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Week 16 Blog: A recap of the news

Friday, December 24


The Steelers face the AFC's top offense this Sunday when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is someone the defense knows they need to contain, as he is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game.

"I think his awareness first and foremost," said linebacker T.J. Watt of what you need to be aware of with Mahomes. "A lot of guys win the one-on-one matchups they have for them, and he is able to get the ball out quickly. They are clean, quick reads for him. Some of it is the RPO stuff, but a lot of it is just him making plays, being slippery in the pocket, evading it and getting the ball out."

The defense is also preparing not knowing who the Chiefs will have available, with multiple players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, including right tackle Lucas Niang who Watt would be matched up against.

"In weeks like this when you don't know who is playing, you just focus on yourself and go in there with a few good pitches you can throw," said Watt. "Just prepare the best I can and throw my best pitches as early and often as I can and see what's working and what's not."

Ball security: The Chiefs are one of the NFL's top teams when it comes to takeaways, fourth in the AFC with 23, including 10 forced fumbles.

Running back Najee Harris knows, as always, ball security is a key this week, something he has focused on all season.

"They have a good defense," said Harris. "They create a lot of turnovers. They are good at punching the ball out. Just be aware. Win our one-on-ones."

Harris is someone who has been extremely ball security conscious all season, and when asked why he is so good about it, he definitely had an entertaining response.

"One, I am not trying to get cut," said Harris. "Being a running back, that is the fastest way to get cut."

But he went on to explain further what it means to him to hold on to the ball.

"I want the ball, so that is one way to show them I can have a big workload," said Harris.

Then he continued on what it means to him to protect the ball.

"Then main thing about being a running back is protecting the ball," said Harris. "That is the whole Pittsburgh Steelers fan base, the whole organization, all on my one arm. It means a lot to not only me, but a lot of people watching the Steelers. Holding on to the ball is a number one thing people look at running backs in the draft. Is he good at holding onto the ball?"

Thursday, December 23

Stopping yards after catching: Yards after catch.

It's a statistic offensive players take great pride in.

And it's one defensive players want to make sure are non-existent.

But when going against the Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, making yards after catch disappear is almost impossible.

Kelce is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and his status for Sunday's game isn't known, but the defense knows they have to prepare to stop him. Kelce actually has more yards after catch, than nine other tight ends have in total receiving yards this season.

"As everyone knows he's a great player," said strong safety Terrell Edmunds. "We're definitely going to be competing all game. Definitely going to be putting our best foot forward.

"He's a good route runner. Patrick Mahomes can make those crazy type of throws. Those guys got a good chemistry together, a quarterback and tight end chemistry that they built over time. That's something special.

"That's definitely a point of emphasis. If you look at how they won the last game, it's just run after catch, make plays after the catch. So definitely got to go out there, get them on the ground even if he does make a catch. Make every catch a competitive catch. Just go out there and compete. He's going to be a big-time target for him."

Edmunds compared Mahomes to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson with his ability to make a play out of nothing, and he knows they can't slip up this week with that kind of ability.

"He has all the guys around him, all the weapons around him," said Edmunds. "So, we just have to make sure that we contain him in the backfield for one. And then from there, just make sure we plaster and stay on your man because he can make those throws all over the field. He's the type that can run. And when he thinks that you're sleeping, he'll throw it right over your head."

That first sack feel: When Derrek Tuszka recorded his first NFL sack on Sunday, he made it count.

Tuszka sacked Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the Titans final drive of the game, knocking him for an eight-yard loss and forcing a fumble, which the Titans recovered but left them in a third-and-15 situation.

"It meant a lot," said Tuszka of getting the sack. "The first one always does."

Two plays later, on fourth-and-seven, Joe Haden stopped Nick Westbrook one-yard shy of a first down, forcing the Titans to turn the ball over on downs and securing the win.

For Tuszka, it was a special moment getting that first sack and helping the defense stop the Titans. And once they realized it was his first NFL sack, the guys on defense gave him plenty of love.

