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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Random news, notes

It appears as if the Steelers will be at full strength on the offensive line when they head to New England.

Ramon Foster returned to practice Thursday, and though he must pass another ImPact Test Friday, that shouldn't be a problem.

David DeCastro is also expected to try to return Friday.

@ The Steelers do not have to make a final decision on Sean Spence until next Wednesday.

But the broken hand he suffered two weeks ago likely means he's headed to injured reserve.

@ The Steelers are expecting plenty of no-huddle out of the Patriots, which is to be expected since that's what the Patriots do a lot of.

But New England's no-huddle is different than everyone else's in that they run a play, sprint back to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball with 25-plus seconds remaining on the clock.

In many cases, however, it's been hurry up and punt for New England, which is converting just 32 percent of its third downs.

@ Aquib Talib continues to struggle with a hip injury for the Patriots and his loss would be a big one.

Talib has accounted for four interceptions. That's one less turnover than the Steelers have as a team.

@ After speaking with reporters Thursday, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau asked if anyone wanted to talk to him about turnovers.

"What, we start getting them and now nobody wants to talk about them," LeBeau said jokingly.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday news, notes

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took part in drills Wednesday but did not participate in the team portion of practice.

It's no big deal, but Roethlisberger did admit the team's lack of  scoring in the first quarter of games, and more specifically on the opening possessions where they have yet to score, is a big deal.

The Steelers have scored one first quarter touchdown and total points in the first quarter and have just six first downs on their opening possessions when working off offensive coordinator Todd Haley's script.

But let's be honest, it's not just Haley's script, Roethlisberger has a say in what's on the script as well. He sits down with Haley every Saturday night and is given some veto power over what is run.

When asked about the lack of success off the script, however, Roethlisberger said reporters would have to ask Haley what's going wrong.

@ David DeCastro and Ramon Foster did not practice Wednesday, but Foster did pass his concussion tests. Look for him to practice Thursday.

DeCastro, meanwhile, was moving around well Wednesday despite sitting out. His sprained ankle does not appear serious.

@ For the record, LaMarr Woodley was not responsible for the quarterback on Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run to open the game against the Raiders.

Woodley's responsibility in that situation was coming down the line of scrimmage on backside pursuit of the running back. Lawrence Timmons, who had shifted sides at the last moment with Vince Williams at inside linebacker, and Ryan Clark were responsible for Pryor.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had better news than expected when it came to his injury outlook for this weekend's game at New England.

Tomlin said all three linemen injured against Oakland, David DeCastro (ankle), Ramon Foster (concussion) and Guy Whimper (knee) have been checked out and could play this weekend.

Foster has been cleared to practice, while Whimper only hyperextended his knee.

DeCastro could be limited with his ankle sprain early in the week, but could be return to practice later in the week.

Also, rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton has not been ruled out with his fractured finger.

@ Tomlin said he and Ben Roethlisberger spoke Monday about Roethlisberger's use of timeouts down the stretch against Oakland and that the Steelers would have preferred to have all three once Oakland got the ball back.

@ Tomlin said he is open to making a trade before the deadline.

But don't expect anything at this point.

@ Jarvis Jones has been demoted to second team and Tomlin said it's due to the rookie not always playing his responsibilities.

That was obvious a few times - the few times he was on the field before being pulled - when he lost outside contain against the Raiders. Jones didn't start against the Raiders and it could be a while before he starts again.

@ Tomlin said he felt Zoltan Mesko rebounded from the blocked punt to make some good kicks, pointing out a punt he made that was downed at the  1 late in the game.

Tomlin said he's open to looking at upgrades at all positions, but it doesn't sound like he's ready to make a change.

That change came later in the day when the Steelers waived Mesko and signed Mat McBriar.

McBriar, an Australian, has kicked in the NFL since 2004, mostly with Dallas. He spent the 2012 season with Philadelphia and has a career average of 45.4 yards per kick.

@ Through eight weeks of the season, there hasn't been a 100-yard rusher in the AFC North this season. Who'd have thunk it in a division that used to be known for power football?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Post-Oakland thoughts

Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run on the game's first play from scrimmage was a tone setter for the Raiders.

