Steelers looking for West Coast success
PITTSBURGH — David DeCastro majored in management sciences and engineering at Stanford, which according to the school's website prepares students "to plan, design and implement complex economic and technological management systems."
It sounds complicated. And the Pittsburgh Steelers guard will politely tell you it was if asked. The dynamics around his team's struggles when heading out to the West Coast, however, are far simpler.
It's just different when you go across the country. DeCastro dealt with it when the Cardinal would occasionally fly east and he's dealt with it when the Steelers head in the other direction, with uneven at best results. Pittsburgh is 5-9 in games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones since 2005 and hasn't won in Seattle — where the Steelers (6-4) visit on Sunday — since 1983, a good seven years before DeCastro was born.
"It's hard," DeCastro said. "I'm not going to lie and say it isn't."
Regardless of the quality of opponent.
Pittsburgh's losses out west of Kansas City over the last decade include a pair of pratfalls against the Raiders in 2012 and 2013, and an overtime defeat in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos four years ago when Tim Tebow — yes, that Tim Tebow — stunned them on the first play of the extra period. While the Steelers picked up a rare win in California last month at San Diego, it took a last-second lunge across the goal line by Le'Veon Bell in a stadium filled with so many Terrible Towels it may as well have been Heinz Field West.
Now the Steelers have to face the two-time defending NFC champions, who just happen to have one of the best home-field advantages in all of sports. No pressure or anything.
Besides, it's no different than what the West Coast teams face when they travel east. Half of Pittsburgh's six victories came in early afternoon home games against Oakland, Arizona and San Francisco.
"We have to be on point with what we're doing and not focus on the flight, the time change and all the other stuff," guard Ramon Foster said. "We have to be sharp. No false starts. No mental mistakes."
Something Pittsburgh has often been unable to avoid the closer it gets to the Pacific Ocean. The 2013 loss to the Raiders, who won only four games all year, included a 93-yard sprint by Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor on the first offensive snap. A 2006 defeat in San Diego by the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers included a pair of second-half interceptions by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the Chargers turned into points.
While coach Mike Tomlin is well aware of the way Seattle's "12th Man" tries to upset the opponent's timing, he's also not much for excuses.
"If we are playing well, if we minimize negativity, it will aid our efforts in terms of making that a variable that's less significant than it can be," Tomlin said.
At least the Steelers will make the 2,500-mile trip relatively healthy. Roethlisberger's sprained left foot appears to be healing nicely coming off a bye week, though Tomlin cautioned labeling any player as 100 percent heading into Thanksgiving as "a slippery slope."
Yet Tomlin remains optimistic with his team in the mix for a postseason berth even with Roethlisberger missing a handful of starts, and Bell, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and center Maurkice Pouncey all out with injuries. Pittsburgh has the top wild-card spot with six weeks to go and chasing down the suddenly catchable Bengals for first place no longer seems out of the question.
"We are in the thick of things," Tomlin said. "We understand that. We are not what we desire to be. We could be better. We could be worse. The reality is we know enough to know that we need to be focused on the task at hand. We don't have to look outside the stadiums."