Sunday, November 29
Roll with it: If there is one thing Cam Heyward has learned in his 10 seasons in the NFL, it's that you have to adapt.
And that is exactly what the Steelers have done over the past week.
Initially the team was scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night, but as has been well-documented COVID-19 changed that following multiple Ravens players being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
The game was then changed to Sunday afternoon, before ultimately being switched to Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. on NBC.
"I think you just have to roll with it," said Heyward. "If you get stuck in the mud or think it's got to be this way, you are preparing yourself for failure. We understand there are a lot of things going on, we understand we can't be perfect in this situation. The pandemic isn't going to allow anyone to be perfect. We just have to be willing to adjust, make things happen on the fly and be ready to fly when we get the opportunity to.
"I have had some talks with some guys. This is just a chapter in our book. For this group we just keep rolling. Every team is going through something. We have to be ready for any situation. Coach (Mike Tomlin) has laid out the plan, it's up to us to follow it, it's up to us to bounce back with it.
"I think the main focus is we don't care where we play, we don't care how it's played, we just want to play. When we get the all clear from the NFL, we will be ready. That is all we can expect. Let our preparation reflect that. When we go that we can show it on the field."
It won't come without challenges. Both teams will be missing players, the Ravens far more than the Steelers, but the Steelers also now have four players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, including two of Heyward's line mates, Stephon Tuitt and Isaiah Buggs. Replacing them, especially Tuitt who is having a strong season, won't be easy, but it will be necessary.
"It's going to be tough to replace a guy like Tuitt, and a guy like Buggs," said Heyward. "We have to be ready for these situations. We knew it wasn't going to be perfect throughout the whole year, injuries and different things happen throughout the season. For us we all have to step up. I have to step up, Tyson (Alualu) has to step up, (Chris) Wormley, Henry (Mondeaux), and Carlos (Davis) as well. I am looking for the guys to rally around each other and play good as a unit."
One thing that Heyward did stress is they don't have to change their scheme on the line, just plug in the pieces and keep moving forward.
"There is no need to change," said Heyward. "This is something we have been practicing since training camp. We trust in what we've got. Our starters are our starters, but our rotational guys are starters in waiting, so we will be ready for that."
Thursday, November 26
Leading the way: Pro Bowl voting began a week ago and from the looks of things, Steelers Nation is getting out there and voting.
The Steelers lead all teams in total votes received for the 2021 Pro Bowl, ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills, who round out the top five.
T.J. Watt leads all outside linebackers in votes with 69,924, ahead of NFC leader Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, who has 47,689.
Long snapper Kameron Canaday is the only other Steelers' player who is the leading vote getter at his position with 48,869 votes.
As with so many things this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the NFL's annual Pro Bowl.
With safety at the forefront, the league canceled the annual game, which was slated to be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Jan. 31.
While the game won't be played, players who are having an incredible season will still be honored as Pro Bowl teams will be selected as in years past.
Fans can begin to vote for the Pro Bowl from Nov. 17-Dec. 17 on NFL.com. And with the season many Steelers players are having, it's time for fans to do their thing and get out and vote.
A secondary social vote portion will begin on Dec. 1 and run through Dec. 17 on Twitter. All public tweets, and retweets, that include the voting requirements outlined below count as a vote, and votes within the final 48 hours count as double.
For votes on Twitter to count, they must be public and include one of the follow methods used in the sample below:
• #ProBowlVote + Player Name (e.g. #ProBowlVote TJ Watt)
• #ProBowlVote + #PlayerName (e.g. #ProBowlVote #TJWatt)
• #ProBowlVote + @PlayerUsername (e.g. #ProBowlVote @_TJWatt)
Tuesday, November 24
Foot on the gas: At the start of the week, the Steelers were preparing for a Ravens' ground game that will have a much different look on Thursday than they expected.
Running backs Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins were both placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, leaving Gus Edwards as the go-to guy for the running game.
No matter who it is carrying the ball for the Ravens, T.J. Watt knows they are a dangerous team.
"This is such an explosive offense from all facets," said Watt. "I think the way they play the game, motions, screens, explosive plays they have, it doesn't matter who is playing running back. A credit to those guys. Those guys have had a great year. You can put in the third string running back and they can be very effective running the football and throwing the football. It's not like we are laying off the gas pedal by any stretch."
Edwards started against the Steelers in the regular season finale last year, carrying the ball 21 times for 130 yards. Earlier this season, Edwards had 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts. Watt and his defensive teammates know the threat he is and what he brings and knows darn well they can't take their foot off the gas.
"He can get down field, he can make guys miss," said Watt. "That is the number one thing with this offense, making guys miss especially at the second level. You have all of the misdirection stuff, all of the option, triple option, read option stuff that allows guys to get on the second level. That is what gets the ball rolling.
