Skip to main content

Week 5 Blog: A recap of the news

Friday, October 7

Get ready to play: Cornerback Cameron Sutton has been on the Steelers injury report all week, but on Friday he sounded as if he will be ready to go this week against the Buffalo Bills.

Sutton was officially limited in practice, and is listed as questionable for the game. But he sounded upbeat.

"I'm feeling good," said Sutton.

When directly asked if he was ready to go, the answer was simple.

"Yes," he said.

Just who will line up with him in the secondary is something that is still in question, with injuries hitting them hard this week. But whoever is back there, the expectation is the same.

"Just get ready to play," said Sutton. "It doesn't matter who's out there, it's about getting the job done.

"Whatever the game plan is. Line up down in, down out. Whatever the call, guys have a role we need to be in. We have very versatile guys, guys that play a lot of roles and we have to be ready to go."

Sutton, and every healthy body, will be needed when facing Bills quarterback Josh Allen and their explosive offense.

"He is a competitor," said Sutton. "A very head strong guy, situational aware guy. High motor leader of that team. Knows where to put guys, what position to put the ball in the right spot. We have to do a great job of giving him different things to look at, applying pressure to him, causing him havoc, pressure, get his eyes off targets down the field and making him make mistakes. They aren't a team that makes a lot of mistakes. We have to force those and not wait for the opportunities."

Focused: Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett will make his first NFL start on Sunday in Buffalo, and his running back likes what he has seen from him as he has been preparing for the game.

"He is taking more of that role in being the No. 1 guy," said Najee Harris. "He embraces it, as he should. He is not shying away from it, which is what you want from your quarterback."

Harris said there isn't a major change in Pickett's approach this week, because he has always prepared as if he was a starter.

"Even when he wasn't starting, he always took everything the same," said Harris. "He is a very focused guy, a very determined guy, a competitor."

Containing Allen: The Steelers know their job this week isn't to completely stop Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

With the way Allen plays, it's nearly impossible.

But the key is to contain him, to not let him hurt the defense with his arm, or his legs.

"That is a rare combination," said linebacker Myles Jack. "Josh Allen, you can see what he can do. He can run, he can pass. He is like a tight end playing quarterback. He can throw. He has made a lot of amazing throws.

"It's a tough task, but as long as everybody plays their roles. A guy like that you can only contain and minimize because he is a superstar. We are all going to play our role and make sure we do what we have to do."

Allen's abilities are well known, having done damage on opposing defenses, from the way he escapes the pocket and takes off running, to hitting guys deep for splash plays. But he also can knock off small chunks of yardage at a time, moving his offense down the field with a little too much ease.

"You have seen Josh Allen capable of going on a drive and dinking and dunking," said Jack. "We just have to play our role. If you have a man, you have to cover him tight. If you have the quarterback, you have to watch the quarterback. If it's time to play the run, we've got to stop the run.

"It's going to be a fun game, a full package, and it's all hands on deck. All 11 have to be on top of their job."

A confident QB: For Steelers receivers, the switch at quarterback to Kenny Pickett hasn't meant a major change for them in what they do on the field. There are some tweaks and minor nuances in how Pickett handles things vs. Mitch Trubisky, but overall, the changes are subtle.

"I am still running the same routes for the most part," said receiver Chase Claypool. "If anything, it's timing. But the timing doesn't seem like too much.

"Sometimes quarterbacks like different things. You might have a couple of plays that are new, plays from earlier weeks that are brought back. A couple of things change, but it's not too much of a difference." 

Any adjustment that has been made has been simplified by Pickett's command of the offense and just his overall demeanor.

"I think he is a very confident quarterback, very vocal," said Claypool. "He'll let us know what is good and not good right away. He won't wait until we do it multiple times. He is a good leader. Through his confidence he definitely has swagger."

Pickett said on Wednesday when he is on the field, he isn't the nicest of people. It's a comment that made Claypool smile, and one he understands.

"I don't necessarily think you should be a nice guy while you are playing," said Claypool. "I agree. He is a competitor. Definitely a nice guy, but not on the field. I haven't experienced it much yet, but we'll see."

Being prepared: With a slew of injuries in the secondary, Coach Mike Tomlin threw out a few names who will get extra reps in practice this week, including cornerback Josh Jackson, who is on the practice squad.

Jackson, who was elevated from the practice squad to the Active/Inactive roster for the New York Jets game, said he had a feeling he would play last week, but it didn't change his preparation.

He prepares every week as if he were going to start.

