Looks like the Steelers have a problem. Or, at least, had a problem during the 2012 season. How much the recent unveiling of, to use Ryan Clark’s word, ‘fractured’ locker room had to do with their disappointing 8-8 record is debateable. But it has to be considered a factor.
Locker room chemistry did not seem to be a problem during the season. But when an unidentified teammates called out LaMarr Woodley, in no uncertain terms, the state of the locker room took on new meaning. As it did, some took it as a reason for the 8-8 record.
My take: If it were a factor, it was a small one. If Ben Roethlisberger does not get hurt, the team makes the playoffs. If a couple of plays go the other way, even with Roethlisberger hurt, the team makes the playoffs. If the team makes the playoffs, no one is searching for reasons to explain the poor season. And probably no one is ripping Woodley.
That doesn’t mean this issue should be dismissed. It needs to get immediate attention from the coaching staff and, when the team reconvenes for offseason drills, from the players. There are too many leaders on this team for this problem to continue to exist.
One things is for certain: Going public with the issue, as Antonio Brown did yesterday, is not the answer. It is, in fact, part of the problem. Teams with good locker rooms keep the problems inside and get them fixed inside. Players on such teams don't go on 'SportsCenter for their 15 minutes of fame.
The background: In his Post-Gazette column Sunday, Ron Cook quoted an anonymous Steeler saying this about Woodley: ``He was awful. He tells us he works out, but we didn't see it. He wasn't in shape. That has to be a reason why he was always hurt.’’
Ryan Clark came back two days later with this: ``My biggest problem with that is not LaMarr, or is not someone's feelings about LaMarr. My problem is now it's public. . . That shows that this team that is normally close, you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out.''
That brought it out in the open. The failure of the baton to be passed, as it had through the Bill Cowher years and the early Mike Tomlin years, was indeed troubling. It also was surprising. The Steelers are not without leaders: Brett Keisel, Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu and Clark come to mind on defense. On offense, Roethlisberger, Max Starks and Maurkice Pouncey. With those players setting the tone, problems should have been kept to a minimum. It should not have become the issue it has.
But Brown blew it wide open yesterday on various appearance on ESPN shows.
He told ‘First Take,’ ``Our team was a team last year where guys wasn’t really together. As we know in the NFL, you got to have a band of brothers. Everyone got to be together and it got to filter down from the leadership.’’ Damning stuff!
On a 'SportsCenter' appearance, Brown said, ``That’s when you know you’ve got issues and you’ve got to come together as a team. Because the reality of a team game is everyone on the same page, committed to the same thing, dedicated for one goal, and that’s winning.”
So where was the problem. It certainly did not manifest itself on defense, despite the comments concerning Woodley, who had a very disappointing season. The Steelers had their bad moments on defense. All teams do. But the unit played very well for the most part and led the NFL in fewest yards allowed.
On offense, there was a clear, almost dramatic, fallout in the wide receiving corps, of which Brown is a member. There were concerns all season that Mike Wallace, who had a long holdout before reporting and who was almost certain to leave after the season, would be a problem. Perhaps he was and it filtered down to Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who, like Brown, had a disappointing season.
This could explain the unusual exit of wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery, who left an elite NFL franchise to become as assistant coach at Duke, his alma mater. Maybe Montgomery had enough of his group? Maybe he couldn’t handle them and was told by Tomlin to look for another job?
The problem is fixable. The Steeler will not become the New York Jets. Tomlin has to be proactive and the leaders on the team must do the same.