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Week 13 Blog: A recap of the news

Friday, December 3

Quick learner: Defensive tackle Montravius Adams got a quick introduction to the Steelers defensive scheme this week, and hopefully he is a quick learner.

Adams will be jumping on the 'moving train' Coach Mike Tomlin often refers to this week when the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.

Adams was signed on Nov. 30 and could be called upon this Sunday when the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. Adams said he doesn't know if he will start, but he will be ready to go, which he is going to need to be with defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs ruled out, and both Cameron Heyward and Isaiahh Loudermilk on the injury report with illnesses.

"I expect to go out there and make plays for the team so we can get a win," said Adams. "I feel like it's a great opportunity for me, especially for what I feel like are my strengths. The way they are using me in this defense is setting me up for success."

Adams was signed off of the New Orleans Saints practice squad, getting word on Sunday morning of the move and on a plane to Pittsburgh on Monday.

"It was a crazy situation," said Adams. "It was on Sunday morning. I was in New Orleans. I'm walking out of the building, and I looked down at my phone and had a missed call from my agent. I looked at my text. It said the Steelers want to sign you. I jumped at the opportunity. I was very appreciative.

"They told me Sunday. I was on a plane at 6 in the morning on Monday."

Adams said his adjustment has been made much easier thanks to the leadership of defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who has stepped to the plate to get him going.

"Honestly, the week's been a blessing just to be here, to be around some of these leaders, some of these legends," said Adams. "Cam and people like that. Honestly, from a leadership standpoint, I can't say that I've been around a guy like him. It probably would be difficult, but with the guys that they have here, I can't say that."

Adams said Heyward hasn't just helped him on the field and in the classroom but has already made him feel welcome and has gotten him acclimated to the group.

"I can give you one of the best things," said Adams. "Since I've been in the league, I haven't seen a group like this. After we're all done, the d-line will sometimes get together as a group and go out and eat. Cam scheduled an offsite treatment for us. We were able to eat and get extra treatment for our bodies. Just a leader like that is something I have never been around and something I am appreciative of."

Triple threat: Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud has taken on an additional role this week.
In addition to preparing to catch passes and returning kickoffs and punts on Sunday against Baltimore, McCloud has been imitating Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in practice.

Jackson's rare athleticism and ability to execute designed runs, read-options and scrambles make representing his game a challenge for the typical backup or scout team quarterback. So McCloud has been doing what he can to prepare the Steelers' defense.

"Ray-Ray's doing good," strong safety Terrell Edmunds assessed after practice today. "He's a twitchy guy. He's a stop-start guy. He's definitely smaller than Lamar but he gives us a good look on steady running to the ball, trying to just contain him and everything like that."
It'll be the real thing on Sunday at Heinz Field.

"It's gonna be fun just knowing that Lamar is Lamar," Edmunds said. "You know the type of energy he's going to bring for his team. You know the type of player that he is. And you know that he's just gonna be one of those guys that might make a crazy play any time of the game.

"So just going out there and competing against him will be fun."

In addition to presenting a challenge, Jackson and the Ravens' No. 2 rushing attack will provide an opportunity for the Steelers' defense to re-establish its ability to stop the run, a component of the Steelers' game that's been missing in recent weeks.

"Everyone knows we have to address the elephant in the room and come together as a team,"

Edmunds said. "We gotta make sure we stop the run first."

The Steelers will have to do so without starting cornerback Joe Haden, who was declared out this afternoon (foot).

Starting outside linebacker T.J. Watt remains on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

"It just goes back to the culture," Edmunds said. "We just have to get back to playing how we know how to play regardless of who's out there because we know we had plenty of guys missing multiple weeks this year.

"Now it's just going back to the culture, trying to figure out who we really are, going out there and competing and going out there and putting on display what we're out here doing each and every day. These last few weeks have been tough for us but we know now we just have to turn the page and get back to what we know.

"We've been so motivated this week, so locked in. Now we're just going out there trying to get a win."

Thursday, December 2

Always working: Third-year receiver Diontae Johnson is on track to have his best season yet, with 809 yards receiving on 68 receptions, closing in on the 923 yards he had in 2020.

Johnson has grown in leaps and bounds over the past year, after struggling with drops in 2020 he has been Mr. Dependable for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"I mean, he's crazy talented," said Roethlisberger of Johnson earlier this week. "The things he can do to get open. His quickness, his speed, his short area, bursts and things like. I saw him yesterday and told him how proud I was of him not quitting at the end of that game. Just keep fighting through stuff. I think those are all things that show growth and maturity for a young guy that does some great things for us."

Johnson definitely put in the work to get where he is today. And continues to put in the work, one of the last players off the field, working with equipment assistant Lou Blade always catching extra passes.

