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Week 16 Blog: A recap of the news

Thursday, December 22

Playing their hearts out: Benny Snell gets it.

He understands about the men who came before him, the ones who set the standard.

And he especially understands who set the standard at his position, at running back, where Franco Harris is the man they all look up to as quite simply, the gold standard.

So on Saturday night, the running backs know they have a job to do. They have to hold up that standard.

"I feel like as the running back community we have with the Steelers that it's important we try to bring home the win for him," said Snell. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin hasn't made it a strong point that we have to get this win for him, but he let the team know about his passing and let it be known what we need to do to get the win.

"As running backs, this is the one we've got to bring home for him."

While Snell and others might have only seen Harris once or twice when he was at the Steelers facility, they didn't need much more to know the impact he had on the organization and beyond.

"What he brought to the game, Pittsburgh, this organization, just the closeness of everything here is special," said fullback Derek Watt. "We want to go out there and put our best foot forward and get this win for him."

It's not just the running backs room that shares that sentiment. It's pretty much every player on the team.

"Franco Harris is one of those guys who really set the Steelers way," said linebacker Robert Spillane. "To live under that tradition is a blessing for me. It's something I strive to be like every day, the blue-collar mentality that he always played with and carried throughout his life. His legacy is bigger than just football. I understand that. My part is going out there and showing his legacy through my play. I look forward to playing a physical type of game that he loved to play, that he won championships here playing. All I know about him is great things and I want to carry on his legacy."

A can't miss show: Franco Harris: A Football Life will premiere on Friday, Dec. 23 at 9 p.m. on NFL Network, just days after the legendary Hall of Fame running back passed away.

The premiere is the same day as the 50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, voted the greatest play in NFL history.

Harris' story from his rookie season in 1972, when he made the Immaculate Reception, all through his Hall of Fame career that included four Super Bowl Championships, will be chronicled in the show.

The show features many of Harris' Hall of Fame teammates, including Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham and Terry Bradshaw, sharing stories about him.

"Franco was the heart and soul of our team," said Greene. "When Franco arrived, we became the Pittsburgh Steelers."

The show highlights his time growing up in Mount Holly, New Jersey before starring at Penn State and being a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972 while winning the NFL's Rookie of the Year. In addition to the Immaculate Reception, it covers winning four Super Bowls during the 1970s and how that frame his Hall of Fame career.

"Franco is a legend," said current Steelers running back Najee Harris in the show. "You're going to be remembered by the games and the moments you had, just like we're still talking about the Immaculate Reception to this day."

Bundle up: The forecast for Saturday night's game against the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium can be summed up on one word.


"Your hands get real numb and cold," said receiver Diontae Johnson. "You have a lot on your mind. I am still trying to get ready for the game. What I am going to wear. What I am going to put on. I am going to make sure I wear the right gloves, the cold weather gloves. They say it's a mindset thing. Really stay locked in. Catch the ball regardless."

Temperatures are expected to be in the single digits by game time and the wind chill could make it feel like -15 to -20.

"It's December football," said center Mason Cole. "This is what it's all about. It's exciting. It will be cold, but nothing better than Christmas Eve, cold and get a W."

Linebacker Robert Spillane shares his sentiment and isn't worried about the freezing cold temperatures.

"I am from Chicago," said Spillane. "I grew up in the cold. It's something that brings out the best in me and doesn't dictate how I play. I am looking forward to showing that Saturday night."

Tune in: For fans who don't want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.

Wednesday, December 21

A special man: If there is anyone in the Steelers locker room who understands what Franco Harris meant to the Steelers organization, it's defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

Heyward has been with the Steelers for 12 seasons, and during that time has had numerous interactions with the Hall of Famer, including talking with him as recently as Tuesday, Dec. 20 for his podcast.

"Personally, I developed a friendship with him," said Heyward. "Any time I got to talk to him, he had a smile on his face. You can talk about the player he was on the field and without him there is no dynasty because he was the jumping off point for that group.

