Steelers notebook: Rooney identifies pass rush, red-zone efficiency as key issues |

Steelers notebook: Rooney identifies pass rush, red-zone efficiency as key issues

Joe Rutter
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Javon Hargrave sacks Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium Foxboro Ma.

In setting goals for the 2017 season, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots exposed two areas that need improvement — one each on offense and defense.

“I think getting pressure on the quarterback more consistently is something that we strive to do,” Rooney said Tuesday at an informal gathering with reporters. “While I thought we made some improvements over the course of the season, we weren’t always where we would want to be. That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on.”

The Steelers finished tied for ninth in the regular season with 38 sacks, getting 30 over the final nine games. In the conference championship game, the Steelers got little pressure on Tom Brady (2 sacks) while allowing him to throw for 384 yards and three touchdowns.

Rooney also was concerned about the Steelers’ inability to score touchdowns in the playoff games against Kansas City and New England.

“We need to be better in the red zone,” he said. “We had opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on there, and we had some games during the season. There are certainly things that we can identify that we want to work on and be better at. There are certainly more positives than negatives.”

Rooney counted Mike Tomlin’s coaching performance as a positive. The Steelers won nine games in a row after a 4-5 start before losing to New England.

“It gets to the point at the end of the season where you are playing at a high level. I think we were playing at a high level,” Rooney said. “We got to the AFC championship game. We were pretty close to the highest level. I thought Coach Tomlin did a good job, and I’m happy with the job he did, certainly.”

Rooney would not detail the future of Tomlin’s staff, preferring his coach “finish that conversation” regarding the staff.

Satisfactory conclusion

Rooney said he thinks the Steelers handled running back Le’Veon Bell’s postseason injury status correctly.

Bell missed three of the final six practices but was not listed as being injured. After leaving the AFC championship game in the second quarter, Bell revealed a groin injury he said had been bothering him for a few weeks. The Steelers could be docked a draft pick if the NFL rules they concealed his injury.

“We’ve been asked to provide some information to the league, which we will do,” Rooney said. “I feel once we provide them all of the information, it’s a satisfactory situation. I don’t expect any major issues there.”

Waiting game

Rooney said it’s too soon to use the words “count on him” in regards to wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who applied for reinstatement Saturday after missing last season with a drug suspension. A decision could be rendered by late March.

“Obviously, he has a tremendous amount of talent and potential,” Rooney said. “To the extent that we can have him on the team and have him bring his talent to its fullest potential would be great, but we’ve got a ways to go before any of us understand where that is.”

Harrison’s future

Rooney is “open” to having linebacker James Harrison return next season at age 39. Harrison’s two-year contract will expire in March, but he said after the Patriots’ loss he isn’t “done yet.”

“I haven’t had a conversation with James, so I think there’s some discussions we need to have with him,” Rooney said. “Obviously, we need to have a contract. But I think we’re definitely open to it. And, from what I understand, at least he’s open to it.”

Decision on Green

Tight end Ladarius Green’s future is uncertain because of a concussion that kept him out the final five games of the season, including playoffs. Green has four years remaining on his contract but could be cut to free salary cap space.

Rooney said Green has a “physical condition that we have to evaluate. We have to have the doctors evaluate. I think it’s another part of the offseason that we have to kind of see where it unfolds.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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