"They all complimented me which I really appreciated," said Tuszka. "This group on defense, this whole team, nobody is selfish. They're all excited and happy for one another to make plays. When one guy makes a play, everybody is celebrating it just because it's going to bring opportunities to other players on the team.

"Our defense played really well. We had some big turnovers throughout the game, and the big stop right at the end. The defense played well all around. It was a team win, for sure."

Tuszka played 25% of the defensive snaps in the game, rotating in at outside linebacker, often times giving fellow linebacker T.J. Watt a breather. It's not an easy task to step in for Watt, but Tuszka knows what the expectation is.

"It's just a mindset, just always staying locked in throughout the game and during the week," said Tuszka. "That way if something does happen, I can step in and there isn't a bump at all in the road."

Watt has been an amazing resource for Tuszka, a second-year player who was selected in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Watt answers questions, provides a blueprint, and is always encouraging the younger players.

"He offers it up," said Tuszka. "I asked him a bunch of questions. I probably annoy him. But with a with a Pro Bowler in the room, you'd be crazy not to be asking him questions. Thankfully he's great coaching me up. He's always willing to throw in his advice and help me out. It's a process. I have to constantly work and keep crafting the past rush and everything that goes with it. T.J. is a great help, a great mentor."

Roster moves: The team placed defensive end Isaiah Buggs and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. on the Reserve/COVID-19 List on Thursday.

Buggs has played in 10 games, starting six this season. McFarland has played in only two games.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 16 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs

Winning is all that matters: If there is one thing defensive tackle Cameron Heyward has learned in his 11 seasons in the NFL, it's that it doesn't matter how you win, just that you win.

Sunday's victory against the Tennessee Titans had its ups and downs, but the bottom line was, it was a win.

The defense allowed 201 yards rushing and had the ball almost twice as much as the Steelers, but the defense still held the Titans to just 13 points, which when you do that, the chances of winning increase significantly.

"It was the good, the bad and the ugly," said Heyward. "The ugly was the 200 yards. The bad was the time of possession. The good was 13 points. Our pass defense was good. And the really good was picking up the 'W'. That's the ultimate goal. You take all of it together. You can't take one without the other. We just have to be an improving defense."

The win over the Titans has the Steelers still alive in the AFC North playoff hunt, but there can't be any letdown moving forward.

"The ball is in our court," said Heyward. "It's what we do that matters. I've never seen a team that was crowned champion that they're only looked at as they won pretty, or they won ugly. We just got to find ways to do it. It doesn't have to be pretty. But there's a lot of work that needs to be done. And I will never look over that or gloss over that and looking forward to getting to it."

That next step is this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs come into the game as the AFC's top offense, they are definitely a more pass heavy team with all-everything quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the helm. But with multiple players out as of now on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, including tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill, Heyward anticipates the Chiefs will run the ball more, but still go with what makes them so effective.

"It's a copycat league," said Heyward. "If you're not doing something well, a team is definitely going to exploit that. I do think we'll get a dose of run. But at some point, you're not going to change your whole personality. There's going to be things you're going to do, but we've got to clean up some stuff. If they do go to the run, we've got to be able to stop it and make them go on to something else."

That something else would be Mahones and the touch he has with the passing game, something Heyward raved about.

"There's not an angle on the field he can't throw, and he can make you pay different volumes," said Heyward. "We don't say enough about the skill pieces he does have, but the mobility, the arm strength, accuracy. He's the all-elite quarterback that can do it all."

* * *

Heyward was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, and fifth overall, when the teams were announced on Wednesday night. It's an honor he doesn't take lightly.

"It's awesome to be recognized," said Heyward. "I work my tail off. I remember years ago where it was hard to get in and I always wanted to be a Pro Bowler. That's only a chapter in the book. It's not something I can just hang my hat on and say the season is done. There's a lot more to be accomplished and hopefully I'm still writing my story."

Wednesday, December 22

Glove story: After a night of inconsistent snaps on Dec. 9 in Minneapolis, center Kendrick Green took measures to prevent it from happening again.

