The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their fourth game in a row–the first time that has happened since the disastrous start to the 2013–and frustrations are running at high levels. It’s particularly confounding given the level of offensive skill talent. The team has a top 5 QB (Roethlisberger), top 5 RB (Le’Veon Bell), and a top 5 WR (Antonio Brown) but has faltered. Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions; the team still lost.
Roethlisberger’s frustrated comments after the game point to a potential conflict between coach and player, and suggest that Mike Tomlin’s long-term status, after a decade in Pittsburgh, is no longer a given.
"“We are undisciplined and not accountable,” Roethlisberger said from his locker. “That’s why (the Cowboys) are one of the best in the business and we’re not right now.” When asked how the team got to that point, Roethlisberger said, “I don’t know. Is it players? Is it coaches? I don’t know, but we need to get there quick.”"
According to Jeremy Fowler, “[i]t was hard to leave the Heinz Field lockers without thinking something’s not right with the fabric of the Steelers — perhaps something beyond the field.”
Those comments didn’t directly mention Tomlin, but read in conjunction with these tweets from Aditi Kinkhabwala, from before the loss, it’s hard to see anything but a quarterback who thinks the coach isn’t enforcing enough discipline.
He had a lengthy heart-to-heart asking him to demand more exactness, and then goes off about the lack of discipline after the game? All is not well in Pittsburgh.
Tomlin has the Super Bowl title, and another Super Bowl appearance, but after consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2012 and 2013, the Steelers have been among the contenders with their offensive weapons over the last three seasons, but have only one playoff win.
A season that looked promising at 4-1 has gone off the rails after Roethlisberger got battered in Miami, the team lost without him, and then lost two close key games upon his return.
The good news is that they are in the AFC North, which has been underwhelming this year. Pittsburgh still gets Cleveland twice over the last 7 games, and unless Baltimore wins at Dallas this week (or Cincinnati wins both at the Giants and against Buffalo), they can be back tied atop the division after next week.
If they don’t rally to win the AFC North in this down year, and the star quarterback has had to demand that the coach call for accountability, then you know what they say: if it comes down to the coach or the star player, it’s usually the coach that goes.