PITTSBURGH - Mike Tomlin is running out of patience. Even worse, his team is running out of running backs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers muddled through another listless preseason performance on Monday night, losing to the Washington Redskins 24-13 that did little to allay the coach's concerns with three weeks to go before the games start to count.
"We need to get better in a hurry," Tomlin said.
And get healthy too.
Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell's professional debut lasted all of four carries before he left with a sprained right foot. Fullback Will Johnson followed him to the sideline with a rib injury while Baron Batch sustained a stinger after taking a particularly vicious hit.
The trio joined Isaac Redman, who sat out as a precaution after suffering a stinger in practice, on an increasingly crowded training table.
While Tomlin expects Johnson, Batch and Redman to return soon, Bell's status won't be determined until later. The second-round draft pick was scheduled to undergo an MRI on the foot Tuesday and a determination won't be made until later in the week on his availability for Saturday's game against Kansas City.
Whoever is on the field will be tasked with trying to build some positive momentum heading into the final days of training camp. There wasn't much to be found on a night the Steelers committed eight penalties, turned it over three times and failed reach the end zone until the starters were standing on the sideline in baseball caps.
"I would say we did a good job of messing it up on our own," offensive tackle Mike Adams said.
Not exactly the step forward Tomlin was looking for following a nondescript loss to the New York Giants in the preseason opener. He stressed the need to cut down on penalties only to see Pittsburgh draw 95 yards in flags. Tomlin said he'll look at having NFL officials visit practice this week to help his team get its act together.
"Poor execution," Tomlin said. "I just told the guys we're not going to provide lip service. We're going to practice how we intend to play."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 5 of 6 passes but his lone incompletion was an interception Washington's Ryan Kerrigan returned for a touchdown. Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a lengthy drive spanning the first and second quarters only to have it result in a field goal after penalties to Adams and guard David DeCastro.
Another drive later in the first half ended with a field goal when the offense again bogged down inside the Washington 20. Through two games the Steelers and second string offense has yet to produce a touchdown.
"When you're moving the ball, when you're possessing the ball, but you're not ringing up the scoreboard, we're lacking detail that's going to be required to finish drives, to finish games," Tomlin said.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer did his best to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the injury to Bell, running for 68 yards on 14 carries. He also, however, fumbled in the second quarter, a miscue that led to a Washington touchdown.
Dwyer's miscue was one of three turnovers committed by Pittsburgh's starters against a defense that isn't exactly lights out. Yet Washington looked dominant at times as it constantly brought pressure against Roethlisberger or backup Bruce Gradkowski. Rarely did either quarterback appear comfortable.
Pittsburgh's defense didn't have to deal with injured Washington star Robert Griffin III yet had a bit of trouble stopping third-stringer Rex Grossman, who completed 10 of 16 passes for 133 yards and a score. Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith intercepted Grossman early in the third quarter and rookie Jarvis Jones found his way around a turnover for the second straight game when he forced Grossman to fumble in the second quarter to end a scoring threat.
Though safety Ryan Clark stressed the Steelers aren't particularly concerned about the final results in the preseason, he knows it's also time for Pittsburgh to start playing like a team intent on bouncing back from an 8-8 season.
"Too much Steelers beating ourselves," Clark said "Even on the two big plays by the offense while we were in, we had guys who we didn't blitz and guys who were supposed to be in a blitz that coach (Dick) LeBeau called. You can't do that. We won't in football games playing that way.
"Coaches have been focusing on that, but we have to take it to the stadium."