By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers offense hasn’t improved much since Ben Roethlisberger returned for the past five games, but the franchise quarterback wants to do his part to turn the offense around.
The Steelers are ranked 24th overall, including a No. 22 mark in passing, so Roethlisberger believed it was up to the team’s leaders to take their games up a notch before things got out of hand.
After a humiliating loss to the New England Patriots, the Steelers fell to 6-3 overall and a game behind the AFC’s top teams. However, they are still tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC North, but Roethlisberger — who called Ward to discuss his health — said the wideout broached the topic.
“(But) we kind of both said that it’s time for us as veteran guys and leaders who have been around here for a while and have played regular-season ball and post-season ball to lead these guys who have only done it once or twice or never,” Roethlisberger said. “We have to show them how to do this.
“I think it’s good to refocus, so we hopefully can show the guys on the field, in the meeting rooms, through our leadership. (Any) panic comes from the media and the fans. We’re 6-3. We’re not 3-6, and we’ve put last week behind us and are moving on. Our focus is on a very good Raiders team.”
Even though Roethlisberger was replaced by tight end Heath Miller as an offensive captain this season, Ward believed it was his responsibility to carry the leadership mantle.
“It’s time to have a sense of urgency,” Ward said. “I told him: ‘Captain or not captain, you’re a leader of this team.’ We’ve all got to come together as a group and get this thing back going in the right direction so what happened last year doesn’t happen again.”
The Steelers ended the season’s first half with a 6-2 record for the fourth straight year under fourth-year coach Mike Tomlin. Last year’s second half was particularly bad, as the Steelers lost five straight to miss the playoffs and a shot at defending their Super Bowl title.
The Oakland Raiders, this week’s opponent Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field, was among the lower-echelon teams to rip the Steelers defense during that five-game losing skein.
“I told Hines that I needed him as much as he needed me, so we needed to do it together. It was good. … Being a leader is about, for me, I’ve never been a rah-rah type of guy. I just pull guys aside and talk to them. It’s been lead by example for me.
“Now, maybe it’s time for me to transition into being more of a vocal guy as opposed to lead by example. I respect Tom (Brady) a lot, but I’m not going to cuss my guys out on the sideline or get animated like he does. Everyone has their own way of motivating.”
Miller wasn’t involved in the Roethlisberger-Ward meeting of the minds, but he certainly believed a sense of urgency was necessary.
“I think we need to feel that throughout the course of this week as we prepare for the next game,” Miller said. “I’ve always been the type of guy who just leads by example, and I think actions speak louder than words a lot of times.
“But when the young guys look around and see the urgency coming from our veterans they’ll step up their game as well. So, hopefully, we can pick things up, and it will trickle down from there to the younger guys.”
Tomlin did his part to make sure the Steelers had a sense of urgency this week by making Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice sessions a little tougher and physical than usual with full pads for the mid-week tilt and no let-up after that.
“It was all about being on our details at practice,” safety Ryan Clark said, “because I think we were beaten by a team that out-executed us first and foremost. It was a back-yard football game, I think we would have played a little better. It would be more about being physical, but teams like New England depend on being on their assignments and execution and we weren’t.
“That’s why we got behind early and lost the game. (But) everybody can’t do that. New England does that every week. That’s the type of team they are. The Raiders, as long as Al Davis is there, will stretch the field. And they like to run the ball, but they don’t have receivers run precise routes and things like that.”
The Steelers have been particularly weak in the red zone, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians noted that it was easy to determine a reason.
“Dropped balls,” Arians said, referring to two that occurred in the end zone against the Patriots. “(And) I never thought we’d make the mistakes that we made against them.
“(Also), we’ve had numerous times where we’ve had like first-and-goal at the 7, and we haven’t run the ball for three, run the ball for three and then have two (shots) to (punch) it into the end zone.”
Notes: It appears that OG Chris Kemoeatu (right knee, ankle) has a chance to return to the starting lineup after missing one game, but DE Brett Keisel (hamstring) might be another week away. Kemoeatu said the knee is better, but his ankle problem makes it difficult to push off.
Keisel, who basically has missed three of the past four games, said that while he’s about 90 percent healthy he wants it to improve more before he plays. Keisel started the Cincinnati game, but had to be replaced almost immediately due to a recurring injury.
Safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles strain) did not practice, but probably will on Friday and play Sunday. And ILB Lawrence Timmons (hip) returned to practice and is expected to play, while Will Allen (concussion) could miss another game.