Week 8 Blog: All the news and notes

Friday, October 30

'None of us are satisfied': The Steelers have the No. 1 defense in the NFL, but when it comes to takeaways the numbers are low with just nine, eight interceptions and one fumble recovery, especially after last seasons explosive takeaway numbers.

But it's nothing linebacker T.J. Watt is concerned about.

"I think we just can't press ourselves to change the way we are playing," said Watt. "We feel very good about the way we are playing. A lot of those turnovers and splash plays come in bunches. You don't want to change up and mess up when you are doing something good. We've been punching at the football. We've been getting those tipped passes. It's just a matter of time until they start converting into turnovers.

"I think a lot of the offensive players are doing a great job of ball security. It doesn't matter how many turnovers we have. You look around the NFL a lot of defenders are really punching at the ball and trying to create those turnovers."

Creating turnovers this week against the Ravens won't be easy, as they rank third in the NFL with just five giveaways, one interception and three fumble recoveries. But the defense is up for the challenge.

"Anytime you can be in a five-star matchup it's a big opportunity," said Watt. "We're not trying to press, we are just trying to be who we are, who we know we are capable of being. That is why it's huge to have a great week of practice like we did this week.

"It seems like each week you are going up against somebody or a whole team that is at the top of their position or their division. We are always going to accept that challenge. That is how you find out how good you truly are as an individual and a team. This will be a good test for us."

The Ravens, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack, are 5-1 for a reason. 

"I just think they are an explosive offense," said Watt. "You see an explosive offense. They have No. 89 (Mark Andrews), a great tight end, No. 15 (Marquise Brown) on the outside and No. 21 (Mark Ingram II) in the backfield as well. They have a lot of quality weapons. The offensive line is playing really well too.

"I just think we are going to have to play extremely sound football. That is going to be the biggest key this weekend."

tvstory_tj watt_week7_1

He Said It:
T.J. Watt on the defense:
"The great thing about being a Pittsburgh Steeler, about being here, these guys aren't satisfied. None of us are satisfied. We know where we want to be and that we are not close to it yet and that is so encouraging."

tvstory_james conner_week8_2

He Said It:
James Conner on the mood in the locker room at 6-0 and preparing for the Ravens:
"Nothing has really changed. That is the beautiful thing about our team. Our vibe hasn't changed since training camp. We're not acting different. We're just trying to stay consistent, doing our basics, fundamentals. I haven't noticed any different changes in the vibe this week. We are focused and just trying to keep getting better."

Respect for a rookie: Kevin Dotson isn't scheduled to start at guard for the Steelers on Sunday at Baltimore, but the fourth-round rookie has already done enough this season to make a lasting impression on veteran center Maurkice Pouncey.

"Kevin Dotson will be a Steeler for a long time," Pouncey announced to the media this morning on Zoom.

Dotson started for DeCastro on Sept. 20 against Denver and on Oct. 18 against Cleveland.

Dotson also took over for DeCastro and played 54 percent of the offensive snaps on Oct. 11 against Philadelphia, and replaced Stefen Wisniewski, who had been replacing DeCastro, late in the regular-season opener on Sept. 14 at the New York Football Giants.

"He's like DeCastro in a way, the way he pass-sets, the way he run-bocks," Pouncey continued regarding Dotson. "He has all the intangibles that you want in an offensive lineman.

"He's a really great kid, I can't say enough about him. Hopefully, he keeps his head on the right way and keeps progressing in the right way."

As for the upcoming game against the Ravens, members of both organizations have already expressed the respect that's shared between two otherwise white-hot rivals.

Pouncey acknowledged things can get a little disrespectful at times in Steelers-Ravens games, but only momentarily.

"Whenever you're competing against anyone, obviously there's a certain amount of plays that happen in a game that someone will feel that you went a little bit too hard or that you said something you shouldn't have said," Pouncey offered. "There's always a little conflict in that way, but it is a respectful thing.

"Just the intensity of the whole entire game is the reason why this is such a big rivalry. There's always been big plays in it, low-scoring games, usually the defenses prevail on both sides and I think that's what people like seeing."

--Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Thursday, October 29

Trying to be the best: When you look at the Baltimore Ravens offense, the first thing you always see is 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. And for good reason. He runs the offense.

"He is a very elusive guy," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "He is bigger than what people expect. He is a strong guy, a competitor, he runs tough, he will lower his shoulder on DBs and linebackers."

But if you stop there, you are sure to get burnt. Their offense is far more than one player. The focus has to be on far more than Jackson. 

"The Baltimore Ravens offense," said Fitzpatrick of what he focuses on. "It's more than Lamar Jackson. He is a great player. He touches the ball every single play. But they have offensive playmakers on that squad, No. 21 (Mark Ingram II), No. 15 (Marquise Brown), they just acquired Dez. They have a whole bunch of talented guys. You can't just focus on one guy because that is what they want you to do, focus on Lamar and throw No. 15 a deep ball over the top. It's more than Lamar, but you have to pay your respect to him."

Both the Steelers and Ravens go into the game with strong defenses, and Fitzpatrick said everyone on the Steelers defense takes pride in being the best defense every time they take the field. 

"We try to be the best defense on the field, week in and week out," said Fitzpatrick. "Especially AFC North football. You know they are going to come out there with a chip. We have to find any reason or any excuse to go out there and play with a chip as well. At the end of the day you have to be the better defense out there."

He said it:
Fitzpatrick on why the Steelers continually find success:
"It's the culture. It's a great culture. It starts from the top down, with Mr. (Art) Rooney and Coach (Mike) T (Tomlin), to the OC and DC, to the coaches, to the players. It's the culture that they provide. I have been in places where it hasn't been the same thing. From the top down it's a winning attitude. Their constant competitiveness. They're never complacent, they're never satisfied, they're always working, they're transparent. I think it's an accumulation of all of those things."

Old school football: When the Steelers and Ravens meet, records mean nothing.

But this year, the records are definitely drawing a lot of attention.

The Steelers go into the game with a perfect 6-0 record, while the Ravens are strong as ever at 5-1.

It's going to be a battle, everyone knows that, and when these teams play it's normally a defensive battle.

"I think it's the old school, hard-nosed football," said nose tackle Tyson Alualu. "Both teams, both organizations pride themselves on that. I don't think it's any different between the teams. If we win the game 3-0, we are happy with that."

Alualu, who has been a part of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry since signing with the black and gold in 2017, has seen what it means from the outside when he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, as well as the inside.

"From an outside perspective coming in I knew what that rivalry was just from watching the games, that it would always be one of those physical games that would come down to the end of who would be on top," said Alualu. "Just being here you learn a different appreciation for this rivalry and what it entails. I am glad to be a part of it and hope we come out on top on Sunday."

Coming out on top will require the defense to do something that isn't easy…contain Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson, last year's NFL MVP, can hurt a defense with his arm or footwork, and Alualu knows they need to be at their best.

"He is one of those players you have to game plan around," said Alualu. "He can do it with passing and his feet. It's just trusting the game plan the coaches put in front of us and it's our job to go out and execute.

"His overall talent. His play speaks for itself. You have to worry so much about him escaping or extending plays, at the same time being able to throw those on rhythm passes, especially to his tight end. We have to do a great job of eliminating the amount of explosive plays he gets."

Overcoming the frustration: After missing the Browns game, Diontae Johnson was back in action for the Steelers against the Titans and boy did his presence make a difference.

Johnson had nine receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns, one of his most productive games of the 2020 season.

It's been a tough season for him, one where a variety of injuries have had him on the team's injury report every week, ranging from his foot, to his toe, to his back, and then his toe again this week.

"It's frustrating. It's part of the game," said Johnson. "You just have to go out and handle what you can. You can't let it beat you down. You always have to have a strong mind about everything. That is what I managed to do throughout those little injuries.

"It felt good to get back out there with my brothers (last week). To have a game like that coming off an injury felt good. I am hoping to continue to keep going."

