Week 8 Blog: News and Notes

Steelers football: They are numbers that stand out, and fortunately, they stand out in the Steelers favor. 

The team is 4-0 this season in games that have been decided by one score, which is the best in the NFL. 

But it's the long-term success in those types of games that really stands out. 

In his 5 for Friday today on Steelers.com, Dale Lolley pointed out that Mike Tomlin is '95-58-2 in the regular season in his career in one-score games. But it's something he's gotten better at the longer he's gone into his career. Over the past seven seasons, he's 46-20-2 (a .691 winning percentage) after going 49-38 (.563) in one-score games in his first 10 years as a head coach.'

That is an impressive stat. 

And why do players think they are so successful is these types of games?

"We are always talking about built in adversity," said linebacker T.J. Watt. "Coach Tomlin is always messing with us throughout training camp. There is always built in adversity. He'll throw in a practice at a weird time, things like that. 

"Maybe that's part of it, maybe it's not. I'm not sure. It definitely hardens us throughout the process and allows us to trust in each other. When it comes down to when we absolutely need to have it, I feel very confident."

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick thinks it's just the way this team is.

"We just call it Steelers football," said Fitzpatrick. "Every game is a tight game. The way we are built, we are built to keep the score low, give the ball back to our offense as much as possible and make the plays that we need to make when it comes to the fourth quarter.

"Most teams formula is to keep points off the board and get the ball back to the offense as much as you can. As a defense our responsibility is to not let the other team score. If that is what we have to do every week, that is what we have to do."

Is keeping the game tight and winning one-score games something that is sustainable? Only time will tell but it doesn't matter to Watt how they win, as long as they win.

"It's hard to win," said Watt. "I don't care how it happens. My job is to come in here each and every week trying to do everything we can to win any way possible."

Veteran perspective: The defense Cam Heyward rejoined for practice this week is ranked 28th against the run, 25th against the pass and 30th in total defense.

It's also far from a finished product.

"We're just working," Heyward assessed. "Is it perfect? No, but guys are competing. It's just about staying in our gaps, getting off blocks, using our hands.

"I feel like guys are progressing every week. Is it perfect? No, but there's a lot to continue to grow from it."

The team Heyward began practicing with again on Wednesday is 4-2 and coming off of consecutive victories over the Ravens and Rams.

"We've won some critical games in the fourth quarter," Heyward said. "I don't think we're where we want to be. We still have a long way to go, a lot of football to be played.  But coming off the bye to win a game is pretty critical."

The wins over Baltimore and Los Angeles were achieved via fourth-quarter comebacks, as was the Steelers' victory over Cleveland on Sept. 18.

They can continue to win by relying on such late-game dramatics if they have to, Heyward maintained.

"You gotta find ways to win, whatever it takes," he said. "Is it perfect? No, again, but just finding the little things, finding a turnover or making a critical block that sets up a touchdown or going down the field and kicking a field goal, whatever it takes from the group. We're just trying to get a 'W.'

"It comes from our practice, 'Mike T' (head coach Mike Tomlin) setting up the drills, 'Seven Shots,' two-minute drills. You prepare yourself for those moments, but guys have been doing it for a long time. (Free safety) Minkah (Fitzpatrick), (outside linebacker) T.J. (Watt), (quarterback) Kenny (Pickett) just got here but he was doing it in college.

"The mental makeup of the group is find ways to win. We don't care and we don't apologize for it."

Bringing you the action: 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 mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more - all in one place. Start your free trial today here.

Thursday, October 26

Back at it: Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward returned to practice on Thursday, his first time back since he suffered a groin injury in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. 

Heyward remains on the Reserve/Injured List and the Steelers have a 21-day window to either activate him to the 53-man roster, or he remains on the Reserve/Injured List the remainder of the year.

But Heyward has no plans of not coming back. 

"It felt good. It's been some weeks," said Heyward. "It's been a while. I am excited to just get back out there, get in the flow of things. I still have more work to get done before I get back.

"I am taking it day-by-day. I am not rushing the process. The healing is taking effect. But I have to get reps under my belt. I gotta feel more comfortable with what I am doing. Trust myself, trust my body. We'll see where we are at."

Heyward said his conditioning has been good throughout the process, helping him to adjust back to the rigors of practice. 

"The conditioning has been great," said Heyward. "I have been running every day. From walking, to going in the pool, to Arc trainer to the bike, there have been a multitude of things I have been trying to do. It's only benefitting me.

"I have missed these types of practices. I wish I could have gotten Wednesday under my belt. But I am excited to keep asking for more. Checking things off the box and moving forward."

Heyward doesn't have a target date for his return, but he wants to be back sooner rather than later. 

"That's above my paygrade," said Heyward of when he will return. "I am sure somebody has that planned out for me. I hope to beat that one day. 

"I have been pressing. There have been MRIs. I have had to see where my progress is. I got good news this morning, had an MRI and popped right over. 

