Not playing it cool: The Steelers have a huge AFC North game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and Coach Mike Tomlin isn't downplaying its significance.
"This is a big week for us," said Tomlin. "I think that's one of the approaches that we're going to take this week. We're not going to play it cool and pretend like it's not or downplay it. This is significant AFC North football for us."
The AFC North is a tightly contested division right now, with the Ravens (7-3) leading, followed by the Bengals (6-4), Steelers (5-4-1) and Browns (6-5).
"Very similar to the circumstances that we were in a couple of weeks ago when we were readying ourselves to go to Cleveland," said Tomlin. "These games are big. They are. You're not going to backdoor your way into the single elimination tournament. You're not going to backdoor your way into division significance. You got to go on the road and win games in this division. And that's just the reality of it. The sugar on top is obviously earlier in the season, they were able to come into our place and win.
"It's a big game for us. It's a big game for them. There's positioning relative to it. We're not going to play it cool. We're not going to pretend like it's not. What we're going to do is acknowledge that and then we've got to be at our best. We've got to put together a good plan. We've got to divide the labor up appropriately to highlight the strengths of our collective. We've got to work to minimize some of our individual weaknesses, and thus get out of the stadium with the desired result. That is going to be our focus as we prepare this week."
It's expected: If you look at the stat sheet, you might just gloss over Cameron Heyward's numbers against the Chargers. Two tackles, both solo tackles, and a pass defense.
Those numbers don't come close to telling the story.
One of Heyward's tackles was pure hustle, gut and heart when he tracked down Justin Herbert, going 36 yards down the field to make a tackle at the 11-yard line.
Then after the Steelers pulled to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Heyward batted a Justin Herbert pass that Cameron Sutton intercepted. The Steelers scored on the ensuing drive to tie the game, 34-34.
It's just a small sample size of Heyward's overall value to the team, and the leadership that he has shown from Day 1 in black and gold.
"Like I mentioned in some other instances, it is appreciated," said Coach Mike Tomlin of Heyward's efforts. "But it's been so consistent over the decade plus that he's been here that it's also expected. It's on and it's off the field. He handed out turkeys already. He's a multiple time Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate for us.
"This guy checks all the boxes. He is a blueprint for young and developing players, on the field and off, guys like (Isaiahh) Loudermilk. He's a walking, talking, breathing example of how to do it. We're appreciative of that."
And as mentioned, he wasn't the only Cameron who has shown leadership. Sutton's impact was felt with veteran defensive backs Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick both missing the Chargers game.
"Cam did what was appropriate. We appreciate it," said Tomlin. "But it was expected. You look around and Cam was the senior member of the group. He was without Joe Haden, he was without Minkah. That's what we expect mature professionals to do, to close ranks and provide alternate leadership and playmaking and he did it and we're appreciative of it."
Wanting more: Linebacker Devin Bush was announced as the Steelers winner of the Ed Block Courage Award last week, an award given to someone who has battled back from an injury or adverse situation. Bush came back in less than a year from a devastating ACL injury to be available at the start of the season.
Tomlin said he would like more from Bush on the field, but he did credit him for his ability to fight back from the injury in a short period of time.
"It's been spotty at times. It hasn't been at the level of consistency that we would like, or he would like," said Tomlin of Bush's play. "But he's had some challenges from a health standpoint and working back from injuries and things that he has.
"You look at some of the injuries, similar injuries that are going on around the league, guys that are in similar circumstances, they're participating much less. We want more from him. He wants more from himself. But we are appreciative that he's put himself in position to be available and is playing as much as he is and the level of consistent availability and production that he is."