Week 16 Blog: All the news and notes

Friday, December 25

Getting back a voice: The Steelers activated linebacker Vince Williams from the Reserve/COVID-19 List on Wednesday, something that has his teammates and coaches all smiles right now.

"It means we have a leader in the linebacker corps that has been doing it for a while," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "Avery (Williamson) and Chico (Marcus Allen) did a great job while they were out there. Vince has been running this defense for a long time. It's good to have him back. He is communicating well. Things are just a little more fluid when you have a guy that has been there for a while."

It's that communication that makes a huge difference with Williams on the field. As Fitzpatrick said, both Williamson and Allen have done solid jobs, but Williams knows the defense inside and out.

"A voice, definitely. Communication is going to help us," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "The guys who have been in there have done a pretty good job of communicating, but Vince is a little more confident in what he's doing. The people around him are a little more confident in terms of what we are doing with him in there and stuff like that. It's going to help us for sure."

Williams, who was placed on the list on Dec. 10, had started 12 games this season at right inside linebacker, before missing the last two games on the list.

Williams has 63 tackles on the season, including 41 solo stops and three sacks, along with 14 tackles for a loss and two fumble recoveries.

"He beams confidence," said linebacker T.J. Watt. "He loves football. He absolutely loves this game. He enjoys being around the guys in the locker room and we love his company as well. To have a guy in a leadership role back on the inside of our defense, being able to make calls, and be very assertive with his calls and be very confident. What he has been doing, it's awesome to have him back this week and I am excited to play alongside him again."

Thursday, December 24

A fine line: The Steelers got behind last week against the Bengals, heading into halftime already down 17-0, a deficit they couldn't dig out of.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler stressed the importance of the defense getting off the field when he spoke via Zoom on Thursday, stopping whoever they play no matter what the scenarios are.

"You get behind like that, then offenses can do stuff like that and get away with it," said Butler. "We still have to get them out. We still have to get them off the field. We still have to make them go up by threes. We can't let them score touchdowns, defensively.

"That's our thing right now, to me, if we could hold them. I know there were turnovers and all that stuff. That happens in the National Football League. When that happens in the National Football League, as a defense you have to make them go up by three. You can't let them score touchdowns. The other thing we have to do is we have to get some turnovers. We have to be ball aware. We've been doing a pretty good job of getting the turnovers and stuff like that, but we have to…I don't think we had any the last ballgame. We have to get some of those turnovers, and we have to win the turnover-takeaway ratio. That's a pretty big thing defensively for us that we have to do that in order to help the team."

You won't get any argument from linebacker T.J. Watt when it comes to those aspects, but he added the key is to still play smart and not try and be a hero.

"I think things like that are understood," said Watt. "We have been playing football a long time. We understand as a defense you don't want to spend a lot of time on the field. You want to create those splash plays, those turnover type plays. I know personally I want to make more. It's also important not to reach and become a superman and get out of your gap and things like that.

"There is a definitely a fine line of trying to create splash but try not to push too hard and expose your defense."

While the offense held a players only meeting this week, orchestrated by Ben Roethlisberger, just to talk about things as the playoffs approach, Watt said the defense hasn't done that. They know what the mission is, plain and simple.

"I just think right now we want to continue to get better and continue to grow as a defense and try not to make the same mistake twice," said Watt. "Right now, we just want to keep playing football and try to get better each and every week."

Getting on board: Maurkice Pouncey is a morning person.

There is no denying.

He has always been one of the first players at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex since he first was drafted by the Steelers, hitting the weight room early and being the early bird who catches the worm.

But with the NFL having teams in the intensive protocol for the past month or so, being an early bird doesn't always work. Players are only at their facilities for set times, normally for practice and just some meetings. It's messed with Pouncey's schedule, but he gets it.

"I am such a morning person so if affected me a little bit," said Pouncey. "I like to get into the building, being able to sit in front of guys, being able to interact in that type of way. I get the protocols. It is what it is. There isn't any complaining about it. It's just getting on board and riding it out. I just look at it as 2020.

"For the younger guys it affects them more. It's hard to make sure guys are locked in when they are sitting at their homes. It's just a blessing to be playing. I know other sports leagues got their stuff done and are able to go to their championships and try to play. That is what football is trying to do. Whoever stays the most locked in, the most accountable at that time, they're going to win."

