Week 11 Blog: A recap of the news

Saturday, November 20

Roethlisberger activated: The Steelers have activated quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from the Reserve/COVID List to the 53-man roster, with him expected to start Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Roethlisberger was placed on the list last week after according to Coach Mike Tomlin he was symptomatic, self-reported the symptoms, and tested positive. NFL rules allowed Roethlisberger the opportunity to return.

"If we get to a point in the week where Ben has an opportunity to get on a moving train, that's exactly what he'll do," said Tomlin during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "He'll be capable of executing the game plan. I really have no reservations about that. I think he missed a significant amount of time during a work week last year when he was on the (COVID) close contact list. He got back to us late in the week and performed. He's been injured in the past over the course of the 15 years that we've worked together. He always answers that bell, and so we'll definitely leave the light on for him."

Friday, November 19

The checkdown: After catching 14 passes in a Week 3 matchup against the Bengals, and six in both Week 4 and 6, rookie running back Najee Harris had just four receptions for 28 yards, on four targets, against the Lions.

And honestly, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Harris is a checkdown for the quarterback, someone they go to when nobody else is open.

Harris was asked if he asked quarterback Mason Rudolph to throw more to him. And he made it clear. He isn't the target.

"I think a lot of people get stuff misconstrued," said Harris. "I get checkdowns. It's not like it's a play built in for me, like I'm a read. I'm the last read. I'm a checkdown.

"These past couple of games I haven't been getting the ball. That's a good thing. They're not throwing it to the checkdown. Maybe they're airing it out. It's not like it's plays built for me to get the ball. I was a checkdown route.

"It was like the Bengals game everyone was saying they were designing passes for me. No. I was just the checkdown. The last read when he makes his reads. The past couple of games they haven't gotten to his last read because other people have been open. That's a good thing. Hopefully it's like that.

"But if the ball comes to me, I make the best out of it I can."

Harris, like everyone else, still doesn't know who it will be getting the ball to him or anyone else on offense on Sunday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, and while they have been in contact, he doesn't know what is going to happen come game time.

"We talked (Thursday)," said Harris. "Not like how's practice been, just checking in how he's doing. He had COVID so I was just seeing if he was okay in general, besides the football stuff.

"We did talk a little bit about the Chargers and what to expect from them and how important it is to come out with the win. So that's all really.

"It sucks not to have him (at practice), but we still have to try to find ways to win games. That's the main focus for me is just find ways how I can win games for the team, and how we can win games for the team. Just keep chopping wood, keep stacking bricks and trying to find ways to win."

Waiting on word: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may have been out of sight this week after landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last Saturday, but he hasn't been out of mind.

Or out of communication with his offensive linemen.

"He said he's feeling better," center Kendrick Green reported today. "We'll see what happens."

The Steelers opened this week's preparation for Sunday night's game against the Chargers in Los Angeles planning on Mason Rudolph making his second consecutive start at quarterback in place of Roethlisberger, head coach Mike Tomlin said.

"If we get to a point in the week where Ben has an opportunity to get on a moving train that's exactly what he'll do," Tomlin added on Tuesday.

Green maintained the offensive line's approach and objectives will remain the same no matter who's taking the snaps.

"Same thing every week, honestly," he said. "We're just gonna play physical, play with low pads. We just gotta come together, work in unison and 'Naj' (running back Najee Harris) is gonna do what he does best.

"We all have faith in Ben. He's been doing this for a long time. It's the reason why he's been as successful as he has been in this league.

"We're comfortable Mason comes to work every day and works hard. Mason knows what he's doing as well, so I'm comfortable with both."

The relative uncertainty regarding Sunday night's starter is a non-issue, Green insisted.

"It's the business, it is what it is," he said. "You gotta roll with it.
"Either way I'm gonna be out there on Sunday. It really doesn't matter to me."

High snaps matter a great deal to Green.

There were a couple of those throughout last Sunday's 16-16 tie with the Lions, including one that sailed over Rudolph's head and resulted in a 19-yard loss on the Steelers' second possession of overtime.

