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Week 8 Blog: A recap of the news

Friday, October 28

Being accountable: The Steelers offense is ranked 30th in the NFL.

It's not a place anybody wants to be, with only two teams ranked below them, but offensive coordinator Matt Canada said on Thursday he feels the offense is 'really, really close.'

Running back Najee Harris agreed, but knows they have to do more.

"We're close," said Harris. "We're close. We need to fix some (stuff)."

Harris didn't go into detail about what needed fixed, that it's something the players discuss internally, but you can tell how much he wants to get it fixed.

"Some things it stays between the team," said Harris. "We talk to each other between the team. We see what's going on here as a team. It's not something we want to talk about towards the media. It's not like it's anything bad. If we want to get where we're at, if we want to achieve, there has to be more accountability among the players. I think that starts with us."

Harris said the conversations are good ones and accountability is something he reiterated multiple times.

"The attitude is how men talk to each other. You can take it bad, or you can take it good. It's only coming from a good place. We don't mean it any bad way," said Harris. "We're just trying to win games, come together as a team and turn stuff around. Hearing stuff that you might not want to hear is probably what we need. We need accountability on this team from the players. We need to execute more. We need to do better rather than blame other people. That starts with us."

Harris, one of the offensive team captains, said it's challenging being in the position they are right now, but he is accepting the challenge and said the focus is there with the players, they just need the results. 

"It's a new point in my life, a new chapter, new challenges," said Harris. "I am glad that I am here, in this position where there is a lot of adversity, humps and mistakes. That is what makes good players and good teams. This is a process. This is a part of the process. This is where we are at right now. We're in that road and process where when you come together as a team and capitalize on mistakes and hold each other accountable. I wouldn't take back anything. I like where I am. You just have to learn. It's part of the process. It's part of the sport.

"It's easy to be a captain when you are winning. It's easy to be a leader when you are winning. I think you shouldn't be judged at that. You should be judged when you are in the position you are now. Going out there to practice every day and not pointing the finger is a starting point. Putting your head down and keep grinding and chopping wood.

"We have to go into practice every day like we are 0-0. After a win, after a loss, you come in there and it's Day 1 and you have to start from the bottom. Execute the game plan, whatever it is. Make sure you go into practice and execute whatever it is. You put your head down and keep grinding. That is where we are right now. It's part of the process."

Mutual respect: Earlier this week, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts sang the praises of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

And it wasn't just because the way Fitzpatrick plays the game now.

It's because of the relationship the two formed while they were both at the University of Alabama.

"Thirty-nine (Fitzpatrick) is a guy you know where he is on the field," said Hurts. "I have a lot of respect for him, knowing him personally, knowing the type of man he is, the character he has and the work he puts in.

"I remember a lot of nights where it was Saturday night, Friday night and everybody is out and I think I am the only one going to the weight room, to the field to do extra work, but Minkah was there too.

"He plays defensive back, and he would go out there and run routes for me. That is how versatile he was. A lot of respect for Minkah. He has been making big-time plays since I have known him."

Fitzpatrick smiled when he heard Hurts' words, because he remembers those nights. And they were nights he enjoyed because he is a football junkie who loves helping teammates.

"I recognized Jalen as a guy who is a hard worker," said Fitzpatrick. "He came from a hard-working family. His father was a football coach. Hard work was ingrained in him. I consider myself a hard worker. Whenever I see a guy willing to put in work to get better, to win games, I do whatever I can to help him. I challenged him to help him get better. He is a quarterback, so I ran routes. I love playing football, so any chance I got to play football, I did it."

While getting the extra reps helped Hurts, it also benefited Fitzpatrick.

"It definitely helped me," said Fitzpatrick. "Just catching the ball as a DB, you only get so many catches in practices. So, catching passes helped.

"I was also picking his brain, how he sees the field, and stuff like that. It gave me a little bit of insight into how the quarterback sees the field."

Hurts has led the Eagles to a 6-0 record so far this season, with only two turnovers, and his success doesn't surprise Fitzpatrick.

