Feeling better: The Steelers are going to need every weapon they can get on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, and while running back Najee Harris didn't reveal anything about his status for the game, he did say the elbow was feeling better on Friday.
Harris spoke after the team's practice, which was held at Heinz Field, and gave some insight into the injury that happened against the Baltimore Ravens last week.
"The elbow is getting good," said Harris, who is listed as questionable for the game. "I got a little PRP shot in it. So, it was sore for a couple of days but it's feeling better."
Harris didn't get into how or what happened to the elbow, but said he felt pain in it after he went to the sideline last week. The one option was to put a brace on it, but that wasn't going to pan out because he said he didn't feel comfortable with ball security because he wouldn't be able to fold his arm properly with the brace on. So instead, he just had the athletic trainers tape it up before eventually returning late in the game.
"I came to the sideline, obviously it was hurting for a minute. I was in pain," said Harris. "I was waiting for it to cool down. My adrenaline was already pumping. I knew I'm not going to re-feel this pain the next couple of minutes. I waited whatever quarters it was and then they tried to put this brace on me, but I can't play with a brace. Because I can't really fold my arm too much for ball security. So I was just like man, just put some tape on it. And I got back in there."
One of the key things for Harris if he does go on Sunday against the Chiefs is to play his game and not think about the elbow. He said the most important thing is to just play his game.
"This is the first time in the league, but it's not the first time ever me getting hurt so it's not like it's anything new," said Harris. "In this sport, in this game, there is so much contact. I'm not going to play different. You can't do that, especially at the running back position. It's already a physical position. You can have in your mind that you're somewhat hurt, but also protect yourself but still play the game how you play it."
And how the Steelers are going to play it on Sunday is not paying one bit of attention to what all of the so-called experts that have them as underdogs are expecting. Harris said he doesn't pay attention to all of the talk, because once the ball is kicked off, none of it matters.
"I don't care about the underdog thing," said Harris. "I don't think that matters at all. Anytime that you're playing a sport, no matter what people say or think, it does not help a team win or lose a game because they're not playing the game at all. They're just giving their comments.
"For us to be here and have the opportunity to play, I'm always excited for that. Let's have fun. Let's compete."
Turning up the Wattage: On the eve of his third trip to the postseason outside linebacker T.J. Watt had some advice for those about to embark upon their first foray into the playoffs.
"I think it's important to not be worn down," Watt emphasized after practice today. "I know it's tough for a lot of the young guys, a lot of the rookies specifically because of the (NFL Scouting) Combine training and then the Combine, the rookie offseason. It's a grueling year for those rookies.
"But I think it's very important that they know this is now a one-and-done situation. If you don't win, you go home. So we need to lock 'em in, almost hit the reset button and put all your feelings aside because nobody cares if you're tired or you want to go home. We need to win this game and that's what we're here to do and I'm willing to take anybody along with me because I am not ready to go home."
Watt had just one tackle and only played 38 defensive snaps (55 percent) in the Steelers' 36-10 loss on Dec. 26 at Kansas City.
"I think it was a matter of how my body was feeling going into that game," he said. "I know I wasn't able to play as many snaps, be as effective as I wanted to be. I feel better where I am today than I was going into that game, a good amount better.
"No one's 100 percent at this point of the journey. That's why it's just about getting as close to 100 percent as you can. I feel better than I did that week."
One of the challenges confronting Watt and the Steelers' defense will be dealing with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes' mobility.
It's a familiar one for Watt and the Steelers.
"We face so many mobile quarterbacks nowadays it seems like every couple of games you're facing one," he said.
Watt characterized Mahomes as "a guy that can scramble, put his head down, run for 10 yards pretty easily or he can look to extend plays through the air, as well. I think it's just being cognizant in the rush lanes, but also we can do some things schematically that we don't always have to be as cognizant and rush scared.
"I feel really confident in our gameplan, where we're at."
The Steelers prepare for the Wild Card Round matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs
A look at the top pictures of Steelers fans from the Week 18 game against the Ravens in Baltimore
Thursday, January 13
Back at it: Prior to the Steelers' practice on Thursday the team announced that receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was returning to practice, still on the Reserve/Injured List, but at least getting a shot.