"I trust what they are doing. I know my body. I know I am up there in age, but I feel like I progressed pretty well."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 8 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars

Getting his shot: Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. was added to the injury report on Thursday with a calf injury and was limited. 

Porter was asked after practice what happened and if he will be ready for Sunday, and he was quick to answer. 

"I am playing Sunday," said Porter in a matter of fact manner.

How much he will play is a weekly question Porter is asked, and his answer hasn't changed.

"I am going to hit you with the same answer," said Porter. "It's not up to me, it's up to the coaches. I am going to try and be ready as much as possible. When they call my name, I will just go out there. 

"I try to do as much as I can with the opportunities I have. I just have to keep stacking and going forward." 

Porter saw increased playing time last week against the Los Angeles Rams and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was pleased with how the rookie performed.

"I thought he handled himself well," said Austin. "He did some really good things coverage-wise. It's what we talk about every week, is the more he plays, the better he plays, the more he progresses, the more snaps he gets, then he'll earn those snaps, and I think he earned those last week and he'll continue to do that.

"I'll say this: He's earned more snaps and he'll probably get some more snaps. I think he's played well. We were talking about with him, we're addressing the tackling. If you want to be an every-down corner in this league you got to be able to tackle. So, he's continuing to progress in that regard, and we will just keep pushing."

Porter said he is working on the tackling, most of it being just small details he wants to tighten up. 

"Just finishing up the techniques of tackling," said Porter. "Wrapping up, finishing, rolling with that. Little stuff like that. It's been going smooth."

Working together again: The Steelers had their top two receivers back in the lineup last Sunday against the Rams, with Diontae Johnson and George Pickens both on the field together for the first time since Week 1.

While some might have had concerns if there were enough passes to go around, but with Pickens pulling in five receptions for 107 yards and Johnson catching five for 79 yards, it wasn't an issue.

"We play off of one another," said Johnson, who didn't practice on Thursday because of the hamstring. "He makes a play. I make a play. It's our little thing. Once both of us make a play, everyone else starts to make plays.

"We get that spark that we needed. It shows. I feel like we did a great job of that. Me and George had a great game. The whole team had a great game. It's just that spark and thing me and George have."

Pickens said it's good for the offense as a whole to have Johnson back.

"It helps a lot. It helps a lot of guys, not just me," said Pickens. "It helps tight ends. Then when Pat (Freiermuth) comes back that will help us too.

They are hoping to continue that spark this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday. While Jacksonville's run defense is fourth in the NFL, their pass defense is ranked 31st. It's a number Johnson doesn't put much into as he knows how tough they are going to be to go against.

"They run certain coverages on certain downs and distances," said Johnson. "It's our job to know what they are in and believe that the coaching staff is going to call the right call in that situation. We just have to continue to watch film, study them more, and see what they like to do in situations, third and one, third and two, stuff like that.

"It's nothing we haven't seen before. It's football. We just have to go out there and play at the end of the day."

Not just play, but he wants to see the team play fast in the first half, so they don't find themselves in situations similar to the Rams game where they are playing from behind.

"Starting fast, knowing the game plan, who we are going against," said Johnson. "When you get out there not overthinking. Just being yourself out there. That is what it's all about. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always talks about being an 'A' player. We need those 'A' players to step up. That's what those 'A' players did on Sunday. You saw the big plays to turn the game around."

Bringing you the action: 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 mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more - all in one place. Start your free trial today here.

Wednesday, October 25

The right mentality: Heading into the Ravens game in Week 5, running back Najee Harris brought up one word over and over again. 


It was all about the team's mentality heading into a key AFC North game, while trying to improve on their 2-2 record. 

He wanted them to have the same kind of mentality they did at the end of the 2022 season when they played the Ravens.

And he got what he wanted. 

Since talking about it, the Steelers have won their last two games, sporting a 4-2 record, and the mentality is on point. Now, it needs to continue as the Steelers prepare to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.

"We are trying to keep that mentality," said Harris. "That is what we need for the rest of this season. That was like that Ravens game last year. That dawg mentality. We need that. That's what we need. 

"I think we did a good job. We just have to keep carrying that on. This is a really good team. They have a really good front. They have really good players, especially their defensive coordinator is really good. We have some ideas of what they are going to do. We just have to execute the plan."

While it hasn't always been easy, with the four wins all by a touchdown or less, the Steelers seem to thrive in the tight games. 

Why is that? Harris can't even explain it. 

"I don't know," said Harris. "I don't know. It's scary. It can go either way. It's the NFL. Every game is not going to be a blowout. Since I have been here it's been all tight games. 

"It's going to come down to the playmakers and the plays. You see who the guys are in those clutch moments. But it can go either way. We have to be on our Ps and Qs. 

"We will our way. We are always prepared for a 15-round fight. We are prepared for five quarters, with overtime, we have that mentality. It's scary sometimes."

Execution the key: It was a tale of two halves for the Steelers in Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. But the key factor for the Steelers was they didn't make major halftime changes to get there. 

