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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wednesday news, notes

Le'Veon Bell, who could barely walk on Monday, was not only walking on Wednesday, but he felt good enough to walk around and watch all two hours of the Steelers' practice.

While that's not exactly a sign that he's going to be ready to play this Saturday against Baltimore, it does bode well for his availability the following week at Denver should the Steelers get past the Ravens.

At this point, the Steelers are still preparing for Josh Harris to start and be backed up by Dri Archer and newly signed Ben Tate.

However, as head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday, that's what the team has to do. It knows what it can do with Bell at running back. The Steelers have had a full season to figure that out.

But if Bell can't go, they have to be prepared.

Bell, by the way, doesn't necessarily need to practice to be ready to play. It's going to come down to a pain tolerance issue since there his no structural damage in his knee.

There is a chance that the Steelers could come up with a limited package of plays for Bell.

@ Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor were both full participants in practice on Wednesday, but don't read too much into that.

Polamalu has gone through full practices in the past couple of weeks, only to be shut down again later. If he can practice Thursday and Friday, it's likely he could play against the Ravens.

Taylor, meanwhile, wasn't nearly as active as Polamalu. At this point, it's going to take an injury to another corner for Taylor to get playing time.

@ Some have suggested that the Steelers' defense is better with Will Allen at safety rather than Polamalu.

Polamalu isn't what he once was, but a playoff game against the Ravens is exactly the kind of stage where Polamalu has shone brightly in the past. Also, the weather could be a factor Saturday, meaning it could be a heavy run game.

Polamalu is still a very effective player in the box.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Steelers sign Tate

The Steelers brought in veteran running back Ben Tate Tuesday and signed him to a contract, releasing wide receiver Justin Brown.

Of course, that means that the Steelers are highly skeptical that Le'Veon Bell, whom I reported could barely walk on Monday, will play Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens.

But don't get too crazy with the idea of Tate riding in on a white horse to save the day for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh has just three practices and a walk through or two before Saturday's game. That wouldn't give him a ton of time to be ready.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said he does believe Tate can have a role, but said that Josh Harris is at the top of the depth chart. That will leave Dri Archer and Tate providing a backup options.

Tate will be working with his fourth team in the past 12 months. And he had 119 carries for 361 yards - a 3.0 yards per carry average - in stints with Cleveland and Minnesota this season.

@ For those who are dismissing the Steelers winning this game without Bell, realize that, in 2012, when Pittsburgh played the Ravens with Byron Leftwich at QB in one game and Charlie Batch in another - and Jonathan Dwyer was the team's leading rusher for the season with 623 yards, they lost, 13-10, to Baltimore in Pittsburgh and beat them, 23-20, on the road.

@ Mike Tomlin would not commit to Troy Polamalu returning to the lineup when he's healthy.

He's still not completely healthy at this point. He's dealing with a muscle pull in his lower leg.

But with Will Allen playing well - and Polamalu was not - the Steelers are in no hurry to bring him back.

It would be a shame if Saturday is the Steelers' final home game of the season. Polamalu will likely not be back next season, either by his choice or that of the team.

He's been a model pro throughout his career and is an iconic player. But Father Time catches up with us all.

@ The weather forecast isn't great for Saturday night, with temps in the 30s and rain expected. But, as we often see in Western Pa., the forecast isn't always right, especially during this time of year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Post-Cincinnati thoughts Part II

There seemed to be a prevailing feeling in the Steelers locker room following this game that running back Le'Veon Bell will be OK and could possibly play in the team's playoff opener next Saturday at Heinz Field against the Ravens.

Bell was diagnosed with a hyperextended right knee and was walking fine on his own following the game. That's a good sign.

The Steelers also said there is no structural damage. It would be better for Pittsburgh if the game was being played on Sunday, since it would give Bell an extra day of healing.

But the schedule is what it is - and was announced prior to the injury - so we'll be on the Bell watch all week long.

(Editor's note): I just saw Bell at the Steelers' practice facility. He could barely walk.

@ The Steelers' DBs did a nice job on A.J. Green in this game, even though he finished with eight catches for 82 yards.

All three Cincinnati turnovers came on plays that were either intended for Green - both interceptions - or when the ball was stripped away from Green.

"We just didn't allow him to get behind us," said Steelers cornerback Brice McCain, who had both interceptions while covering Green, who had gone for over 200 yards in their previous meeting. "It wasn't anything he did the last time. We left him wide open on both plays. We didn't do that this time."

@ The Steelers didn't allow a passing play of more than 19 yards in this game.

@ Pittsburgh did allow Jeremy Hill to break off a 22-yard run early. And he had nearly 50 yards on Cincinnati's opening drive - most of it around right end. But the Steelers did a much better job on him the rest of the game, forcing Andy Dalton to beat them.

@ From what I've seen of Joe Flacco this season - and his play this season is the one that matters - he's having an Andy Dalton-type season.

@ Antonio Brown has three career punt returns for a touchdown. All three have come against the Bengals.

Did Marvin Lewis make him mad at some point?

@ The Steelers' much-maligned offensive line did not allow Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked again Sunday and allowed just 33 sacks this season.

That's not bad when you consider Roethlisberger - who finished tied with Drew Brees for the most passing yards in the NFL this season - attempted 608 passes.

It was also huge Sunday since Roethlisberger was fighting a stomach ailment that sent him to the locker room at least twice during this game to relieve himself. That could have been bad if he had taken a big hit at the wrong time.

@ That fake punt the Steelers ran has looked better in practice. Really, it has.

And they've basically run it every day since training camp.

Could have been a big moment there considering it didn't work, but Blake saved the day.

@ James Harrison said following the game that the AFC North championship "follows him."

Who was I to argue with him about what happened in 2012 when Baltimore won it?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Steelers-Bengals game day thread

Greetings from Heinz Field.

It's a chilly night here but not too windy.

Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor are among the Steelers inactives, meaning Will Allen will start again at strong safety.

For Cincinnati, Terence Newman is inactive. Dre Kirkpatrick will start in his place.

The winner will get the No. 3 seed and host Baltimore. The loser goes to Indianapolis to face the Colts.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Who I like, Cincinnati version

There's plenty at stake when the Steelers host the Bengals Sunday night at Heinz Field, first and foremost, a home playoff game.

That's significant, at least for the Steelers, who are 14-3 all-time in a home game to open the playoffs.

It would also be significant because the winner of this game is likely the third seed heading into the first round of the playoffs, which means it would avoid a second-round matchup with New England.

Given the way Denver has played over the past month - in particular, Peyton Manning - there's no question you'd rather have to play the Broncos over the Patriots in round two and then take your chances against New England in the AFC Championship.

The Steelers and Bengals met just three weeks ago, with Pittsburgh coming away with a 42-21 victory. But that game was much closer than the final score indicated, as Cincinnati scored to go ahead 21-17 on the final play of the third quarter before all hell broke loose.

The Steelers ended that game with more than 500 yards of total offense and completely destroyed the Bengals in the fourth quarter, scoring 25 unanswered points.

Cincinnati, however, has rebounded to win its past two games in convincing fashion, shutting out Cleveland and then beating Denver at home on Monday night.

But star receiver A.J. Green suffered an injury to his arm in that game and though he barely practiced this week, he'll play in this game.

The Bengals have been dealing with a number of illnesses, though, including one that forced quarterback Andy Dalton to be sent home early on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh ran the ball very well against Cincinnati, churning out 193 yards, 185 of which came from Le'Veon Bell, with much of it coming on the same play, a counter to the left that basically wiped out that entire side of the Bengals defense.

That has been the only 100-yard rushing game by a team in Cincinnati's past five games.

Can the Steelers do it again? We'll see. But Bell has been bottled up in each of the past two weeks.

Cincinnati also has discovered a running game of its own, meanwhile, using rookie Jeremy Hill. Hill has rushed for 148 and 147 yards in the past two games.

He has, however, fumbled three times in those two contests - Bell has fumbled once in his career.

The Steelers are 3 1/2-point favorites in this one and I like them to win and cover that spread, 27-17, setting up a first-round playoff game with . . . the San Diego Chargers, who will beat the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday to clinch the sixth, and final, playoff spot in the AFC and send Baltimore into its offeseason.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Steelers get 5 in Pro Bowl; Bell named MVP

It was a big day for running back Le'Veon Bell, who was named team MVP on the same day he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Bell, of course, has set team records for total yards, receptions by a running back and receiving yards by a running back this season. He has been, arguably, the best running back in the NFL this season.

Most importantly, he has saved his best for last, scoring seven touchdowns in the past five games.

The Steelers are 18-10 in games in which he plays and, perhaps most impressively, Bell has fumbled once in his career and hasn't done so at all this season.

But there were certainly other candidates. And they made the Pro Bowl as well.

Ben Roethlisberger was named to his third Pro Bowl, as was wide receiver Antonio Brown. Center Maurkice Pouncey will be making his fourth Pro Bowl trip, while linebacker Lawrence Timmons will go for the first time.

Any of that foursome could also have been the team's MVP, as could have cornerback William Gay.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rare Monday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference on Monday this week because of Christmas. Obviously, with so little time between Sunday's game and the Monday press conference, there wasn't a lot of news.