"We just kind of got together and said we're going to try and get some extra work," said Johnson of working with Blade. "Pretty much he comes up with the drills. I come up with drills here and there. I let him do what he does. I believe in him. He's helping me and progressing my game at the same time. I can't thank him enough for throwing the ball to me every day, even though he's got stuff to do. He goes out of his way to do stuff for me. We've gotten closer. He's still helping my game progress. I am going to continue to work."

Hard work is something he definitely isn't afraid of. This offseason he did everything he could to work on his game, even catching tennis balls for hand-eye coordination. Anything to take his game to the next level. Which he has done.

"I always had a work ethic," said Johnson. "Growing up, my siblings pushed me. We pushed each other. I would say that comes from that as well. And my dad, just always staying on top of me. Not letting me cut corners.

"People are going to have tough years. It's how you respond. I put in work the whole offseason and it's been showing during the game."

What he has been showing is catching the attention of opposing coaches. Last week, Bengals Coach Zac Taylor shouted him out.

"He's a dynamic receiver. He's explosive. He's got great speed," said Taylor. "He's got really good run after the catch. They've always got a good collection of weapons they can utilize. With him, he is coming on strong. He is a tremendous player, and we have to be fully aware of him."

This week it's Ravens Coach John Harbaugh talking about Johnson.

"I know one thing – you better know where (No.) 18 is at all times, because he's going to be getting the ball," said Harbaugh. "Not just covering him but tackling him after he makes the catch. His run after catch has been one of the best in the league."

Expect the Ravens to know where he is by having cornerback Marlon Humphrey shadowing him on Sunday at Heinz Field.

"He's pretty much their best corner," said Johnson. "If he follows me, I'm going to what I do. I have to play the game. It's going to be a competitive matchup. I'm ready regardless."

Johnson is definitely familiar with those he is going against, this year hanging up a list of the opposing defensive backs in his locker so he becomes familiar with all of them and is constantly reminded of what he has to face.

"I like to see who they got, who I am going up against," said Johnson. "Who travels. If they play right or left. I like to know who the backups are as well. I add new stuff to my routine just trying to get better.

"It's not for everybody. Everybody has their own thing. I am just doing me, trying to get better all around, make plays and keep growing on and off the field. It all ties in together."

Uncharacteristic statistics: Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has seen the NFL's weekly rankings that list the Steelers at No. 25 in total defense (according to yards allowed per game), including No. 28 against the run.

Much as he tries to avoid such things in certain situations.

"Yeah, it dadgum (ticks) me off, too," Butler acknowledged. "But I try not to look at stuff like that. I only look at it if we're in the Top 10. Otherwise, I say 'later for that crap.'

"I'm not happy about it. Anybody that's a competitor is not happy about being where we are right now against the run and stuff like that. I want to do better. Everybody wants to do better. All of us want to do better.

"Our guys, they want to do well. It's not like they just want to get run over and dadgum give up
41 points, twice. None of us like that crap."

The Steelers allowed 159 rushing yards and 41 points in a loss to the Chargers on Nov. 21 and 198 yards on the ground and 41 points in a loss to the Bengals last Sunday.

"We didn't play worth a crap in that (Bengals) game," Butler continued. "The last two games we haven't played very well. We didn't coach well, we didn't play well so we gotta do something.

"I'm not gonna tell you what we're doing. Let them figure it out when we play them."

The latter was a reference to Sunday's hosting of Baltimore and the Ravens' No. 2 rushing offense.

Whatever the Steelers come up with, it won't be a re-invention of the schematic wheel.

"There's no great defense that covers everything, there is none," Butler maintained. "You hope you can run some stuff that your guys can do and help 'em out and stuff like that. But no, we gotta play.

"We gotta be more physical. And to me you gotta have guys who love to play the game, and we have guys like that. We just gotta be more physical, we really do."

One personnel change for the Ravens game could be the inclusion of defensive tackle Montravius Adams into the lineup.

Adams (6-foot-3, 304 pounds) was signed this week after appearing in 45 games for the Packers from 2017-2020 and five with the Saints this season (his last appearance for New Orleans was on Nov. 14).
"He's moved good and he comes off the ball good and he separates good," Butler assessed. "But everybody looks good in practice, you know what I mean? What really happens when you get on the field and start playing? That's the big thing.

"We'll find out about him, hopefully."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 13 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens

Taking the lead: Cameron Heyward made it clear when he spoke on Thursday morning.

All the talk about that has been out there about upholding the Steelers tradition, things evolving, there is only one tradition that needs upheld this week.

And that is winning, beating the Baltimore Ravens and ending the three-game streak without a win.

"The tradition is winning," said Heyward. "I think we're all annoyed about it. But at the end of the day, the tradition to be upheld is to win the game, play with a lot of effort. Everything else is beside the point.