Johnson sat out practice on Wednesday because of the toe to rest it but sees himself back out there again fast. 

"It's good. I am practicing today," said Johnson. "I have to stay on top of treatment and stuff. I will be fine.

"I feel like I am on track. Injuries are a part of the game. I was happy to be back coming off the little injury I had. I am looking forward to this week to be honest. It's a great defense. We are going to be ready. We have to make plays for Ben (Roethlisberger), help him out and make sure we know our assignments."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 8 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens

Wednesday, October 28

Back in the black and gold: Jordan Berry was like many of us during the COVID-19 pandemic. When things hit, we added some workout equipment to our homes in an effort to stay active when everything was closed.

Little did he know how valuable the equipment he purchased would be for him.

After Berry was released by the Steelers prior to the start of the 2020 season, and Dustin Colquitt signed, he used that equipment to stay in shape, to keep himself ready in case he got a phone call from a team at any point in the season.

And that call came last week, from the same team that released him weeks earlier.

The Steelers released Dustin Colquitt on Friday, Oct. 23, and signed Berry one day later after he went through the proper COVID-19 protocol and testing leading up to the signing.

"You never really expect anything to happen in this sort of game," said Berry. "I was very elated to get a call to come back and play football for the Steelers. It's a great team, all of the coaches are really good. I have been friends with all of the players. Of any of the opportunities I could have got, this is the best one. I am happy to be back."

Berry has been living partially in Pittsburgh since being released while moving to Kentucky with his wife Emily, where she is from, and their newborn. He admits part of the workout equipment he purchased was already moved to Kentucky, but he still had enough to work out, and had some help on the football side as well. Berry had been working with Christian Kuntz, the linebacker who is along a long snapper, getting some side work in since his release.

"I got with him a couple of times a week to make sure I was getting snaps," said Berry. "That was beneficial to me."

And what is also beneficial to Berry is he is back where he feels the most comfortable.

"At the end of camp when I got let go, it's one of those things in the game they have to weigh a lot of things, performance and salary cap," said Berry. "They said the combination of all of those things they had to let me go. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to come back and get my job back.

"It's one of those things that I was disappointed, but I wouldn't push away an opportunity to come back. There were guys who still wanted me here. It's good to be back here. You never want to turn down an opportunity at this level. If you get a chance you might as well take it."

He said it:

JuJu Smith-Schuster on the Steelers-Ravens rivalry:
"I embrace it a lot. People ask me who is your favorite team to play against and I say our conference, AFC North. We're so physical, so dominant. Every team is so good that every game is going to be a dog fight. It's never going to be an easy one. Going against Baltimore means a lot because last year we fell short twice."

tvstory_Cam heyward_week8_3

Big challenge for the D: The Steelers held Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to 161 passing yards in their only game against him a season ago (Jackson's fourth-fewest total in the regular season), intercepted him more than any other team (three times), sacked him more than any other team (five times) and limited him to 5.75 yards per passing attempt (Jackson's second-lowest figure in 2019).

It wasn't a bad day's work against a player who would go on to be named NFL MVP.

But defensive tackle Cam Heyward won't be any more confident against Jackson this time based on what happened the last time.

"No, we lost," Heyward maintained.

Jackson rushed 14 times for 70 yards (a 5.0 average per carry) in a game the Ravens tied on a field goal with 10 seconds left in regulation and won on a field goal in overtime, 26-23, on Oct. 6 at Heinz Field.

The Steelers will at least have a better appreciation of how to deal with Jackson, both when he scrambles and when he carries the ball by design.

"We did some stunts early that kind of put us at a disadvantage (on the pass rush)," Heyward remembered.

As for those read-option keepers that have become a signature for Jackson and the Ravens "it's misdirection," Heyward continued. "It's also his talent. He's very explosive, but I think the thing that really helps out a lot is they have an extra blocker now. Most of these teams, when they hand off to the running back the quarterback's not a blocker so you already eliminate him from the play. In this scheme they have they have their big fullback, they have some other wide receivers willing to block and so it becomes an 11-man rush.