"Then you talk about the man off the field. To know the standard was set with guys like him. The way he was involved in the community and the way he involved everybody. Franco meant so much to so many people. He lived a full life and I think a lot of people are going to miss him."

One of the things Heyward admired about Harris was his consistency, treating people the same up and down the board, not ever changing.

"The first time to the last time, I don't think anything ever changed," said Heyward. "You knew he was genuine. You knew he liked to have fun. I was talking to him yesterday. He had a competitive spirit. You felt like he wanted to be there for you. I don't think they are just putting anybody up in the airport. Franco was the guy. It was a pleasure to just meet him. The way he went about respecting people after him, it was incredible. He had the utmost respect for every player, every person in the city. He has a level of humility.

"Everybody knows Franco not only for what he did on the field, but the work he did off the field. He was there making changes, being involved in anything he could. That is the way that group was represented. Franco, I feel like led the charge in that front. He was outspoken, didn't hide behind anything. A person of the people.

"We lost a good one."

Heyward knows that it was Harris and his teammates from the 1970s who set the standard for what it means to play for the Steelers, and he knows that standard kicked into gear when Harris arrived as a rookie in 1972.

"Franco was special," said Heyward. "It did start with them. Before they started winning, before he was drafted, they were a tough group but didn't win the games they were supposed to. When Franco came, they go 11-3. He has an unbelievable play and you saw the trajectory take off from there. It wasn't just a tough group. It was a tough and winning group. They didn't just win on the field, they won off the field. The way they interacted with people. The way the city got behind them. That set the way for any player after. We are just fortunate enough to be a part of an organization great men were a part of. You walk in and see the six Lombardi's and you say Franco is the real reason."

Heyward said the best way he and his teammates can honor Harris' legacy is to go out and give their everything on Saturday night against the Las Vegas Raiders at Acrisure Stadium.

"The only way you can display that is in our prep and be ready for the game," said Heyward. "Of course we are going to honor him. Of course we are going to pay tribute. But we don't want to let a guy like that down."

Sharing a bond: Tight end Pat Freiermuth will never forget the day he was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

And he will never forget the man who announced his selection.

Franco Harris.

Like so many who were touched by Harris, Freiermuth was feeling the emotion on Wednesday when he learned of Harris' passing, just days before his No. 32 jersey was to be retired by the Steelers as a part of the 50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.

"It's sad. Waking up and seeing that. It's so sad," said Freiermuth, a Penn State product like Harris. "Franco and I were close. He was there for me all of the time. We had a bunch of connections. We were close. I talked to him and his wife Dana all the time. He came on my talk show with Craig Wolfley one night last week. I loved hearing all his stories. He is why the Pittsburgh Steelers are the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

"It's so sad he won't be here to see his jersey retired, but I know he will be there in spirit. It's hard, but he has a front row seat for his event on Saturday."

Freiermuth said he would see Harris back at events at Penn State, as well as visiting with him in Pittsburgh, including spending time at Harris' home.

"This weekend was for him. It still is for him," said Freiermuth. "A Pittsburgh legend. It's sad.

"He might not be there in person, but he is going to be there in heaven."

Added on: The Steelers signed linebacker Mika Tafua to the practice squad on Wednesday.

Tafua played at the University of Utah where he was a Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Finalist in 2021. In the same season he was named Associated Press Pac-12 All-Conference First Team and was the Pac-12 Morris Trophy recipient.

Tune in: For fans who don't want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.

Monday, December 19

Practicing what they preached: All last week, the talk in the Steelers locker room was centered around one topic.

Stopping the run.

And on Sunday, the defense delivered.

After giving up 215 yards rushing a week earlier to the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers stymied the Carolina Panthers running attack, allowing only 21 yards on the ground.

The defense set the tone early when defensive end Larry Ogunjobi stuffed D'Onta Foreman for a one-yard loss on the first offensive play of the game. And it didn't get any easier from that point forward.

"We were just very physical from the start of the game," said linebacker Alex Highsmith. "Larry made that first play of the game and kind of set the tone for the game."

