Week 7 Blog: All the news and notes

Friday, October 23

Stopping up front: The Titans have a lot of weapons on offense, but there is no doubt one of their biggest threats comes in the form of running back Derrick Henry.

Henry leads the Titans No. 1 ranked run offense in the AFC, with 123 carries for 588 yards and six touchdowns through five games and presents a huge challenge for the defense.

"Anytime you have a running back who can do great things, you want to take pride in it and stop the run upfront," said linebacker T.J. Watt. "Those guys in the back end are more than willing to make those tackles against those great running backs. We definitely want to do the best that we can in the front to stop him before he gets to that level.

"He is a big back. I feel like we face a lot of really good backs, especially in my career. We face good running backs in practice in James (Conner) here. I think we are confident no matter who is on the other side of the football. We feel like our defense flies around. He is a really talented back, don't get me wrong."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 7 matchup against the Tennessee Titans

A look at the top pictures of Steelers fans from the team's Week 6 game against the Browns

Thursday, October 22

Minkah and his 'ambassadors': The Steelers defense is not only getting the job down as a unit on the field, they are also doing it well, during zoom interviews.

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was answering questions from the media on Thursday afternoon, when T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree zoom bombed the interview.

"These are my ambassadors," said Fitzpatrick. "They're going to answer my next question for me."

Let's just say, that was about as far as the questioning got.

Before he got a visit from the best outside pass rushing tandem in the NFL, though, Fitzpatrick did share some thoughts, including the challenge of stopping Titans running back Derrick Henry, who is built more like Dupree than he is like an average NFL running back.

"Stopping him before he gets to the secondary," said Fitzpatrick. "Once he gets to the secondary, he is a big guy. It's hard for people to tackle him. We don't want him in the open field."

The Titans are the AFC's No. 1 rushing attack and rely heavily on the ground game during a time when airing out the ball is becoming more and more popular in the league. Fitzpatrick said their run heavy approach won't alter how the defense approaches the game.

"It's another week. Another offense in front of us," said Fitzpatrick. "Last week it was a similar type of game plan. Stop the run, make them throw the ball. Nothing really changes this week. You just have to adapt week to week, focus on assignments."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 7 matchup against the Tennessee Titans

Old School Football: For the second week in a row the Steelers top ranked run defense in the AFC will take on the AFC's top ranked run game in the Tennessee Titans, including the conference's No. 1 rusher in Derrick Henry.

Henry has 123 carries for 588 yards and six touchdowns through five games and presents a huge challenge for the defense.

"That is their bread and butter," said defensive end Stephon Tuitt. "They have a great back in Henry, and we have to make sure we limit him and stop him.

"They do a good job of running the ball. They have a great back who is putting up prolific numbers. They are very physical. Old school football. It's the type of game when you have to buckle your chin strap and come prepared and bring physicality to them."

The success of the run game is also opening things up for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill is the AFC second leading passer with 121 completions for 1,368 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

"Along with that success in running, it's causing Tannehill to have success passing because they run a lot of their groups off it as well," said Tuitt. "If we can stop one aspect, we will be able to stop the other.

"He is having a good time. They are winning. He is making great passes. They are doing great reads. He has a great back. You can tell he is having a general good time and he is on a good team. You can see him radiating that success because of that. It's going to be our job to go there and separate them from the flow they have been doing and have a great defensive performance."

Wednesday, October 21

What matters is the record: They are a young, fun-loving group, who like to celebrate and dance after scoring touchdowns, but more than that, the Steelers wide receivers are a group that comes at you from so many directions.

Any given week one of five can step up and be the playmaker, whether it's JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson of Ray-Ray McCloud. And the thing is, you never know who it is going to be that will have the explosive game.

"I have been talking about the depth for a long time now," said Claypool. "It's only a matter of time before teams take notice and there is not much they can do. That is pretty exciting. People asked me if I was worried I was going to get doubled. I kind of hoped I was going to get doubled because I knew someone else would have a big day. James broke out there and that was good to see."