"No excuse for it, honestly," Green said. "Just can't have it.

"It's all me. I just need to slow down and realize 'snap first.' It has nothing to do with who's back there (at quarterback)."

Green said he watched the film and tried to "assess why it happened, but after that you gotta press forward."

The Steelers have also been working on snaps in this week's practice, as they have throughout the season.

"Just coming out early like we always have been, and even taking a few extra reps just to really get that down," Green said.

His own toughest critic: With linebacker T.J. Watt missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday dealing with a hip and knee injury he suffered against the Lions, his fellow outside linebackers know they will have to be ready to do whatever it takes against the Chargers on Sunday night with his status unknown as of Friday morning.

Alex Highsmith is ready for the challenge.

"I don't know the situation right now, but I hope that we're able to have all the guys that we can have," said Highsmith before practice on Friday. "No matter who's in there, that's something that Coach (Mike) Tomlin always preaches about, is next man up mentality. No matter who is in, the standard is the standard, so you have to be able to come in and make plays and be able to produce.

"I think we definitely have a challenge this week going up against a good offense. They've got a lot of weapons on their offense, led by a great quarterback. It's gonna be a fun challenge for us this week, and we've put together a good week of practice and I'm really excited for the challenge ahead."

If Watt isn't able to play, there is no doubt more will fall on Highsmith's shoulders. It's something that he doesn't mind doing but is always coming down hard on himself as he does.

"I try to push myself to be the best that I can be," said Highsmith. "I'm about putting my teammates first. I just want to be able to put my teammates in the best position to win, so that's why I am critical on myself to be able to go out there and just be the best person I can be. I just continue to work that way. That's how I've been ever since college, being a walk-on, being critical of myself and wanting the best out of myself. Ultimately, it's not about me, it's about my teammates and the team. I just want to do what I can for myself, for the betterment of the team.

"No matter how I play, I'm always gonna feel like I can do better and that's just something that I've always really instilled in myself. At the same time, I know that I've just got to go out there and have fun playing the game that I love and play as hard as I can every single snap and know that the plays will come."

What Highsmith hopes comes more for him are sacks. He has just 1.5 through nine games and would definitely like to see the sack production increase. At the same time, he also knows it's not just about the stats.

"I just want to go out there and do the best that I can," said Highsmith. "I try not to let stats get to my head. Of course I want to get as many (sacks) as I can, but ultimately I just want to, at the end of the day, look myself in the mirror and say did I give everything I had. That's the main thing I focus on."

Thursday, November 18

A smart football player: It's not often a rookie seventh-round draft pick becomes one of the hottest topics of a game week, but there aren't a lot of seventh-round picks like Tre Norwood.

Norwood has played in every game this season, starting two, and one of his most important roles could come this Sunday when he potentially will see more playing time with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.

"He's a smart football player," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "He knows pretty much where everybody's supposed to be, and he knows where he's supposed to be. He's sharp in terms of what we're trying to do. The best thing about him is his versatility in terms of knowing different positions, not just safety: the nickel, all that stuff. He knows what everybody's doing. That always helps any player who knows what everybody else on the field is doing."

Norwood, who was referred to as a Swiss Army knife by Coach Mike Tomlin when he was drafted, has proven that is exactly what he is. Like Butler mentioned, he has played multiple positions this season and his teammates have confidence in him.

"He is mentally tough, physically tough," said cornerback Cameron Sutton. "A guy who has been in multiple situations for us. A guy who has a lot of awareness out there on the field. Plays with a lot of physicality. Smart and tough. It's something we preach not only in our secondary, as a unit and as a team. Guys who are versatile, can move around, gives us different options week-in and week-out matchup wise or schematics. He is always wiling to learn. Always asking questions. He's becoming a guy who is dependable. A guy you can trust on the field."

Norwood's versatility, as well as the versatility of Sutton and others, is going to be a major factor on Sunday with Fitzpatrick out and Joe Haden battling a foot injury that forced him to miss his second straight day of practice on Thursday.

