Bye Week Blog: All the news and notes

Wednesday, September 30

Strong possibility Steelers play Monday: The NFL is in the process of rescheduling the Steelers-Titans game that was originally set to be played on Sunday but has been changed due to multiple members of the Titans organization testing positive for COVID-19.

Coach Mike Tomlin said the team is moving forward with the perception that the game will be played on Monday, although there has yet to be confirmation of that at the time he spoke to the media after practice on Wednesday. Tomlin said he isn't concerned with how that will impact the following week when the team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field, that he just knows they will show up and play.

"Right now, there is a strong possibility that it's Monday so that has been our focus as we prepare today," said Tomlin. "Not concerned about next week to be honest with you. We live one week at a time. We have an undefeated team that we are scheduled to face at the end of this week so that has been our focus as we prepare today.

"It's been a normal Wednesday for us. Some of the other hypotheticals we choose not to participate in because we try to be singularly, professionally focused in an effort to put our best foot forward when we step in the stadium against the Titans."

The Steelers are following the same schedule they did for Week 1 of the season when they traveled to MetLife Stadium to play the New York Giants, and that will include practicing on Saturday.

Tomlin said moving things around, and the fact that they are heading to play a team where they have been positive COVID-19 tests, hasn't had any mental impact on the team at all. 

"No mental issues for us," said Tomlin. "It was a Wednesday for us. We had a base preparation day today. We tried to stay focused on that. This COVID environment with closed locker rooms and so forth has really provided us an opportunity to do that probably easier than normal circumstances."

The Titans aren't permitted to be at their practice facility for the majority of this week because of the positive tests, and the Minnesota Vikings are also dealing with working remotely as they played the Titans last week. The Vikings have said they will ramp up the safety protocols when they return, something Tomlin said they aren't planning to do right now, but he isn't against if needed.

"We are open to using any information, technology or tools at our disposal to best adhere to the protocols that are being prescribed to us," said Tomlin. "That has been our general attitude throughout all of this. We realize there is going to be some uneasiness and uncertainty in 2020. We are not running away from it. We embrace it."

tvstory_mike hilton_week3_1

Getting prepared: The NFL is still in the process of rescheduling the Steelers game against the Tennessee Titans that was originally schedule for Sunday but is being change because of positive COVID-19 tests in the Titans organization.

For Steelers players, they are still treating this week as business as usual, getting ready to play whenever the league tells them they are.

"It's no different," said cornerback Mike Hilton. "Everybody saw the situation that happened over the last couple of days. We knew as a team this is what we were coming into this season. We know on our end we are going to do everything we can to stay healthy and safe. We let everything else take control. We can only focus on getting prepared for the Titans."

Hilton said preparing to play potentially on Monday, or whenever they are told, and then come back and play next Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles isn't much different than things they have dealt with in the past.

"We have played on Sunday and turned around and played on Thursday. We have played in Monday night games. We have been down this road before," said Hilton. "We know we have the coaching staff and the type of team that will stay focused and be locked in no matter the game week situation. We know it won't be any different and we won't let it get off our focus of trying to go in and get a 'W.'"

Hilton said he isn't close to any of the Titans players and hasn't had conversations with them, but knows it's not an easy situation they are dealing with.

"It's a tough situation," said Hilton. "This whole offseason, this is what teams have been preparing for. This is the first one that had an outbreak. Everyone knows they are going to do everything they can to keep it controlled and every other team is going to follow their protocols.

"We just have to do what you have been doing. Doing all of the right protocols and being safe. We know we are going to an environment that had an outbreak but if we do what we are supposed to do we will be fine."

The Steelers practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex

Monday, September 28

'Getting sacks are amazing': Vince Williams loves to blitz.

And he isn't shy about it, doesn't mind asking defensive coordinator Keith Butler to blitz him more than he does.

And he has good reason for it.

"It's a two-part reason," said Williams. "Getting sacks are amazing. I like it. The most important person on the field, like in chess when you take someone's queen off the board, so I like that. I like beating up on quarterbacks.

"Secondly, I feel like it adds such diversity to your defense. When you have guys that are tremendous edge rushers that can get pressure, and you have tremendous guys on the inside that can get pressure, like (Stephon) Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, and you have nickel guys like Mike Hilton, me throwing my name into that ring. I want to be able to add that dimension to my game and get after the quarterback as well. That adds another weapon we can use and to make sure we don't stay so vanilla in our blitz packages."

Butler mentioned last week that you can do too much of a good thing, and Williams explained that statement wasn't just saying they blitz too much, but that you do have to mix things up with who you bring on the blitz.

"It's not something as simple as the term blitzing," explained Williams. "Yeah, everybody blitzes in the NFL, we do it more than other people. You can't do the same type of blitzes. You can't send the same type of people. You can't have the same patterns, because everyone will pick up on that.