It put Pittsburgh's defense on its heels for the remainder of a first half which saw Oakland build a 21-3 lead.

Oakland had 244 total yards in the first half and finished with 279. I'm no math whiz, but that looks like 35 yards in the final two quarters.

But  the damage, thanks to that Pryor run and Zoltan Mesko not fielding the snap cleanly, which led to a little pressure by Rashad Jennings on David Paulson turning into a partially blocked punt that gave the Raiders the ball at the Pittsburgh 26.

It appeared that had Robert Golden not immediately fielded the punt - he appeared to think it was a live ball - it might have traveled another 10 to 15 yards.

But hey, once again, the Steelers defense could have stopped an opponent on a short field, but did not.

Those failures to come up with stops on quick changes have been killers this season.

@ Pittsburgh won the turnover battle and lost for the first time since Oct., 2010 against Baltimore. For a team that doesn't get many turnovers, that's a true killer.

@ Pryor completed 10 of 19 passes for 88 yards and two interceptions, a passer rating of 25.7. And won.

He won because he broke Kordell Stewart's record for a touchdown run by a quarterback of 80 yards.

In fact, I feel like I had seen Pryor's performance 100 times before because I saw every start Stewart made for the Steelers in person.

Everything about Pryor's game Sunday looked like Stewart, from the great runs to the overthrown passes that turned into interceptions.

Pryor was 6 of 11 passing for 43 yards when the Steelers kept him in the pocket. Problem was, they didn't do it nearly enough in the first half, thanks to that 93-yard run.

@ Down 11, Ben Roethlisberger wasted a timeout on second-and-three at the Oakland 12 because he was too busy arguing for what he thought was a horse collar tackle on Le'Veon Bell.

That timeout sure would have come in handy even if the Steelers had been forced to kick a field goal in that situation. They scored a touchdown, instead, to cut the lead to 21-18 after also getting a two-point conversion.

Pittsburgh used both of its remaining timeouts and Oakland ran its third-down play with 1:10 remaining. By the time the Raiders punted, because the Steelers were out of timeouts, they got the ball back with 18 seconds remaining.

Roethlisberger said that he and Mike Tomlin will talk Monday about whether it's more important to take a delay penalty in that situation or use the timeout.

How about this? Let the officials call the game and keep playing. Then, you don't have to worry about whether a penalty is called or not. I've yet to see an official, 20 seconds after a play is over, decide that he did, indeed, see a penalty because a player pleaded with him.

But, if Roethlisberger is going to argue, he's got to take the penalty in that situation rather than burning a timeout.

@ Shaun Suisham has missed five field goals in the past season and a half, but each one of them has been costly.

That's the way things go when you count on winning games by three.

@ I'll be shocked if Mesko is still on this team by the end of this week. After all, somebody has to take the fall for this disaster. Why not the JV punter?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Steelers-Raiders game day thread

No real surprises on the Steelers' inactive list today. It includes Landry Jones, Markus Wheaton, Richard Gordon, Curtis Brown, Chris Carter, Kion Wilson and Hebron Fangupo.

The weather here is overcast with a slight chill.

Interesting to note that the Raiders have completely covered the upper deck seats ala. Jacksonville. Guess they're guaranteeing sellouts, but they are taking a lot of the crowd, and crowd noise, out of the equation.

For the Raiders, starting  strong safety Tyvon Branch and right tackle Tony Pashos are out.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Who I like, Oakland version

This is an interesting matchup for the Steelers, who have had their issues heading out to the Black Hole.

In his past three games against the Raiders, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown nine touchdown passes and one interception. So clearly, he has not been the issue in the Steelers going 1-2 in those games.

What has been the issue is the defense.

Take, for example, last season, when the Steelers lost 34-31 in Oakland.

The Steelers held a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter that they allowed to slip away - in part thanks to an Antonio Brown fumble in Oakland territory.

Carson Palmer brought the Raiders back, leading them to 13 unanswered points and looking as good as he has at any time since, I don't know, Kimo von Oelhoffen wrecked his knee.

Darren McFadden also hurt the Steelers early in that game with his running to open things up for Palmer.

This year, however, it's Terrelle Pryor starting for the Raiders. In fact, this will be just the ninth career game for Pryor, essentially making him only slightly better than a rookie.

And we all know what the Steelers' record is against rookie quarterbacks with Dick LeBeau as their defensive coordinator coach.

Pryor is a dangerous threat. He leads all AFC quarterbacks in rushing and has actually been decent as a passer, completing well over 60 percent of his throws this season. But he's also been intercepted five times in just 136 passes and has three fumbles, so there's good and bad.

And he'll be playing behind something of a makeshift offensive line that has three starters banged up.

The thing the Steelers must guard against, however, is the fact that this is a trap game, sandwiched between a home game against Baltimore and a road game versus New England.

But I liked the fact that head coach Mike Tomlin gave the team a history lesson in the Pittsburgh-Oakland rivalry this week, something he really hadn't done before.

I also liked the fact that when one reporter, trying, as he said, to work ahead this week, started asking defensive backs how they would handle covering Rob Gronkowski, they told him they would worry about that next week.

The Steelers are 2 1/2 point favorites in this one and must have it before their trip to New England next week. After that game, the schedule eases up considerably.

Take the Steelers, 23-20

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday news, notes

Jarvis Jones practiced fully today and said he felt like he could have played Sunday against Baltimore.

But, Jones hadn't practiced fully all week, something head coach Mike Tomlin wants his young players to do to get a feel for the game plan.

Jones should be a full go this week.

@ It appears that the Wildcat is here to stay in some form or fashion, whether Ben Roethlisberger cares for it or not.

Roethlisberger said Tuesday on his radio show that he wasn't a big fan of it because it gives defenders a chance to take a free shot at him.

But Wednesday, while saying he's not a huge fan of it, he added that he's willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Again, it's not something the Steelers might run every week, but throwing it out there every once in a while does give opponents something to gameplan for.

@ The Steelers are just 6-16 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. That number has to get better.

The most surprising part of that is their lack of a running game inside the 20. Pittsburgh as 14 carries for 27 yards in the red zone, with Le'Veon Bell having 12 of those for 20 yards.

That number includes his 8-yard TD run against Minnesota, which means he's produced 12 yards on his other 11 carries.

That has to get better.

It was against the Ravens, when Bell produced 14 yards on four red zone carries, so there is some hope.

But all three of the Ravens' sacks in the game came with the Steelers in the red zone. Roethlisberger can't take sacks down close.

@ The Steelers are reportedly showing an interest in former Kansas City tight end Tony Moeacki, who was placed on waivers by Kansas City Wednesday.

Moeacki has had injury issues since his breakout rookie season, but could certainly help the Steelers, if healthy.

The waiver claims go in order of current record.

@ According to capologist Ian Whetstone, Ike Taylor restructured his contract to give the Steelers some cap space this year.

Taylor dropped his base salary to the minimum and took the rest in signing bonus. That lowers his cap hit from $9.45 million this year to $7.965 million.

But his salary next year jumps from $10.454 million to $11.92 million.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced a laundry list of injuries coming out of the game against the Ravens this week, the most important of which was a broken had suffered by linebacker Lawrence Timmons sometime in the third quarter.

Obviously, to steal a word from Tomlin, Timmons did not leave the game. He has been casted and will play this week. According to Tomlin, he has full use of all of the fingers on his left hand, despite the cast, and will not be limited in any way.

Tomlin also said Marcus Gilbert is still dealing with his quad injury, but that he expects him to play this week in Oakland.

Brett Keisel is still dealing with his rib issue, while Jerricho Cotchery has an abdominal strain. Cam Heyward showed up at the facility sick on Monday, but that is not expected to be an issue, either.

Rookie receiver Markus Wheaton is out again this week with a broken finger. He should be ready to return next week against New England.

@ Tomlin said the decision to release Isaac Redman and sign Kion Wilson to the active roster was based solely on special teams play. But the Steelers didn't need to continue to carry four running backs - Redman had been inactive the past three games - and the front office was unhappy that Redman lied about his concussion against Cincinnati, then went public with it, making their medical staff look bad.

@ Just an FYI, the Raiders, who are coming off a bye, are 0-10 in their last 10 games coming off a bye.

@ Rewatching the game against the Ravens gave me an even great appreciation for how dominant David DeCastro was. He was pretty much doing whatever he wanted with Haloti Ngata and company, turning them, driving them, etc.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Post-Baltimore thoughts

The formula for the Steelers seems pretty simple this season - don't turn the ball over more than once, you win. Turn it over two or more times than the other team, you lose.

That's life in today's NFL, where even Peyton Manning can look human in his return to Indianapolis.

I wrote prior to Sunday's game between the Steelers and Ravens that there weren't a lot of differences between the two teams, and that's the case.

The Steelers have the talent to beat or lose to anyone in the NFL, as they've proven this season, in any given week. Apparently, that's the case with every team.

@ The differences between the Steelers and Ravens - at least on Sunday - was Le'Veon Bell. He ran hard and instinctively.

That was the Bell we saw in the offseason workouts and early on in training camp.

Baltimore's running game wasn't close, despite the Ravens spreading the Steelers out and running a lot of no-huddle to keep nose tackle Steve McClendon off the field.

Baltimore averaged 3.2 yards per carry, 2.8 yards when you take out Joe Flacco's two scrambles for 14 yards.

That's not supposed to happen when you've forced the opposing team to play most of the game with six defensive backs on the field most of the time.

@ It was obvious the Ravens' reasoning for keeping McLendon off the field was because Gino Gradkowski couldn't block him. McLendon owned the younger brother of Steelers quarterback Bruce Gradkowski in the handful of short-yardage plays Baltimore ran.

@ The Steelers had eight possessions, while the Ravens had seven.

That was old-school Steelers-Ravens football.

And it was the reason why Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh went for a desperation surprise onside kick early in the fourth quarter. He knew his defense wasn't going to stop yet another Steelers field goal drive. So he rolled the dice and tried to steal a possession.

Plus, he kept the Steelers from grinding another eight minutes off the clock.

@ Jonathan Dwyer isn't getting a lot of playing time, but few plays he is getting are impactful.

He had a nice run in a short-yardage situation and also threw a big block at the end of a 19-yard scramble by Ben Roethlisberger.

It's too bad it took getting cut to light a fire under Dwyer. But it seemed to work.

@ Emmanuel Sanders' potential game-winning kick return would have been one of the most exciting plays in the NFL this weekend. It would have gone down in history as one of the great plays in the Pittsburgh-Baltimore rivalry.

It would have been a lot of things - had Bill Levy's officiating crew not supposedly blown a whistle after seeing Sanders step out of bounds.

Funny thing is that nobody heard the whistle, despite Sanders trekking right past the Pittsburgh bench all the way to the end zone.

And the NFL rule states that once the whistle is blown, a play cannot be reviewed.

Sanders' return came with less then two minutes remaining in the game and would have been reviewed. For that matter, as a scoring play, it would have automatically been reviewed no matter when it happened.

Levy and company should have swallowed their whistles - which according to everyone on the Pittsburgh sideline, happened anyway - and let nature run its course.

It appeared that Sanders might have contacted the sideline - barely. But we'll never know now what a review might have said.

@ Kudos to Mike Tomlin for sticking with his game plan and not using Mike Adams at right tackle when Marcus Gilbert was unable to go.

The Steelers planned all week to use Adams, their best run-blocking lineman, as a third tight end. But when Gilbert went down, the easy thing would have been to put him at right tackle and scrap the tight end role.

Instead, he used Guy Whimper at right tackle and continued with Adams as an extra blocker.

@ Last week we saw Antonio Brown used a couple of times as a passer on end around - once for a reception to Felix Jones, the second time a sack.

This week, it was Le'Veon Bell, a former high school quarterback, running the Wildcat.

As Tomlin said after the game, whatever is needed to provide a win.

Neither of those trick plays or formations added up to a ton of yards, but they give future opponents something else to prepare for.

Steelers-Ravens game day

Jarvis Jones is inactive today for the Steelers. As expected, Jason Worilds will start in his place.

Also inactive are Landry Jones, Markus Wheaton, Curtis Brown, Isaac Redman, Richard Gordon and Hebron Fangupo.

For Baltimore, Terrence Cody, Bryant McKinnie and Josh Bynes are among the key inactives.

Jameel McClain or Arthur Brown will start at linebacker in place of Bynes.

The weather is sunny but chilly here in Pittsburgh. The field is a little chewed up from the Pitt-Old Dominion game here last night.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Who I like, Ravens version

When you look at the Ravens and Steelers, there are, as usual, a lot of similarities.

This season, many of those similarities are for bad things.

Plenty of turnovers? Check.

Trouble protecting the quarterback? Check.

No running game? Check?

The differences? Pittsburgh's defense has been more stingy in terms of yards allowed, while Baltimore's pass rush has been better.

Other than that and a 1-4 record for the Steelers compared to a 3-3 mark for Baltimore, they are nearly identical.

So who to pick in this game?

Baltimore has won three of its past four games in Pittsburgh, while the Steelers have won three of five in Baltimore. Go figure.

The Steelers are also 0-2 at home this season. But Baltimore is 1-2 on the road.

The Steelers are also 9-5 against the Ravens when Ben Roethlisberger starts at QB, while the Ravens are 5-5 with Joe Flacco at quarterback against the Steelers.

I think this is the year that these two teams flip-flop their home/away splits, with the Steelers beating the Ravens in Pittsburgh and Baltimore winning the rematch at home.

The Steelers are 1 1/2-point favorites in this game. I don't see the Steelers dropping to 0-3 at home, especially considering that even at their worst, a 6-10 record in 2002, they still went 4-4 at Heinz Field, their worst record at their new football-only stadium.

Take Pittsburgh in a close one, 20-17

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday news, notes

Jarvis Jones was a surprise holdout in practice today. Seems he's dealing with some kind of head injury, though Mike Tomlin didn't mention it Tuesday.

Jones was also very talkative after Sunday's game and didn't seem like somebody who had been concussed, so it might have been a precautionary thing.

@ Both LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel took part in practice Wednesday on at least a limited basis, so they'll be ready to go on Sunday against the Ravens.

In fact, because it's the Ravens, you can bet that they will be ready to go.

@ Many of the Steelers and both Terrell Suggs and John Harbaugh spoke today about how the NFL rule changes have affected the Baltimore-Pittsburgh games.

They're not as hard-hitting as usual - at least in the secondary.

Then there's this: Pittsburgh is averaging 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. Baltimore's even worse at 2.7.

@ Looking at the Ravens, they're actually worse than the Steelers in nearly every statistic category - except scoring.

Two returns for touchdowns help that. So do some turnovers that have set the Ravens up for some easy scores.

Most appalling? The Ravens are allowing 13.8 yards per reception this season to go along with 10 TD passes.

Sure, Denver and seven TD passes in the opener didn't help that, but the Ravens have also played Buffalo, Cleveland, Miami, Houston and Green Bay.

At this point, only Green Bay's passing offense would be considered good among that group.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

The Steelers on Tuesday placed tight end David Johnson (wrist) and offensive tackle Levi Brown (pectoral) on injured reserve.

Both will require surgery.

To replace them on the roster, the Steelers signed former Raiders tight end Richard Gordon, whom Mike Tomlin said is a strong run blocker, and cornerback Isaiah Green. The Steelers like Green's special teams ability.

The Steelers did not sign an offensive tackle because they expect Mike Adams to be the backup at left and right tackle. The team liked the way Adams handled his demotion last week and aren't ready to give up on him.

@ Markus Wheaton will not be ready to return this week from the broken finger he suffered against Minnesota.

Brett Keisel (ribs) and LaMarr Woodley (knee) will be slowed in practice early in the week, but are expected to play against the Ravens.

@ Tomlin said he banned somersaults into the end zone, calling them potentially dangerous and silly.

@ Linebacker Sean Spence will practice in a limited basis this week as he continues his attempt to come back from a serious knee injury suffered in the 2012 preseason.

Privately, the coaching staff isn't expecting a return this season.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Post-Jets thoughts

The Steelers finally played something close to a complete game and came away with a dominating 19-6 win over the Jets.

That improves Pittsburgh's record to 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks with Dick LeBeau as the defensive coordinator.

Geno Smith, the latest rookie victim, made some plays in this game. The Steelers had three sacks, but could have just as easily had five or six sacks had Smith not scrambled out of trouble.

The Steelers also could have had four or five turnovers if they had just caught the ones Smith threw to them.

@ After a slow start - three and outs on the first two possessions - the offense started clicking. Ben Roethlisberger was just 1 for his first 4. He then connected on 14 of his next 15 passes, with the lone incompletion being a drop by Antonio Brown in the end zone.

The Steelers also scored on five of six possessions after those first two three-and-outs against  a defense that entered the game as one of just two allowing fewer than 300 yards this season.

Had Brown caught that pass he dropped, the offensive output would have looked even better. As it was, it was a solid effort against a good defense on the road.

@ After watching the Jets play the Falcons last week, I thought the Steelers could have some success with screens and misdirections. I also thought Heath Miller could play a big factor.

Check, check and check.

My favorite was the opening play of the team's third possession. The Steelers lined up Brown in the backfield as the running back behind Le'Veon Bell. At the snap, everyone went left and Roethlisberger faked a pitch to Brown.

Meanwhile, Bell slipped out of the backfield to the right and Roethlisberger tossed him the ball. Dawan Landry stayed at home and stopped Bell for a 12-yard gain, but it jump-started the Pittsburgh offense. And if Bell gets past Landry, he could have run to Connecticut.

@ I don't think it's a coincidence that the Steelers scored 19 points in their first two games without Miller and have scored 69 in the three games since.

That's not bad considering the defense and special teams have yet to set the offense up with many short fields.

In fact, other than a Brown punt return against Cincinnati, the Steelers have started their other 60 possessions on their own side of the 50. That's right, 1 for 61.

Miller is getting more comfortable on his reconstructed knee. The offense is only going to get better.

And the defense and special teams are sure to benefit from that improved play.

@ I thought the running backs really showed up well in this game in pass protection. Jonathan Dwyer did a nice job once again and Bell showed some chops there as well.

That will be critical this week at home against Baltimore.

The Ravens are struggling offensively in a big way, but they do have pass rushers.

How much has Baltimore struggled? The game opened at pick 'em and has already moved to the Steelers being favored by 1 1/2 points.

@ Kelvin Beachum was OK at left tackle. Not great, but serviceable.

He's not going to give any push in the running game, but he's better in pass pro than Mike Adams.

With Levi Brown possibly out for the season after suffering a triceps injury in warmups and David Johnson suffering what Mike Tomlin said could be a significant wrist injury, perhaps the Steelers need to look at using Mike Adams - who is a solid run blocker - as a tight end as they planned early on with Beachum.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Steelers-Jets game day thread

Landry Jones, Markus Wheaton, Isaac Redman, Chris Carter, Cody Wallace, Mike Adams and Hebron Fangupo are inactive today for the Steelers.

Santonio Holmes and CB Dee Millner, a pair of starters, are inactive for the Jets.

It's a nice fall day here in Jersey, slightly chilly. There's a mild wind, but it does not appear to be anything major.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Who I like, Jets version

The Steelers are 1-point underdogs Sunday in their game against the Jets, but the game opened Monday with Pittsburgh as 2-point favorites. It swung the other way after the Jets beat Atlanta, with New York then being favored by 2.

But the money has started heading back in Pittsburgh's direction.

The reason? There are several.

First, the Steelers are 15-2 against rookie quarterbacks with Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator. That's a pretty serious trend.

Also, the Jets will be without not only Santonio Holmes, but Kellen Winslow as well. Holmes has a hamstring injury, while Winslow was suspended by the NFL for PED use Friday. Those two have combined for three of New York's seven touchdown passes and Winslow was the team's leading receiver.

Finally, cornerback Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie is questionable to play after hyperextending his knee in practice this week. He hadn't been playing well, but he's the best the Jets have.