"He is a competitor. A great player," said Fitzpatrick. "His decision making. He is reading the field and putting the ball where he needs to. He is getting the ball there quick. Not taking too many sacks or hits. He is seeing the field and making decisions quick.

"He was one of my favorite guys to play with. Going against him is going to be fun. I know he will come out there with a chip on his shoulder."

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 27

Wanting to create splash: One of the main points of emphasis Coach Mike Tomlin made following the loss to Miami, was the Dolphins ability to take advantage of turnovers while the Steelers didn't do the same.

The Steelers defense had four opportunities for interceptions but weren't able to hold on to any of them.

Now, going against an Eagles offense that has only turned the ball over two times in six games, the focus on creating turnovers is even greater as getting splash plays from the defense could be a necessity going against an undefeated team.

"There are so many different ways," said defensive tackle Cameron Heyward of how to create splash on defense. "Catch the balls we're supposed to catch. Get the sacks we're supposed to get. When you do get the sack, strip the ball. Then the running backs, you have to lay the wood and punch the ball out.

"Those are different ways we can get turnovers. I know we are playing an opponent that has only turned the ball over twice in six games, so we have our work cut out for us. But we have to make sure we take advantage of those opportunities."

The Eagles are 6-0 and coming off a bye, a well-rested unit that is looking to continue that success. And while Heyward admits the defense has their work cut out for them, that's how he loves it.

"They've done a great job in the first six games," said Heyward. "As a competitor you just want to play good opponents. We get to do that this week."

While containing quarterback Jalen Hurts will be first and foremost on the list of things to do for the defense, it doesn't stop there. Running back Miles Sanders has 105 carries for 485 yards and four touchdowns to date and can be a nightmare if he breaks free.

"He does a great job going north to south, but he can also bounce it," said Heyward. "That RPO, either Jalen is taking it and passing or running. But if you don't take Miles Sanders seriously, he is going to really dice you up."

Regardless of who has the ball in their hands, stopping them early is paramount. Last week the Dolphins jumped out to an early lead, and while the defense settled down it wasn't enough to secure victory in the 16-10 loss.

"I know we settled in in a hostile environment," said Heyward. "I thought we reacted well to the touchdown early and then some field goals. But we have to get off the bus and not let them score any points."

Earning his spot: Receiver/returner Steven Sims returned to practice full tilt on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday with a hamstring injury, an injury that forced him to miss last week's game against the Dolphins.

"I think I'll be out there," said Sims of his preparation for Sunday's game against the Eagles. "I felt good today. I'll be all right.

"I just gotta get back healthy, get back out there and do what I've been doing. I treat every year the same. I'm undrafted, so every year I know I have to earn my spot, prove myself again. I just have to do what I do. If I play, I think I will be back there returning. We haven't said it for sure. We'll see. I'm sure if I play, I'll be back there."

Sims, who is in his third season, spent time on the Steelers practice squad in 2021 before making the 53-man roster this season. He is accustomed to fighting for what he gets and always fights with the right attitude.

"It keeps me positive," said Sims. "I've always been an underdog story. It's nothing new to me. It's just what I do. I come in and work hard every day regardless of what they've got going on, who is in front of me. I just put in the work and wait for my opportunity. When it came, I showed you guys what I can do."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 8 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles

Doing it right: Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is the winner of the 2022 NFL Way to Play Award for Week 7.

This is the fifth year for the award, which recognizes NFL players who exemplify proper technique to make impactful plays.

Fitzpatrick is the recipient for his play in the first quarter of the Steelers-Dolphins game on Sunday Night Football. With 5:42 to play in the first quarter, Fitzpatrick broke up a pass from Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to running back Raheem Mostert for a pass defense. Fitzpatrick utilized proper technique, going in with his shoulder, while his head was out, to break up the pass near the goal line. 

"Through the award, football players and fans from around the world can see real-time examples of excellent football fundamentals and skill development," said Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Fitzpatrick will receive a $5,000 equipment grant through USA Football to be awarded to the local youth or high school football program of his choice.

Those who select the weekly winner include Merril Hoge, Ronnie Lott, Willie McGinest, Orlando Pace, Michael Robinson and Bobby Taylor.