"I just kinda switched some things up," he said. "I didn't wear a glove on my snapping hand this week (against Tennessee) and it seemed to help. We're just gonna stay with that."

The crowd noise in Minnesota also contributed to Green's issues.

Up next is a game this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, the self-described "loudest stadium in the world."

That very proclamation is painted on a wall outside of the visitor's locker room on the way to the field, with a 142.2 decibel level included for emphasis.

No wonder Green was looking forward to working with crowd noise at practice on Thursday.

"That's something we're gonna get a head start on," he said. "It's just kinda not being on the same page, some stuff we had to work through. We got into it now so we're good. I've had quite a few bad snaps this year, there's no excuse for it. Like Coach (Mike) Tomlin said, you gotta have that (stuff) fixed yesterday."

Green is in line to make his 15th consecutive start at center in the Kansas City game. Left offensive tackle and fellow rookie Dan Moore Jr. is set to make his 15th consecutive start, as well.

"I wouldn't say I feel like a rookie," Green said. "I also don't feel like a vet yet, either. We played a lot of ball. Me and Dan were just talking, I wonder what our snap count is this year?"

For the record, it's 932 offensive snaps for Green (99 percent) and 927 for Moore (98 percent), who has also played 56 snaps on special teams.

"Just gotta keep rolling with it and finish this year off strong," Green said.

The "rookie wall" won't get in the way of that, Green vowed.

"No, man, I've never heard of that," he insisted. "I don't know what that is."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Bush on COVID List: Linebacker Devin Bush was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List as well today. Earlier in the day linebacker Marcus Allen and tackle Zach Banner were added to the list.

Bush has played in 13 games this season, starting all 13 of them.

As advertised: Outside linebacker Taco Charlton went to training camp with Kansas City last season, appeared in seven games for the Chiefs and even accompanied the team to the Super Bowl while on the Reserve/Injured list.
That qualifies Kansas City as a familiar opponent.

"I know a lot of those guys real close and still stay in touch with them," Charlton said after practice today.

Charlton added he's "here to help" if any of his new teammates with the Steelers have any questions about Kansas City.

Then again, it doesn't require an insider's knowledge to get an accurate bead on the Chiefs.

"They're the Kansas City Chiefs, I'll say that," Charlton confirmed. "They're a real good team.

"We have to be serious. We have to be ready to play a real good team come Sunday."

This just in: The headliner is quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

"His arm talent, he can extend plays, he's very elusive," Charlton assessed. "People try to say he's not athletic but he can turn it on when he wants to. He's more athletic than what you would think, and you know his arm talent and the tremendous talent he is.

"The offense goes as he goes."

Charlton practiced against Mahomes last season and will play against him Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Charlton was originally selected 28th overall by Dallas in 2017.
He also spent a season with Miami (2019) before landing in Kansas City last season.

The Steelers signed Charlton to the practice squad on Sept. 20. He was elevated to the 53-man roster on Oct. 30 and has appeared in eight consecutive games since then, including starts on Nov. 21 against the Chargers and on Nov. 28 against the Bengals.

Charlton will be coming off of perhaps his biggest play with the Steelers, the tip of a Ryan Tannehill pass that was subsequently intercepted by inside linebacker Joe Schobert in the fourth quarter last Sunday against Tennessee.
The turnover set up a field goal that gave the Steelers a 16-13 lead on the way to a 19-13 victory over the Titans.

"I try to make as many plays as possible just to help this team," Charlton said. "I just want to make as big of an impact as I can while I'm here to try to hep this team, hopefully, move forward, make a late playoff push and see what we can do."

Back at it: Offensive lineman Kevin Dotson returned to practice, giving the Steelers a 21-day window to activate him from the Reserve/Injured list to the 53-man roster, or he would have to sit out the remainder of the season.

Dotson was placed on the Reserve/Injured List on Nov. 20.

Dotson, who was drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, started nine games, including Weeks 1-10, at left guard before suffering an ankle injury.

Roster moves: The Steelers placed offensive tackle Zach Banner and linebacker Marcus Allen on the Reserve/COVID-19 List today.