"You want to do what's best for everybody and try to put your best players on the field as much as you can," said Butler. "That's what we're gonna do. We're gonna put who we feel like are our best players on the field and make them comfortable in terms of what we're doing so they can put their best game out there. That's what it's gonna take from us.

"The people we play, it's a good offensive team. Quarterback who's a very good, young quarterback. They can run the football too. They do both. Our group's gonna have to step up and the guys who are gonna be in there for the guys that we have missing are gonna have to step up also. If they do that, then we'll see what happens."

Davis back at practice: Defensive lineman Carlos Davis is returning to practice today. Davis does still remain on the Reserve/Injured List.

The Steelers have a 21-day window to activate Davis to the 53-man roster. If he is not activated during that time, he will not be able to return to the 53-man roster this season and will remain on the Reserve/Injured List for the year.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 11 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers

Stepping up: On Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin addressed having safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and in relation to Sunday night's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, he simply said, 'We don't anticipate having him back.'

With Fitzpatrick likely not being available to play, the Steelers will definitely be calling upon the next man up, and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward has confidence that whomever it will be, they will get the job done.

"I think we're going to have to have guys step up, not exactly sure who, but that's why you got a 53-man roster," said Heyward. "There's going to be injuries. There's going to be times where you're not 100% on defense or offense. The d-line has to step up a bunch, inside linebackers, corners. We all have to do our part to make sure we minimize the role of Minkah not playing."

Among the names out there for additional playing time is rookie Tre Norwood, who has been all over the field this year from slot corner to the nickel and even limited time in the dime defense.

"When he got drafted Coach Tomlin called him the swiss army knife," said Heyward. "He has been that for us. Every time I see Tre, I am tighten up Tre. I feel like we get out there every time and he's tightened. He knows where he needs to be. He's a young kid that's always on the move and always on the rise. He does so much for this team. A lot of under the radar. I think he's going to be a valuable piece of the equation down the road."

The defense will face a tough challenge going against Chargers' quarterback Justin Herbert, who is the AFC's fifth leading passer heading into Week 11. Herbert has completed 211 passes for 2,350 yards and 18 touchdowns already, so the pass rush is going to have to be on point, something that could be impacted by injuries with linebacker T.J. Watt and cornerback Joe Haden both missing practice on Wednesday. 

"We have guys that have played already, and we need them to step up," said Heyward. "They're going to need to step up again this week. I know we've got a long list of good quarterbacks we're going to play but we got to beat the best. We say we want to go to the playoffs, what better way to do that than to make a statement with the way we play against these guys."

He said it: The last time the Steelers played in Los Angeles, Steelers fans showed up in droves and took over. Heyward said he doesn't know what the case will be this week, but he thinks the Chargers will handle it differently and won't play Renegade this time, the song that is used at Heinz Field regularly to fire up the defense.

"I think the last time we went there they played Renegade on accident and it got a little crazy there," said Heyward. "I don't think they'll do that this time."

Wednesday, November 17

Learn and move on: For rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, Sunday's game against the Lions was one definitely filled with the unusual.

For starters, it was the first time he ever played in a game that ended in a tie.

"It definitely feels like a loss," said Freiermuth of the 16-16 tie. "Obviously it's not, but definitely what that feeling is. It definitely feels like a loss. But we're on to the Chargers now and just moving forward."

The second oddity for him is it was the rare of rare when he lost a fumble in overtime as the Steelers were potentially getting in field position for what could have been a game-winning field goal attempt with just 8 seconds left to play.

"Obviously the 24-hour rule," said Freiermuth of putting the game behind him. "Obviously it sucked when it happened, after the game and stuff like. But my parents have been great and everyone in my support corner has been great. The guys on the team were awesome after the game in the locker room and coming over to me and making sure everything was okay.

"I've just got to flush it, learn from it and move on."

Freiermuth is a player who prides himself on ball security and said his plan is to work on that even more this week in practice as the team prepares to take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night. 

"Conditions played into it, and I just messed up," said Freiermuth. "I didn't secure the ball. I wasn't fundamental with it. I've got to be better in that area in those critical situations.

