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Week 6 Blog: A recap of the news

Getting in a rhythm: The Steelers ground game has had their struggles this season, last week alone against the Bills accounting for only 54 combined yards. Najee Harris had just 11 carries for 20 yards, part of that due to the Steelers playing from behind all game.

Harris dealt with a foot injury during training camp, something he has been able to practice and play through during the regular season. Harris said he was wearing a steel plate in his shoe, but took it out and acknowledged that he is now 100 percent.

"I missed about seven or eight weeks, missed the whole camp," said Harris. "I put a steel plate in my shoe. It kind of prohibits me from doing certain things. But I just took it out maybe yesterday, two days ago. It's gotten a lot better, obviously. I missed that long training period, recovering. I'm not going to blame it all on that. Still accountability is one thing that I like to take seriously."

Regardless, offensive coordinator Matt Canada knows the importance of getting Harris into a rhythm to get things rolling.

"It's really important to get our run game going and get it into a rhythm," said Canada. "Last week, you didn't see that just based on the way that the game went. The game was what it was, then you're kind of mixing at the end just to help ourselves. We have to be balanced. Coach (Mike Tomlin) has a really clear expectation of what we're going to look like on offense and what we're going to do, and we're striving to do those things. But every game dictates something different. Every game is different."

Harris said the key to getting into a rhythm is simply execution.

"Just executing our game plan," said Harris. "Players making plays and just executing."

While Harris' numbers are down through five games in 2022 compared to 2021, the overall offensive output is down, and it has to be looked at in the bigger picture according to Canada.

"Nobody's had the start to the season that we want," said Canada. "We can all look and, I think it goes back to the preseason, we have to be fundamentally sound, we have to look in the mirror, we've all got to be better at what we do and see how we can help each other by doing our job first. Najee wants to do more; we all want him to do more."

Mutual respect: Sunday will be a reunion of sorts at Acrisure Stadium when Coach Mike Tomlin and one of his former players, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, are on opposite sides of the field.

Leftwich played for the Steelers in 2008 when the team won Super Bowl XLIII and returned to the team from 2010-12.

Tomlin said he knew when Leftwich was playing that he had that coaching bug in his blood, and he would be good at what he does.

"You know when a guy has an aptitude to coach when you coach them," said Tomlin. "I'm not surprised at all. He was always a global perspective dude. He could see from outside the helmet. He was a great idea guy. He's a natural leader and communicator. But I can say the same thing about a lot of former Steelers; I say the same thing about (Tampa pass game coordinator) Larry Foote. He's working on the other side of the ball. Deshea Townsend, who's carving out a nice niche for himself in this game. Nick Eason is the d-line coach at Clemson. It's been a pleasure to be associated with some of these guys and be a component of their story as they transition into coaching and chase their professional goals in that area. I'm honored to be associated with them, and it's good for the game.

"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the quality of men that those guys are, Byron and Larry. And forget their expertise. They're just quality football people. It's just good for the game, to have people that love that game and are as passionate about the game as they are involved in the game."

Leftwich didn't see a lot of playing time with the Steelers, but what he took from Tomlin during his time in Pittsburgh was invaluable.

"Mike is a unique, special guy," said Leftwich. "That's all you can really say. I learned so much from him. I can't have more respect for the coach and the human being than I have for him. He's that unique. It was enjoyable to play for him, it's motivational to play for him. I know you guys see the interviews. That's really him. The guys that know him around here. That's really him. He's a special guy. Taught me a lot. I catch myself saying some of his words sometimes as I'm coaching, so that's how important of a piece he was for me.

"I've just got so much respect for him as a coach, but the man – it's unique, man, it's unique to have played for Mike. I'm happy that I've done that because it was a unique experience for me, and I learned a lot from that."

Leftwich was asked to pinpoint what the biggest lesson he learned was, saying what he gained overall from Tomlin's leadership was one of the best things he took away.

