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How the Steelers utilized their bye week

Back in elementary school, the assignment each September often was an essay titled, "What I Did During Summer Vacation." If there would be a corresponding assignment in the NFL, it likely would be titled, "What We Did During Our Bye Week."

According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are limited to what they can try to accomplish during a bye week, because practice in pads is a no-no, and the players must be given four consecutive days off, and those either can be Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, or Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday.

During their bye week last week, the Steelers chose the first of those options, and so last Tuesday and Wednesday were days spent in meetings discussing/evaluating things, and on the field working on things that were a bit outside the norm for a team in the midst of its regular season.

"The bye week was an opportunity for us to get a couple of significant things done," said Coach Mike Tomlin during his weekly news conference today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "I feel comfortable with what we were able to get done. You measure it by how you're able to use that time and information for our good as we move forward."

The Steelers were fortunate in that their bye week came after they had played six games – almost exactly in the middle of their 16-game regular season schedule – and as a result the timing of it allowed for some meaningful self-evaluation.

"We spent some time focusing on us, what we've done schematically," said Tomlin. "We also spent some time looking at division of labor, roles, what we've asked people to do, analysis of those things, all with an eye on how we move forward. We took some time looking at things that are trending in football, things that are going on outside of us that we're very much a part of – trends in the game, how the game is being played globally. And lastly we spent some time updating and preparing ourselves for the Cleveland Browns, our next opponent."

That last element is at the top of the to-do list this week, because the Steelers will bring a modest two-game winning streak into Sunday's rematch against the Browns at Heinz Field. In Cleveland for this season's opener on Sept. 9, the Steelers left there with a 21-21 tie that just about everyone in their locker room admitted felt like a defeat.

But it wasn't a defeat, and the way that distinction manifested itself happened over the weekend, because after the Ravens and Bengals both lost to drop to 4-3, the Steelers took over first place in the AFC North based on a better winning percentage, and their better winning percentage was a direct result of that opener in Cleveland being a tie instead of a loss.

"We largely have a healthy football team. We have a group of guys who maybe missed some time in the last game or in recent games who are participating in a limited-like capacity but we're excited about their inclusion in our work. Morgan Burnett (groin) worked some yesterday, and he'll continue to work in a partial capacity. We'll let that be our guide in terms of his potential availability. Darrius Heyward-Bey, with his ankle injury, same thing. L.J. Fort, with his ankle injury, same thing. We'll look at some others along those lines, but those are the guys in most recent times who have missed some time and are working their way back to us."