They just did one thing. 

They executed.

The Steelers had five first downs in the first half, with 91 net yards and 62 yards passing. They finished the game with 17 first downs, 300 net yards and 214 yards passing. 

"We executed at a high level," said center Mason Cole. "Probably better than we have all year offensively. When you have good game plans and you execute them, things go well. We have to stay consistent and execute our game plan."

Cole said they made some tweaks to what was working for them in the first half, but nothing unexpected. 

"We are not making huge wholesale changes at halftime," said Cole. "It's little things. Trying to do what was working well in the first half and build on that in the second half. Some early success we had on runs in the first half, we just stuck to that in the second half.

"We saw how the game can go when we wear teams out a little bit. Just more productive, more efficient. Good team ball."

Cole said what changed the momentum was when linebacker T.J. Watt dropped in coverage and intercepted Rams' quarterback Matthew Stafford on the first play of the second half. Watt returned it 24 yards to the Rams' seven-yard line. Three plays later quarterback Kenny Pickett took it in for a one-yard touchdown. 

"I think that momentum starting the second half was huge for us," said Cole. "Getting seven points out of that interception was big for us and I felt like we built off that." 

The Steelers scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to secure the win and a lot of the credit goes to Pickett's unflappable demeanor. 

"It doesn't change. He is steady Eddie," said Cole. "He is a winner. In those big moments he performs and executes. I think we are starting to see that pretty consistently now."

Liking his chances: Rookie linebacker Nick Herbig recorded his first career sack on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, getting to quarterback Matthew Stafford for a six-yard loss in the second quarter. 

"If you watch the play, it was a hurry-up play," said Herbig. "We were talking to each other, and I saw the ball snapped and I let it rip.

"I just saw the ball snapped. And shoutout to the fans. It felt like a home game. Every time we were on defense, the crowd was into it. They had to go silent count. The tackle was off the ball, and I like my chances in that situation.

"I was just watching Alex (Highsmith) and T.J. (Watt) ahead of me, working moves. Just trying to dissect their stuff and how I can use it to my advantage when I get my opportunities." 

Those opportunities might not come as frequently on defense for Herbig just yet, with Watt, Highsmith and Markus Golden ahead of him, but he is getting his snaps and working it on special teams as well. 

"I just stay ready. I am just there for Alex, T.J. and M.G.," said Herbig. "Whenever those guys need a break, need a breather, I need to be ready to go in there and give it my best. 

"I am trying to focus on special teams. That is my biggest role on this team right now. When those guys need a breather, that's when I have a chance to show what I've been working on. 

"It's helping me find my role on the team. That security in how I can help this team every week secure a W. That translates to how I go about practice, how I approach every day. (Special teams coordinator) Danny Smith is a tough coach. He is going to be tough on you, but it's all love at the end of the day."

Division of labor: Veteran Patrick Peterson played outside cornerback and an inside position in the six-defensive backs "dime" defense last Sunday in Los Angeles, as has been his habit. But he also played nickel cornerback and safety and even blitzed from the slot on occasion.

Peterson did so much he lost track of from where he was doing it from snap to snap.

"I just remember I was all over the place," he said. "That's the only thing I can remember so I don't know what my exact snap count was at the different positions. But it did feel good to be kind of utilized in many different positions on the field."

It was the multi-faceted role Peterson had envisioned all along upon signing with the Steelers.

"No doubt about it," Peterson said. "And as Coach (Mike Tomlin) said in his interview, the flexibility of me is going o be very key for us going forward."

Peterson wearing as many hats as he did against the Rams coincided with rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. playing a season-high 53 defensive snaps (a season-high 78 percent) as an outside cornerback in the base defense and the sub-packages.

Porter had played what at the time had been a season-high 28 defensive snaps (a season-high 40 percent) in the Steelers' 17-10 victory over the Ravens on Oct. 8.

His interception of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in the end zone in the fourth quarter helped spark the Steelers' comeback against Baltimore and, in Peterson's estimation, helped accelerate Porter's development.

"I'd probably say the 'pick' for sure," Peterson maintained. "Any time a young defensive back is able to get their hands on the football, just that excitement and that confidence level just goes through the roof. You could just tell from that moment on that it's starting to slow down for him and it's coming to him, the game is starting to come to him.

"It's a beautiful thing to see. I always love to see young guys making plays because you need that confidence to play at a high level. You need that swagger to play at a high level. If you don't you can kind of get lost by the wayside. But Joey doesn't shy any confidence in himself at all."

Peterson isn't sure how what happened in Los Angeles will affect the way the labor is divided in the secondary on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium against Jacksonville.

But he has his suspicions.

"That's Coach's decision, we'll see," Peterson said. "Honestly, Coach always says if it's not broke, don't fix it. I imagine that we'll probably go into the game similar, with the same lineup that we had. You guys will have to wait and see what happens."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Bringing you the action: 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 mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more - all in one place. Start your free trial today here.