Steelers not ready to panic after 2-3 start

Steelers not ready to panic after 2-3 start

PITTSBURGH (AP) Larry Foote will save the politically correct talk for his teammates. The veteran Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has never been much for spinning things anyway.

Asked Monday he's more than a just little concerned about Pittsburgh's uncharacteristically slow 2-3 start, Foote just nods his head.

``The panic button, we tapping on it,'' he said. ``We ain't got two hands on it, but we're kind of nibbling on it a little bit.''

Foote laughed as he spoke, but the reality is the Steelers are quickly running out of wiggle room. Pittsburgh is mired in third place in the competitive AFC North heading into Sunday's game at Cincinnati (3-3) and hardly looked like a team capable of making a postseason run while blowing fourth-quarter leads to the likes of also-rans Oakland and Tennessee.

The Steelers allowed the Titans to score 10 points in the final 4:19, including Rob Bironas' game-winning field goal at the gun. Another stumble on the road would put the Steelers in a precarious position, and they know it.

``We can't lose no more, that's the approach,'' Foote said. ``Five, six losses you ain't going to be in the playoffs.''

It's a destination the Steelers have missed just four times this millennium and just once since Tomlin took over in 2007. Pittsburgh began each of Tomlin's previous five seasons 6-2, a remarkable run of prosperity in a league where parity is the norm.

The Steelers insist there's plenty of time to turn things around.

``We don't have to have this great fire-and-ice speech,'' left tackle Max Starks said. ``It's just we're behind the eight ball. We've dug a ditch for ourselves. We can still dig out of it though.''

They'll have to do with a patched together offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert both left the Tennessee game with leg injuries and backup Doug Legursky spoke Monday as if he'll be in Pouncey's spot against the Bengals and rookie Mike Adams is expected to replace Gilbert.

Cobbling together enough healthy - or healthy enough - bodies along the line is nothing new for the Steelers. They did it during their Super Bowl run two years ago, but that team could rely heavily on its defense to bail them out of tight situations.

At the moment, it's the defense that needs all the help it can get, at least on the road. Pittsburgh is giving up 29.3 points per game away from Heinz Field. Cornerback Ike Taylor was victimized repeatedly by Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and now the Steelers face one of the best quarterback-receiving duos in the NFL in Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

And Pittsburgh will almost certainly do it without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who is nursing a strained right calf.

For a locker room featuring more than a dozen players with two Super Bowl rings, there is a sense of urgency but not desperation. Safety Ryan Clark refuses to place blame in any one direction and has no plans to have a sit-down with Taylor to give him a pep talk.

``When we start saying what can we do to help him, we make him a charity case,'' Clark said. ``Ike's not a charity case. Ike's a very good football player who had a rough night.''

The game, however, was hardly the end of Pittsburgh's troubles over the weekend. Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was arrested early Sunday morning following a chaotic run-in with police that ended with Ta'amu facing more than a dozen charges, including three felony counts.

The fourth-round pick out of Washington apologized to his teammates on Monday but was not available to the media. Ta'amu was tabbed as the eventual successor to Casey Hampton whenever Hampton retires but has yet to dress this season. Hampton, who has taken on a mentor role with Ta'amu, doesn't think the arrest will be a distraction and is more concerned about Ta'amu's future.

``We still love him, but the guy made a mistake,'' Hampton said. ``Not taking away from what he did, because it was a terrible thing. So, you definitely can't do that, but any time you make a mistake, you've got to ride this out and see what happens.''

General manager Kevin Colbert said Sunday the team would gather facts before making any sort of decision, though the team has a pressing need for depth along the offensive line and the only way to make room on the roster would be to cut at least one player.

The Steelers have shown little patience lately with players who have run into trouble, cutting second-year tight end Weslye Saunders last Friday just four days after he finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Either way, Ta'amu is unlikely to make any impact on the team this year, leaving it to the other 52 guys on the roster to get it together. As difficult as the season's first six weeks have been, the Steelers are one of eight teams with three losses - including New England, the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos - in the jumbled AFC.

``You've got the Ravens and Texans who are `running away with it' right now,'' Clark said. ``I think we're right in the thick of it. We haven't played up to our standards. But we're not out of it.''