Kelvin Beachum is dealing with a lower back injury and Vince Williams has an ankle injury, but Tomlin doesn't expect either to miss Sunday night's game against Cincinnati.

Tomlin said the team will take a wait-and-see approach with Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Matt Spaeth.

I don't expect any of those three to play. Polamalu is dealing with a muscle pull of some type in his leg, which could use another week of rest, while Taylor is unlikely to play again this season unless the Steelers have some injuries at cornerback. And Spaeth's elbow hyperextension has robbed him of some strength in that arm, something that could use another week of rest.

@ Tomlin said he has not given any thought to calling New York for clarification regarding the William Gay taunting penalty and nor will he do so.

The Steelers do not think Gay did anything wrong and thus don't feel they need an explanation.

@ Tomlin's best line of the press conference came when asked about James Harrison and if he looked like James Harrison circa 2008: "You guys have to remember the mid-2000s (and) the type of animal that he was. I’ll take the guy that played yesterday. James plays with a great deal of emotion and desire. He’s got great football character. Obviously he’s got a lot of talent. But he’s got 36-37 year old talent as opposed to late 20-year old talent like he used to have and there’s a difference."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Post-Kansas City thoughts

Playoffs? We can now talk about playoffs?


The Steelers locked up their spot in the 2014 AFC postseason with their victory Sunday over the Chiefs. The final score in this one was only 20-12, but it might as well have been 100-0.

The Steelers and Chiefs could have played another eight quarters and Kansas City wouldn't have gotten into the end zone.

Pittsburgh's defense was that good in this game.

A season-high six sacks. Holding Jamaal Charles to 29 yards rushing.

Those were a couple of highlights. But the icing on the cake was Kansas City going 0-4 in the red zone.

Kansas City had the league's second-best offense in the red zone entering this game. But the Steelers held up all day against it.

The defense has now allowed 21, 20 and 12 points in the last three games. Given what this offense can do, that's winning football.

@ The Steelers just might - might - be playing the best overall football of any team in the AFC right now when you look at what they're doing on both sides of the ball.

Yes, the defense is still suspect and the offense goes in fits and spurts - despite its gaudy numbers - but if they beat the Bengals next week, they'll wrap up no worse than the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs.

@ I don't get the NFL sometimes. I have viewed the William Gay "taunting" penalty several times and am not quite sure who exactly he was supposed to be taunting.

Was it Lawrence Timmons? I don't know.

I'm no fan of taunting and I know it when I see it. That was not it.

@ James Harrison had his way with second-year left tackle Eric Fisher, the top pick in last year's draft.

Actually, the Steelers pretty much owned everyone on the Chiefs' offensive line.

The only thing that kept Alex Smith from being sacked 20 times in this game was Andy Reid's sideways passing game.

@ That short passing game, however, also resulted in the game's only turnover.

As we saw from the Steelers when they played the Jets and Anontio Brown fumbled when smacked from behind by a defensive lineman following a short pass over the middle, big guys running down small guys close to the line of scrimmage sometimes results in bad things.

In this case, it was 300-pound Stephon Tuitt destroying Charles and forcing a fumble that the Steelers recovered.

@ The Chiefs devoted a safety to Le'Veon Bell when he came out of the backfield as a receiver.

That, however, freed up tight end Heath Miller to catch seven passes for 68 yards.

That doesn't sound like a lot until you consider KC came into this game having allowed an NFL-low 43 receptions by tight ends this season.

Pick your poison with this team.

@ Martavis Bryan caught just one pass in this game, but it was a big one. Bryant got deep out of the slot for a 44-yard gain on Pittsburgh's first possession.

I thought offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a very good game. He mixed things up and Kansas City's defense never really got a finger on the pulse of what the Steelers were doing offensively.

Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just one time and though the Steelers produced just 68 rushing yards, they ran the ball effectively enough that KC had to respect it.

@ It's official. The Steelers and Bengals will play at 8:30 p.m. next Sunday. Place should be rocking.

Steelers-Chiefs Game Day thread

Greetings from Heinz Field.

It's a nice December day here. Little wind and temps in the 40s.

Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Justin Brown, Clifton Geathers, Chris Hubbard and Matt Spaeth are down for the Steelers.

Spaeth, to me, is the big one today. With him down, the Steelers could be forced to use Mike Adams some at tight end as an extra blocker.

For Kansas City, no real surprises on the inactive list. Dwayne Bowe and Tamba Hali were questionable coming into this game, but both are active.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who I like, Kansas City version

This is perhaps the most critical game of the Steelers' season.

Win, and they're in the playoffs. Lose, and they're back in the same situation they found themselves in a year ago, needing to win and get help to get into the postseason.

Here's why:

A loss to Kansas City would give the Chiefs the tiebreaker over the Steelers and give them identical records.

If the Steelers lose to Kansas City and Cincinnati beats Denver Monday night, Pittsburgh is in trouble.

They would then need to beat Cincinnati and hope that San Diego knocks off the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 17 to get into the playoffs, much the same way they needed Kansas City to beat San Diego lats season.

The Steelers can assure they don't need to worry about any of those scenarios by taking care of business Sunday.

And as it has been all season, the key will be their offense.

The Steelers need to get off to a fast start and force the Chiefs out of their comfort zone.

Kansas City wants to play things close to the vest, run the ball, play the field position game and win the war of attrition.

But if the Steelers come out and, say, score on their first couple of possessions, Kansas City will be forced to reassess its attack.

If they get the feeling they aren't going to be able to slow Pittsburgh, they'll be forced to open things up. And that's not what you want to do when Alex Smith is your quarterback.

Smith is a fine game manager. But he's not going to win a shootout with Ben Roethlisberger and company - at least not with the weapons Kansas City employs,

Le'Veon Bell will be the key.

Kansas City allows 4.9 yards per carry and has been torched over the past month by far lesser backs than Bell.

The Steelers need to establish Bell and then have Roethlisberger attack off of that.

If Kansas City is effective on early downs, that allows Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to get after the quarterback. And that's when bad things happen.

I think the Steelers will control the line of scrimmage and win this game.

Pittsburgh is a 3-point favorite and I like the Steelers to win, 30-21.

@ The Steelers will have a limited number of tickets available for a potential home playoff game the weekend of Jan. 3 or 4.

Tickets will be available beginning at 10 a.m. Sat., Dec. 20. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mid-week news

After sitting out the past two games with a knee injury, James Harrison looks like he's more than healthy enough to return for the Steelers this week against Kansas City.

The  question now is whether or not the Steelers will play him?

At this point, it looks like they will, something I wasn't so sure of earlier in the week.

But if they do play Harrison, who sits?

The Steelers have dealt with a similar issue at inside linebacker the past two weeks with everyone finally healthy. They have dressed all four the past two games, with rookie Ryan Shazier playing sparingly.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said that Shazier hasn't been used more defensively because of he hasn't been where the team wants him to be in practice.

He also said that even though Marcus Gilbert practiced at right tackle last week, he decided to keep Mike Adams there because Adams had looked better - and more healthy - at practice last week.

The Steelers might be putting Harrison, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones in similar situation this week.

All three have been full participants at practice. The Steelers could take a look at who looks the best and go with those two, putting the other on the inactive list.

@ Kansas City is something of an enigma.

The Chiefs are one of just five NFL teams that enter this weekend averaging less than 200 yards passing per game. They haven't had a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass all season.

And yet they are second in the NFL in red zone offense in touchdown percentage, scoring TDs at a 67.5 percent rate.

Defensively, they allow 4.9 yards per rushing attempt but have given up just two rushing touchdowns this season. They rank first in the NFL in red zone defense.

And though they do get after the passer, recording 38 sacks, they have allowed 39, a big number for a team that doesn't really throw the ball deep all that often.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin met with the media today in advance of the Steelers' huge game with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday and had plenty to say.

In regards to the decision to play Mike Adams at right tackle last week at Atlanta over Marcus Gilbert, who practiced Thursday and Friday, Tomlin said Adams looked better in practice than Gilbert, who has been out three of weeks with an ankle injury.

That will be looked at closely again this week.

@ Tomlin said similar decisions will be made with James Harrison and Ike Taylor, though I'm hearing the Steelers aren't in a hurry to push either one back into the lineup.

That's somewhat surprising with Harrison in particular. But the Steelers are working toward getting Jarvis Jones back on the field more moving forward.

Tomlin said he's been pleased with what he's seen of Jones since he's returned from injured reserve two weeks ago.

@ Tomlin said he's been happy with how his team has responded in what is, essentially, the first playoff-type race for a number of the younger players.

Remember, the Steelers have had a lot of turnover from the last time they made the playoffs - 2011 - and for a number of these guys, this has been their first exposure to this type of atmosphere.

"I just liked the way out young guys, in particular, wore the urgency of the moment," said Tomlin.

@ Tomlin also commented on Shamarko Thomas' lack of playing time saying that he's stuck behind some veteran players, and more importantly, "His progress was slowed in the middle portion of the season. He had a high-ankle (injury) that not only caused him to miss some games but miss some quality practice time and limit that practice time. ... this journey that we're on is much like a moving train. Sometimes injuries get you off that train and it's difficult to get back on."

@ Tomlin spoke similarly of rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, who has played sparingly the past two weeks despite now being recovered from an ankle injury.

