The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL through the first five weeks of the season, but the Way We Hear It there is no panic in Steel City and that GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin think they know exactly what’s going on.
Two of the Steelers' three most important players generated some serious distractions in the locker room leading up to this season, and obviously things haven’t gotten much better since the season started.
According to our sources, the Steelers front office knew exactly what Le’Veon Bell was doing staying away from the team all summer until the Friday before the opener and understood it. But they were none too happy about it after offering to make him the highest-paid running back in football.
Though Bell looks close to 100 percent now, he started very slowly, was unable to be a factor in their upset loss at Chicago and few teams believe a player can report in game shape no matter what he’s been doing to get ready when he’s away from the team for a prolonged period of time.
More concerning, we hear Colbert and Tomlin were caught totally off guard when Ben Roethlisberger started talking about retirement.
Big Ben did get over it quickly, report on time and do most of the offseason work they would hope, but a number of NFL coaches have told us, for most NFL players, the minute they even start contemplating retirement their edge is gone and they are rarely the same again.
What about Brett Favre, you ask? The few folks close enough to him to know insist he never really contemplated retirement until he actually retired, and all the false starts were just a way to extend his summer vacations.
While Roethlisberger has never been close to the athlete Favre was, along with his huge arm and great pocket presence, Big Ben’s game has always been mostly about attitude and toughness.
According to our sources, the Steelers don’t believe those traits are gone; they’re just concerned that Roethlisberger may still be distracted and uncertain about his commitment, and they are anxious to find a way to get him refocused and playing his game.
The irony here is that it was Roethlisberger himself who talked about distractions and specifically teammate Antonio Brown after Brown’s sideline Gatorade tossing outburst late in an unimpressive win in Baltimore.
Ben and Brown quickly tried to put it away, but when several former teammates used it as an excuse to speak up about Brown being much more the diva than many realize and their surprise it is just now coming out, Tomlin had one more fire to put out.
Finally, there was the very real distraction caused by Tomlin’s going above and beyond to avoid one when he chose to have his team stay in the locker room – or actually the tunnel between the lockerroom and the field at Soldier Field in Chicago in Week 3 — during the National Anthem for the express purpose of his team not getting caught up in all the hoopla surrounding Donald Trump’s attack on NFL players for protesting during the anthem.
After left tackle Alejandro Villanueva apparently accidentally ended up standing on the field by himself, the Steelers lost to a clearly inferior Bears squad, and then Roethlisberger and other teammates spent the next few days dissecting the distraction with the media, we hear Tomlin was beside himself.
Now, after Roethlisberger’s five-interception performance against the Jaguars Sunday, and following Ben’s postgame comment — “I might not have it anymore” — the Steelers appear to be a mess.
But as one NFC general manager told us early this week, “There’s not a front office in the league that wouldn’t love to have that Pittsburgh roster, and there’s not a coach in the league better suited to get them turned around than Tomlin.”
The way we’re hearing it from multiple sources around the league, their problems are a little bigger and a little more wide spread than many realize, but it’s also way too early to write off the still first place Steelers or Roethlisberger this season.