"I had an idea I would be activated, but I think anytime you see an opportunity, anytime you are professional where you know anything can go sideways at any time, you have to prepare yourself like you are going to start anyways just in case," said Jackson. "Every week I try to prepare as if I am starting, so when the time does come, I will be ready to play."

Jackson has played in 45 games with 15 starts and has 78 career tackles, 12 passes defensed, two tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery since entering the NFL as a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers. He gives the Steelers depth that came in handy last week, while the plan for this week isn't known.

"At any point in the season you don't know what can happen," said Jackson. "You have to have guys that can step up there. That just comes with being mature, taking your preparation seriously. Taking your studying seriously, and just being a pro.

"You never know when your number is going to be called, and when it is called the Steelers organization expects you to play like a starter. That is what Coach (Mike Tomlin) always says and what he talks about. I just try to make sure I do that."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 5 matchup against the Buffalo Bills

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.

Thursday, October 6

Playing aggressive: Kenny Pickett is a quarterback with the mindset of a defensive player, and that's something that offensive coordinator Matt Canada doesn't mind at all.

"He's an aggressive guy," said Canada.

Pickett showed that in the Jets game when he didn't back down after being hit by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams following a completion to tight end Pat Freiermuth.

"I'm competitive and I'm not the nicest guy," said Pickett. "I like to say some stuff. But it's all fun. I like to compete. I think the first hit makes you feel good and you're ready to go.

"I love to play. I grew up playing defense. I was taught to play that way. I was raised that way and carry it into how I play quarterback."

Canada said whatever fires Pickett up, he is all for it as everyone has their own personality.

"Kenny is a competitive guy," said Canada. "He is a great leader. He is a student of the game. That is who Kenny is. All of the things he has been advertised is, he is.

"Knowing him long enough, Kenny is just Kenny. He plays with an edge. Everybody is just different. That's Kenny. Everybody has their own way of doing it."

Rallying together: The Steelers secondary is banged up following the Jets game, with strong safety Terrell Edmunds in the concussion protocol, free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick dealing with a knee injury and cornerback Cameron Sutton bothered by groin and hamstring injuries. In addition, cornerback Levi Wallace was added to the injury report on Wednesday with a foot injury. This is all on top of cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon likely missing his second straight game with a hamstring injury.

It's not an ideal situation to say the least to have four starters in the secondary on the injury report, but it's one the defense is handling with the right mentality.

"You hate to see injuries, first and foremost," said safety Tre Norwood. "Having guys banged up. Everyone is the room is rallying together, making sure we hold up our end of the bargain. Starting with practice. Getting those quality reps and being ready whenever our time is."

Norwood said one of the most important things this week is approaching each day the same, not changing things up, but staying focused like they have all season.

"My preparation doesn't change," said Norwood. "I am always prepared. It will be the same this week, studying film, in the meeting room, on the practice field and getting ready for the game.

"Just making sure I am doing the necessary things, week in and week out, my film study, make sure I am coming here in the building each and every day. I am in the meeting room after practice, getting the preparation right to go out there and contribute to our defense, our team, on Sunday. Whatever is asked of me, I want to make sure I do it to my best."

The one advantage the secondary does have is depth, with a versatile Norwood, Arthur Maulet, Miles Killebrew and James Pierre ready to do their part

"It helps a lot, especially having the versatility back there," said Norwood. "To have a roomful of guys that can play multiple positions helps out a lot for times like this. You hate injuries, but to have that depth and versatility that helps out in times like this."

And boy are they going to need it going against Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and all of their offensive firepower. 

"We know Buffalo is a high-powered offense," said Norwood. "They have guys at every position on the offensive side. We have to make sure we do our part on the defensive side to minimize those guys and capitalize on plays when they are there."

Changing schemes: Cornerback Levi Wallace might be getting a few more questions this week from his teammates as they prepare to go against the Buffalo Bills and their explosive offense led by quarterback Josh Allen.

Wallace played four seasons with the Bills, practicing against Allen and getting an up close look at what he can do.

"I was there for four years," said Wallace. "They change their schemes a lot too. You never know what to expect, especially with offensive coordinator Coach (Leslie) Frazier. They do a great job of scheming. They know I was in that system for a long time. We'll see. They do a great job."

Wallace knows it will be a challenge going against Allen, especially with a secondary dealing with injuries.