Shazier also missed time earlier in the season with a knee sprain and Tomlin said he's been pleased with the play of Sean Spence and Vince Williams.

And then there was this telling statement, "Detail, detail, detail. It's more about that for a young guy than the physicality of it anyway. ... If you don't understand your leverage and where your help is, you are going to be exposed. So much of that is above the neck and so much is displayed in a practice setting."

In other words, the Steelers haven't been happy with Shazier's practice and preparation.

This doesn't mean he's a bust or anything like that. Remember, Troy Polamalu took a year to get up to speed in the Pittsburgh defense, as well. And Williams struggled last season when he was basically thrown into the lineup in place of injured Larry Foote. But he's stepped in and played very well this season.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Post-Falcons thoughts

Sunday's game had a familiar feel to it as the Steelers dominated the first quarter only to lead 6-0. They had already done that in losses at Cleveland and to New Orleans at home this season.

But William Gay had other plans.

Much-maligned over the years, Gay has quietly turned into a very good cornerback. I say quietly because Gay refuses to talk about himself.

Even after Sunday's game-changing interception return for a touchdown, Gay refused to talk about anything but what a great team win this was and how it was a much-needed victory.

In many cases, you appreciate a guy who puts the team before himself. But come one, Will, you can open up and talk about how you're the only corner in Steelers' history to have three pick-6s in one season.

@ That interception was huge. It was the game's lone turnover, and the fact the Steelers scored off of it was big.

The offense had put up a bunch of yards in the first quarter but had already stalled twice. Gay showed the way to the end zone.

@ Atlanta really sold out on stopping the run and doubling Antonio Brown.

And some of the other guys stepped up and made big contributions.

Ben Roethlisberger was 9 of 10 when targeting Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller for 138 yards.

It was a big step forward for Wheaton, in particular. All too many times this season, Wheaton has looked out of sync with Roethlisberger in road games.

That was not the case Sunday.

* The defense gave up some yards, but came up with some big stops, as well.

Holding Atlanta to a pair of short field goals in the third quarter was huge, as was a three-and-out in the fourth quarter.

Gay and Vince Williams deserve credit for hammering Harry Douglas to the ground on second and third down to keep him from getting the first down.

* Head coach Mike Tomlin said he basically made Marcus Gilbert a healthy scratch because Mike Adams was healthier than Gilbert.

He might want to re-think that strategy moving forward, though Gilbert will certainly be really healthy now.

Same goes for James Harrison.

* I've watched football a long time and covered the NFL for nearly half my life. If Jason Worilds did anything to warrant a penalty flag for his sack of Matt Ryan in the second quarter, I'm not aware of it.

In fact, it was a nearly textbook hit. He didn't lead with his helmet. He didn't hit Ryan high. He did put him to the ground in a not-so-nice way, but that's kind of the idea of football - at least it used to be.

* The Steelers won a game in which Le'Veon Bell was limited to 47 yards on 20 carries. That's significant.

Equally as significant was the fact that while the Steelers struggled running the ball overall, they were able to convert on third-and-short running it a number of times and score a pair of rushing touchdowns.

It wasn't a strong running game. But it was effective when it needed to be.

* If things play out the way they currently look, the Ravens will have played three rookie quarterbacks to close out their season.

They faced Blake Bortles Sunday, will get Tom Savage next week at Houston and Johnny Manziel in Week 17.

Baltimore doesn't have any healthy defensive backs but it won't matter.

The Steelers had better keep winning if they want a home playoff game.

Steelers-Falcons game day thread

Greetings from Atlanta.

James Harrison, Ike Taylor and Dri Archer are among the Steelers inactives.

Marcus Gilbert also is a late scratch for the Steelers. He was probable for this game and practiced all week, so he must have had a setback Saturday or in warmups.

For the Falcons, Julio Jones and corner Robert Alford are out. I'm also hearing that starting safety William Moore will be down as well.

I expect the Steelers to have plenty of success attacking this secondary.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Who I like, Atlanta version

First things first, I do not expect Julio Jones to play for the Falcons in this game, not that he won't want to.

But Atlanta's path to the playoffs is a simple one. If the Falcons win their final two games, they will be the NFC South champions.

If they beat the Steelers and lose the following week at New Orleans, they likely won't.

Because of that, I expect the Atlanta coaching staff to sit Jones.

That certainly helps the Steelers, but the Falcons have enough other dangerous offensive players that they can beat Pittsburgh.

But I don't expect that to happen (I know, I wrote here Sunday night that I wouldn't pick the Steelers again this season, but I have to follow my gut).

Atlanta's defense is, well, horrible. The Falcons are the only defense in the NFL allowing more than 400 yards per game. It's only saving grace is that it does force some turnovers - 24 this season.

But if the Steelers take care of the football, they'll be fine.

While Atlanta's offense is explosive, the Steelers' has been better this season. And Pittsburgh's defense, for all of its flaws, is better than Atlanta's as well.

Yes, the Steelers have stubbed their collective toe a few times this season - I don't want to hear about past losses against poor teams. Anything that happened before this season is ancient history.

But the Jets had a defense that could challenge the Steelers. And New Orleans had a future Hall of Fame quarterback and an emerging running game.

Only the Tampa Bay loss is completely inexcusable. And had the Steelers worked things a little differently in the fourth quarter, they win that game.

Matt Ryan is not Drew Brees. He's a good but not a great quarterback - one that's a lot closer to Andy Dalton than he is Tom Brady.

And the Falcons don't have a running game to compliment Ryan as the Saints did with Brees.

The Steelers should score plenty in this game - Vegas agrees, the over-under in this game is 56 1/2 - and so should the Falcons.

But I like the Steelers, whop are favored by 1 1/2 points, to pull out a 41-34 win.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Steelers think they can stop Jones

When the Steelers signed Brice McCain as a free agent in the offseason, few thought much of the move.

But McCain has played pretty well for the team this season.

He also has quite a bit of swagger.

The Steelers go into Sunday's game at Atlanta needing a victory.

Here's what McCain and others had to say about stopping Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Steelers mid-week news, thoughts

Much of the focus in Pittsburgh has centered on how the Steelers are going to possibly deal with Atlanta's explosive offense.

The question should be the other way around. How are the Falcons going to deal with the Steelers?

Pittsburgh's offense is actually better than Atlanta's. And the Steelers' defense is better as well.

Steelers fans might not want to believe either of those things but they are the reality.

The only areas where the Falcons are better than the Steelers are in the return game, where Devin Hester is as scary as anyone in the NFL, and in turnovers, where the Falcons have forced 24.

But the Steelers are much more dynamic on offense. As good as Julio Jones has been this season, he's got six touchdowns. Martavis Bryant has seven in seven games.

And the Falcons don't run the ball well.

In fact, the Steelers could play a lot of nickel in this game, daring the Falcons to run the ball.

@ The Steelers are going to have a tough decision to make at outside linebacker, assuming James Harrison comes back this week.

Harrison worked out on the field before last Sunday's game at Cincinnati and actually looked OK moving around, but did not practice Wednesday.

The Steelers have dressed three outside linebackers in every game this season, but if Harrison is healthy, they would suddenly have four.

They have had a similar issue at inside linebacker a couple of times this season when everyone has been healthy. And they've dressed four, including against the Bengals.

But that forced them to sit Dri Archer.

To dress four outside linebackers, they really don't have any other expendable guys on the roster - unless they decide to sit Daniel McCullers, who is limited to playing nose tackle.

If the Steelers play a lot of nickel, McCullers would be on the field for just a few snaps.

@ I spoke with Mike Mitchell today and he explained what he saw on the 81-yard TD last week to A.J. Green, which he admitted was partly his fault.

I saw Mitchell drift to his right at the snap to where the Bengals had two receivers. Mitchell explained that his responsibilities on that play as the single deep safety is any pattern 19 yards or beyond.

The Bengals ran their slot receiver into that intermediate range and Mitchell slid up on it. That's when Green ran the deep post on the other side.

Mitchell admitted he should have realized that Green was where the Bengals wanted to go with the ball and that the Steelers would rather give up the 20-yard gain underneath than the 80-yard TD.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin today said that linebacker James Harrison (knee), cornerback Ike Taylor (shoulder, forearm) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) will have their status determined in practice this week.

Harrison worked out for team doctors Sunday morning on the field and looked like he could have played, if necessary.

I also expect Gilbert to be back this week.

Taylor, on the other hand, might be a little more limited, though the Steelers lost some options when they placed Cortez Allen on IR.

Tomlin said the Steelers used Taylor to shadow A.J. Green Sunday because he was the corner who was most familiar with the Bengals' star and had matched up one-on-one with him in the past.

The theory was that Taylor is also their best tackling cornerback and since Cincinnati throws so many underneath passes, having Taylor come up and make the tackle on Green was better than having him get a bunch of yards after the catch.

Of course, that blew up in their face when they had no safety help for Taylor on the final play of the third quarter when he was beaten over the top for an 81-yard TD. Prior to that, Green had eight receptions for 55 yards against Taylor. That, the Steelers could have lived with.

@ Tomlin praised Arthur Moats, Antwon Blake, Stephon Tuitt, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Terrance Garvin for their play against the Bengals.

@ It will be interesting to see if Julio Jones is able to play this week. Jones had a monster game Monday night at Green Bay, but suffered a hip injury and did not return.

