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Week 2 Blog: A recap of the news

Facing his former team: Gunner Olszewski will have an opportunity to go against his former team on Sunday when the Steelers and Patriots meet at Acrisure Stadium.

"Anytime you play the ex, you want to show out," said Olszewski. "Any time I get the ball, I want to do something with it. Playing the old team, the team that didn't want you, sure I want to go out there and show what I can do."

Olszewski spent three seasons with the New England Patriots after signing with them as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2019 NFL Draft. He played in 36 games, starting two, and was used primarily as a return specialist.

He said he is trying to help his teammates with whatever information he can this week but is also being cautious because of changes to the Patriots coaching staff.

"I am not going to tell them anything if it ain't 100 percent," said Olszewski. "They've had some coaching changes over there. I am not 100 percent sure what they are doing on the offensive side or the defensive side anymore. Stuff that I see, sure I'll mention it. But these coaches do this for a living, break down film, so I am sure I can't tell them something they don't know."

Olszewski was on the Patriots side the last time the two teams met in 2019, his first game in the NFL. It was preached to him and the rest of the team by Patriots Coach Bill Belichick what the Steelers organization is like prior to the game, and he is seeing that first-hand now.

"I took good notes every time Bill got up there and spoke, just like I do with Mike T," said Olszewski. "He told us what kind of team the Steelers are, now I got to experience what the Steelers are and he was right about every word. He knows what we do here, they know what they do there. That's how those games always end up happening the way they do."

The message Olszewski got from Belichick was a simple one.

"Good football teams play good techniques, fundamental," said Olszewski. "They preach the same sort of things."

Olszewski was asked to compare the differences between Belichick and Tomlin, but instead he shared similarities.

"They are two of the most consistent coaches in football," said Olszewski. "I am appreciative to have played for both of them."

He said it: Receiver George Pickens on what the offense needs to do differently in Week 2.

"I feel like we are doing everything good. I feel like we should just stay the course. When you get that kind of thinking, we need to change, that is when things get worse. I feel like we are doing pretty good. We just have to stay the course, and everything will come together."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 2 matchup against the New England Patriots

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A look at the top pictures of Steelers fans from the team's Week 1 game against the Bengals in Cincinnati

Thursday, September 15

Always wanting more: Seven sacks. Four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. A fumble recovery.

The list could go on, because that is the performance the Steelers defense put on film on Sunday against the Bengals.

If it's a performance you think the defense is satisfied with, think again.

They want more.

"It was a great feeling," said nose tackle Tyson Alualu. "Going into halftime we knew we played dominant, but that we could play better as a defensive unit. We can't just talk about it. We have to be consistent with it every single game. We are up for that challenge."

What gives Alualu the confidence that they can play better is how many players contributed to the efforts. Four different players were responsible for the interceptions. The sacks were distributed among five players. And those are just the 'standout' plays. There were plenty of others making impact plays all throughout the game.

"When it's not just T.J. (Watt) or Cam (Heyward) making all the plays, it's a great feeling," said Alualu. "Having guys at position groups step up and make those big-time plays was key. The energy when you see somebody else make a big play, it just lifts you up. When you go out there you have to make sure you get your job done and feed off that energy. That was good for us."

Alualu knows there will be plenty of energy to feed off of at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday for the Steelers home opener against the New England Patriots, and in his 13th season in the NFL, he enjoys those moments more than ever.

"I get excited for every game, especially it being this late in my career," said Alualu. "I don't take anything for granted. I try to enjoy these moments as much as I can. It's different when you get to play in front of your home crowd. The energy you get to feed off, that is what I am most excited about for the home opener.

"Early on playing you get excited for those things, but it's a game I play. Now I look at it as it's one of those things that I try and cherish every single moment I am still here. Not just on game day, but also in the locker room with the group, trying to make the most of it."

Alualu admits missing the vast majority of the 2021 season on the Reserve/Injured List opened his eyes somewhat to the appreciation, and it's something he will always have.

"You never know when it could be your last play or not," said Alualu. "It taught me to appreciate every little thing."

And that appreciation was felt on Sunday in Cincinnati when he stepped back on the field for a regular season game.

"I felt like I got emotional, even though I was preparing, taking snaps to get back on the field," said Alualu. "Just that first game back. I guess it took me back to how grateful I am to still be doing this with the people I care about and love. I felt grateful and thankful to be back on the field."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 2 matchup against the New England Patriots

Embracing the time share: While some of his counterparts in the secondary didn't get a breather last week in the Steelers overtime win over the Bengals, playing all 100 defensive snaps and four additional on field goal and extra point block units, Cameron Heyward was happy the rotation on the defensive line was in full effect.