"Guys have got to get off blocks, guys have got to make tackles because if you don't that dude's going to hit you for a big one."

Keeping Jackson contained will require team defense and a team effort, in Heyward's estimation.

"We've got to make sure we have a good punting game to put him back," he said. "We've got to make sure our offense doesn't turn over the ball and as a defense we've got to make them settle for three.

"We understand he's an outstanding talent, but we can't have self-inflicted wounds."

-- By Mike Prisuta

The Steelers prepare for the Week 8 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens

Monday, October 26

No time for celebrations: The Steelers are 6-0 for the first time since 1978, and only the second time in the franchise's storied history.

Yet come Monday, even more specifically come Victory Monday, you won't see any celebrations at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex among the players.

What you will see, is players working to get better because they know what is still ahead of them.

The Steelers are coming off a 27-24 win over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans, breathing a bit of a sigh of relief after their 27-7 lead almost vanished in the closing seconds, but didn't after Stephen Gostkowski's 45-yard field goal went wide right.

"I think it's good that we got the win," said guard David DeCastro, who returned to the starting lineup after being inactive last week. "Whenever you get a win in this league it's awesome, even if it's not pretty. It shows there is room for improvement. I think we are all excited about getting better as the season goes on, that is the key.

"The first half of the season is what it is. Yeah, we're doing well. You want to get better as the season goes on and stay healthy and make that push toward the end. Everyone is excited right now, but it's not a crazy amount of excitement. We still found a way to win. Now, check the film and get better.

"You have to be realistic with yourself, even when you win. There are always things to correct and we have a lot to correct. It's great to be able to make changes while you're winning and getting better while you're winning. The second half is the key. Peaking and getting hot at the right time. We are happy to get wins any way they come.

"The second half is when it matters. All of this stuff right now is just positioning. We know it's a long season. We are enjoying it."

To be 6-0 and in a situation where you know you can get better, you know there is room for improvement, is a good place to be…and can be scary for the Steelers opponents.

"I am happy," said safety Terrell Edmunds. "We're the only undefeated team in the NFL. We are 6-0. This is the first time I have ever been 6-0. We have to continue to work hard. People are pretty mad simply because we didn't play our best game. We haven't played our best game in a lot of games we have played this year, but we're still pushing and we're still fighting through it and staying together as a team and winning football games. We hold ourselves on a pedestal and we want to be this great team. That is what we are striving for. When you don't play a great game, everyone is upset.

"At the end of the day we are happy we are 6-0 because we haven't lost a game yet.

"Some games we play a great first half, like this game, and we let them come in in the second half. We have to continue to work hard to play a full game. Once we play a full game, offense, defense, special teams, all three sides of the ball, I think we will be great."

After six games in 2019 the Steelers were 2-4, and during the offseason, DeCastro deemed the year miserable. This year, it's much different and the deciding factor definitely has a lot to do with Ben Roethlisberger being back.

"That is the big factor," said DeCastro. "When you have a Hall of Fame quarterback it speaks for itself. Just having the ability to be balanced, keeping teams honest, they can't stack the box, we have the threat of some great talent on the outside, with those jet sweeps and things like that. Just a really balanced offense. That is the key to success in this league.

"We're older, the main group of us on the offensive line, Ben as well. We are enjoying it. Just this whole year, with the pandemic and trying to figure out what is going on. Just being able to play football, which is what we did since we were kids, is a lot of fun. We happen to be undefeated, but like I said we're not crazy excited about it. We are just happy playing the game and being with each other."

He Said It:

Terrell Edmunds said he has a new nickname given to him by his teammates, 'Old Fashioned.'

"On the team right now, they call me 'Old Fashioned,'" said Edmunds. "That is my new nickname. I am just out there to keep on playing. We are trying to really go out there and go get it and help them out anyway I can.

"'Old Fashioned,' it's just something that I do, I go out there every day and do the same thing. I really don't do anything outside of football. I go home. Everyone says I have the same routine every day. I just have to stay on it and keep putting in the work every day, doing the work every day."

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