Pouncey, who was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Dec. 2 after testing positive, said he definitely understands the reason for the protocols, but it killed him to miss two games while on the list.

"That was terrible," said Pouncey. "I am the ultimate competitor. I want to be out there every single play. But the rules are the rules. The protocols are the protocols. I am done even thinking about that part.

"I was aggravated. I didn't have one symptom. At this point there is no point in complaining. We are just blessed to be out there playing. If you want to complain about it, you should have opted out."

He said it:
Maurkice Pouncey on bouncing back from the last three games:
"I just think it's small details throughout the game. The other teams have been getting up on us and we haven't been able to come back. We know we should be playing better. We are focused on this week. The game of football, people get it confused. It's all about the flow of the game. You have to convert third downs. You have to be able to do everything. You can't be one dimensional. Me being here a long time I realize that. We'll get things together. Trust me."

Wednesday, December 23

Starting fast a key: As Ben Roethlisberger indicated on Wednesday morning, Steelers players, mainly on offense, held a 'players only' meeting just to talk. It wasn't a panic meeting, but rather a time to talk as the playoffs are on the horizon.

It was a meeting that went over well with everyone, including receiver JuJu Smith Schuster.

"It was mainly offense…running backs, tight ends, quarterbacks, wide receivers," said Smith-Schuster. "We have to hold each other accountable. I think these next two games we have to show ourselves what we can do on offense. I think our defense has been playing well, a good enough job to stop them. We start slow every game and aren't physical. That is what Ben told us. We will stick together. Times like this we have to become closer as a family."

Smith-Schuster said he wants to do his part to help the team recover from the three-game losing streak, and that means continuing to do whatever is asked in the offense.

"If I can make more plays for my team, I would," said Smith-Schuster. "I am just doing what I am told. Whether it's blocking, running, catching the ball. I just have to make the best of it. We have guys who can make plays. I think we have to come together as a family and keep playing."

There is something else Smith-Schuster is doing. And that is stopping dancing on the opposing team's logo pregame and filming it for his TikTok account. He said he didn't do it with any disrespect intended, and after learning Coach Mike Tomlin and his teammates have been asked about it, he said he is going to stop doing it.

"For me, I was dancing when we were undefeated," said Smith-Schuster. "I was dancing when we lost our three games. I am not going to change the person I am. It's getting to the point where my teammates are being asked this question, my coach is being asked this question. I saw it more, no disrespect, just for my fans. I am big on social media, the positive. Doing stuff like that you get the positive and the negative. For the betterment of myself and my teammates, I am going to stop dancing on logos.

"I don't want to be a distraction to anybody. If it's getting to the point where you are asking my teammates and coaches, there is no point."

Getting off the field: It's not as if the Steelers' defense has been getting pushed around during the current three-game losing streak.

But it's not as if the defense has held up when it's needed to situationally, either.

In the Steelers' 23-17 loss on Dec. 7, the Washington Football Team was able to drive 45 yards on nine plays for a field goal that broke a 17-17 tie late in the fourth quarter.

In a 26-15 loss on Dec. 13 at Buffalo, the Bills turned an eight-point lead into a two-score advantage with an 11-play, 61-yard drive for a field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

And in last Monday's 27-17 loss in Cincinnati, the Bengals were able to drive 80 yards on nine plays for a touchdown that upped their lead to 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Opposing offenses converted a combined four of six third downs into first downs by either the run, the pass or a penalty in those three game-changing drives.

"We just have to get off the field," defensive tackle Cam Heyward said. "I think that's the main thing you can really stress to the guys. In that critical moment we can't let them convert third downs or continue to move the ball with fluidity.

"We just have to make sure we settle down, take it one play at a time but we get off the field as fast as possible. Providing those extra opportunities for an offense is huge and we weren't able to do that the past couple games."

Help is on the way now that inside linebacker Vince Williams has been activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Williams missed the Buffalo and Cincinnati games.

"He's one of our defensive stalwarts that we can rely on so it was a little bit of an adjustment having him gone," Heyward said. "Obviously, you want to plug guys in and not miss a beat. But for Vince, he doesn't miss a lot of games. He's a guy you can count on, and the younger guys are still coming along. So having him back only benefits the group in terms of a mentality.

"When he's on the field his physicality, the way he's able to blitz, he really gives us an extra edge."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

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