"A guy like him can make the second level guys miss and that is where things get out of the gate. First and foremost, we have to be very disciplined and if anything does break down, we need to make sure we get him down."
A major threat the defense will face is an explosive Lamar Jackson. While the Steelers have been able to get to Jackson, forcing seven turnovers in two games over the last two seasons, including five interceptions and two fumbles, they also are well aware of what he can do in the blink of an eye and have to be on their A-game at all times.
"I think just trying to play as sound as we possibly can," said Watt. "It's trusting in the game plan that we are given from the coaches. Trusting that they are watching as much film as they possibly can. Not only watching games he has played this season and last season, but games he has played against us and see how they like to attack us. We are an attacking 3-4 defense and they might play us different than they play other teams. Just waiting for the game plan, when we get the game plan trying to watch as much film to help us and effectively run that game plan throughout the week."
Earlier this year Jackson said opposing defenses know what the Ravens' offense is going to do when they line up, some teams even yelling out the plays. Watt said for them, it's just about studying the plays and being prepared.
"This is the NFL. We study film," said Watt. "This is my full-time job, to study film to be the best football player I can be. Everybody is in the same boat. Every week you know a certain amount of plays that are coming based on clues that you get. It's no different no matter who you are playing. It's a short week so you don't know what to expect. Some teams like to be basic others like to throw in wrinkles. The best thing we can do is prepare the best we can and try to be as mentally and physically ready as we can be."
Putting on a show: If you have watched Sunday Night Football on NBC this season, no doubt you have noticed players running to the end zone after a big play, having fun and interacting with what looks like a normal big screen television.
But it is much more than that.
NBC launched their The Bud Light Showtime Camera this season, a fun, unique way for fans to interact and watch under unique circumstances and the players to have just as much fun.
The The Bud Light Showtime Camera will be at Heinz Field on Thanksgiving for Thursday Night Football, with Steelers fans dialed in to enjoy the fun. There will be two locations where fans can 'watch' from home and NBC will use their reaction during the game. In addition, the players can use the monitors as mirrors to celebrate after splash plays.
Among those taking part will be season ticket holders, Steelers Nation Unite members and sponsors. One of those participants is James Bolden, the Steelers Fan of the Year.
The Steelers prepare for the Week 12 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens
Sound football: The Steelers beat the Ravens in the teams' first meeting, 28-24 on Nov, 1 in Baltimore.
They did so despite allowing the Ravens to gain 265 yards on 41 rushing attempts, a 5.6 average per carry.
The Steelers think they know what went wrong last time and how to fix it this time.
"It just comes down to everybody being sound, especially in their gaps," defensive tackle Cam Heyward emphasized today. "A couple times we got a little bit of 'cowboy' and did our own things. In this defense, especially against a team like that, that has so many reads and everybody has to be sound, if you make one mistake they can hit you running.
"We talk about it in the run and in the pass because if you don't have your rush lanes secure, (Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson) is going to beat you with his feet and he has a chance to take off and score that way, as well."
Jackson gained 65 yards on 16 carries against the Steelers in Baltimore.
Running back Gus Edwards had 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts.
Running back J.K. Dobbins, who had 113 yards on 15 tries, and running back Mark Ingram, who didn't play in the initial meeting, won't play on Thursday night (both are on the Ravens' Reserve/COVID-19 list).
Another alteration of the running game equation is the Steelers anticipate having nose tackle Tyson Alualu available for more than the six snaps he played in Baltimore before being lost to a knee injury.
Alualu missed the Steelers' game the following week at Dallas but has played in the last two (Cincinnati and Jacksonville).
"Tyson, he's a first-rounder (10th overall in 2010), too," Heyward noted. 'I think a lot of people forget that. He came from Jacksonville (as an unrestricted free agent in 2017) and not many of us knew what he was bringing to the table. He brings a level of consistency and veteran leadership along the way.
"Everyone likes to talk like I lead, but to lead you have to have guys who relay the message and who are always in, who are a team player from the get-go. Tyson has been that guy, the guy who has been a rock for our group. He teaches our young guys. I like to think I'm the 'bad cop,' he's the 'good cop' most of the time. We have that relationship where we can be honest and our messages are different."
-- blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Monday, November 23
Playing with a purpose: 10-0.
It's the best record the Steelers have ever started with in their illustrious history.
But at the same time, while fans and social media are abuzz about it, it's a record the players just don't talk about.
Plain and simple.
And the reason is simple. The goal is far greater than 10-0.
"I feel like we have a purpose," said tight end Eric Ebron. "When your purpose is bigger than anything else, it makes these games not as celebratory. We are like we have 10 wins we think how do we get 11?