Wednesday, October 26

Disciplined rush: If the Steelers defense is going to have any success this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, they are going to have to contain the man at the control of the offense, quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Hurts is having his strongest season ever, leading the Eagles to a 6-0 record to start the season while completing 123 of 184 pass attempts for 1,514 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions. His threat just begins there, though. He also has run with the ball 77 times this season for 293 yards and six touchdowns.

"His mobility is definitely a factor," said linebacker Alex Highsmith. "We have to keep him in the pocket. When you play guys like him, Lamar (Jackson), Josh Allen, guys who can move like that it, it's an extra added challenge. You can't just rush wild and be rushing all over the place because he'll find escape lanes and stuff like that. You really just have to be able to rush disciplined and compress the pocket when you are playing guys like him who are able to move.

"If you run too high around him, he will be able to step up. If you come in too early, he can step back and get out. We just have to communicate. When we are our best it's when we are communicating. I think that's important for us to continue to communicate and have a rush plan that is disciplined."

The Eagles are tops in the NFL in turnover ratio, and a big part of that is Hurts' ability to protect the ball, make smart decisions, and not get rattled. The goal this week, is create havoc so he does make those mistakes.

"They are an efficient offense," said Highsmith. "He takes care of the ball. They take care of the ball. We've got to be able to cause havoc and force them to make bad decisions by doing that. That's getting after him. it starts by winning on first and second down. We have to stop the run then and when the time comes get after him in the pass."

Highsmith, who continues to lead the NFL with 6.5 sacks, knows the defense has to play their best to accomplish what they want against the Eagles. He sees the progress the defense is making and is well aware they have the talent to get it done.

"We know what type of group we can be up front," said Highsmith. "This week we just have to take advantage when we get opportunities. When they aren't getting it out quick, we have to take advantage and be able to finish those plays.

"As a group we have to continue to get better each and every day. We know the type of group we can be. We have to continue to get better. When the QB does hold the ball, we have to take advantage of the opportunity to get to him."

Last week the defense held the Miami Dolphins to only 16 points, but the team still came up shy. This week, Highsmith would like to shutdown the offense and limit the points even more.

"We know ultimately if there are points on the board we can always do better," said Highsmith. "We held them to 16 points, but we can always be better. It's just something we have to continue to do better. We finished the game strong, but we started off so slow in the Miami game. That's something we have to come out and start fast. When we start fast, we have to finish fast as well.

"We came out and did a good job. At the end of the day there were more points on the board than we wanted so there's room for improvement, and always room to get better. But I think we progressed the past two games from that Buffalo game. We know the guys we have.

"We know the type of defense we can be. It starts with practice every week. We have to continue to work at it."

Facing the best: A few weeks ago, guard James Daniels sang the praises of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers front seven.

This week, it's the Philadelphia Eagles front that is getting Daniels' praise, and it's well-deserved.

The Eagles defense, led up front by 11-year veteran Fletcher Cox, is ranked fourth overall in the NFL and will be one of the toughest challenges so far this season.

"I think they're better than Tampa's defensive front," said Daniels. "They're really good. I haven't played them in a couple of years. Last time I played down there was pretty much different people playing. They're a really good front. I'm excited to get a chance to play them."

Daniels is one who doesn't back down when it comes to going against the best of the best, and he knows he is going to face that in Cox.

"He's big, he's strong and he's been playing at a high level for a really long time," said Daniels. "Probably one of the best defensive tackles the NFL has ever seen, so pretty excited to get a chance to play against him."

That excitement will only matter if the offensive line does their job against the front. They have been effective when it comes to protecting quarterback Kenny Pickett, which Daniels gives credit to Pickett for as well, but admittedly need to pick things up in run blocking.

"Kenny has done a really good job of getting the ball out on time," said Daniels. "For example, there's a play I got beat on Sunday and Kenny got the ball out, so it looks good just because he got the ball out. If he has to hold the ball, that's a sack. It's just a really good job of getting the ball out on time.

"I do feel like we have been better pass blocking than we have run blocking. We have to keep on focusing, keep on getting better in practice with our run blocking. Hopefully we'll get the run game going this Sunday."

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.