By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week that his team’s performance against the Baltimore Ravens was more like squeezing grapes than drinking wine, but even after a dominant win against the Seattle Seahawks Tomlin noted that the club isn’t ready to drink just yet.
“We’re not thirsty right now,” Tomlin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “We’re still squashing.”
Tomlin believed that two areas that needed improvement were in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Even though he said the Steelers “need to perform a little better” when those situations arise, he didn’t discount putting “together a little better or more comprehensive plan in that area.”
When asked specifically about the performances from two new starters to the offensive line this year — rookie Marcus Gilbert at right tackle and third-year player Ramon Foster at left guard — Tomlin said that both did some nice things. He liked Foster’s effort, finish and play demeanor.
Foster might get another start if veteran Chris Kemoeatu (left knee) can’t play again this week. Tomlin said it all depends how much work he can get in practice. Gilbert is the permanent starter at right tackle since Willie Colon is out for the season with a triceps injury.
“After the game, I said that I thought we moved the ball particularly well and won the line of scrimmage in the first half,” Tomlin said. “But not so much in the second half. Maybe that’s a function of conditioning. We had some guys whose roles were backups in the past, but they’re playing more in the line of scrimmage for us. So, the snap count became a factor.
“I intend to address that with (Foster, Gilbert and Doug Legursky), but the reality is we have to be able to play 60 minutes of football in the manner that we desire, and I didn’t think that we ran the ball as effectively in the second half. Our run-game efficiency wasn’t acceptable, but when you talk about Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert their performances were above the line.”
In other injury notes, Tomlin confirmed that defensive end Brett Keisel has a Grade 1 PCL knee sprain. That means he is questionable for this week. If Keisel can’t play, third-year player Ziggy Hood will start on the right side.
The same goes for cornerback Bryant McFadden, who has been struggling with a right hamstring problem basically since training camp began. He missed the entire preseason, but played in the opener and aggravated the injury. So, he sat out last week against Seattle and was replaced by William Gay. On third-down passing situations, Gay moved into the slot, and Keenan Lewis played outside.
“(Lewis) did a solid job,” Tomlin said. “He really did, and not only in terms of playing extensively. But when you look at the circumstances (when) he comes onto the field, it’s always on third down and in critical situations. … I thought he did a nice job. He was competitive. He played a lot of routes close. He finished plays. So, it was a good start for him.”
A problem for McFadden, although Tomlin said it wasn’t a concern but an issue, is that he has not been able to practice since he has a lower-body injury. That’s unlike Ike Taylor, who has been able to work out despite thumb surgery.
“(Taylor) has been playing at a high level,” Tomlin said. “He really is, and he’s done a nice job dealing with the personal adversity that he’s gone through with his injury. He hasn’t missed a lot of time. He’s found ways to continue to work and improve in spite of it.
“He’s really a blueprint for young guys in terms of what it’s about to be a veteran player to prepare and to deal with things that occur in professional football and not allow them to become excuses. He’s prepared. He’s performed to this point, and we’re pleased with what he is doing.”
Tomlin added that wideout Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) was in the same situation as McFadden, unable to practice or work out without aggravating the injury that has been dogging him since the preseason as well. That’s not the case with rookie linebacker Chris Carter.
“(Carter) perked up toward the end of last week, so we expect to get a full week of participation from him this week. Really, it’s a big week for guys like Chris Carter and Jason Worilds, because they’ll be simulating (Robert) Mathis and (Dwight) Freeney for our scout team’s defense.
“So, we have an opportunity to go out on the road in a hostile environment and win a game, and we haven’t done that yet. We also have an opportunity to get an AFC road win, and we haven’t done that yet. So, we need to sharpen our sword for those tasks.”
In one final note, Tomlin was asked about Steelers third-year wideout Mike Wallace, who has had a spectacular opening two games with 16 catches for 233 yards and one touchdown. Tomlin, typically, downplayed that performance.
“He’s a one-trick guy,” Tomlin joked, referring to an early quote about Wallace that he’s just a speed guy. “He’s worth it, though. I like Mike.”