"They have been together for a while," said Wallace. "Josh has complete control of the offense. They know what each other is going to do. It makes them dangerous. Then you have guys that compliment them like (receiver) Gabe (Davis). They are so versatile. Josh has a good control of the offense. If he sees something he is going to make a check."

Backs in the passing game: Najee Harris finished with 74 receptions as a rookie in 2021, proving to be a solid outlet for Ben Roethlisberger to get the ball to on a regular basis.

This season, Harris and the other Steelers running backs have been an afterthought in the passing game. Harris was not targeted with a single pass in last Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Jets and has just 11 targets and 10 receptions through the team's first four games, putting him on pace for just 42.5 receptions.

Part of the reason for that is because the Steelers have so many other viable targets. And Harris also has ceded some of his playing time on third downs to rookie Jaylen Warren. But Warren also has just four targets and three catches thus far this season as the Steelers are 30th in the NFL targeting running backs with just 11.9 percent of their pass attempts going to the position.

The Steelers have a lot of talented pass catchers who also demand the football, but offensive coordinator Matt Canada also points to another reason why the backs haven't been quite as involved this season.

"It's protection and making sure we're doing a good job," Canada said Thursday. "Sometimes that happens versus getting out."

With Kenny Pickett now installed as the Steelers starting quarterback, creating some easy throws for the rookie to the running backs could be a way to help make things a little easier for him.

"That's a balance that you can point to," Canada said. "We can do a lot of things better." -- Dale Lolley

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, October 5

Getting his shot: Coach Mike Tomlin didn't hold back on Tuesday talking about issues in the punt return game after Gunner Olszewski has put the ball on the ground twice this season.

Tomlin was asked point blank what his confidence level is in his return specialist, signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and he didn't hold back.

"Not very high to be quite honest with you," said Tomlin. "You can't put two balls on the ground in four games and feel good about it. Two is a pattern in the National Football League. We say that often. We say that about runners and ball security. Whether it's four games, or eight games, or 12 games. Two in our business is a pattern.

"We've got some work there this week and some decisions to make. He's got to get us to a level of comfort, and we'll look at some other options as well."

Those other options include receiver/returner Steven Sims, who has been inactive for the first four games of the season but indicated that could change this week against the Bills.

"I am going to get a shot this weekend," said Sims after practice on Wednesday. "I am excited about that. I can't wait to see what happens. It's going to be a good weekend.

"It's been a little while. I am excited, though. I am ready."

Sims said he is also prepared to contribute on offense, ready for whatever role the coaches have in mind.

"Whatever Coach asks me to do, or tells me to do, I am going to do it," said Sims. "We're going to see. I don't know exactly what role we're going to have up for the week.

"I feel like I have been ready. I have been working every day. Taking my reps. Just been doing what I can and let everything else play out how it's supposed to."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 5 matchup against the Buffalo Bills

Tired, but happy: Rookie receiver Calvin Austin III couldn't contain his smile after practice, and you can't blame him.

Austin returned to practice for the first time since being placed on the Reserve/Injured List before the first regular season game.

Austin suffered a foot injury in training camp, missing the entire preseason and first four games.

"It felt great. It's almost like it's a new season how long it's been," said Austin after practice. "Just to get back out there, run, participate in individual, team, be out there with the guys and compete and work with them. This is what I do. I love football."

Austin said he has been feeling good, but was just waiting on the go-ahead from Coach Mike Tomlin this week to get back to work, the first week he was eligible to return.

"I've been feeling good for a little minute, but you never know until you can get out there and practice in a competitive environment, and block and all of that stuff," said Austin. "You can't just do that outside with trainers. I think the timing was right. This is the best I have felt."

He did admit, though, that he felt a little bit tired.

"I'm tired, but a good tired," said Austin. "I was a little winded, but besides that everything felt good.

"I feel good. At this point it's just continuing to perform out on the field and wait for Coach Tomlin's word."

The Steelers have a 21-day window to either activate him to the 53-man roster, or he has to remain on the Reserve/Injured List all season.

Staying close: Cameron Heyward's locker at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex is located between two rookies, his brother Connor Heyward and quarterback Kenny Pickett.

And it's by design.

Heyward, one of the defensive team captains and an overall team leader, felt it was the right thing to do to help the young players.

"I asked for it," said Heyward of having Pickett next to him. "I just felt it was important, him coming into a situation where he's gotta grow and you never know when his number's going to get called. Guys have to be ready at any moment. I wanted to be a guy that has a good effect on him."

Heyward said he doesn't push anything on Pickett but is there as an open book for anything he needs.

