Fan focus shifts to bigger picture

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's anger over the latest development in the most psychoanalyzed relationship in recent Pittsburgh sports history is understandable.

But that kind of chatter -- and the implications of a perceived frayed relationship between the franchise quarterback and offensive coordinator Todd Haley beyond this season -- is inevitable when it comes to the Steelers in general.

There were more than 10,000 no-shows for their 34-28 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, and that's when the Steelers were still very relevant in the AFC playoff race.

Do you think fans and the media really want to talk about the Steelers' upcoming game against the Bengals, meaningless as it is for a team that will almost surely miss the playoffs for the second time in as many seasons?

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference that the Steelers' focus is squarely on the next game and winning. But for most people outside of team headquarters, that ship sailed when the Steelers fell to 5-8 after nearly pulling out the Dolphins game in spectacular fashion.

Their focus shifts to bigger-picture issues, starting with who will return and who will be gone after this season. And, more cynically, who will pay for the Steelers suffering back-to-back non-winning seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.

Tomlin isn't going anywhere -- nor should he -- but the offseason promises plenty of turnover, and the seventh-year coach could make changes on his staff.

Roethlisberger insists he and Haley are fine, and the 10th-year veteran is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career. The offense has also come together despite a shaky start and perpetual turnover on an offensive line that is constantly dealing with injuries.

That bodes well for Haley returning next season.

But with the Steelers just weeks away from scouring every aspect of an organization that is at a crossroads, nothing is certain.

No matter how much the offense -- and Roethlisberger's relationship with Haley -- has grown.