"Not an individual lesson because you get it every day," said Leftwich. "You get what you see on TV every day. As a locker room, as a player, that's what you want. You want people like that leading you. He's a unique man. He's a unique football coach. It's no surprise that he's had that much success. I've seen him work. I've seen him when times are good, coming to work and how he reacts. I've seen him when times (weren't) so good, coming to work and how he reacts.

"I've learned a lot from him. I've learned a lot from how to handle yourself in certain situations. I wish I could articulate myself the way that he (does). I'm failing at that."

Stepping up: The Steelers secondary continues to be a banged-up unit, with the team calling upon a few young players to step up to the plate last week against the Bills.

Cornerbacks James Pierre and Josh Jackson, who was a practice squad elevation, both saw action against the Bills and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was pleased with how they performed.

"They competed well," said Austin. "They practice hard. That's how they practice. So, we expect when the guys have an opportunity to go into a game that they'll perform up to their capabilities and they'll understand what we're trying to get done.

"I think the thing that they were put into last week, they gave us a great effort."

He said it: Cameron Heyward on turning things around.

"Just own where we are at right now. Understand that we have created this ditch and we have to quit digging. Own where we are and we'll see where we are at the end of this. Stay together and just continue to keep at it."

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 13

Ready to go if needed: Rookie tight end Connor Heyward continues to get more work in practice if he is called upon Sunday with tight ends Pat Freiermuth (concussion) and Zach Gentry (knee) on the injury report this week.

"I feel like this is giving me a jump start to Sunday," said Heyward. "You practice like you play. Go out there and practice the game plan. It has to carry out throughout the week."

Heyward said he already has a good rapport with quarterback Kenny Pickett, both of them coming in together in this year's rookie class and getting plenty of reps with each other early on.

"Me and him came in at the same time," said Heyward. "He is a great quarterback, great friend. We have a connection. We know he is going to do the job. We have to make the plays for him.

"I feel like sometimes he knows where I am going to be. We have the same mindset and feel for the game. That comes from having reps together in the preseason, minicamp and training camp."

Heyward said he relishes any opportunity to play more snaps, but he hates to see his teammates injured. Freiermuth has been limited for two days, while Gentry didn't practice on Wednesday but was a full participant on Thursday.

"There is always more excitement when you think you are going to play more," said Heyward. "It's my opportunity and I have to make the most of it. I know Pat and Zach are there to support me. If they were in the same situation I am in, I would be there to support them. Even in practice this week Pat has asked what I need help with. I told him whatever you see, let me know. He's played an entire season more than me. anybody that has more knowledge and experience I am willing to learn from."

His older brother, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, is excited for his younger brother and sees the progress he is making.

"I think he is finding comfort in what he is doing," said Cameron Heyward. "Just continuing to keep learning. Asking the right questions. I know there's mistakes. Sometimes he is quick to point them out to me. I will tell him you have to get there. You have to do that. He understands where he needs to be better. I will be excited for him. We'll see what happens. This is his moment. Gotta be ready for it."

Being physical: Running back Jaylen Warren has seen his reps increase as of late, in particular in the Bills game, and that is likely to continue.

"We've been playing Jaylen increasingly anyway, and I think that's going to continue," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I think he's proven that he's a capable
varsity player, and we need players from all parties involved. That has transpired and will continue to transpire.

"I think, if you talk about touches and rhythm and things of that nature, you win weighty downs, you win possession downs, and that allows you to possess the ball and to continue to snap it and that creates more opportunity for everyone, whether it's the run game, whether it's targets from a receiving standpoint, whether it's running back rhythm, whether it's things that supplement, core plays, play action. The winning of possession downs aids all of those discussions because it produces more downs."

Warren welcomes any and every opportunity that is given to him and said the more he plays, the more his confidence grows.

"I feel more confident," said Warren. "It's part of the preparation we do throughout the week. It's the most I have been involved with stuff as far as work in the running back room. Me getting the reps allows me to be totally engaged with everything in the preparation. It allows me to have the confidence to go out there and play fast."

Warren, an undrafted rookie free agent, is in the same mindset as everyone on the offense. He wants to get the running game going more. And the best way to do it in his eyes is being physical.

"Punish dudes," said Warren. "We are doing that, but I feel like our chemistry is coming together. Just trust each other and flow. Just run the ball. Don't think twice about your assignment. Just go and hit dudes."

Seeing clearly: Steven Sims was excited for his first game action with the Steelers last week, especially after being inactive for the first four games.

He was set to handle punt and kickoff return duties, as well as get some snaps on offense, but before they even lined up for the opening kickoff, he found himself on the sidelines.

Sims injured his eye in pregame warmups, and his Steelers debut didn't happen immediately.

"It was very frustrating," said Sims. "I was very upset when it happened. How did something like this happen. It all happened for a reason. My eye is better now. I'll be perfectly fine on Sunday."

While he missed the start of the game, he was able to come back in the game.

"I was excited to be back on the field playing, touching the ball," said Sims. "Just playing football. So much fun."

With the eye issue cleared up, Sims is anxious for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team he faced several times while playing for the Washington Commanders.

"I am really excited. I just have to stay calm and let the game come to me," said Sims. "I have played these guys before when I was in Washington. I played against a good amount of the guys on this team. I am comfortable. Ready to make plays. I am not going to force it. Just let it come to me."

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 12

Bringing the A-game: The Steelers defense will have their hands full on Sunday going against Bucs quarterback Tom Brady and there is one thing they know.

They can't beat themselves because Brady will take advantage of it.

"You have to fare well going against a guy like Tom Brady," said linebacker Alex Highsmith. "We can't hurt ourselves. He is going to take advantage of it. We just have to lock in on what we do and know what we are doing.

"You have to attack him when you are playing him. You have to bring your A-game. That is what I am confident we are going to do. We had a great day of practice today. It's about the way we execute and communicate."

While Highsmith has never played against Brady, he has watched him plenty and knows how quick he can hurt a team with his physical ability and mental grasp of a defense.

"Tom Brady is one of the best to ever do it," said Highsmith. "We have to get after him. He is a guy who doesn't make mistakes. He is one of the best for a reason. Getting after him is going to be a big part of what we do.

"The rush has got to be hot this week, the four-man rush. He is able to get it out so quick. We have to control the game up front by the way we rush, get after him. We know the standard here. No matter who is in, we have to get after him.

"Rushing with an attitude. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always says rush and coverage work together, so that is something that has to be exemplified this week, all the way down the back end and us getting to him from the front."

Brady's quick release and his football IQ make it tough for defenders to bring him down and so disguising what they do on defense is going to be a key.

"He knows what he is doing," said Highsmith. "He is diagnosing coverages, moving guys around. He knows what he is doing before the play even happens. You have to be good about disguising."

Staying safe: The Steelers wore Guardian Cap helmets covers during Wednesday's practice, something that was done during the offseason and training camp.

The soft-shell pads re worn over the helmet in an effort to limit concussions. They were mandatory at certain positions from the start of training camp through the second preseason game, but the Steelers are wearing them now for player safety.


Still working: Rookie receiver Calvin Austin III continues to practice, while still 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 he returned to practice last week, which was his first week eligible.

He said practice is going well and he wants to show the coaching staff what he can do.

"I am just continuing to stack each day at practice," said Austin. "I am working on my routes, learning the offense. I have been in it the whole time, so I am not behind or anything. Just continuing to work on my game out there to show I am consistent."

Austin is hoping to be back as soon as possible, wanting to do his part to help the offense and do his part in the return game.

"I think I can bring the speed element to open up some one-on-ones, create some mismatches," said Austin. "When I get the ball in my hands, I feel like I can be a playmaker. When I get the ball in my hands, I feel like I am a person that can make plays. However, that is, I feel like I am a person that can make plays. Whatever it is, it's something I am ready for."

The Steelers had a 21-day window from the time he returned to practice (Oct. 5) to either activate Austin to the 53-man roster, or he must remain on the Reserve/Injured List the remainder of the season.

A solid D: The challenges keep coming for the Steelers, and this week it's in the form of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While many look at their offense led by quarterback Tom Brady, the Bucs defense will give the Steelers a handful to deal with upfront.

"They're really good," said guard James Daniels. "This will be my third time playing them in three years. I know how good their defense is. Every year, for the past couple of the years, they have easily had one of the best, or top three defensive fronts in the NFL.

"I am excited for the challenge. We'll study the tape and have a good plan for them. I am just excited to have another opportunity to play on Sunday."

The front seven includes nose tackle Vita Vea, along with Akiem Hicks and William Gholston and linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tyron-Shoyinka on the outside, and Devin White and Lavonte David on the inside. 

"They do a really good job playing off each other," said Daniels. "Their linebackers are great, but their d-line is also great. The linebackers would be great without the d-line, and the d-line would be great without the linebackers. But when you have a great d-line and linebackers they just complement each other. They do a really good job. Their linebackers how fast they are, No. 45 (White) and No. 54 (Davis), they're sideline to sideline. The d-line has great edge rushers, super good interior guys. The best nose tackle in Vita Vea. They are a really good team, so I am excited to play them."

Center Mason Cole echoes Daniels respect for the Bucs defense, knowing the challenge is going to be a tough one.

"It's a super talented defense, a super talented front seven, maybe the best front seven in the league," said Cole. "Across the board, in the box, that defense is maybe the best in the league. We have a lot of respect for them.

"We have to do our job and handle it. We are going to have to be on our Ps and Qs up front and do a good job of handling these guys and giving our guys a chance and giving our defense a break too."

Next man up: Rookie tight end Connor Heyward had his first two career catches — for 12 yards — and played a season-high 10 offensive snaps in last Sunday's loss at Buffalo. He could continue to see an increased role this week against Tampa Bay at Acrisure Stadium Sunday with both Pat Freiermuth (concussion) and Zach Gentry (knee) on the Steelers'
injury report this week.

Heyward, who played just 12 offensive snaps the first four games, feels he's reached the point where he's adjusted to NFL play.

"I've been out there practicing every day against our defense. I feel like I've gotten better," he said. "That's the plan to go out there and get better."

It also doesn't hurt that the sixth-round draft pick has seen other rookies from his draft class go out and perform well for the Steelers.

He'd like to be next.

"Obviously, me and Kenny (Pickett) came in together and we went through this all together with mini-camp and installs and everything, so we learned it at the same rate," Heyward said. "He probably learned it a little faster because quarterbacks spend a little more time with stuff than I have, but it's always been cool to go out there with Kenny and have George (Pickens) out there … and DeMarvin Leal, just seeing all the rookies out there has been cool. We all just want to just make plays and do whatever it is the coaches want us to do." - blog entry by Dale Lolley

-->> Purchase tickets for Rock Steelers Style 2022: A New Era

A new era: Rock Steelers Style, the team's annual fashion show which features players and their families, will take place on Friday, October 14 at Stage AE.

This year's show, which is presented by Neighborhood Ford Store, PNC, UPMC, and UPMC Health Plan, is about the new blood in the Steelers locker room this season.

"Our theme is celebrating a new era," said Greta Rooney, who co-chairs the show along with her husband, Steelers President Art Rooney II, and Mike and Kiya Tomlin. "We came up with it because we have legends that have left us, and they are tossing the ball over to the new generation. We're excited to continue the Steelers pride with the new crew."

After two years of the show being virtual because of protocols, Rooney is excited to have it back in person so fans can get a better feel for the players off the field.

"I am so excited to get back to Stage AE, seeing the players there, their families, teammates," said Rooney. "And for the community to get a look up close and be with us that night.

"It's such a softer side. It' always great to see them with their helmets off. They show up to Stage AE, they get on the stage, they are so proud of their families and teammates. And for the fans they get a front row seat into seeing how great our players are in the community."

Among the fashions that will be on display are ones from Kiya Tomlin's NFL Line, as well as unique, one-of-a-kind pieces she designed just for the show.