If he doesn't play, the Steelers' chances of victory in this game are greatly increased.

That said, Martavis Bryant, with seven, has more TD catches this season than Jones.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Post-Cincinnati thoughts

Just as an early Christmas present for you guys, I'm going to continue picking against the Steelers for the remainder of this season.

I thought they had a good chance to win this game - anytime Andy Dalton is the QB of the other team, you've got a chance.

But given their recent play, I just couldn't pick them in this game, on the road.

This team continues to confound everyone.

@ BTW, that's 11 consecutive seasons of eight or more wins for the Steelers. Only New England, with 14, has a longer streak.

And Mike Tomlin has been at the helm for seven of those seasons, making him just the seventh coach in NFL history and fourth with the same team to start his career off in that manner.

But he stinks, right?

Sometimes I just think Steelers fans don't know how good they've really got things. Even in this team's down seasons, it finds a way to stay relevant.

I've covered the Steelers for 21 seasons and have had just a handful of games that were completely meaningless.

Believe me, talking to reporters from other NFL cities, you don't realize how special that really is.

@ It's almost as special as Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

@ Bell became the only the second player in NFL history - joining Walter Payton - to gain over 200 yards in three consecutive games.

And he's just 22 years old.

Think about that.

@ Bell has gained 1,925 total yards this season. Two guys he can be readily compared to, Cincinnati's Giovanni Bernard and Green Bay's Eddie Lacy, have combined for 1,903, pending Lacy's game Monday night against Atlanta.

The Steelers didn't have a chance to draft Bernard, but they took a lot of heat for passing on Lacy to take Bell.

@ Kevin Colbert and Tomlin take a lot of heat for their missed draft picks. I get that. But all teams miss on draft picks.

Shouldn't it be noted that they got Bell, whose in the conversation for being the best all-around running back in the league, and Brown, whose in the same conversation at wide receiver, in the second and sixth rounds?

@ The Steelers did not allow a sack and ran for 193 yards Sunday. And yet on Twitter, people were complaining about the play of the offensive line.

@ Dri Archer was inactive Sunday.

It's a little early to call him a bust, something that people are starting to do. Many of those same people were questioning Bell last season when he was struggling at times.

Archer was inactive, by the way, because he doesn't play special teams.

I still think he can be a dynamic player - once the Steelers figure out exactly how to use him.

@ Think Steve McLendon doesn't make a difference on this defensive line?

Throw out a 20-yard run by Andy Dalton on a read-option play the defense completely botched, and the Bengals had 66 yards rushing on 20 carries.

Stephon Tuitt was a big part of that as well.

I've said all along that Tuitt should be playing more. But the people who think the Steelers don't have a true nose tackle in McLendon are underestimating that guy.

@ By beating the Bengals, the Steelers gained an important tiebreaker over the Ravens.

Baltimore already has three division losses, two to Cincinnati, one to Pittsburgh. The Steelers are now 3-2 in the division.

The Steelers are also now 7-3 in the conference, another important tiebreaker.

Steelers-Bengals game day thread

Greetings from sunny by chilly Paul Brown Stadium.

The temperatures are in the low 40s/high 30s today and there is a slight wind that could affect things.

James Harrison and Marcus Gilbert are both out for the  Steelers.

With Harrison out, the Steelers activated Jarvis Jones from the short-term injured reserve list and placed Cortez Allen on injured reserve.

Arthur Moats will start at outside linebacker, but the Steelers will use Jones in some pass rushing situations.

Mike Adams will get the start at right tackle.

Dri Archer is also inactive today for the Steelers, which is surprising.

The Bengals will be on their third starting right tackle as guard Clint Boling will slide outside to replace Marshall Newhouse, who was replacing Andre Smith.

Jason Worilds needs to take advantage of that matchup.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Who I like, Cincinnati version

This is an important game in the grand scheme of things in the AFC North.

The winner, in fact, will have the inside track on winning the division, particularly if it's Cincinnati, which would move to 9-3-1 with a victory and pair of wins in hand against Baltimore.

For the Steelers, if they hope to make a push at the division title, they must win their final four games. Doing so would guarantee two losses for the Bengals, meaning Cincinnati could finish no better than 10-5-1.

But which Steelers team will show up? The one that defeated Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore a month ago, or the one that has struggled in its past three games, going 1-2 against the Jets, Titans and Saints?

There has been a lot made recently of the heavy workload Le'Veon Bell has had in the past two games, when he has touched the ball 64 times.

If the Steelers are going to beat the Bengals, Bell is going to need another 30-touch game.

The Bengals have been very good against the pass this season, allowing an NFL-low 11 touchdown passes.

But Cincinnati gives up 125 yards per game on the ground and has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns.

For the Steelers to win, Bell has to have another strong game. He's gone over 200 total yards in each of the past two games and can become the first running back since Walter Payton in 1977 to top 200 total yards in three consecutive games. That's heady company.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have to slow Cincinnati's two-headed rushing attack of Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill. If they can do that and force Andy Dalton, who has thrown 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, into some mistakes, they'll have a chance to win.

If not, they're in for a long game.

Cincinnati is a 3-point favorite in this game, showing that Las Vegas doesn't really trust the Bengals, either.

But who knows with this Pittsburgh team?

I like the Bengals, 27-23, but could see the Steelers winning this game as well.

And even if the Steelers do lose, they won't be out of the playoff chase in the AFC.

One, and possibly two, AFC teams will be in as wildcards at 10-6. There's still a lot of football left to be played.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Wednesday news, notes

The big news today was a story that wasn't a story. Once again, a "national" writer, this time from Bleacher Report, reported a Ben Roethlisberger story that didn't ring true.

The writer said on a podcast that Roethlisberger suffered a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist but that the injury isn't expected to sideline the Steelers quarterback.

I, along with some other writers, requested to speak with head coach Mike Tomlin about the issue after practice today - in which Roethlisberger did not partake.

Tomlin refused to comment on the report, saying that he wasn't going to comment on every little thing that hits the internet.

Then, as we walked back from the team's indoor practice facility, he pretty much let it be known that there was no truth to the report.

Roethlisberger also denied there was anything wrong.

Some might make a big  deal out of the fact he didn't practice Wednesday but the Steelers often give him some Wednesdays off during the regular season. And he did throw lightly with the receivers and running backs following the practice as he often does on Wednesday throughout the season.

This report is much akin to the Roethlisberger might be traded rumors from last season. The writers throw some stuff against the wall using words like "might" and, in this case, Roethlisberger is injured, but it won't sideline him.

The Steelers disagree. And as one person in the organization put it, if he was, in fact, suffering from a broken bone in his wrist, the team would have to put him on the injury report with a wrist injury or be subject to a fine from the NFL if it comes out later.

@ Steve McLendon was a surprise participant in practice today and said that he took a strength test earlier in the day and has been cleared to play.

That's good news for the Steelers, who are better at stopping the run when McClendon plays.

@ Stephon Tuitt said today that he expects to start at defensive end against the Bengals. Perhaps the fact that McLendon might be available could change that, but the fact remains Tuitt is going to be playing a lot more. And that's a good thing for now and for the future.

@ Jarvis Jones is expected to be activated this week. His role has yet to be determined. At the very least, getting him and Ryan Shazier back should be a boost to the special teams units.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been as accurate in recent weeks as he was earlier in the season.

That was particularly evident in the first half of last Sunday's 35-32 loss against the Saints, when Roethlisberger went 8-22 and badly overthrew a number of open receivers.

Tomlin said mechanics were a big reason for that, but said part of the reason for the poor mechanics were because of pressure directly in Roethlisberger's face that did not allow him to step into some throws.

There are easy solutions to that, however. Block better, get rid of the ball more quickly or have the quarterback move around in the pocket a little more.

It's hard to fathom that after having a three-game stretch in which he threw 14 TDs with no interceptions that Roethlisberger has four TDs and five interceptions in the past three games.

@ Tomlin also said he's not concerned about the heavy workload running back Le'Veon Bell has carried the past two games. After touching the ball 35 times in a win over Tennessee, Bell had 29 touches against the Saints.

Tomlin cited the heavy workload Bell handled in his final season at Michigan State, when he had nearly 400 touches, as evidence that the second-year running back can handle that kind of effort.

"That was one of things that attracted us to him," Tomlin said.

Bell is still a young pup and he wants the ball. But the Steelers should be careful not to run him into the ground.

He's proven to be a dynamic player. Maybe he's one of those rare people who can handle this kind of workload. If so, someday he'll be heading to Canton, Ohio.

@ Ryan Shazier and Marcus Gilbert are expected back in the lineup this week.

Brice McCain has a shot to play as well.

But it still doesn't sound so good for Steve McLendon. Tomlin said today that McLendon is dealing with a loss of strength in his shoulder.

That tells me it's a nerve issue, which can be tricky.

If McLendon doesn't play, here's hoping Daniel McCullers gets the start over Cam Thomas.

Then again, Thomas has been better at the nose than he has been at end, where he looks like a fish out of water - literally flopping around on the ground at times.

There is a plus to all of this. If Thomas has to play the nose, that will mean more playing time for rookie Stephon Tuitt at defensive end - finally.

@ Tomlin also sounded optimistic about the possibility of Jarvis Jones being activated this week off the short-term IR.

I watched Jones in practice last week and he actually looked pretty good. He looked like a player with fresh legs.

James Harrison would obviously get the start - though he's dealing with some knee soreness. But Jones might be able to give the Steelers a little something as a pass rusher.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Post-Saints thoughts

I thought the Saints defense would be a bad matchup for the Steelers. I thought the Steelers would run and pass their way through them with no issues.

I thought the Steelers would force a turnover or two that would change this game.

Turns out, I had my teams backward.

@ Ben Roethlisberger was horrible in this game for the first three quarters. And before we start blaming hand injuries, realize that he was 2-7 for 31 yards before banging his hand on Curtis Lofton at the end of the first quarter.

He had also already thrown what should have been a pick 6.

Roethlisberger was not good Sunday by any stretch of the imagination until the fourth quarter. And the Steelers can't afford for him to be not good.

The easy thing  to do is blame the head coach or coaching staff for this game. But that doesn't hold water. Roethlisberger can take this one on his shoulders.

Maybe it will inspire him to pick it up down the stretch.

@ The defense played inspired football in the first quarter. The offense played inspired football - outside of Roethlisberger - in the first and fourth quarters.

In between were a bunch of blah. It's become a recurring theme for this team.

@ I'm sure you'll hear all of the "flat" talk that is thrown around after every loss. But the defense allowed two first downs on the first three New Orleans possessions and the offense was moving up and down the field in the first quarter.

@ The Steelers are now 2-4 in games that start at 1 p.m. And they're 2-4 in games in which they allow a 100-yard rusher.

Their remaining four games all start at 1 p.m. There's nothing that can be done about that.

But the 100-yard rushers? That's something they can certainly work on.

My first move would be to get Stephon Tuitt into the starting lineup. Getting Steve McLendon back will help as well.

Either would keep Cam Thomas off the field more.

And with Brett Keisel likely done for the season (career?) with a torn triceps, it's time to get around to Tuitt.

@ Despite the loss, the Steelers are still in pretty much the same position they were before the game. Win out and they're in the playoffs.

Losses by Baltimore and Cleveland helped that. Sweeping Cincinnati and also beating Atlanta and Kansas City would put the Steelers at 11-5.

But does anyone have confidence in this team to do that? Only if Roethlisberger plays his best.

@ Le'Veon Bell spent a lot of time pass blocking when he wasn't running the ball in the first half. He was unleashed in the second half, catching eight passes for 159 yards.

Some of that came in garbage time at the end, but Bell should have been a bigger part of the passing game throughout.

@ If you would have told me the Steelers would hold Jimmy Graham without a catch, I'd have guaranteed a victory.

But Drew Brees was good, really good in this game. He threw his five TD passes to five different receivers.

Steelers-Saints game day thread

Greetings from Pittsburgh.

The weather here is overcast with temps in the high 50s, low 60s. There is a chance of rain, but it's not expected to hit until after the game ends.

Inactive for the Steelers today are Ryan Shazier, Marcus Gilbert, Steve McLendon, Justin Brown, Cortez Allen, B.W. Webb and Landry Jones.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Who I like, New Orleans version

I've heard all of the angst surrounding this game.

"The Steelers sometimes lose to bad teams." "Drew Brees is dangerous." "This game could be a trap because the Steelers play the Bengals next week."

I think it's all a bunch of mularkey.

It is precisely because of those three things that the Steelers won't lose this game.

Yes, at 4-7, the Saints aren't a very good team. But they do have Brees, which should have everyone's attention - most notably, the guy who wears No. 7.

Ben Roethlisberger gets pumped to play against other great or big-name quarterbacks, especially at home.

And because the Steelers know they can't afford a stumble before giving Cincinnati their best shot, they'll be focused as a team as well.

Roethlisberger went as far as to call this a must-win game. The Steelers will treat it as such.

With Brees at quarterback, the Saints can score. But the Steelers will take a similar tact to the one they did against Indianapolis earlier this season.

They'll try to keep the ball out of Brees' hands while also putting up as many points as possible. They won't back off the throttle.

And New Orleans' defense isn't nearly as formidable as the one in Indianapolis.

The Saints give up big yards on the ground and through the air. And they'll do stupid thins like play Cover-0, with seven or eight pass rushers and no safety help.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can't help himself. It's what he does.

With Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, two guys who are built to beat one-on-one coverage, that's a recipe for disaster.

And Roethlisberger is at his best when blitzed.

The Steelers also are getting healthy at the right time - right tackle Marcus Gilbert's ankle injury in practice this week notwithstanding.

The Steelers are 4 1/2-point favorites in this one and I like them to force a couple of turnovers and win this one going away, 38-27.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin sounded much more positive about the situation regarding the availability of safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor today than he did about linebacker Ryan Shazier or nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Tomlin said the decision surrounding the return of those four players from injury would, of course, be determined by their participation in practice this week. But he also noted that Polamalu and Taylor have "decades" of experience while Shazier, in particular, has missed a lot of practice time for a rookie.

The Steelers won't rush Shazier back, though he could see playing time in certain situations this week.

McLendon, meanwhile, has missed three of the past five games with a nagging shoulder injury. If he's able to fully practice this week, it would give the Steelers an interesting decision to make on their defensive line.

Do they sit Cam Thomas, who for reasons beyond my ability to see, continues to see more playing time than rookie Stephon Tuitt and can also serve as the backup nose tackle, or do they sit Tuitt or rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers?

I know what everyone else feels about the situation, but for whatever reason, the coaching staff remains tied to Thomas.

@ Tomlin said today that cornerback Cortez Allen suffered a broken thumb in practice two days before the team's last game against the Tennessee Titans. Allen played in that game on special teams but had surgery during the bye week.

He's in a cast now and with Taylor coming back, would be bumped to the fifth cornerback spot.

That doesn't mean Allen won't be active against the Saints this weekend. He could still play special teams. But his ability to make any kind of push to get back into the lineup is certainly hampered.

Ironically, the game book from the Tennessee game incorrectly lists Allen as a starter in that game. He was obviously confused with Will Allen, who started at safety in place of Polamalu.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday news, notes

The Steelers, as expected, got a number of injured defensive starters back for practice today as they returned from a weekend off.

Cornerback Ike Taylor, who had a broken forearm, said he has been completely cleared by team doctors to return to full practice.

Taylor has been working out with the team during practices for much of the past month and it wouldn't surprise me if he's back in the starting lineup when the Steelers play New Orleans Sunday.

Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, safety Troy Polamalu and nose tackle Steve McLendon were back on the field today as well.

It appears the defense will be as healthy as it's been since the Carolina game in late September.

@ Jarvis Jones started practicing today as well. That means the clock starts ticking on his comeback.

The Steelers now have 21 days to either activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

Jones said he will still be forced to wear a brace on his injured wrist, but said it felt good today.

Jones had a broken bone and ligament damage in his wrist. He said he still must do rehab exercises every day in an attempt to build the strength back in his hand.

That will be an ongoing process. At this point, if he returns, it would be the week before the Steelers host Kansas City Dec. 21.

@ I spoke with some players in the past week about social media usage. Here's what they had to say:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Steelers could move into first place this week in the AFC North while on their bye. That's how crazy things have been in the division this season.

Even more crazy? The Cincinnati Bengals could go from first place to last place.

Here's who I like in this weekend's games involving the division:

Cincinnati (plus 2) at Houston
The Texans went into Cleveland and won last week to knock the Browns out of first in the AFC North. Now, they’ll knock the Bengals out of the top spot.

Take Houston, 27-23

Cleveland (plus 3) at Atlanta
The Falcons are 4-0 against the NFC South, 0-6 against everyone else. But they’re 4-6 and in first place in the division. Cleveland is 6-4 and in last place in the AFC North.

Take Cleveland, 24-20

Baltimore (plus 3 1/2 ) at New Orleans
The Saints have lost two in a row at home to fall to 4-6 but are tied for first in the NFC South. Baltimore, like, Cleveland is 6-4 and tied for last in the AFC North. Saints should regain their home mojo.

Take New Orleans, 31-24

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blount to Patriots and other notes

LeGarrette Blount cleared waivers and was signed by the New England Patriots on Thursday, two days after his release by the Steelers.

It brings up an interesting question. Some people within the Steelers organization feel that Blount made a calculated move by leaving the field prior to the end of regulation in the team's 27-24 win over Tennessee Monday night because he wanted out of Pittsburgh.

Blount was unhappy with his role with the team, which had gotten increasingly less in recent weeks - remember, he was introduced as a starter early in the season, even though he was only getting a handful of carries each week.

And the Steelers' plan going into the game against the Titans was to run Le'Veon Bell almost exclusively, which turned into exclusively given the damage he was doing against the Titans.

Could Blount have contacted the Patriots, who were short at running back after a season-ending injury to Steven Ridley, secretly to gauge an interest?

Perhaps. But I don't think so.

It's easy to come to those kind of conclusions when the Patriots are involved. After all, they have been known to push the rules.

But I really believe Blount's reaction was more spontaneous. He celebrated a touchdown with Bell early in the fourth quarter and likely thought he might get some carries down the stretch as the Steelers ran out the clock at the end of the game.

But when Bell got 12 fourth quarter carries, I'm sure that didn't sit well.

@ Ike Taylor said he has an appointment Monday with Dr. Jim Bradley to see if he's cleared to return to contact.

If he is cleared, he should be ready to return to the lineup. Taylor has been practicing for nearly a month.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Steelers cut ties with Blount

Mike Tomlin sent a strong message through his locker room today. You're either with us or against us.

Cutting LeGarrette Blount had to be a difficult decision for Tomlin.

On one hand, you had a player who had been something of a problem. First was the incident in August when he and Le'Veon Bell were pulled over on their way to the airport for a preseason game and charged with possession of marijuana.

And during the practices with the Buffalo Bills, Blount had to be pulled away a couple of times from going after Buffalo players when minor fights broke out.

Monday night was the final straw, as Blount left the field early in the closing moments of the Steelers' 27-24 victory at Tennessee. Not only did he do that, he left the locker room early, before Tomlin had spoken to the team, and had to be ordered back into the room by assistant coach Joey Porter - with whom Blount had also nearly fought during a backs on backers drill in Latrobe.

But the Steelers also are very thin at running back now without Blount on the roster.

Their only experience at the position behind Le'Veon Bell now consists of Dri Archer's eight career carries. Josh Harris, the player promoted from the practice squad to replace Blount on the roster, was an undrafted rookie who wasn't signed by the Steelers until they had other injuries at the position in training camp.

Tomlin had to weigh those things when he made the decision to give Blount his walking papers.

Bell was on the field for 71 of the Steelers' 74 offensive plays against the Titans. Blount was in for just one play.

Bell is an every-down back to be sure, but the Steelers are going to need more out of Archer for sure while also figuring out ways to incorporate Harris into things. They now cannot afford an injury to Bell.

Post-Titans thoughts

Stylistically, there won't be many points given out for the Steelers' 27-24 win over the Titans Monday night.

Then again, maybe there will be.

After all, Le'Veon Bell's 204-yard performance was just the fifth 200-yard game by a Steelers running back.

Willie Parker had two and Frenchy Fuqua and John Henry Johnson had one each. Period.

For a team that for a long time prided itself on being a hard-nosed run-oriented offense, that's hard to believe.

@ The Titans really worked hard to protect rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger from the numerous blitzes that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau sent at him.

But in the second half, even though the Steelers didn't get any sacks, they did get in the rookie's wheelhouse a couple of times to force bad throws.

Don't think for a second that Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't pick defensive coordinator Ray Horton's brain about what LeBeau liked to run and when he liked to run it.

Both are former Steelers assistant coaches and know LeBeau well.

@ LeGarrette Blount reportedly left the field in the closing minutes of the game after being told Bell was going to finish things off.

Blount wasn't in the locker room following the game.

Though he saw some snaps, Blount didn't get any carries in the game as Bell carried the entire load, getting 33 of the team's 36 rushing attempts. Roethlisberger had the other three, two on kneel downs at the end of the game.

If Blount did, indeed, leave before the game was completed, that was not a good, or smart, move by him.

I'm sure head coach Mike Tomlin will have some kind of punishment for him, even if it's not made public.

@ The offensive line set a goal of getting Bell, who had just 21 carries in the previous two games, 150 yards rushing in this game.

@ It appears that Markus Wheaton has found a home as the team's kick returner.

@ The Steelers need to figure out why it's taking Roethlisberger three quarters to get going in road games this season.

Pittsburgh has scored one or fewer offensive touchdown in four of its six road games this season - though it had two in this game.

It also has failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first three quarters of four of its six road games, including Monday night's contest.

@ The Steelers ran 21 plays in the fourth quarter to just seven for the Titans.

@ The bye comes at a much-needed time for the Steelers. They were without six starters from their opening day lineup on defense.

They should get at least a four of those guys - Ike Taylor, Ryan Shazier, Troy Polamalu and Steve McLendon - back coming out of the bye.

Jarvis Jones also will start practicing soon. The other starter, cornerback Cortez Allen, was benched due to his play.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Steelers-Titans game day thread

It's a chilly night here at LP Field in Nashville, a perfect night for the Steelers to come out and re-establish their running game with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.

The Steelers (6-4) need a win in this one to move ahead of Cleveland and Baltimore, who are both 6-4, in the AFC North standings, though with Pittsburgh on a bye next week, that could again turn into a three-way tie for second or last in the division, depending on how you want to look at it.

As we already know, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Steve McLendon, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas will be out today for the Steelers.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Who I like, Titans version

The Steelers travel to Nashville needing a win over the Titans Monday night to keep pace in the AFC North.

And really, it seems like it should be something they will do with some relative ease - unless road issues plague them again.

The Steelers are averaging 17 points per game on the road this season compared to 35 at home. And that includes the 37 points they scored at Carolina.

They've just had issues on the road.

But that Carolina defense was mighty similar to what the Titans will bring at the Steelers. Neither can stop the run.

If you remember, in that game against Carolina, the Steelers had both Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount run for more than 100 yards.

While that might not happen again, the Titans are 29th in the league stopping the run. That will take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger to do everything.

Likewise, the Titans will be have Zach Mettenberger making just his third NFL start. The Steelers are 18-2 since 2004 against rookie quarterbacks and unbeaten with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Again, they don't lose to rookie quarterbacks when Roethlisberger plays.

The Steelers are 6-point favorites in this game and I like them to win, 31-16.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday news, notes

The Arizona Cardinals have signed defensive end Josh Mauro off of the Steelers practice squad.

Ironically, it was the Cardinals attempting to sign Brett Keisel at the end of training camp that probably cost Mauro a spot on the 53-man roster in August.

Keisel called the Steelers at that time and said he wanted to play. They decided to bring him back and it was Keisel who made the final roster, likely over Mauro, an undrafted rookie from Stanford who had two sacks in the preseason.

@ Steve McLendon (shoulder), Troy Polamalu (knee) and Ryan Shazier (ankle) did not practice Friday for the Steelers.

Cortez Allen (thumb), Ike Taylor (forearm) and Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) were limited.

Safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) made it through his second consecutive day of practice and appears to be in line to return this week.

For the Titans, tight end Delanie Walker still has not passed his concussion tests.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

McCullers will start

The Steelers plan on starting rookie Daniel McCullers at nose tackle if Steve McLendon doesn't play - which is likely.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell confirmed to Steelers Nation Radio that McCullers would get the nod Monday night at Tennessee, though Cam Thomas will see some time there as well.

McCullers has been active for just three games this season, but saw action in 11 snaps last week when he was active due to injuries at a number of other positions.

Things are going to get interesting for the Steelers coming out of the bye week if McCullers plays well.

McLendon should be back and has played pretty well this season.

But the Steelers are also set to get linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor back from lengthy injuries as well.

Could Thomas wind up being inactive, or worse, released?

I don't think he'll be released and he's still - at least technically - starting ahead of Brett Keisel. But Keisel is logging more plays and rookie Stephon Tuitt also is seeing action in a handful of plays each week.

Thomas has played better in recent weeks. Then again, he couldn't have played much worse than he had in the preseason and first month or so of the season.

Some of that is because he's not a true defensive end. He's been better when asked to play the nose.

But that definitely looks like a bad free agent signing.

@ McLendon, who is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, did not practice on Thursday.

Ross Ventrone, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, was back on the field Thursday. Taylor and Shamarko Thomas, who is also dealing with a hamstring issue, were limited.

Brett Keisel and Arthur Moats were given the day off, while Troy Polamalu an Ryan Shazier, who have already been declared out, did not practice.

Taylor has also been declared out.

For Tennessee, tight end Delanie Walker, who left last week's loss at Baltimore with a concussion, did not practice.

If he doesn't make it back, that's a huge loss for Tennessee. Walker is the Titans' top red zone threat and second-leading receiver.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some midweek news, notes

Jarvis Jones is no longer in a cast and said he's getting closer to making a return.

He won't begin practicing  until after the bye week because he's not quite ready to make his return. He needs to rebuild his strength and flexibility in his injured right wrist, which looks markedly smaller than his left.

Once he starts practicing, the clock starts ticking on him and the Steelers will have 21 days to either activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

James Harrison and Arthur Moats have been fine filling in for Jones, but wouldn't a Harrison/Jones rotation look better?

@ The NFL has released its results from early Pro Bowl voting by fans and Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are both among the top 10.

Bell has the second-most votes among running backs behind DeMarco Murray with just over 210,000. That ranks him sixth in the overall voting.

Brown leads all wide receivers with just over 200,000 votes and is seventh among all players.

@ I had a long talk with Bell today and asked him what he thinks he'd be doing if he weren't playing football.

Bell didn't hesitate. He said he'd be playing in the NBA.

If you think that's crazy, consider that Michigan State didn't offer Bell a scholarship to play football until seeing him on the basketball court.

Bell said he scored 31 that night.

He also high-jumped 6-8 in track that year.

To that point, Bell had been getting offers from a number of MAC schools to play running back. Some bigger schools wanted him but only as a safety or linebacker, likely a nod to the fact he's a legit 6-1, a height many don't consider ideal for a running back.

Bell wanted to be a running back or nothing. But after seeing his explosiveness and athleticism in that basketball game, Michigan State offered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier and Ike Taylor will be out this week when the Steelers travel to Nashville to take on the Titans.

Taylor is getting  close to a return from a broken forearm but still hasn't been cleared by doctors to return. That should happen after the bye week.

Polamalu and Shazier were both out last week against the Jets, Polamalu with a knee sprain, Shazier with an ankle.

The Steelers really could have used Shazier in that game as a possible spy on Michael Vick and as somebody to run down a couple of the jet sweeps New York ran with Percy Harvin.

Those plays didn't go for huge yardage, but they did move the chains.

Nose tackle Steve McLendon was dealing with some shoulder soreness and there could be a thought by the team to hold him out this week in order to allow the injury nearly three full weeks to heal.

@ Tomlin called Mike Mitchell's jump over the New York line with 1:14 remaining in the game and the Jets attempting to take a knee, "unprofessional."

Tomlin also said he addressed the team regarding the incident.

Personally, I don't have as big a problem with it - as long as everyone else on the defense is in on the play - which they were not.

It was a one-score game and if the Jets fumble there and the Steelers recover, there's still plenty of time remaining to make something happen.

Now, if Mitchell had done it down two scores or with 3 seconds remaining in the game, that's different. But that wasn't the situation. There was still plenty of time left in that game.

It wasn't like Baltimore calling timeout with 2 seconds remaining the previous week down three scores. That forced both teams to compete for one more play on which an injury could have occurred.

@ Tomlin wouldn't bite on a question about John Harbaugh's locker room quotes about the Steelers, saying it didn't matter because Pittsburgh and Baltimore don't play again this season.

He did note that the Steelers will have a chance to do get to play the Ravens twice next year.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Post-Jets thoughts

Call it a letdown, trap or whatever you'd like. But this was definitely a game that had danger written all over it.

The Jets like to sloppy things up and play that style of game and the Steelers played right into their hands.

Four turnovers? Really?

And by their two best offensive players.

Blame Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff all you want, but the defense played its' collective behind off and the team's two best offensive players both committed two turnovers.

Think about this: How much of the outcome of this game changes if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't throw his two interceptions, both of which came well into Jets territory?

Even if they just get field goals there, is it a different outcome? Perhaps.

New York did very little offensively after the first quarter. In fact, in the final three quarters, the Jets looked like a team trying to allow the Steelers to come in the back door for a win.

Michael Vick got more than half of his 132 passing yards on one play and had 33 yards passing in the second half.

And the Jets had 57 of their 150 yards rushing on nine carries on the opening drive. After that, they averaged 3.3 yards per carry. And that includes Vick ripping off a couple of decent gains.

The Jets turtled and the Steelers couldn't take advantage.

@ This was a missed opportunity to be sure, but it's not the end of the world.

Going into this weekend, I figured the Steelers would go 2-1 in their remaining road games not against the Bengals.

This loss just means that they now have to beat the Titans and Falcons.

Given this loss and the fact the Tennessee game is being played in prime time, I expect the Steelers to get that one.

The game against the Falcons will be difficult but not impossible to win, especially if the Falcons have mailed things in at that point, which is highly possible.

And heck, given Cincinnati's current issues, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Steelers could get a sweep of the Bengals.

The bottom line is that this is still a 10-win team at the least. And 10 wins gets you into the tournament.

@ That said, the Steelers had better figure out their issues on the road. Roethlisberger has five TDs and four interceptions in five road games this season. He has 18 TD passes and one interception at home.

@ Even though I know they've been working on it, I don't like using James Harrison in the goal line package.

Isn't that why you carry three tight ends - or even Mike Adams?

@ I would have run a QB sneak on first-and-goal inside the 1. If your 250-pound quarterback can't get into the end zone following your Pro Bowl center and future Pro Bowl right guard, you don't deserve to score.

You also don't deserve to score when your 250-pound running back gives eight yards of ground.

@ Everyone is down on Tod Haley again because the Steelers ran several screens early on. But that was a way to slow down New York's pass rush, which came into the game with 25 sacks.

The Jets countered by dropping eight guys quite a bit.

@ I would have gone for a first down or touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 5 early in the fourth quarter, but I understand why Mike Tomlin went for a field goal that Shaun Suisham promptly missed.

A field goal would have made it a two-score game and the Jets were in complete turtle mode.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Steelers-Jets game day thread

Rejoice Steelers fans. Daniel McCullers is active today.

With so many other guys out with injuries, the Steelers really didn't have much of a choice.

Inactive today are Ike Taylor, Shamarko Thomas, Ross Ventrone, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier, Chris Hubbard and Landry Jones.

Hubbard and Jones are the only guys on that list who are healthy scratches.

For the Jets, former Steelers offensive lineman Wes Johnson is inactive, as is starting corner Darrin Walls.

The Jets will start Marcus Williams and Phillip Adams at cornerback. Either could walk into any party in America that is not their family reunion and be recognized.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Who I like, Jets version

Let's get the injury stuff out of the way first.

As we already knew, Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas and Ryan Shazier will not play in this game for the Steelers. You can now add Ross Ventrone to that list as well, which leaves the Steelers very thin at safety going into this game.

Will Allen will start next to Mike Mitchell, with only Robert Golden currently on the roster as a backup. William Gay could play safety in a pinch, but the Steelers could also activate Jordan Dangerfield, signed earlier this week, from the practice squad.

As for the game itself, the Steelers are 5-point favorites, which shows that those guys in Vegas are looking at what Pittsburgh has done on the road this season and aren't necessarily buying just yet.

To that point, outside of a big game at Carolina, the Steelers have scored 6, 17 and 10 points in their other road games this season.

But that was then and this is now.

This team is playing with a lot more confidence than the one that scored two combined offensive touchdowns at Jacksonville and Cleveland a month ago.

Ben Roethlisberger is on fire and rookie Martavis Bryant and Lance Moore weren't really in the mix at wide receiver, with Justin Brown still getting the majority of the snaps.

All Moore and Bryant have done is catch seven TD passes in the past four games.

Defensively, the Steelers also are playing a little different. They're attacking more. Part of that is because the score of the games has allowed for that, but the Steelers are attacking from the opening kickoff.

The Jets are as dangerous a 1-8 team as I've seen in the NFL. They have some very good players and some dangerous offensive weapons.

But they're also a team that has allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked 25 times, including 10 on new starter Michael Vick in just over 80 pass attempts.

The matchup of Roethlisberger and company against New York's secondary is also not a good one for the Jets, who have allowed 24 touchdown passes, six more than the next closest team.

As long as Pittsburgh controls the Jets' running game - and by control, I mean not allowing New York to go for 200 yards - and doesn't turn the ball over against a defense that has forced just three turnovers, it should win this game.

I like the Steelers, 27-17

@ The NFL handed out fines to five players from last week's win over Baltimore, and not surprisingly, four of the fines went to the Ravens.

Courtney Upshaw drew a $20,000 fine for his late hit on Roethlisberger, while guard Jeremy Zuttah, Albert McClellan and, yes, Terrell Suggs were each fined $8,268 for late or unnecessary hits.

The fine for Suggs was for his much-talked-about hit on LeGarrette Blount.

The NFL uses a system for its fines, hence the bigger fine for Upshaw, who obviously has had other incidents in his recent past.

It's a one-size-fits-all mentality rather than looking at each hit on its own.

For the Steelers, Vince Williams was fined $8,268 for taunting, which in the grand scheme of things, seems either excessive or makes the other fines look small.

How is yelling at another player even on the same scale as hitting them late or, in the case of the Suggs, hit, taking a chance at ending their career?

Then again, maybe he told somebody that their mother was a hamster and their father smells of elderberries. Oh, the humanity.

No other Steelers were fined, including Steve McLendon, who was flagged for what the game officials ruled was a heavy hit on Joe Flacco.

Apparently, the NFL, when looking at the hit, saw that Flacco was already in the air when hit by McLendon, who was jumping over another player himself to get to the quarterback. It looked ugly in regular time, but once it was slowed down, it was easy to see that it wasn't a malicious hit.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Thoughts on this week

Mike Tomlin spent a lot of time talking up the New York Jets on Tuesday and apparently did more of the same to his team.

Several guys that I spoke with on Wednesday talked about how the Jets were a good team that has been derailed by turning the football over 18 times this season.

There's a lot of truth to that.

The Jets have a very good front seven, led by linemen Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, that has generated 25 sacks.

The issue, however, in addition to the turnovers, is that the Jets have allowed 25 sacks and, more importantly, 24 touchdown passes.

The NFL record for TD passes allowed in a single season is 40 by the 1963 Denver Broncos. The Jets are on pace to easily surpass that.

Twelve of the turnovers belong to former starting quarterback Geno Smith, who threw 10 interceptions and fumbled twice in 233 pass attempts while getting sacked 15 times.

But new starter Michael Vick hasn't been markedly better. His passer rating of 67.4 is barely above that of Smith (65.6) and he's thrown one interception and has lost two fumbles in 84 pass attempts while also being sacked 10 times.

The Jets can beat the Steelers. That much is certain. But if it does happen, it will be because the players didn't heed Tomlin's warnings and Vick suddenly finds his groove.

@ I got to the bottom of the Steelers' use of their inside linebackers on Wednesday. Here's the link that explains it:

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas are all out for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

Polamalu has a sprained knee suffered in the second quarter of the victory over the Ravens. To that point, he had played every snap of the past two seasons.

