Slow starts still a problem for Steelers

OAKLAND -- One thing Brett Keisel learned as a first-year captain in 2012: take full advantage of his license to speak as one of the team leaders.

And Keisel made it clear that he will have something to say in between the Steelers’ rotten road trip to Oakland and a looming one to Foxboro, Mass., where the Patriots have not lost in four games this season.

“We can’t ease into games,” Keisel said after the Steelers’ 21-18 loss to the Raiders. “When the National Anthem is (over) you've got to be ready to go. We’ve got to be better in that area and I want everyone to understand that. It's going to be addressed.”

Someone has to do something with slow starts threatening to author an early obituary for the Steelers’ 2013 season.

The Steelers have been outscored 54-19 in the first quarter this season. On Sunday they opened a must-win game like they had flown straight to it from Pittsburgh and did not get the benefit of stretching before the opening kickoff.

The Raiders scored two touchdowns before the Steelers realized the game had started without them, and they could never quite overcome the lousy start.

Just as curious as the Steelers’ lethargic play was the same lack of urgency expressed by some of the players afterward.

To be fair the visiting locker room at the Coliseum was so quiet you could hear a sock drop. Also, players’ words, whether it is before a game or after one, can be parsed and presented to fit any narrative or strengthen any point.

Still it was a little odd to hear outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley say the following after the Steelers dropped to 2-5: “We’re still a good football team. We just gave up some big plays. No one questions us as a football team.”

Keisel, at least, has somewhat more of a grip on reality when assessing the Steelers.

“When we don’t get in a hole we can be pretty tough,” the 12th-year veteran said.

Yes and when Democrats and Republicans get along government runs pretty smoothly.

The reality is that the Steelers are burying themselves early with too much regularity. And for a coach who is fond of saying he will leave “no stone unturned” in his search for answers, Mike Tomlin has to take a long look at how the Steelers travel, particularly on long trips.

That will come in the offseason since the Steelers’ longest remaining trip is to Green Bay.

But the Steelers at least have to examine if there are parallels to the team falling behind by double digits before staging a furious if ultimately futile fourth-quarter rallies in games at London (against the 1-6 Vikings) and at Oakland where the Raiders snapped a 10-game losing streak following their bye.

“Had we been able to win I still would have been disappointed with the quality of play,” Tomlin said after the Steelers’ third consecutive loss in Oakland. “The first 30 minutes of football were poor on our part and I take full responsibility for that. It starts with me.”

So does rectifying the slow starts that have the Steelers staring down the barrel of a 2-6 start.