"But just in general blitzing, this is Blitzburgh, y'all know what you're about to get."

And what you are going to get from Williams and Hilton, is a chess match where they play a key role.

"I think me and Mike are the knights," said a smiling Williams. "We are versatile pieces and we dominate in a specific area of the game that our counterparts in the NFL don't usually dominate in. That makes us very unique individuals."

Williams, who has two sacks and eight tackles for loss on the season, said he is enjoying the game more now at age 30 than ever before.

"I was just talking to Bud (Dupree) about this," said Williams. "I think my relationship with the game of football has changed significantly and it has allowed me to take a lot of pressure off myself while I am able to play. I used to be a victim to outside influences and criticism and I think now since coronavirus and the quarantine has taken place, a lot of other things in my life have shifted around and it's helped me to start to prioritize things in my life. I think that's led to a tremendous amount of success."

Getting his feet wet: Rookie Anthony McFarland didn't have to wait long to get his first taste of the NFL, having six carries for 42 yards in his NFL debut against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

McFarland, the Steelers fourth round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Maryland, said it felt good to get that first carry, a seven-yard run on the opening series for the offense.

"It was exciting to go out there and get my feet wet," said McFarland. "I just really had fun yesterday. I wasn't nervous because I thought about doing it with my teammates, the guys. It's a team game so at the end of the day I just want to win. That is all I care about. It was good to be out there and be a part of something.

"My adrenaline was pumping because I was excited. I was just ready to go. Just being out there with the team was a dream come true. All I could think about when I got my first carry was be decisive.

"This is just game one for me. I know a lot of the guys told me I had a good debut. That felt good. In the back of my head I still have to keep my head down and know that it is just one game."

Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that McFarland has been working hard in practice, and that hard work turned into some solid playing time for his first time out there.

"I didn't know how many carries I would get," said McFarland. "I was thinking in my head even if I get two, or one, I was going to be happy about that, for the opportunity. I was just trying to seize the opportunities I got."

McFarland was inactive for the first game of the season against the New York Giants, and while he dressed last week against the Denver Broncos, he didn't play.  

"I went through the same thing my whole career, patience and waiting until your number is called. I went through that in high school and college. I am numb to it. I know to keep my head down and keep going and things will happen. I knew once my number was called, I could do some things."

McFarland said he is taking advantage of the tutelage he is receiving from the other running backs, especially James Conner.

"The things he teaches me, how to take care of your body so you can perform well," said McFarland. "I always say I am not a follower, but when I see somebody who goes about their business, I follow them because at the end of the day I want to be where they are."

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Always striving for more: The Steelers are averaging 139.7 rushing yards per game through the first three games of the season, but left tackle Alejandro Villanueva knows it's not where the offense wants to be at this point.

"I think we can do a lot better running the football," said Villanueva. "There are a lot of things we can do to improve in the run game and hopefully we can get going in the next few weeks."

There has been a good balance between running and passing the ball, with the Steelers averaging 242.3 yards per game in the air.

"A good balance is going to help slow the defenders down," said Villanueva. "They're going to get into a rhythm, the chess match is going to begin with the pass rusher. But as soon as you can throw in a couple of runs it's going to disrupt that. The edge rusher has to start over again. My mentality as a left tackle is you want to mix in the run as much as you can for it to be productive so they have to honor it and he can't get into a rhythm with his pass rush moves, because then the game is a little more complicated than that."

What isn't complicated is the way the Steelers have started the 2020 season. At this point in 2019, the Steelers were 0-3. This year, they are 3-0.

"Personally, I don't think there is a difference being 0-3 or 3-0," said Villanueva. "The culture we establish in this building is to always continue to improve, personally and collectively so we can put better products out there. It's very early in the season and so for us it's just a matter of continuing to see where our baseline is and improve from there.

"The season is very long, and you want to be playing your best football towards the end."

He said it:
Villanueva on playing alongside Matt Feiler on the line:
"The line has a culture of its own that has been growing for years. It's starts with Maurkice Pouncey, the energy he brings, the standard. It rubs off on all of us. Guys like Matt have been around the building for so long, incredibly underrated. Offensive linemen are the biggest complainers in the world when it comes to doing anything that comes from outside of our routine. But Matt Feiler is steady as a rock, never complains, always has a good attitude. I think that humble approach he has and the selfless conduct he carries with us is an example for all of us. Playing next to Matt has been amazing. I loved playing with Ramon Foster. But Matt is an unbelievable player. Gives everything he has."

He said it, take 2:
David DeCastro on Chuks Okorafor:
"I thought Chuks played really well. Chuks is immensely talented. He had a chance to go against a guy like J.J. Watt. He was calm and collected, and he has the athletic ability to do it."

Take a look at Karl's best photos from the Week 3 matchup against the Texans. The Steelers defeated the Texans 28-21

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