"Once the show is over, I have a full year to think about and get excited about the next year," said Tomlin. "As a creative mind, I am always going and going. This year we are going to merge the two using pieces from my line and also Steelers jerseys and kind of create one of kind pieces that may enter into the auction."

The team will also host an online auction to benefit the charities, which includes signed items from former and current Steelers players, a Kiya Tomlin Custom Design and Styling Session, a game-worn T.J. Watt jersey, a game-worn Heath Miller jersey, the Steelers Winter Getaway for 2 and much more. The auction will run from Friday, Oct. 7 through Friday, Oct. 21.

-->>Check out the auction items: Rock Steelers Style 2022: A New Era Auction

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 10

Make the plays: Diontae Johnson wants just one thing.

To win.

And he isn't alone in the Steelers locker room with that feeling.

The current state of the team, with a 1-4 record, isn't sitting well with anyone at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

The key now, is turning it around, and doing it fast.

"We're trying to win, figure things out around here and get things going in the right direction," said Johnson. "I am sure there is frustration. I would hope so. I don't like losing. I am sure everybody here doesn't like losing as well.

"We just have to play. Make the plays. The rest will come with it. We haven't been doing it. Not making any excuses. We just have to play better all around."

An area where the offense continues to struggle is with third down conversions and red zone efficiency. They were five of 15 on third down conversions, 33.3%, against the Bills on Sunday and that isn't going to lead to the wins they desire.

"Convert them. That is all you can do," said Johnson. "Convert the third downs. Give us a chance to put points on the board. There is no other way around it.

"We just have to get that rhythm. I feel like we are going to be fine. We are going to get that rhythm. Kenny (Pickett) played his behind off. I was talking to him the whole game, making sure he was locked in. We just have to keep playing for him, playing for the defense. I feel like we are going to respond in a positive way."

Johnson has a positive mindset, confident that there is still plenty of time to turn things around.

"It's a long season. We still have time to catch up," said Johnson. "I am not worried about what everybody else has going on outside this facility. I am worried about the guys who are here, who believe in us.

"All we have to do is just play. We just have to go out there and play, get in the right spots and put points on the board. It doesn't matter who is on the field. Whoever they put out there, they believe in us for a reason. The talent is there. It's us executing the plays that they call and putting points on the board. It's that simple."

Looking in the mirror: You could hear it in Cam Sutton's voice as he stood in front of his locker on Monday afternoon at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, talking about the position the Steelers are in right now.

"We just have to do some searching within ourselves and get ready for this week," said Sutton. "Look at yourself in the mirror every day. How you approach it every day. Come in every day and get (stuff) done."

There is frustration, and understandably so right now. But it's how that frustration plays out that can make a big difference.

"You use it," said Sutton. "Everybody wants to win. It's easier said than done. It means a lot to myself, to the rest of the guys. It's about us going out there and getting things done.

"The situation we have control of is having a better outcome. It's not the situation we had foreseen ourselves in or want to be in. It's one week at a time. There is plenty of ball left ahead of us. But we have to buckle down."

It takes time: The Steelers offense didn't come close to accomplishing what they would have liked to in rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett's first start, but they did like what they saw from the rookie signal caller.

Pickett had control of the huddle, moved the offense despite struggles on third down and not putting points on the board, and showed maturity well beyond that of a rookie.

"We moved the ball pretty good at times," said receiver Diontae Johnson. "Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot with the little mistakes here and there. We are going to get this thing going in the right direction. It takes time. We are a young team. We're still building that chemistry."

Center Mason Cole also liked how the offense moved the ball at times, but knows it wasn't what they wanted by a longshot.

"I thought we moved the ball pretty well at certain times," said Cole. "Our efficiency in the red zone, finishing drives and points didn't get us there. You get stuck behind, playing catchup. There were some bright spots. Still a lot to clean up. I've gotta be better, we've got to be better. We just have to keep hammering at this thing. It's tough being down in this situation. We have to do whatever we can this week to find a win."

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.