Banner has played in six game in 2021, while Allen has played in 14 games this season.

Monday, December 20

Practice Update: The Steelers released DB Isaiah Johnson from the practice squad, restored DB Linden Stephens to the practice squad from the Practice Squad/COVID-19 List and placed G Malcolm Pridgeon on the Practice Squad/COVID-19 List

Detail oriented: Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick reached the 100-tackle mark for the first time in his career this year, and while he said it was cool to do, he also joked about feeling it.

"This is my first time doing it. If that's what I am asked to do, I will do it," said Fitzpatrick. "My body's feeling it for sure."

Fitzpatrick has been a last line of defense for the defense at his spot, and while he admits it wasn't something that was always his strong suit early on, he has definitely mastered it as of late.

"I haven't always been good at that," said Fitzpatrick. "Earlier this year I was making a lot of tackles, but I was missing a few that normally I wouldn't miss. Sometimes it's all about your eyes. That's what it was for me for a while, my eyes. I was over running the ball carrier, so I had to work my eyes. Coach (Teryl Austin) gets me right every day in practice, makes sure my eyes are in the right place, wrapping up tackles and not just diving at people. I have been emphasizing staying up, staying square, putting my body on people and being physical."

It's details like that which Fitzpatrick and everyone the 53-man roster are going to have to focus on this week and the remainder of the season. The win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday has kept them in the playoff hunt and the next three games are crucial and a strong finish is a must.

"One big thing is attention to detail," said Fitzpatrick. "This time of year, a lot of people are beat up, people are hurt, a lot of people are sore, tired. It's hard to focus on (the mentality that) I've got to do this one little thing right every single day for the next month. You're mental is not normally what it is. I feel like last year we fell out the details. I think that's one thing we just need to remind each other right now. Just staying on the details. What we do is a blessing. Just approach each day with energy even if it's hard."

It can pay off, though. It was that attention to detail that led to four turnovers against the Titans, and the key is to carry that momentum into Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who lead the AFC with a 10-4 record.

"It's a combination of everybody just doing their job," said Fitzpatrick. "Doing the little things that we practice throughout the week, like punching out the ball, like reaching when you're rushing at the quarterback, putting pressure on the quarterback, all the things that we worked on throughout the week coming to fruition."

Last man standing: It was just one play after he watched his teammate and close friend Pat Freiermuth take a hit that landed him in the concussion protocol that Zach Gentry was called upon to come up big in a clutch situation.

Freiermuth, the standout rookie tight end, was hit after making a five-yard reception in the third quarter, a hit that drew an unnecessary roughness call on Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton. 

With Freiermuth out, and fellow tight end Kevin Rader inactive and Eric Ebron already on the Reserve/Injured List, Gentry was the last man standing at tight end.

And he stood tall.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to Gentry on the play right after the injury and he took a screen pass for a 17-yard gain to the Titans 17-yard line. Four plays later Roethlisberger punched it into the end zone on a one-yard run.

"I feel confident," said Gentry. "I've got a lot of playing time this year and I feel comfortable in the offense and with my role in the offense. That was a little screen. We've been practicing it for a couple of weeks. I had no idea they were going to dial it up right after that happened, but it was really a good play call by Coach (Matt) Canada. Really good blocking downfield. So, we were able to make it work."

Gentry doesn't know what Freiermuth's status will be for Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, but he said he was happy to see his teammate and friend in good spirits on Monday.

"It was scary especially you guys knowing how close Pat and I are," said Gentry of the reaction when he was injured. "I just wanted to make sure he was alright. When he was able to get up and leave the field and he seemed like he was alright, we just had to focus on the rest of the game. I knew that it was going to be kind of a haul. I was going to be in for the rest of the game, but just had to do the job and play well for him and the rest of the team.

"I talked to him immediately after the game and then checked in with him a couple times during the night, making sure he was alright. First thing I did when I woke up this morning was text him. I saw him at the facility and he's in good spirits. He's doing all right. But definitely the first thing I was wondering on the sidelines was I wanted an update on him."

Take a look at the best photos from the Week 15 game against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field