2017 South Side Questions: Did Off-Field Distractions Affect On-Field Performance?


The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: How much blame, if any, do the distractions surrounding Sunday’s game deserve in explaining the Steelers’ struggles?

For the purposes of this discussion, opinions about what actually happened are immaterial. We are not here to weigh once again the events that preceded the on-field product. What I simply want to know is how much those events became a distraction that contributed to the Steelers struggling on the field on Sunday.


I’m not exactly expecting to find an answer to this question, and realistically, the vast backlash that has followed as a result of the optics of the opening is something that would not have gotten back to the team until after the game, so that part did not factor in here.

But Ben Roethlisberger did admit that he would be lying if he said the whole thing wasn’t a bit of a distraction. Martavis Bryant, too, conceded that it was probably on everybody’s mind, though he didn’t place the blame on it. How could it not be, after all? It’s the evening before a game and you have to be put in a position to figure out how you want to handle something that had been simply routine throughout your career, knowing that whatever you do will be intensely scrutinized.

I think emotions were charged around the league, and I highly doubt that the Steelers were the only team that found themselves in some way, shape, or form distracted. But I don’t write about those teams…so I don’t really care.

Did the on-field struggles have anything to do with the off-field? And is this something that we need to be concerned about going forward? I think we all know for damn sure that their pre-game actions are going to be as scrutinized on Sunday, if not even more so, than they were this week, because of all of the fallout since then. This thing could snowball if it’s not appropriately handled internally.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Paddy

    All three phases were poor as was the coaching, so I would say yes.

  • Nolrog

    None at all. Distractions are a red herring (er, if you’ll pardon that pun which certainly was not intentional)

    This was nothing more than a typical Tomlin **** the bed against an inferior opponent on the road. I said I was worried about this game during the week and well before the President’s tweets on the NFL.

  • Michael James

    Not sure if this stuff had anything to do with it, given the fact that they always(!) tend to play down to their opponents, not only this Sunday.
    The one thing that really shocked me, after re-watching the game, were the fundamentally stupid coaching decisions that just can’t happen at this level. I think Alex already pointed it out, but just one of the more obvious examples: On the big Cohen run in overtime, 2nd and 9, the Bears were in 13 personnel and the Steelers played a 7 men box with two high safeties. That’s basically knowing what the opponent does and blatantly asking for them to kill your D. That’s on Butler, I really don’t know what on earth he was thinking, same goes for Haley on some of the calls.

  • will

    “After every member of his team but one stayed in the locker room while the national anthem was being sung, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters, “Like I said, I was expecting 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team.”

    Since when did it become more important to respect a football team than to respect our country? Former Army Ranger and current Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva served three tours in Afghanistan to preserve the right of others to protest, so he’s also earned the right to express his own opinion on this subject.” – J.Leonard

  • I don’t think so. Once that game began they were in football mode. I feel they just simply laid an egg. Bears did everything to hand that game to them before OT & they didn’t want it.

  • GravityWon

    The team is easily distracted when on the road. So yes they allowed this to be a distraction. But something much less publicized could have just as easily threw off their focus. Maybe a fire alarm in the hotel would have taken t
    hem off-course too

  • MattHat121

    I’ve been wondering about it. Probably didn’t help them keep their focus when they weren’t playing well. The fact that it was botched started things off on the wrong foot.

    Ben said he couldn’t sleep Sunday night. So obviously it was weighing on him.

    It was probably one small factor of many bigger factors that contributed to their loss.

    I agree they need to regain focus this week, because even if they had won in CHI and been 3-0, their track record in BAL is horrendous and they need to be at their best, so anything that prevents them from fully preparing, or being mentally ready, or being focused generally is a problem.

    Before the game, didn’t Tomlin pretty much say he wanted to prevent this from becoming a distraction from the team’s focus on the game? He wouldn’t have said that, or been motivated by that, if he didn’t think it would affect them in some way.

  • FATCAT716

    They were not in the locker room 1st of all & 2nd that was not the message, the message was to stay together as a team. Big Al could have did exactly what he did with the team not standing alone where everyone can see you. It don’t make you more patriotic by being where everyone can see you doing it

  • GravityWon

    One team is doing their game night preparations or resting up. The other team is in an emotionally charged team meeting.

    They allowed it to be a distraction and it was.

  • dany

    Same here. If we hadn’t seen these types of performances at least once a year since 2014 I’d say there’s some credibility to it, but this team just plays bad on the road when they shouldn’t. Can’t do anything but move forward and hope it doesn’t happen again this year at least

  • Ichabod

    What was the “distraction” the 1st two games?

  • Yep, on to Baltimore. They’ll get it going this week.

  • Jacob

    I suspect there was some heated arguments going on about the whole thing prior to the game, and that had an impact on their play. It is impossible to know how much, but probably more than “a little bit.”

    Hopefully the bond this team built in training camp isn’t derailed by this one issue. It will be a real test of Tomlin’s coaching ability and sociology degree to keep this team together and focused. He is getting slammed on social media.

  • WreckIess

    Nope. The game plan was just awful. Lost in all the tears about the pregame was just how terrible of a game Butler called and sadly he might just get away with it.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    It was clearly a distraction but it definitely can’t be used as an excuse for the on field play.

    1. We are 3 games in and truthfully we didn’t look much different vs the Bears than we did the first 2 weeks. DL was less effective than usual it seemed but outside of that it was more of the same. Ben and Bell haven’t been great, OL isn’t playing up to snuff, and missed tackles are a problem.

    2. We know this story. For years we have been talking about how we play down to competition and lose games we are supposed to win. I believe David Todd said yesterday most people thought we would win comfortably and I am not sure which people he was talking to because your average Steeler fan certainly wasn’t thinking that. We have seen this playout too many times to think there was just going to be an easy victory.

    So yeah, there is no way I can see thinking it impacted on field play when this has been a consistent trend for us in the first 3 games and over the last however many years. Don’t remember any anthem spotlight those other times.

  • cencalsteeler

    Yep, it sure did. I wouldn’t say it was the reason for the loss, but it certainly affected the team.

  • Jon Crissinger

    You have to be able to see the flag. He moved to where he could see it.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    I just think it’s funny how the one team who prides itself on eliminating distractions, and has a plan in place for this to not become a distraction, has essentially created the biggest distraction to date so far this season. That falls back on the coach imo. Same can also be said for AB’s facebook live last year after the Chiefs game. We all remember what a huge distraction THAT was. My company has a social media policy. Obviously, they didn’t or it wasn’t enforced enough. Again, that falls back on the coach. Tomlin, I want to like you, but get your darn team under control. Stop giving them too many liberties. Your job is not to be Mr. Popular among the players. Your job is to win football games.

  • capehouse

    I don’t think the Steelers could’ve handled the situation any worse. I mean really who the hells idea was it to stand in the tunnel. I wouldn’t exactly say the situation affected the game, but it just goes to show how this team approaches things, and maybe that same approach is why we can’t beat a terrible team on the road.

  • will

    Yes…..he could have did something different. And it don’t make you more patriotic……what he done.

  • FATCAT716

    What would your bright idea been

  • capehouse

    Just about any idea besides the one they woefully executed would be a better idea. I thought the Cowboys did it the best. Separated the two situations. There was a protest and an anthem without a protest. Nailed it.

  • MC

    I don’t know if it did but what I do know is that it SHOULDN’T. Coaches need to get their players prepared for games, something this team hasn’t done consistently on the road in years.