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Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

The return of Tom Wilson Tuesday gave Todd Reirden his full offensive lineup for the first time this season. It is not hard to figure out where he fits in the lineup. The real question is now what his return means for the rest of the roster.

Wilson found a home on the top line last season alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He provides defensive balance to a very offensive duo; he is able to win puck battles along the boards because of his physical play, which generates more offense and he has the offensive skill and skating ability to keep up with his incredibly skilled linemates.

That was all evident on Tuesday, as Wilson scored a goal in his return in very typical Wilson fashion.

After trying in vain to find a suitable replacement for Wilson on the top line, Reirden immediately plugged him back into the top line. Instantly, a lineup that looked jumbled with players trying to find their spots suddenly looked complete again. The top nine that Washington rode to the Stanley Cup last season was restored.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly

With Wilson back, Washington is at the maximum roster limit of 23 players and just slightly under the salary cap. But they also have two extra forwards on the roster. Most teams do not typically carry two extra forwards because it means sitting two assets in the press box every single night. You need one to plug in in case of emergency, but a second is most likely better served being traded or moved down to the AHL.

Assuming the top nine sticks, that leaves the team with Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin.

If the Caps were interested in moving one of those players, a fourth line player won’t yield much in a trade. That makes placing a player on waivers as the best option.

The question is who?

There are compelling reasons to keep each of those five players. Dowd and Boyd are centers and a team can never have enough of those, Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes with seven goals in the postseason and Stephenson brings a lot of speed. The most likely choice would appear to be Jaskin who has only two points in 12 games since he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Blues. There is clear potential there and he has improved drastically since he was first acquired just prior to the start of the season. There is definitely more there than what we have seen from him.

But Jaskin also was not part of last season’s Stanley Cup roster.

The good news for Jaskin and all the team’s depth players is that there is no rush for the Caps to make any sort of roster move since they can technically carry the current roster as is and, per Cap Friendly, they can still fit everyone when Brooks Orpik returns from LTIR by sending Jonas Siegenthaler back down to Hershey.

But a decision is likely to come sooner rather than later to avoid having to sit two forwards in the press box every night. That makes these next few games critical for everyone on the fourth line to make an impression.


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So what does Josh Norman want from Redskins fans? 'Pandemonium'

So what does Josh Norman want from Redskins fans? 'Pandemonium'

Josh Norman made headlines last week when he called out a subset of Redskins fans for booing the home team and others for not showing up to FedEx Field.

Some fans took exception to Norman's comments, but on Wednesday, the star cornerback made clear exactly what he wanted from fans. 

"You want to see an atmosphere full with raving Redskins Nation fans and pandemonium," Norman said during an interview with Larry Michael on Redskins Nation. 

"That's what you want to see."

Norman's request seems more than fair, especially considering the 6-3 Redskins will take on the 6-3 Texans. Both teams are in first place in their division, and while Washington is coming off a solid road win in Tampa, Houston travels to FedEx Field winners of six-straight. 

"It’s big, because the other team is coming in at 6-3," Norman said. 

6-3 is the best Redskins record this late in the season since 2008, and Norman recognizes his team is trying to turn mediocre tide of recent years and that fans might need a reminder.

"To change that from the culture where it was to now coming around, come on man, we need your support."

For decades, the Redskins fan base was considered among the NFL's best. Venerable RFK Stadium had arguably the best home-field advantage in the league. Norman remembered that.

"This is a signature storied franchise," Norman said. "I grew up with it knowing the Washington Redskins and knowing how big it was. Down in Carolina that was our team. The Washington Redskins was the team of the South. Everybody was about that."

Times change.

The 'Skins left RFK more than 20 years ago and now Carolina roots for the Panthers. 

Still, for Norman and many players, the challenge is out there for the fans to fill up FedEx Field and make it a hostile atmosphere for the Texans.

"From the inside of the stands to the outside of it, all Redskins Nation going in there live, pumping us up. We feeding off of them, we giving them something to cheer for and they giving us back something to be excited for," Norman said. "Those big 3rd downs. As long as we need them, we hear those decibels. We need it up to 105. Literally just blow it off the roof, those decibels, just shoot them up. That’s what we need."