"Winning is never gonna get evolved. And that's the bottom line. Everything else can change, just like the players change. But at the end of the day, we're here to win a football game. If it's not about football, we're not concerned with it. I know it's been a big deal about freaking music, but honestly, I'm done talking about it.

"I'm here to put my teammates, these coaches, everybody in the best position and my job is to lead everybody."

Heyward, the Steelers defensive captain, is the one player who can lead the way, especially with his actions.

But he isn't alone.

Heyward said Coach Mike Tomlin has delivered a clear message and they just have to follow it.

"I follow what the head coach says, and I come ready to practice," said Heyward. "A veteran doesn't need to say much, let your work speak for it. The way you practice. The way you take care of yourself. The way you execute. If I can't hold up my end of the deal, what makes me think a younger guy is."

Heyward said he doesn't know if the message Tomlin delivered was received fully by everyone or not, and won't until game day, but he knows it better have been.

"You really don't know if it's received until you know how the game plays out," said Heyward. "We're judged off of wins and losses. Coach has been hard on us. And we didn't get the job done. There's a number of times where we're falling short and to acknowledge that is huge. But to learn from that is even better.

"If a younger player doesn't get it, shame on them. The goal is to beat the Baltimore Ravens now. To do that you need to learn from your past mistakes. We're playing a really good offense, playing a really good running opponent, playing a MVP candidate in Lamar Jackson. If we don't donate our time and really lock it on this guy, man, he's gonna have a field day and that's just being honest. We have a lot in front of us. We need to grow from this, and we need to better."

One of the things Heyward said they need to be sure of on Sunday is being physical, something that has been echoed all week.

"It comes down to technique, getting off blocks, being physical at the point of attack, understanding alignment, execution," said Heyward. "You can't really substitute anything for physicality. I know we had a day of pads, but for us, we have to preach the little things. Because it's little things that are getting us beat, running into the ball. It takes 11 guys on defense to be a good defense. Doesn't take one guy. Doesn't take two guys. It's got to take the whole team playing a lot better."

Tomlin said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday that one thing that can make a change is effort. Heyward doesn't dispute that.

"Effort only comes into play when you execute your job," said Heyward. "And I think we've gotten to a point where we're not executing well. Coaches can draw up what we need to do, but if we don't execute it, point of attack, being in the right assignment. You do that, then you can play with effort. You don't do that, and try to play with effort, you look like a bonehead. So, we've got to play a lot better. I know it looked ugly on Sunday, but I look forward to cleaning it up this week."

Wednesday, December 1

Raising the intensity: When practiced wrapped up on Wednesday, the first day back to work preparing for Sunday's game against the Ravens at Heinz Field, the message was the same from linebacker Joe Schobert and defensive end Chris Wormley.

It was a good practice.

"I think the intensity is a little raised," said Wormley. "Obviously, we're playing a rival game. We had pads on today. You can kind of get a feel of different schemes more so than just kind of putting your hands on somebody without pads. D-line vs. o-line, the scout team. So just the flow of practice seemed like it was a little more energy, a little more fast-paced, to get the job done on Sunday."

That energy is something that can be nothing but a positive with the Steelers not winning a game in their last three outings and coming off a disappointing 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. There is a focus being put on this week's game as time is getting tight to get in the playoff hunt.

"We're coming off not winning a game for three weeks," said Wormley. "It's a division game and we only have six games left. If we want to make the playoffs, and that's our goal, we're gonna have to win almost every game. So, this is the next one. You want to beat your rival. You want to beat your individual opponent as well."

Wormley said Coach Mike Tomlin definitely delivered a message to the team about their play against the Bengals, and none of it came as a surprise.

"We got our butts whooped. I think everyone knew that," said Wormley. "Any time you lose by that much and in that fashion it's kind of nice to have someone get in your butt a little bit. I appreciate a coach who takes things seriously. And that's what he did. And I think today we had a good practice and we're just trying to carry that message for the rest of the week, the rest of the season."

The defense will have a massive challenge on their hands this week facing Ravens' quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson is the Ravens leading rusher with 707 yards, a 5.7-yard average, while the Ravens are ranked second in the NFL in rushing. The Steelers have struggled against the run as of late, ranked No. 28 in the league, and Wormley said there are issues they have to address to stop Jackson.

"I can only speak on the defensive side of the ball, and more specifically the defensive line and stopping the run," said Wormley, who was traded to the Steelers from the Ravens in 2020. "That's what they do best. When you have a guy like Lamar, not only is he a great passer, but he can run the ball for good chunks of yards. They have two really good backs. And that's gonna be our biggest focus."

Message delivered, received: Inside Linebacker Joe Schobert met the media after practice today and detailed, to a degree, the internal response to last Sunday's 41-10 loss in Cincinnati.

