The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to turn around their season without any help from rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu.
The team suspended Ta’amu two games without pay on Tuesday following his arrest over the weekend following a late-night run-in with police. The fourth-round draft pick faces three felony counts – fleeing police, aggravated assault and aggravated assault by vehicle – among a dozen other charges.
Calling Ta’amu’s behavior a “detriment to our efforts,” coach Mike Tomlin said Ta’amu is barred from the team’s facility during the suspension, which could be lifted before the Steelers (2-3) play the New York Giants Nov. 4. Ta’amu will have a preliminary hearing on the matter next Monday.
“We thought it was very important that we act and act quickly in addressing this,” Tomlin said. “Obviously it’s a disturbing incident, one we take very seriously.”
Tomlin declined to expand how the team reached the suspension length or who was involved in the process, saying only “we intend to do what’s right, that’s always our No. 1 charge.”
Ta’amu’s teammates pledged their support on Monday but added they won’t let his situation become a distraction. The Steelers have their hands full as they head into Sunday night’s game against Cincinnati (3-3).
Pittsburgh is winless on the road, including a 26-23 loss at Tennessee last Thursday that gutted the offensive line and assured the Steelers of their worst start in Tomlin’s six-year tenure.
While Tomlin is optimistic center Maurkice Pouncey – who left the Titans game early with a right leg injury – will be ready, right tackle Marcus Gilbert is out. Gilbert has a tendon issue in his left ankle but does not require surgery. Rookie Mike Adams will make his first NFL start in Gilbert’s place.
Tomlin also ruled safety Troy Polamalu (strained right calf) and linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) out, though outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is expected to play after sitting out a game with a mild left hamstring strain.
Pittsburgh’s road woes have followed a similar pattern. The Steelers play well in the first half then fall apart late. It happened against Denver in the season-opener, grew more exasperating in a 34-31 loss at Oakland on Sept. 23 then became a flat-out trend against the Titans.
“It comes down to playmaking,” Tomlin said, “and we haven’t made enough significant plays.”
Having Woodley and James Harrison on the field at the same time might help. The two have played alongside each other for all of one quarter this season after Harrison missed the first three games with a lingering left knee injury and Woodley left a 16-14 win over Philadelphia two weeks ago when his hamstring started acting up.
Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are questionable after Mendenhall strained his right Achilles tendon in Tennessee, an injury Mendenhall said is partially related to the torn ACL he suffered in his right knee on New Year’s Day. Redman is undergoing treatment for a balky ankle that cut short a breakout game. Redman became the first Pittsburgh running back in more than 40 years to have more than 100 yards receiving when he caught four passes for 105 yards.
If neither player can go, it leaves second-year Baron Batch and rookie Chris Rainey to do most of the work. Batch scored his first NFL touchdown in the fourth quarter against Tennessee and Rainey has been erratic.
Then again, so have the Steelers when it comes to running the ball. Other than a terrific performance by Mendenhall against the Eagles in his first game back from ACL surgery, Pittsburgh’s rushing attack has been hit-and-miss. The Steelers had just 56 yards on 22 carries against the Titans and rank 31st in the league in yards per game (74.8).
While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been terrific, the inability to run consistently has played a role in allowing opponents to hang around.
“(Running) increases our chances of winning,” Tomlin said. “It increases our chances of controlling the flow of the game and the line of scrimmage. Obviously, we believe in that. Obviously, we haven’t done that as well as we would like.”
Tomlin also took his team’s young defensive players to task for a lack of production while filling in for older teammates, but added he’d be critical regardless of the circumstances.
“They aren’t (playing great) but I think I’d say that if I was sitting here at 5-0,” Tomlin said. “This is not a patient man’s business by any stretch. We need growth and development yesterday, if you will, not only in our defensive players but our offensive players.
“That is the nature of our business.”
Notes: The Steelers bolstered their depth along the offensive line by signing Jacques McClendon to the practice squad. McClendon is a former fourth-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions. The team also signed defensive end Corbin Bryant, who played one game for the Steelers in 2011 and spent the remainder of the season on the practice squad. To make room for McClendon on the practice squad, the Steelers released TE Jamie McCoy.