"I feel like this team has a purpose. When you wake up with a purpose, when you do things with a purpose, it causes things to be done the right way, the proper way. Everybody knows what page we are on. I feel like that is this team. We have a purpose."
And that purpose is?
"You win the Super Bowl," said Ebron. "That is the only way you get full off of this. At the end of the day if we don't win the Super Bowl, going 10-0 was pointless. We've got to win the Super Bowl.
"We already made history, what is the pressure. I would rather our loss come now, knock on wood that we don't lose, but I would rather our loss come now than then. We are not tripping. If were to lose a game and still be winning, we are not too concerned about it. We don't talk about it because we don't care. We have one purpose. That is just how it is."
After defeating the Jaguars, 27-3, to improve to 10-0, the next team gunning for the Steelers will be the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night. Ebron knows what the rivalry means, but more than that he knows this is a team that wants to knock the Steelers out of the undefeated ranks.
"To me it's a football game," said Ebron. "To me they are an opponent that doesn't wear black and gold. They are just another opponent. At the end of the day you are about to come into our house. I don't like losing at home. That is another opponent coming into our house that we have to defend."
He said it:
Ebron having fun talking about the team doing all of their meetings virtually:
"It's fun. It's cool we don't have to see the same coaches we have been seeing the last six months. We've been seeing the same people forever. It's cool to be like, all right, I don't have to see you all day now. I am here for it."
He said it, take 2:
Ebron on blocking more, including hitting the blocking sleds, something he said he never did much before coming to Pittsburgh:
"I can tell you I have knocked years off my life, I have been a lot more sore, and I am helping our team win. Whatever I have to do, that is it."
Special down the field: Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool's afternoon in Jacksonville included catching one touchdown pass (31 yards) and drawing two flags for pass interference (29 and 21 yards).
Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is OK with the latter but would prefer the former.
"We'd rather have a touchdown, obviously, and I reiterate that to him," Roethlisberger said following Sunday afternoon's 27-3 victory over the Jaguars. "The penalty's nice but we'll take the touchdown.
"He's working through fighting through guys holding onto him because he's such a big body and strong and runs. He's understanding that you don't just want to get the penalty, you want to get the touchdown, too.
"He's going to keep growing in that area because he's special down the field."
Claypool acknowledged as much when he met the media this afternoon on Zoom.
"He says that after every P.I.," Claypool said of his chats on the subject with Roethlisberger. "It definitely makes sense and definitely it's something that I'm trying to work on, just getting through some of the P.I. calls. But some of them as you can see from yesterday's game, you just can't fight through a tackle sometimes.
"I'm happy to know that he can throw it up and it's either a catch or a P.I., other than that one that hit me in the face."
The touchdown reception was Claypool's eighth of the season and his 10th touchdown overall.
He's the first rookie wide receiver in the Super Bowl era and the fourth in NFL history to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games.
"You never really are able to picture something like this but I expected to have success just based off training and how I felt about myself, my preparation," Claypool said. "But I definitely thought the transition would have been a little bit longer."
-- blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Resiliency is the key: The Steelers' defense collected four more takeaways in Jacksonville, the eighth time in 10 games multiple turnovers have been produced.
The Steelers' defense limited the Jaguars to 73 yards rushing on Sunday, the sixth time in 10 games an opponent has been held under 100 yards on the ground.
And the Steelers' defense permitted just four conversions on 13 Jacksonville third downs, and has prevented opponents from moving the chains on 22 of 26 such situations over the last two games.
All of it is a reflection of what defensive end Stephon Tuitt considers to be the defining characteristic of the Steelers' defense.
"Resiliency, we're a defense with will," Tuitt said this morning. "We're a defense that, we can bend but won't break. We're a defense that's very comfortable with each other, we know how we play, and we capitalize off each other.
"We just have to continue to play as a team and the more we do that the better we'll be."
The Steelers' defense also registered two more sacks in Jacksonville, which ran the current streak to 67 consecutive regular-season games with at least one quarterback drop (two behind the NFL-record 69 Tampa Bay established from 1999-2003).
Tuitt and outside linebacker Bud Dupree both got to Jaguars quarterback Jake Luton.
Tuitt's seven sacks this season trails only Dupree's eight and outside linebacker T.J. Watt's nine for the team lead.
The Steelers have an NFL-best 38 sacks and an NFL-best 21 takeaways heading into tonight's Rams-Buccaneers game.
"All of us have been playing together for a while," Tuitt said. "You have prolific edge rushers that help make the quarterback step up for me and (defensive tackle) Cam Heyward, you know Cam Heyward is a great defensive lineman, as well. We have a lot of guys who can get after the quarterback and cause havoc.
"To be able to do that against these teams in this passing league, that's the best thing you can do."
--blog entry by Mike Prisuta