets an opportunity to ascend. He's a strong candidate."

Tomlin was also asked if Brice McCain, hero of the Jacksonville win, might receive more than the 13 snaps he received as a nickel cornerback against the TE/FB-heavy Browns offense.

"Because of the some of the inconsistent play of others, he's under consideration for more playing time. And rightfully so," Tomlin said.


Aside from McLendon and Keisel, CB Ike Taylor (forearm), ILB Ryan Shazier (knee), Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) and FS Mike Mitchell (left knee) are injured in varying degrees.

Taylor will miss the fourth of an expected eight games on Monday.

Shazier and Thomas will try to practice this week. Shazier has missed three games of an expected 3-4 week absence. Thomas has missed one game.

Mitchell, like Keisel, was injured in Sunday's game and will be monitored in practice this week.


The Steelers started strong Sunday but were stymied, said Tomlin, when "Markus Wheaton dropped a conversion that would've put us inside the five. We settled for a field goal attempt. That ball was mishandled by Brad Wing. They took that momentum from those two negative plays and completed a throwback ... and scored on the next play. ... In a very short period of time the makeup of the game changed."

Tomlin was later asked about the play of Wheaton, the first-year starting wide receiver who in the opener against the Browns caught six of seven passes to him for 97 yards. But the second-year player followed that up Sunday by catching only four of 11 passes to him for 33 yards.

"He's got to do a better job," Tomlin said. "When you're playing Cleveland and they're defending Antonio (Brown) in the manner in which they defended Antonio with multiple people it usually creates opportunities for the other guy.

"Markus had a big game in the opener and we won the opener. He made a lot of significant plays. It was a similar structure in this football game. He didn't make as many plays. The outcome of the game obviously was different. But they didn't do much different in terms of how they played us. They put Joe (Haden) on Antonio and on top of Joe he oftentimes had help."

Tomlin added "You want to make it complex, and a lot of it is, but sometimes when it's just one-on-one football it's about who's making plays and who's not. We made plays in the opener, particularly offensively; Markus Wheaton being one of the central guys in that area. We didn't make situational plays last Sunday. That's why we lost."


A reporter asked Tomlin what his players think of the criticisms made Sunday by national media analysts Bill Cowher and Hines Ward.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm sorry," Tomlin said.

The reporter explained that Cowher and Ward, in essence, said the Steelers' defense is soft and the offense is finesse.

"I respect those men," Tomlin said, "but I take their opinions with their job in the media with a grain of salt because they've got a job to do. Obviously, if they're not going to be critical of us based on circumstance, there's a chance that they can be judged professionally. I don't worry about that. I'm concerned about the things that are significant, and that's the men inside this organization right now and how they prepare and how they play. Love those guys, but those guys are on the outside looking in."


"When you're talking about the Houston Texans," Tomlin said, "the first person you talk about, or first thing you deal with, is J.J. Watt. His tape is really impressive. His play is impressive. The guy's got three touchdowns. He plays defensive line. Through six ballgames he's got three touchdowns. I mean, it's amazing. How he routinely disrupts the normal flow of offensive football and touches the ball is really incredible."

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