"We had 104 plays. Looking at the numbers I thought we did a good job," said Heyward. "Making sure everybody got reps, everybody was just available. I think I took the bulk of them, but you didn't see any 80-90s plays, so it's a good start."

Heyward did lead the way on the defensive line with 57 defensive snaps, following by Larry Ogunjobi with 53 snaps played. Chris Wormley was in for 41 snaps, Tyson Alualu for 33, and rookie DeMarvin Leal for 17.

It was a plan that worked for the defensive line, and one Heyward would like to see continue.

"I am always up for every guy being on the field and everybody getting used to the game and being a part," said Heyward. "We all have to stay healthy. It's a 17-game season. It's a lot on our bodies. It's not a pride thing. We just have to make sure we take care of ourselves."

That is a big factor. Rest and recovery is crucial this week as the team prepares to take on the New England Patriots on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, but that has to be balanced with staying sharp.

"There is definitely a big emphasis on that," said Heyward of recovery. "Going into overtime and playing the entire overtime. Guys just need to heal up. I don't think anybody is going to feel sorry for us. New England isn't going to feel sorry for us. It's just up to guys to heal up and still be mentally sharp. These meetings mean a lot, what we are putting in, how we are executing. It's gotta be above the line stuff. Guys have to be willing to stay locked in and ready to go."

The Patriots are coming off a 20-7 loss in their season opener to the Miami Dolphins and looking to rebound this week.  

"We are going to get their best shot," said Heyward. "The thing that's always been very deceptive with every New England team is their running game. They've always had a really good running game. If you overlook that you will be scratching your head at the end of the game saying why didn't we do this. They're going to come in here and try to establish the run game, settle everyone down and then let Mac Jones facilitate it to everybody."

ICYMI: The Steelers signed linebacker David Anenih to the 53-man roster on Thursday. Anenih was on the Tennessee Titans practice squad before joining the Steelers.

The team also placed linebacker T.J. Watt on the Reserve/Injured List, after he was injured in the Steelers overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Anenih was originally signed by the Titans as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft. He was released on the final cutdown after the preseason and then signed to their practice squad. He played in three preseason games, leading the Titans with three sacks and three quarterback hits, as well as the leader with two forced fumbles and two passes defensed.

He played at the University of Houston where he played in 56 games, starting 29. He had 99 career tackles, 32 tackles for a loss, 20.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

He started 14 games his final season at Houston and finished with a career-highs in tackles (30) and tackles for a loss (10). He also had five sacks, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, while earning first-team all-conference honors.

(See below for more on his first day.)

New face in place: Linebacker David Anenih was signed off the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans when the Steelers placed T.J. Watt on the Reserve/Injured List Thursday.

The Titans have former Steelers Bud Dupree, Ola Adeniyi and Derrek Tuszka on their active roster, so Anenih got a crash course in what it means to be with the Steelers prior to his arrival.

"They were all here," Ahenih said after going through his first practice with the Steelers Thursday. "They told me I'm going to like it. It's a great environment, the coaching staff, the players, the whole organization. They said it's a great city, great town."

It could be a great fit for the former University of Houston star.

Anenih recorded 20.5 sacks in 59 career games for the Cougars. He also had 99 tackles and 32 tackles for a loss in his career, which included 29 starts.

He followed that up in the preseason by recording three sacks and three quarterback hits in the preseason, forcing two fumbles and defending a pair of passes.

But when cutdown time came, there wasn't room on Tennessee's 53-man roster, leaving the former undrafted rookie on the practice squad, which allowed the Steelers to sign him.

"I knew T.J. Watt was here, that was the main thing," Adenih said. "And I knew how historic the defense is, the coaching core defensively here. That's what I knew. When I got the call, I was excited for the opportunity to be on the 53-man roster, get some reps and play."

With so many former Steelers outside linebackers in Tennessee, there are some obvious similarities between what the two teams do defensively.

"Both defenses are 3-4 defenses. I dropped in coverage more at Tennessee," he said. "Here, they want me to get off the ball and rush off the edge more."

That could work out well for him.

Right now, however, his head is spinning just a bit.

How was his first practice?

"Getting to be around Coach Mike T(omlin). I heard a lot of stories about him," Adenih said. "To getting to see how the whole team operates, it was a really cool time."

-- Blog entry by Dale Lolley

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Wednesday, September 14

Feeling good: Running back Najee Harris left Sunday's game against the Bengals with 1:44 to play in regulation with a foot injury, but on Wednesday he sounded like a player ready to go this week against the New England Patriots.

"It's good," said Harris, who was limited in practice on Wednesday.

When asked what happened, he didn't seem concerned, but instead felt confident he would be ready to play.

"Football happened. Stuff happens," said Harris. "I'm good.

"It's part of the sport. It's a little injury. I got hurt plenty of times. It's good."