Teams are taking notice, that is for sure.

"They all are really good route runners," said Titans Coach Mike Vrabel. "They are very well coached. When you have the ability to get the football, they are all locked in and dialed in because Ben (Roethlisberger) distributes the ball to the guy who is open. That keeps everyone alive and focused so they can produce. Just when you may forget they have a guy, James Washington shows up huge last week. Then it's Claypool. You have to be prepared for everybody they have out there."

The passes are definitely being spread out in the passing game, keeping individual numbers low for the receivers, but more importantly team success high.

"I am having fun all of the time," said Smith-Schuster. "Whether I get the ball or not, whether I get two catches for 10 yards or six for 60. For me it's more about the team, the atmosphere, our defense is having fun, the offense is having fun, teammates are having fun. I come in for the celebrations. For me I am happy being 5-0.

"I think we have played tremendously. When you look at the stats you don't really see the big numbers there, you see points on the board. You don't see a lot of yards. For us it's more about the ball placement, positioning. Turnovers are a huge thing for us the past couple of games. As far as that, making turnover plays instead of driving 80 yards for a touchdown, we are only going 20 or 40."

Smith-Schuster and Claypool have formed a tight relationship, which is aided by them living in the same apartment complex in Pittsburgh.

"Fun fact, Chase lives right above me," said Smith-Schuster. "He comes down often, eats dinner, takes all my snacks, my UNO cards, we play video games together. I would say our connection is very, very strong."

Claypool admitted that he does take the snacks, and why not.

"Him living so close to me has been helpful," said Claypool. "I don't have that many snacks. Everyone on the team knows JuJu has the best snacks. I think they might even be imported from California. He has been good with that. I don't want to ask him too much. I feel like I am over asking. But I ask him little things about social media, sponsorships. I can walk downstairs and talk to him about that, so it's been helpful."

And even though he is stealing the snack, Smith-Schuster loves what he sees from the young receiver.

"Chase is doing a tremendous job," said Smith-Schuster. "Since Chase is new, not a lot of people know him. But you can see the kid can play. He is balling out. I am happy for him. We just have to keep going. We are 5-0. Him making more splash plays, James Washington, Diontae, me too. We just have a lot of weapons in the wide receiver group."

Stepping up: Given the position they played and the relatively unique physical skill sets they brought to the table, the loss of inside linebacker Devin Bush this season is not unlike the loss of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in December of 2017 in terms of its potential effect on the Steelers' defense.

The difference this time might be an older, wiser and more experienced defense.

"When we lost Ryan, I think we were pretty young," defensive tackle Cameron Heyward observed this morning. "We were still dealing with trying to replace a guy like that."

Heyward, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, cornerback Mike Hilton and inside linebacker Vince Williams all started against the Bengals on Dec. 4, 2017 at Cincinnati.

They might be better prepared to absorb such a loss and keep functioning this time around as second-year pro Rob Spillane prepares to make his first NFL start this Sunday at Tennessee.

"I don't know what this situation holds going forward," Heyward acknowledged. "I know Rob had a great half (after replacing Bush late in the second quarter last Sunday against Cleveland) but it's up to us to continue to get better. Everybody's got to step up their game from here on out. We've got to continue to make a conscious effort to communicate because Devin's down.

"It does help having a guy like Vince Williams in the background and able to tutor guys and get guys to the right spots."

Heyward is more certain about the Steelers being ready for Tennessee potentially targeting

Spillane than he is the Titans actually attacking in such a fashion on Sunday in Nashville.

"I'm not going to act like I know what's going on in their locker room but we're going to try to prepare Rob for that situation," Heyward said. "Rob's got to be ready.

"He's had a good camp and he's had a good half but going forward we have to make sure he's not under a lot of pressure. Give him the calls, let him succeed, but as a defense we have to surround him with good plays and make sure he's in good situations."

- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta