PITTSBURGH -- Assorted thoughts with the Steelers off this weekend following a 22-20 loss at Baltimore on Thursday night.
Fine should be forthcoming: Do I think Mike Tomlin intentionally tried to obstruct Jacoby Jones as the Ravens kickoff returner raced past the Steelers sideline last Thursday night? No. Do I think the NFL will be justified when it slaps the Steelers coach with a significant fine? Absolutely. Tomlin’s defense for almost wandering onto the field as after Jones flashed through a gaping hole was that he watched the play unfold on one of the video screens in M&T Bank Stadium. Tomlin’s explanation for standing in the white area that is supposed to be off-limits to coaches: everybody else does it, and he said it rather defiantly instead of issuing any sort of mea culpa. That won’t -- and shouldn’t -- fly with NFL headquarters.
Not done yet? Center Fernando Velasco’s season is finished due to an Achilles injury, but the Steelers should seriously consider trying to re-sign him during the offseason. He would provide needed insurance for Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who has had trouble staying healthy. Velasco is also good enough to challenge Ramon Foster for the starting job at left guard or at the very least give the Steelers an excellent backup for the interior of their line. Velasco seemed to really embrace the tradition that comes with playing for the Steelers, and he’d probably be inclined to stay in Pittsburgh if he is at least given an opportunity to start somewhere along the offensive line.
Youth movement: If the Steelers lose one more game, they have to consider seeing what they have in some of their younger players, especially wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The veteran players have raved about Wheaton’s physical ability and eagerness to learn but that has not translated into much production. That is not necessarily Wheaton’s fault as the Steelers’ No. 4 wide receiver doesn’t get nearly as many opportunities as fourth wideouts in pass-centric offenses. I remember Jerricho Cotchery joking before the season how fresh he felt after playing limited snaps the past two years as the Steelers’ No. 4 wide receiver. I think Wheaton’s lack of playing time is due more to the fact that Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Cotchery are ahead of him. And Sanders is at best a coin flip to return next season as he will be an unrestricted free agent in March so the Steelers need to see what they have in Wheaton.
Taylor on the spot: The Steelers need cornerback Ike Taylor to bounce back in a big way or give the 11th-year veteran more help. Among the receivers the Steelers have in their final four games are Mike Wallace, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson and Josh Gordon, who torched the Steelers for 237 receiving yards and a touchdown last Sunday. The most problematic of those matchups may be Wallace, given his speed and how much he is going to want to stick it to the Steelers, who let him sign with the Dolphins last March.
Big Ben and the Pro Bowl: Ben Roethlisberger is playing at a Pro Bowl level, but the 10th-year veteran may be one of the odd men out -- at least initially -- when the all-star teams are selected following a fan vote as well as voting by the players and coaches. A change in format has the best players, in theory, making it to the Pro Bowl regardless of conference, and there are six spots for quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are locks. Aaron Rodgers is also likely to make the team assuming he returns this season from a broken collarbone. Among those battling for two spots are Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Nick Foles and Matthew Stafford.