Before leaving the game Harris had 10 carries for 23 yards, and he is well aware the offense needs to do some work to get those numbers up, as well as improve overall.

"We're improving every game," said Harris. "We still have to work on some stuff, just even as a whole, besides the running game, we have to work on some stuff as an offense. We had a lot of opportunities because of the defense giving us the ball. We didn't capitalize on some of them, most of them.

"We just have to make sure every time we get the ball from the defense, we have to at least put some points on the board. We have to get better at that. It's the first game, we have a long road ahead of us."

When Harris went out against the Bengals, rookie free agent Jaylen Warren stepped in. While Harris is confident he will play on Sunday, he said it's Warren's job to be ready if he can't, and even just to give him a break.

"He is a good player," said Harris. "He is still learning. He made a lot of good blocks too. We just all have to get better.

"He is going to have to (step up). He has no choice. I am okay. He is going to be good. He helped me out a lot too to keep me off the field so I wouldn't get extra hits. I think last year I played the most snaps in the NFL. Going into the second year, we can't do that, especially for a running back. It's too violent. You have to have somebody spell you, that's good."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 2 matchup against the New England Patriots

Ready for the challenge: Another player who left Sunday's game against the Bengals early was cornerback Levi Wallace, who sustained an ankle injury.

On Wednesday, Wallace seemed to be doing much better and had a good outlook at the team prepares to take on the New England Patriots.

"I'm good," said Wallace, who was limited in practice on Sunday. "Sundays still far away.

"Luckily, I am a little young, not as young as I used to be, so my body recovers faster. I was in a little bit of pain, wasn't able to return. God willing, I am able to go this week. A couple of days of rest. Even today with the t-shirt and hat practice definitely helped me. Another day of rest. I am looking forward to the challenge this week."

A healthy Wallace is able to be a huge asset to the defense this week, but he can also help in another way. He played four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, and he knows a bit about the Patriots.

"I played the Patriots eight times now," said Wallace. "I know they have a new coordinator. But just getting back to the film, I've already spread my notes about the Patriots and the books I've kept on them. They're a good team. Just because they lost their first game, I know they'll come back and bounce back hard. Efficient running game as usual. We'll be ready for that.

"You have a small sample with one game now. I can't tell you what's different. They can always go back to what they did last year and what I've seen in previous years. Most of the same receivers. We just have to see how they attack us and go from there."

Wallace fully expects Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to play on Sunday, despite dealing with back spasms last week. And he knows he will be a challenge for the defense.

"I know he is a tough player for sure," said Wallace. "If he is able to play, I know he is going to play. He is a competitor. I know he will be out there Sunday."

Take a closer look at scenes from the Steelers' Week 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals

No rest for the weary: The stat line for the Steelers defense was an impressive one in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, with the numbers including seven sacks, four interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

But one stat that flew under the radar was 100 snaps played.

Yes, three in the secondary – Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ahkello Witherspoon – played all 100 defensive snaps in the overtime win, and even a few more on special teams.

"When you play 100 snaps, that's two games," said defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who played 57 snaps. "We needed every single snap. There was no let off. There was no I get to chill on this play because they're going at the other side. They were locked in. They had interceptions, batted passes, they competed against a great wide receiver corps. I can't say enough about those guys. Those guys played with leadership, they played fast with energy, and we needed it."

Edmunds said it didn't hit him right away that he was in for that many snaps, even though he knew he didn't get a breather all game.

"It's crazy to even think about 100 snaps," said Edmunds. "You don't really notice it until after the game. In that moment, we want to do whatever it takes to win. No matter how many times you have to go out there, we are going to keep on going and keep on playing.

"It was adrenaline for sure. The ebb and flow of the game, the ups and downs. We were on our toes the same way everybody else was on the edge of their seats in the game. We were out there just trying to get a win the best way we can.

"Ultimately, we came out with that, and it was a team effort from offense, defense and special teams. That's what we worked on all offseason, all camp. That showed in the first game, and you can't ask anything more than that from a young team."

Witherspoon smiles when he started talking about the number of snaps and wasn't shy about admitting it was tiresome. But he was back at it the next day running alongside Fitzpatrick and Edmunds in team run.

"It was exhausting," said Witherspoon. "The type of game we were in is what helped me push through. But, being in such an intense moment, an intense game, it didn't even feel like it was 100 snaps.

"Yeah, I'm exhausted. But I felt like I was in shape from camp. We had so many snaps, so many dog days in camp, I felt like I was in shape. I feel tired mentally and physically, but I still have some juice in me."

Having the ability to not only play that many snaps, but play at the high level they did on defense overall, was something that didn't surprise Coach Mike Tomlin.