"It's bound to happen. I've been lucky throughout my whole career at Penn State, and up to that last weekend, I never really had those hiccups or stuff like that. So, it was bound to happen. I've just got to learn from it and move on and just flush it. Come in this week and put emphasis on ball security and that kind of stuff."

Golden opportunities: Receiver James Washington and quarterback Mason Rudolph have had a connection from Day 1 at the Steelers, something that goes back to their days as teammates at Oklahoma State.

So, it came as no surprise that Rudolph's first pass of the Lions game went to Washington, a six-yard completion, and his only touchdown on Sunday went to his college teammate as well, a nine-yarder on the team's opening drive.

"Every opportunity is gold here because you never know when you are going to get them," said Washington. "When you are in there, you have to make the most out of every opportunity."

Washington played 76 snaps against the Lions, 87% of the offensive plays, the most extensive playing time he has seen this season, stepping up with Chase Claypool out with a toe injury, and JuJu Smith-Schuster on injured reserve.

"I am just trying to do what I can," said Washington. "Guys are hurt right now so guys are having to step up and do more than what we are used to. That is where I am at and that's what I'm going to do."

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, Washington is getting more work with Rudolph this week as they are preparing as if he will be the starter on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. And Washington said they have confidence Rudolph can get the job done.

"As far as everything with Mason, we just have to get him going," said Washington. "Every ball he throws to us we've got to make a great attempt on and just try to get the offense rolling and get him rolling. With him in there I feel like we can win every game. We just have to run with that."

Washington said he definitely sees growth in Rudolph's game, from multiple angles.

"I feel like he is a little more poised now, a little calmer in there," said Washington. "He is a familiar face to a lot of guys. I think we all look at him as a leader now."

Washington knows Roethlisberger could still be back by Sunday's game, and has talked with him this week, but said the focus right now has to be on who is on the field.

"Like Coach (Mike) Tomlin always tells us, we have to worry about who is in the building," said Washington. "I don't know about his status or anything, but we are focusing on what we have out here on the field right now."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 11 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers

Monday, November 15

Feeling like a loss: When a game ends in a tie, as the Steelers-Lions game did on Sunday, there is no satisfaction on Monday morning, especially for those who are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

"In this building, it feels like a loss," said receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. "Coming in it feels like a loss for us. I think our standards are set high here and the culture Coach (Mike) Tomlin's built here.

"You have to applaud Detroit for a great game. We didn't execute well. They made plays when plays needed to be made. We've just got to go in the lab and fix things that need to be fixed and go onto the next game."

McCloud had his best output of his career on Sunday with nine receptions for 63 yards, saying he wasn't necessarily expecting to have his number called that many times but was definitely prepared.

"You never know going into a game what's going to come and what's not going to come," said McCloud. "My mindset was just anything that comes my way make plays. That's what it was. Do my job when my number was called." 

McCloud doesn't think he got more opportunities just because Mason Rudolph was at quarterback for Ben Roethlisberger, who is on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, but did say they have developed a good rapport.

"I think it was the opportunities the defense was putting (out there)," said McCloud. "The defense ran things where I may be open.

"Last year when I was doing scout team a lot, when I first got here, Mason was at quarterback, so I used go with him a lot. And even this year, I'll go with him to work on different things on my game. We built a chemistry, but I wouldn't say that had anything to do with me having extra targets. It was more of that's how the game came and that's how we took it."

And how they took the news the night before the game that Roethlisberger wasn't playing, the same way. Professionally.

"We handled it like a professional team," said McCloud. "And that's why we practice. And that's why Mason practices because things like that do happen in this league, whether it's part of COVID or injury. You've got to be ready, prepared. Even when it was me, when JuJu (Smith-Schuster) was playing and everybody was playing, if somebody goes down you have to know every play.

"Mason was highly prepared. We didn't execute on both sides of the ball like we should. Mason held his weight and did what he needed to do to put us in a winning position."

Take a look at Karl's best photos from the preseason Week 2 matchup against the Detroit Lions. The Steelers defeated the Lions 26-20

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