Steelers Set For Strong Finish

Max Starks (USA TODAY Sports)

Was it due to the tough coaching of Mike Tomlin? SCI.net's Jim Wexell asked the leaders of the locker room if the team has properly re-set its focus at the three-quarter pole.

The Steelers didn't figure to begin their homestretch kick until Ben Roethlisberger returned Sunday against San Diego. So last week's upset of the Baltimore Ravens with quarterback Charlie Batch gives them a little margin for error in these final four games.

But the win did more than that, according to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who told NFL.com this week that Mike Tomlin's benching of Rashard Mendenhall and the threatened benching of Mike Wallace last Sunday "was to get guys mentally in the right place for the final month of the season. Right now, it looks like genius."

Mathematically, yes, the Steelers are looking good, and the locker room is filled with joy. But was it all Tomlin's doing? I like to give him credit when I can, but is it deserved in this instance?

I turned to the Three Wise Men in the locker room for the answer:

* Brett Keisel is the one I'll call The Physical Leader. He provides insight, but his wisdom is more unifying and supportive and his comments are often punctuated by a laugh and a pat on the back.

Q: How was Tomlin's approach last week? Any different?

BK: "I think he was just upset, as a lot of us were, that maybe some guys might've overlooked the Browns and didn't prepare the way they should have to go on and play a National Football League game on the road. The biggest thing is we weren't prepared to go up there and play, and it showed."

Q: Do you think the way you played in Baltimore has re-set everyone in the proper fashion?

BK: "I hope so. Now's the time to go. We can't look around. All we've got to do is focus each week because we've got to win each one of these games if we want to get into this tournament. Fortunately we've got three of them at home and get to play in front of our fans. We feel confident."

* Troy Polamalu is The Spiritual Leader. I don't think I have to make a case for him in that regard, but the funny part is that reporters are – in my opinion – more intimidated by Troy than anyone else in the locker room. They almost seem to bow graciously after he answers a question, and then they whisper "Thanks, Troy" as if they're in church. I think it's a reflection of how much he dislikes the process.

Q: Have the low lows and high highs of the last couple of weeks had a galvanizing effect on the team? Has there been a bonding?

TP: "I don't think so. Not any different than any other time. I would say if we would have beaten Cleveland and lost to Baltimore, would our team be any closer? I don't think so. If we would've lost both games or won both games, I don't think we'd be any closer."

* With an abstention and a no, The Mental Leader, Max Starks, came through with the answer that balanced it up. He used Polamalu's answer that's rooted in the fact this team has always been close, but Starks expanded on it to answer in the affirmative.

Q: Has the team bonded at the right time of the season?

MS: "This group, on offense, has always been close. Of the guys who've been here the longest, we've been through so much. We're always going to be a close group, and we just kind of took the rookies and kind of put our arms around them and brought them into the group. As they come along, as they understand what it means to be in this position, to be going through this journey, I think it's made them a lot closer to us, more so than anything else, because we're a very close group."

Starks probably has rookies on his mind since he's taken right tackle Kelvin Beachum under his wing. Beachum is the seventh-round pick who seemed to be drafted more for his academic achievements than his athletic skills, but who is being thrown into the fire at this critical juncture and is thriving.

"I can't give Kelvin enough superlatives," Starks said. "It was a great performance by him (in Baltimore). He's definitely a critical kid, which I like about him, because you're always finding something to better yourself, and I think that's one of his biggest things. He came and talked to me and said, ‘Hey, we need to work on this type of drill after practice.' That's the type of kid that he is. He's always looking and analyzing what type of player he is at that moment and where he wants to be. What does he need to work on to get better? That's a testament to the type of person he is and his personality. I love it. I mean, the reason why the kid has a Master's already is because he's very bright and a very studious individual. He's a great kid and has a great future."

I'm not sure these were the answers I was seeking. I probably could've stopped at Haley's "genius" comment about his boss and been satisfied. But The Leaders have spoken. The whole truth is always a little more complex, and appreciated.

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