"We put them in adverse circumstances in team development so that is revealed," said Tomlin after the game. "I don't think any of us are surprised by it because we've seen enough of it in team development."

That team development included practices at Saint Vincent College. It included hot days, rainy days, miserable days. It continued at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as the team prepared for the season, going through physical practices that taught them a lot about themselves.

"All through training camp, the first week of the season preparation, we did two-minute drills, we did seven shots football, we did all those different drills to prepare us to go out there and make those plays in the weighty moments," said Edmunds. "That is something Coach really speaks about a lot. Yes, anyone can make a play during the game, but when those plays really count. When you think about Minkah's block (of the potential game-winning extra point). We talk about that all of the time. You never know when it's your turn to make that play. We put ourselves through that every day to be ready for the weighty moments."

And what was notable was everyone on defense made plays. Everyone contributed. Everyone gave their all, even for 100 snaps.

"Coach exposes us to the moments we experience at the end of the game," said Witherspoon. "The ball at the two-yard line and we have to win the game, make a play. Being resilient and understanding it doesn't come down to one play, but just the accumulation of detail and that helped us get out of the stadium."

What also helped them get out of the stadium was Chris Boswell's 53-yard game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock in overtime.

"We were on the edge of our seats," said Edmunds. "Even that block that Minkah had, we were out there saying everybody go out there and run as fast as you can. Somebody is going to run free. Whoever comes free has to make the play. Minkah went out there and made the play and we all felt good. Then the missed field goals from both teams.

"Then 'Bankroll Boz,' we knew he was going to go out there and kick it in. It was something we were prepared for. We all felt comfortable in that moment that Boz was going to go out there and make that kick. And he did."

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Monday, September 12

Stepping up: There is no official word yet on the injury to linebacker T.J. Watt, but there is one thing Cameron Heyward knows.

No matter what the news is, the defense will be ready to step up and do whatever they have to.

"I don't know what all the details are, but we'll rally around him, make sure guys step up in the meantime and whenever he gets back to us, we'll be ready," said Heyward on Monday. "That's part of the game. Even when I got injured, it's unfortunate for the player, but the rest of the team has to step up."

Heyward has been a consistent leader on the Steelers defense and said his job is simply to keep doing his job. He doesn't want to take on too much responsibility because he knows you can lose focus in those situations.

"I stay consistent in what I do," said Heyward. "I can't change who I am or try to do too much because that puts the defense at a disadvantage. When you talk about stepping up, it's about another guy being put into a position that he's gotta do what he's gotta do. He's gotta make the plays, be in the right gaps. T.J. does some abnormal things that not a lot of other people can. We just have to be sound in our alignments and technique."

One player who was called upon in game against the Bengals was linebacker Malik Reed, who was acquired via a trade with the Denver Broncos in late August. Reed ended up playing 32% of the defensive snaps on Sunday against the Bengals, including stepping in when Watt was injured in game.

"He is trying to get the lay of the land, understand what is going on," said Heyward. "He has had success elsewhere. He knows how to rush the passer. And he is able to communicate. When you have those things, you are off to a good start."

Another player who stepped up on Sunday was linebacker Alex Highsmith. He finished the game with three sacks after not seeing any action in the preseason due to injury.

"I thought Alex played really good," said Heyward. "It's a testament to his ability to condition himself while he was injured. He stayed locked in. The year before he dealt with an injury, and it hindered him going into the season. I thought this year he was ready for this moment."

Feeling it: A plethora of emotions went through Steelers Nation during Sunday's 23-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and it was the same for those on the sidelines.

While some handled it without blinking, others felt the same emotions as those watching the game from the edge of their seats.

"We're built for anything that comes our way," said defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. "It might not always be pretty. It might have you on the edge of your seat, but for us we treat it as football."

On the other hand, offensive guard Kevin Dotson said he was feeling the emotions.

"It was something that had your stomach hurting for a time," said Dotson. "You wanted it to be over, but you were so into it you were just going with it."

Off and running: Rookie running back Jaylen Warren was asked to step into a key role when the game was on the line against the Bengals on Sunday.

Starting running back Najee Harris left the game with a foot injury with 1:44 to play in regulation. With Harris on the sideline, it was Warren who would step into the spot in overtime to do whatever was asked.

"They prepare me to be in that position," said Warren. "Anything can happen in the football game. They put me at RB2 and expect me to step up. When that happened, I had to go in and execute."

Warren has no idea what Harris' status will be when the Steelers host the New England Patriots in the home opener. He just knows he will be ready for whatever is asked of him.

"I don't think it changes anything," said Warren. "They do a good job of preparing us for the moment, so we don't get big-eyed or shocked when this happens. We just adapt."

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.

Take a look at Karl's best photos from the Week 1 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers beat the Bengals in OT 23-20