It was a surprise to many when word got out, and it was a surprise inside the team's locker room as well.
Receiver Diontae Johnson said when he saw him getting his cleats, he looked at him and asked him what he was doing.
"I had no clue about it," said Johnson. "I was surprised to see him out there today, too. I saw him in the locker room and I was like, 'Yo, you getting ready for something?' He was putting on his cleats. I'm happy he is back. If he gets a chance to play, I'm going to be excited for him, to see him do what he does, which is make plays. It was good to see him out there moving around again."
Smith-Schuster was placed on the Reserve/Injured List on Oct. 16 after injuring his shoulder in the team's Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos. The team has a 21-day window to activate him.
"He's worked hard in rehabilitation and gotten himself to this point and we simply started the 21-day window," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We'll look at him, see how he feels and check his level of conditioning, things that we normally do when people get into that 21-day window. It's just part of the process. It was just a start."
Tomlin said he wasn't sure if Smith-Schuster had a chance to be ready to play on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, but they just wanted to get the process going.
"Like I said, we just started his 21-day window and what transpires out here and a lot of other questions are part of the equation," said Tomlin.
Johnson said he liked what he saw from Smith-Schuster, and that it was like watching the player he has become accustomed to seeing.
"I thought he looked smooth," said Johnson. "He still has great hands, a natural catcher. Big hands, strong. Just seeing him run around, he is still JuJu at the end of the day and it's exciting.
"I'm happy he is back. If he gets a chance to play, I'm going to be excited for him, to see him do what he does, which is make plays. It was good to see him out there.
"He brings back that positive energy that we need and that he always brings. You want to be around a guy like that, who's all about football, all about his teammates. Wanting to do anything for the team. And he's a people person. So, there's never a dull moment when he is around."
It wasn't just Smith-Schuster the receivers room got back today. James Washington was also activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 List, giving them the full crew once again.
"More weapons for the offense," said Johnson. "I'm happy to have them back in the room, JuJu, James, with the COVID situation. He's back. He's fine. And JuJu, I'm happy for him to be back for as long as he's been out. Overall, I'm excited for him."
Having more weapons can do nothing but benefit the Steelers heading into Kansas City, a team that beat them 36-10 in Week 16 of the regular season.
The Steelers head into the game as big underdogs, something Johnson said motivates them.
"For sure. People are expecting us to go out there and have another tough loss," said Johnson. "That is what they expect. They don't expect us to come back with a better plan. I like being in this situation because once we win, don't try to hop back on the bandwagon because remember all that stuff you are saying now. I'm just gonna leave it at that."
The Steelers prepare for the Wild Card matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs
Tackle the catch: A signature component of the Chiefs' combustibility on offense is their ability to catch short and run long.
The Steelers must counter by tackling the catch, or risk the consequences.
"It's super important," cornerback Joe Haden emphasized after practice today. "'Coach T' (head coach Mike Tomlin) says Travis Kelce is the best run-after-the-catch tight end in the world. He proves it all the time. He closed games against the Chargers being able to catch it and just zigzag through tackles. Same thing with (wide receiver) Tyreek Hill, you're so afraid of his speed to get over the top of you that sometimes you'll be too far off and he'll catch a pass and be able to make you miss and get vertical.
"Just being able to stay as tight as possible to those dudes and making sure we know exactly where they are at all times."
Kelce didn't play in the Chiefs' 36-10 victory over the Steelers on Dec. 16 at Arrowhead Stadium.
But the Steelers are well aware of what they'll be up against this time.
"He's one of the best tight ends of all time," Haden continued. "Just because of the way he can split out and be as a wide receiver. He's a mismatch with linebackers and safeties and then with corners he's big, he's a little bigger than us. Him being able to run those routes, being able to find those holes in the zones, and then the trust in the quarterback (Patrick Mahomes), such a great quarterback, and then having a special player like him. They work hand-to-hand together.
"They do a lot of the same things as Ben back in the day. It's not a lot of the initial first route. It's more of the scramble, more of him creating time and letting those receivers create space. We just gotta be able to plaster and try to get after Pat and not let him have too much time in the pocket."
The Steelers must also embrace the opportunity they've earned in the postseason.
Haden has been doing his best to spread that word.