"From a football-playing level it's unacceptable and that was made known, obviously, in meetings," Schobert said. "We gotta come buckle up, chin straps, ready to work and another AFC North opponent his week and prove ourselves to ourselves.

"Coach (Mike) Tomlin was very loud. Cam Heyward is always gonna be talking. T.J. Watt, obviously, wasn't in the meetings but during the game, talking loud, making himself known. There's a lot of leaders on the team, but Coach Tomlin pretty much took the floor for our meetings this week."

Schobert also emphasized the need for the Steelers to respond to the message delivered by Tomlin and the team leaders, both individually and collectively.

"Everybody has to look at themselves in the mirror," Schobert said. "I'm not gonna comment on anybody else's play. I looked at myself in the mirror. There are things that we can all get better at from the game tape. Coach Tomlin, to a man, made sure everybody knew it on Monday and I think guys are really stepping up to the challenge.

"You're gonna face adversity during the football season and it's about how you respond to it. The best team in the AFC, the Ravens, they have three losses, everybody else (in postseason contention) has four, we have five. We're right in the thick of things if we can do our job and turn around and win football games."

Practice today was the first on-field step taken in preparation of hosting Baltimore on Sunday.

"It was good, a lot of fun," Schobert said. "Lotta people flyin' around, hitting, pads were poppin' so it was a good day of practice."

The Ravens will be bringing the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense to Heinz Field.

The Steelers will counter with the NFL's No. 28 rushing defense, but Schobert doesn't necessarily perceive that aspect of the matchup as a mismatch.

"You buckle your chin straps and come up and start hitting people on Sunday, I think it can change real fast," he said. "That's the attitude of the team and the defense, especially.

"We'll see the results on Sunday."

Making moves: The Steelers activated receiver Ray-Ray McCloud from the Reserve/COVID List on Wednesday. McCloud was placed on the list on Nov. 23.

For the season, McCloud has 19 receptions for 141 yards, a 7.4-yard average. McCloud has been the Steelers main kick returner this season, with 21 kickoff returns for 503 yards, a 24-yard average. He also returned 22 punts for 194 yards, an 8.8-yard average.

Offensive lineman Joe Haeg was placed on the Reserve/COVID List. Haeg has played in eight games this season, starting one.

Haeg signed with the Steelers this offseason. He spent the 2020 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played in 12 games in 2020, starting three. Haeg was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round (155th overall pick) of the 2016 NFL Draft out of North Dakota State. He has played in 67 career games with 38 starts. As a rookie in 2016, Haeg started 14 of the 15 games he played in, playing three different positions. The Colts offense tied for fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game, seventh in points scored and 10th in yards per game.

Linebacker T.J. Watt was placed on the Reserve/COVID list on Monday.

Monday, November 29

Looking for answers: As Minkah Fitzpatrick answered questions on zoom on Monday morning following the Steelers 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, like those asking the questions, he didn't really have the answers as to what is happening with the team's run defense after Joe Mixon put up 165 yards on Sunday.

"I am not 100 percent sure," said Fitzpatrick. "I watched film on my own last night, but we haven't done that as a team yet. So, once we do that, we'll be able to have a better diagnosis of it."

For a defensive unit that had high expectations heading into the season, things haven't panned out as they would like 11 games into the season.

And yes, there are some reasons. Injuries certainly are one of them, although it's not being used as an excuse.

"There are multiple reasons," said Fitzpatrick. "We're down guys. We have a lot of new guys, new faces playing for us this year. Normally we play up to our standard whoever is out there, step up, play well, play fast, do their job. Right now, we're not doing that. We have to figure out what's going on and diagnose it, make necessary changes. Keep moving because we are a talented defense. We are a team that should be playing at a higher caliber, especially the defense.

"Everybody knows this isn't our normal standard. That's why it's so surprising to everybody that this is not normally how we play. Like I said, we're down a lot of guys. I'm not making excuses. I'm just stating facts. We're down a lot of guys, we're beat up, we're young. I'm not making excuses. We're still finding our identity while still missing some people, which can be tough to do, as you can see."

On the defensive line the Steelers have been without Stephon Tuitt all season and Tyson Alualu has been out since mid-September. Those are two key losses that have caused teams to focus more on Cameron Heyward, double-teaming him and tying him up.

The Steelers are going to have to figure out fast how to turn things around as the Baltimore Ravens come to Heinz Field this Sunday, with quarterback Lamar Jackson a huge threat to take off running at any point.

The work begins today.

"Right now, there are certain things that need to change, how we move throughout the week," said Fitzpatrick. "Whether it be getting more reps in practice, going faster pace, through walkthroughs and stuff like that. That's my personal opinion.

"We've gotta watch film, see what we have to do better. If it's something we have to change whether it's scheme-wise, in practice, how we operate throughout the week, we'll make that diagnosis today and tomorrow and move forward from there."