The key now is, not letting the foot off the gas. The Las Vegas Raiders come to Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night with the NFL's leading rusher, running back Josh Jacobs, on absolute fire with 1,495 yards, which includes a 215-yard performance against Seattle on Nov. 17.

That simply means the defense has to perform at the same level on better this week as they did against the Panthers.

"We just got to get back to doing that," said Highsmith. "We've got a really good team coming in that is going to be able to run the ball. Josh Jacobs leads the league. He's a really good running back. We have to be able to set the tone like we did against the Panthers."

While the Panthers were heavy on the run, the Raiders have a balanced offense that features quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams, who has 1,275 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns this year.

"They have a lot of good balance," said Highsmith. "Derek Carr is a great quarterback. Davonte Adams is one of the best in the game at the receiver position. They are very versatile on offense, but it comes with having to stop the run first. We have to be able to do that.

"Carr is a veteran guy, a competitor. That is what makes him a good quarterback. We have to be able to compete as well. If you are a competitor, this is a competitor's game. We are both fighting for our playoff lives. We just have to continue to fight. It's going to be a fun matchup."

One thing the Steelers could have in their favor is the weather. While the Raiders are accustomed to playing indoors, the Steelers have already acclimated to the cold and with temperatures expected to be in the teens on Saturday night, it will be interesting.

"It's definitely going to be a cold game," said Highsmith. "We play in these games a lot. I feel like we will be able to play a good game. I am looking forward to the opportunity and challenge ahead. Like I said they are a good team, a good running game, so that's what we've got to do to beat this team, stop the run."

Always room for improvement: The defense was feeling it on Sunday against the Panthers, shutting down the run and for the most part stopping the Panthers in the air.

While safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was happy with their performance, you will never find him fully satisfied.

"I was happy with it. When you stop a team that likes to run the ball and take away the run game and they finish with less than 30 yards rushing, it's pretty big," said Fitzpatrick. "There were things in the secondary we could have done better. We gave up a big pass on third down that put them in the red zone and led to their first touchdown. We gave up a pass interference that got them down in the red zone. We definitely stopped the run, but there are things we could have done better."

Fitzpatrick said the defense will take the same principles into this week's game against the Las Vegas Raiders that they had going against the Panthers, even though the Raiders offense is more balanced.

"(Josh) Jacobs is a really good running back," said Fitzpatrick. "They have been feeding him a lot this year. He is one of the top rushers in the league. They have a couple of their weapons back in (Darren) Waller and (Hunter) Renfrow. We are going to try and smash the run but are expecting them to get the ball to their playmakers."

One of those playmakers is the explosive Davante Adams, who has 1,275 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns this year.

"You can't let him get going," said Fitzpatrick. "He is a guy that once he wins two or three one-on-ones he gets going. We just got to be competitive at the catch point, be physical with them at the line of scrimmage. When a guy like that gets going it's tough to stop him."

Keep the momentum flowing: The Steelers offensive line is a unit that has been coming together all season, and their performance on Sunday as a whole against the Carolina Panthers was one of their best yet.

They even got a nice shoutout from Coach Mike Tomlin.

"Can't say enough about our big dudes up front and how they controlled it," said Tomlin after the game.

The Steelers rushed for 156 yards, with Najee Harris putting up 86 of those yards.

The key moving forward.

"Try to keep the momentum flowing," said tackle Dan Moore Jr.

Moore said they got a little bit of help from offensive line coach Pat Meyer, who spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons as the Panthers offensive line coach, and Trent Scott, who also spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons in Carolina.

"It was huge," said Moore. "(Pat) knows those guys in and out. Trent was a big help a well. He was on their team for two years. Personnel wise Trent helped us out a lot. Schematically Pat was a huge help for us."

The offense also won the game of attrition, controlling the time of possession by an advantage of 36:11 to 23:49.

"I think the time of possession game is always huge," said Moore. "The attrition game up front is how you win it, controlling the clock. I think we are going to have to do that this week, especially if (the Raiders) are a quick strike group. Not only that but make use of every possession we get and try to put points on the board every time we get the ball."

Tune in: For fans who don't want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.