The Steelers should have an easy time moving the ball in the air, especially if the Jets try to go zero coverage as they did last week against Atlanta.

Take Pittsburgh to win this one, 24-17

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More shakeups for Steelers

It appears that William Gay will start at cornerback ahead of Cortez Allen on Sunday against the Jets, though Allen will stay in the nickel.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said today that Allen is still feeling the effects of his ankle injury, using that as an excuse for the switch.

But Gay has played well, possibly to the chagrin of the Gay bashers.

@ The additions of Stevenson Sylvester and Will Allen this week has more to do with replacing injured players than it does bringing back a pair of older players.

Sylvester was signed to replace Kion Wilson, who was nursing a hamstring injury. Allen, released by the Cowboys earlier this week despite starting a couple of games for them, was brought in because Damon Cromartie-Smith was dealing with a hip injury.

Both know the defense and what's expected of them.

@ So Mike Tomlin has now banned all table games in the locker room. Finally.

I've never been a fan of the games in the locker room - even though few of the players took part in them.

It seemed strange when the veteran players said those who had less than four years experience couldn't take part - even though it really wasn't enforced. The games basically sat unplayed for the past couple of weeks.

@ I expect Levi Brown to get the start at left tackle on Sunday. That will give the Steelers the option of using Kelvin Beachum as their primary backup at all positions.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Wednesday news, notes

Ramon Foster was a full participant in today's practice and said he feels good about his chances to return to play after suffering a pectoral strain two weeks ago against Minnesota.

Thursday, however, will be the key day for Foster. After giving his chest a full workout Wednesday, how he feels the next day will determine whether he plays or not.

@ The Steelers again rotated  Levi Brown and Kelvin Beachum at left tackle - Beachum is listed as the starter - and Jones could be the starter if he grasps things quickly enough.

I spoke with Jones after practice and asked him if he and Beachum rotating at left tackle during Sunday's game at New York might be a possibility.

He looked at me like I had three heads?

"I've never heard of a rotation at tackle," Brown said.

I explained to him that he hadn't been here long enough and that the Steelers had been doing that already this season.

Brown seems like a pretty bright guy and said that he felt tackle was easier to pick up with a new team than center. That seems to bode well, since Fernando Velasco was able to pick things up quickly enough to be ready to start in a week.

That would be crucial for the Steelers. If for some reason Foster is unable to play, they could move Beachum to guard rather than playing Guy Whimper. Then again, Whimper is working exclusively at guard, while Beachum is playing offensive tackle, so that might factor in as well.

@ Ryan Clark today attempted to clarify his statements about Ben Roethlisberger made last week on ESPN's First Take, then basically said the same thing all over again.

Clark's statement that the Steelers can't afford for Roethlisberger to take as many chances as he usually does because the team isn't playing well enough to make up for mistakes ring true.

But he's also been part of the issue on a defense that is missing too many tackles.

@ Ziggy Hood said he was surprised when defensive line coach John Mitchell told him he had been demoted.

Hood was playing at a decent level - not horrible, not great.

I'm sure that replacing Hood with Cam Heyward isn't going to fix all of the problems the Steelers have had on defense. But a message had to be sent.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

With an 0-4 record, the Steelers have had their share of struggles. And usually when you struggle, changes are in order.

For the Steelers, that means Kelvin Beachum at LT and Cameron Heyward in the starting lineup in place of Ziggy Hood at defensive end.

Will this solve all the problems? No.

But it does show that the team is willing to make a change.

Beachum is listed as the starter ahead of newly acquired Levi Brown. Mike Adams, the previous starter, is listed as No. 3 at LT and RT. Beachum, by the way, is still listed as the backup at center.

Heyward has been playing well, well enough to push Hood out of the starting lineup. Hood hasn't been terrible this season, but Heyward has been markedly better. They need some production out of that spot.

@ Only Markus Wheaton, with his broken finger, is listed as out this week.

Ramon Foster will continue to work towards playing this week despite his strained pectoral muscle.

@ For accounting purposes, the conditional pick the Steelers traded for Brown to Arizona comes in 2015, not 2014.