It's not expected to be a lengthy injury, though the Steelers could play it safe and bring him back after their bye in three weeks.

Veteran Will Allen will start in his place.

Shazier suffered an ankle sprain in the first half against the Ravens. Though Tomlin didn't say it, Shazier's injury looked like it could be a high ankle sprain.

He's had some bad luck thus far in his career. Both of his injuries have occurred when he's gotten rolled up around piles.

It should be a good learning tool for the rookie. Don't be around the pile, be part of the pile.

Thomas' hamstring injury is his second in the past month, though the last one was on the other leg.

His injury will leave the Steelers thin at safety this week, though Ross Ventrone could be back after sitting out last week with a hamstring injury.

@ Tomlin was particularly unhappy with his kickoff return unit, calling it out for not being ready to cover Jacoby Jones prior to his 108-yard return in the fourth quarter.

Tomlin said guys were dancing as they were waiting for the walk up and said that definitely won't happen again.

Thomas, by the way, pulled that hamstring on Jones' TD return.

@ As expected, Tomlin spent a lot of time talking about the individual talent the New York Jets have.

And it's true, the Jets do have some very good players - as is the case with every NFL team.

But New York's secondary is a mess. The Jets have allowed 24 TD passes - six more than any other team in the league - and have just one interception.

And the Jets quarterbacks have thrown 12 TD passes in the past 15 games. Ben Roethlisberger has 12 in the past two weeks.

New York does have 25 sacks this season, but has also allowed 25 sacks. In fact, Michael Vick, who will start this week against the Steelers, has been sacked 10 times in just over 80 pass attempts.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Post-Ravens thoughts part II

Remember that team that was left for dead a month ago in Cleveland?

It's now in control of its own destiny the rest of the way this season thanks to three impressive wins over AFC contenders.

Certainly, playing Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore at home helped, but it seemed that each one of those wins was more impressive than the last.

The Steelers are a legitimate contender in the AFC because they finally figured out that to win, they just need to keep on scoring.

Welcome to today's NFL.

After becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to have two 500-yard games in his career, Ben Roethlisberger set another NFL record Sunday night by throwing six TD passes in back-to-back games.

That's the most in a two-game stretch in NFL history.

And it's what the Steelers will need to continue to do moving forward. Keep on scoring and let it all be sorted out at the end of the game.

@ Anybody else notice, by the way, that all six of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes came after Courtney Upshaw came at him with a shoulder to the chin in the second quarter?

Joe Flacco, on the other hand, immediately threw an interception after Steve McLendon was penalized for roughing the passer.

@ The defense has chipped in during this three-game stretch with seven turnovers.

With the offense as explosive as any in the NFL, that's all that's needed. It has been a winning formula over the past decade for teams such as New England, Green Bay and New Orleans.

The defense doesn't need to be great if it's taking the ball away from the other team.

@ All of that said, James Harrison is playing out of his mind right now.

He had another two sacks and hit Joe Flacco four other times in this one. And that was after being steamrolled in a dogpile that left him lying on the ground like Sargent Hulka in Stripes for several moments.

He finally picked himself up went off for a couple of plays and then continued his assault of Flacco.

Harrison said after the game, however, that he is not considering coming back next season. And he's not likely to change his mind about that.

@ While Roethlisberger, Tomlin and other keep trying to downplay Martavis Bryant's contributions, all the kid does is keep making plays.

I understand that the Steelers don't want Bryant to think that the NFL is easy. But boy, he sure is making it look easy at this point.

@ Having Antonio Brown working on the other side helps. Brown might be the most unstoppable force in the NFL right now.

While Roethlisberger deserves to be mentioned as an MVP candidate and likely will get some of that push after Sunday night's game, Brown deserves to be in the conversation as well.

He now has 71 receptions for 996 yards and eight touchdowns. That's a season's worth of production for most guys.

@ The best news for the Steelers in this game was that they did what they did with little to no production out of the run game. In fact, you could say they really started clicking once they abandoned their run game.

Part of that was due to game circumstance. The Steelers had terrible field position throughout the first quarter of this game.

But once they finally started just throwing the ball, they began moving it consistently.

@ To put what the Steelers did to the Ravens Sunday night into perspective, consider this: The Ravens entered the game having allowed just seven touchdown passes in their first eight games.

They exited with 13 now on the board.

@ Bryant matched an NFL and team record by scoring his fifth touchdown in his third NFL game.

That matched former Steelers tight end Eric Green (remember him?) for the most in three games to start an NFL career.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Steelers-Ravens game-day thread II

The Steelers answered the question about what they will do with Steve McLendon now healthy on their defensive line.

Rookie Daniel McCullers is inactive for this game.

A lot of fans will howl about that, but realize that it comes down to who can do more as a backup, McCullers or Cam Thomas.

Thomas will back up both end and nose tackle. McCullers would have strictly been the backup nose tackle.

Cortez Allen is active today and will serve as the Steelers' No. 4 corner. That means he'll likely just see a lot of special teams action.

It's chilly here tonight with a very light wind.

Given what happened earlier in the day, we can now say definitively that the loser of this game will be in last place, a 1/2-game behind Cleveland, which won earlier to improve to 5-3.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Who I like, Baltimore part II

This, as usual, should be another interesting chapter in the Steelers-Ravens rivalry.

There are many reasons why, but here's the big one for me.

The loser of this game will likely find itself in last place in the ultra-competitive AFC North.

Cleveland hosts Tampa Bay Sunday, a game the Browns will likely win to get to 5-3, while Cincinnati hosts Jacksonville with a move to 5-2-1 likely.

The loser of the game between the Steelers (5-3) and Ravens (5-3) will fall to 5-4.

If it's the Ravens, it could be a big fall for a team that was alone in first place just two weeks ago. I don't know if a team has ever gone from first to last in the matter of two weeks this late in a season.

More importantly, the loser of this game can likely count itself out of the race for the division title.

Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore currently find themselves with two losses in AFC North games this season.

The Steelers have split with Cleveland and lost at Baltimore for a 1-2 record. Baltimore, meanwhile, owns victories over Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but was swept by Cincinnati.

It's highly unlikely that a team with three losses in the division will win the division, though it's not impossible.

But at 5-4 with three losses in the division, it will be very tough.

Sunday's game will mark Baltimore's fourth on the road in its past five games. The Steelers had a similar stretch earlier this season. The final road game of that stretch was at Cleveland, and we all know how that worked out.

The Steelers looked like a tired team in that 31-10 loss to the Browns and looked to be dead in the water.

So for all of the talk, coming out of Baltimore this week about how the Ravens are "comfortable" playing at Heinz Field, I think that's just the head coach and some key players trying to convince themselves it's true.

I don't know how comfortable a tired Baltimore team will be in front of what promises to be a rowdy night crowd on the night Joe Greene's jersey is being retired.

And then there's this: Since 2005, the Steelers have been underdogs at home eight times previously, including last week against Indianapolis. Their record in those games is now 6-1-1 against the spread and 5-2 straight up.

Baltimore is a two-point favorite in this game, but I'll take the home team, 27-24

Thursday, October 30, 2014

ESPN gets to bottom of Podlesh story

When punter Adam Podlesh didn't report for training camp at the end of July, we were told it was because he was staying in Jacksonville to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

What happened after that is every husband's nightmare.

After a week or so, I was told privately that Podlesh's wife had experienced a "very difficult pregnancy." The punter wouldn't be reporting to the Steelers anytime soon.

Little did we know exactly what that "difficult" pregnancy entailed.

ESPN did a story with the Podlesh family that can be seen here:

Some people, including posters on this board, questioned why Podlesh wasn't reporting. Those people should feel about 1-inch tall after reading this story.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday news, notes

The Steelers looked to be in pretty good shape from an injury standpoint on Wednesday.

Marcus Gilbert, Steve McLendon and Shamarko Thomas were all back at practice. Gilbert and McLendon were back at their usual spots in the starting lineup.

An interesting exchange took place when head coach Mike Tomlin walked through the locker room following practice.

Tomlin yelled over to Mike Adams as he walked by him, telling him to keep "his arrow pointed up," and not to let his lack of a defined role get him down.

It was almost as if he was giving the offensive tackle a pat on the back - as he also did on Tuesday at his press conference - while telling him he was headed to the bench.

Part of being a coach is knowing which guys need a kick in the butt and which ones need a softer touch.

Adams seems like a softer touch kind of guy judging by the way he moped through training camp when he wasn't given a chance to win a starting job.

@ The Steelers have gone with a receiver-by-committee approach in the past two games instead and it's working pretty well.

While Antonio Brown has done his usual damage, catching 19 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey have combined to catch 18 balls for 257 yards and four touchdowns.

@ Upon further review, James Harrison was given his sack back on Wednesday.

Harrison lost a sack he should have had on Sunday when Troy Polamalu came in and knocked the ball free from Andrew Luck's hand as the quarterback was being dropped from behind by Harrison.

Because of the forced fumble, the stats crew gave the sack to Polamalu, even though it was obvious Harrison had made first contact and was in the process of taking Luck to the ground.

That was corrected Wednesday and it gave Harrison his 15th two-sack game as a member of the Steelers. Only LaMarr Woodley and Jason Gildon had more.