"I lend a hand. If they need me, I am open," said Heyward. "I try to answer questions of what to expect but sometimes a rookie has to experience stuff on his own."

Back on the field: Rookie receiver Calvin Austin III returns to the practice field on Wednesday, while remaining on the Reserve/Injured List.

Austin was placed on the list at the beginning of the season after suffering a foot injury in training camp. Under the Reserve/Injured List rules he was required to miss the first four weeks of the season, and this is the first week he is eligible to be back.

The Steelers have a 21-day window to either activate Austin to the 53-man roster, or he must remain on the Reserve/Injured List the remainder of the season.

"He's eligible to come off this week. That starts his 21-day window," said Coach Mike Tomlin during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "You get an opportunity to start the 21-day window to practice and make judgements from there. The quality of his work and what he's able to do within that window oftentimes determines what you do from there."

Austin, the Steelers fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Memphis, didn't see any action in the preseason because of his injury.

While at Memphis, Austin was a first-team All-AAC selection in 2020 and 2021, contributing not just on offense but also on special teams. He finished his career ranked second in school history with 22 receiving touchdowns, fourth in receiving yards with 2,541 and fifth in receptions with 156. He also returned punts, including 29 for 323 yards, an 11.1-yard average, and two touchdowns.

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, October 3

Playing with swagger: Following Sunday's loss to the New York Jets, Coach Mike Tomlin wasn't giving any hints as to who will start at quarterback this week against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park.

"I'm not going to talk extended as we sit here," said Tomlin. "We did what we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win this game. We'll do it again. But I like to just keep it where we are in terms of what transpired here today. We'll deal with next week, next week."

Tomlin went with rookie No. 1 pick Kenny Pickett for the second half, after the offense wasn't able to muster up much in the first half with veteran Mitch Trubisky at the helm.

"We just thought we needed a spark," said Tomlin.

And a spark is what Pickett provided. Despite the loss, the offense felt his presence, something that energized the entire building.

"You could see the energy," said receiver Diontae Johnson. "That's nothing against Mitch or anything. Coach T said it was going to give us a spark and I think it did. He was able to get in the end zone."

Pickett hadn't worked with the first team in game prep ahead of time, but still played with confidence, something his teammates easily noticed.

"He plays with swagger," said Johnson. "When he comes in the huddle, he demands huddle up, come in and listen to me. Everybody respects him. He is a great player. He is young. He is going to continue to learn and develop. It's our job to make him look good and stay comfortable while he is out there.

"You saw when he came in, he was taking shots down the field, taking chances. It's an opportunity to make a play on the ball. You want that. You never know if you will come down with the ball or not. Him giving us a chance shows he trusts us. We're going to continue to show we can make those plays for whoever is at the position. That is no negative energy toward the other guys. They are going to continue to work. Whoever the starter is this week, that's who we're going to roll with."

And Johnson made it clear. Whoever Tomlin names the starter, he is on board.

"It don't matter," said Johnson. "As long we go out there and we know our assignment and the quarterback knows what he is doing, everybody is doing their job as one. It's our job as receivers to go out there and make the quarterback look good, if it's Kenny or Mitch. That's our job. That's all we've got to continue to do and make more plays down the field and just in general so we can keep that spark and not have to have the defense on the field as much. Help them out more."

He's a gamer: Tight end Pat Freiermuth finished the day on Sunday with seven receptions for 85 yards, three of those receptions coming from rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Freiermuth agreed with just about everyone else that Pickett brought something to the offense when he was inserted after halftime.

"Just his spark, confidence," said Freiermuth.

And his toughness. On one play, Pickett hit Freiermuth for an 18 yard gain to the Jets two-yard line, getting nailed as he was throwing by Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams.

Pickett got up from the play smiling.

"He's a gamer," said Freiermuth. "He's tough and he showed that on that play.

"Kenny is expected to go in there and make plays. I think he did that. He is very confident in himself. I think that helps with being decisive and making the correct reads and pushing the ball down the field. I think Kenny's going to be a heck of a player."

While Freiermuth liked what he saw from Pickett on the field, he also liked what he saw from Mitch Trubisky after he was pulled at halftime in favor of the team's No. 1 draft pick.

"He is a professional," said Freiermuth of Trubisky. "He understands what happens in this profession. He responded well. We voted him a captain for a reason. He is not going to just give up on this season, give up on us. He is going to continue to be there, and we expect him to continue to be there."

Take a look at the best photos from the Week 4 game against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium

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.