The condition - though I'm not positive on this - likely revolves around how many starts Brown makes for the Steelers over the next two seasons. He is under contract for next season as well.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Steelers back at work

The Steelers returned to practice on Monday and guard Ramon Foster was able to go on a limited basis.

That's good news for the Steelers. Foster did not practice at all last week after straining a pectoral muscle in the 34-27 loss to Minnesota last week in London.

With Kelvin Beachum expected to start at left tackle, the Steelers were faced with the option of putting Guy Whimper, newly acquired Levi Brown, or even Mike Adams at left guard if Foster wasn't ready to go.

He thinks he will be.

@ The Steelers haven't forced a turnover this season. But that could change this weekend against the Jets.

The Jets are one of just two teams - the Giants are the other - who have more turnovers than the Steelers this season.

Pittsburgh has 11, the Jets 12 heading into Monday night's game at Atlanta, and the Giants an astounding 20.

Who said New Yorkers aren't the giving sort?

@ Rookie wideout Markus Wheaton is out this weekend. He won't have the stitches removed from his broken finger until next Monday.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Division floundering along

The Cleveland Browns currently sit in first place in the AFC North at 3-2 following Thursday night's win over Buffalo, but lost quarterback Brian Hoyer, who had started all three of their wins, to a torn ACL while doing so.

Cincinnati (2-2) hosts 4-0 New England this week after losing to the Browns last week, while Baltimore (2-2) is at 3-1 Miami.

The Steelers are, of course, off this weekend. BTW, I have been asked why they didn't practice more at 0-4. The new CBA mandates four consecutive days off during the bye week. So if they had practiced Thursday, they would not have been able to do so Monday.

Next week, Cincinnati heads to Buffalo, which beat Baltimore at Ralph Wilson last week, while Baltimore hosts Green Bay and Cleveland hosts Detroit. The Steelers are at New York against the Jets.

Why do I bring this up?

People keep wondering why I have remained optimistic about the Steelers' chances to win the North this season despite their 0-4 start.

I keep looking at the schedule and, if the Steelers can cut their turnover ratio down, I see a bunch of wins coming up - at least three in the next four games.

With Le'Veon Bell now back, the Steelers have a running game to take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger.

And the most glaring number of Pittsburgh's 0-4 start is minus-11 in turnover ratio. If that were to continue, the Steelers would crush the NFL record for worst turnover ratio in league history of minus-30 held by the 1965 Steelers and 1948 Chicago Rockets.

In other words, that's not very likely.

A 9-7 record is very likely to win the AFC North this season based on current level of play of all the teams in the division. And once you get into the playoffs, anything is possible.

The last team to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start was the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who interestingly enough, also turned the ball over 11 times in their first four games.

San Diego rattled off wins in 11 of its final 12 games. This is not to say these Steelers are going to do that.

But there is enough talent on the roster to win eight or nine games the rest of the way.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Steelers trade for Brown

The Steelers on Wednesday made a deal with Arizona for offensive tackle Levi Brown for a conditional draft pick, less than 24 hours after Baltimore made a deal with Jacksonville for LT Eugene Monroe for two third-day draft picks.

The move would appear to spell the end of the Mike Adams at left tackle experiment for the Steelers.

Adams was not only abused in last week's 34-27 loss to Minnesota, he looked lost in doing so.

Brown isn't a great player, but he's a solid run blocker. He's been skewered in Arizona over the years, but a large part of that is because the Cardinals took him with the fifth pick in the first round of the 2007 draft, passing on Adrian Peterson.

Brown is at least as competent as Max Starks had proven to be over the previous five or six years. But the Steelers decided to allow Starks to leave as a free agent. He's since been signed and released by two different teams - a sign that perhaps his skills are declining.

Brown is due to earn $3.6 for the remainder of this season. Arizona will pay $2.4 million of that, with the Steelers responsible for $840,000.

@ Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton had surgery to repair the broken pinky on his right hand, an injury suffered in the loss to the Vikings.

Mike Tomlin won't comment on when Wheaton might be able to return, saying only that he would be further assessed when his incision healed.