"I think it's just everybody being aware of the situation we're in. We really didn't know if we were gonna have a chance in the dance. And once you get in, everybody's on an equal playing field. It doesn't really matter what seed you are, how you got in. It's three games to the Super Bowl, four games you're a Super Bowl champ. You put that in perspective and it's one game at a time.
"Just putting that in perspective and knowing other teams are home. A lot of dudes' friends that played in college with them, they're on their offseason, they're chillin', hanging out. We still got a chance to win the championship.
"Everybody knows it's nothing to play with. This is my 12th year in the league and I've been to the playoffs three times and this is gonna be the second game I played in. So just telling dudes, 'Yo, I've been in the league 12 years, this is my third time. Don't take it for granted."
-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Execution is the key: Cameron Heyward knows the Steelers are heading into Kansas City as an underdog on Sunday night, with many surprised the team even made it to the postseason.
Even when he was asked about being a two-touchdown underdog and if that motivates them, he laughed that it wasn't more.
"It was just that, I thought it was more," said Heyward. "It's not my decision. They must be seeing something. So, it is what it is."
Heyward said all the team needs and wants is the opportunity, something they got when the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime on Sunday Night Football, a game Heyward stayed up and watched.
"I just wanted a chance to make the playoffs," said Heyward. "We were on the edge of the seat. It took a little bit more than the regular 60 minutes, but glad to be a part of it."
Being a part of it means the Steelers have a tough challenge ahead of them. The Steelers and Chiefs met at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 16, with the Chiefs winning, 36-10, after jumping out to a 30-0 lead.
It's a game the players had to put behind them right after, but one they are revisiting this week to make sure it doesn't play out the same way in the Wild Card Round.
"You look at our last game and it's not a good game on our front," said Heyward. "But just gotta be ready to play. Not really more you can say. We did not have a good game and plan."
When asked what went wrong, Heyward quickly changed the question.
"The real question is what went right in that game? I can't say it enough," said Heyward. "When it rained it poured. Defense, we didn't get off. Penalties. They were able to run the ball. We didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback. I know offense they felt like they didn't play well. They didn't put up points. Special teams, we start off the game missing a field goal. All that combined, it's not setting yourself up good to win any type of game.
"Our execution has to be a lot better. But we understand we're playing a really good offense. A really good team. MVP type of quarterback. Skills player galore. When you got Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, a big offensive line. Opportunistic defense. When you look at what they got, they got a good formula up there."
In the first meeting quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 23 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second time the Steelers faced Mahomes in the regular season, the first time in 2018 when he completed 23 passes for 326 yards and six touchdowns.
"One thing I can recall in both games we've played them, we haven't executed well," said Heyward. "That's shame on us, but you tip your hat to them. He's a heck of a quarterback. He leads his team. (For us it's about) mental errors, mental mistakes and missed tackles and not being in your gaps. That's a recipe to give an offense what they want all day so you can't do that."
Heyward knows they will have to bring pressure on Mahomes, but they can't do it at the expense of the secondary either.
"If you're blitzing, you're leaving your backend wide open," said Heyward. "I'm not gonna tell you what our secondary's gonna be doing every play, but I don't want to leave them on an island too often. We got the rushers to do it, but we've got to play a whole lot better than we did last time."
And one thing they also have to watch out for this time is Kelce. In the earlier meeting this season he was inactive having just come off the COVID List but not cleared to play. This week, he will be out there.
"He's got the best run after in the game," said Heyward. "He gets the ball, he's quick to speed. That intermediate catch and ability to extend down the field is second to none. You always got to keep your eyes on him because if you don't, he's gonna burn you and get a drag across the field. It takes us making sure we keep our eyes on him, everybody getting to the ball."
Wednesday, January 12
Don't stop believing: There might not be a lot the Steelers want to take away from their last meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs, a Week 16 defeat where in the words of Coach Mike Tomlin, 'they handled us and handled us definitively.'
That being said, not all is lost when it comes to watching film from the game, seeing what the Chiefs did well.
"You learn tendencies that they have as a team," said linebacker Robert Spillane. "Obviously you have a game plan going up into that week. And things didn't go the way we wanted to that game. But you learned from the game.
"Not just what they like to do, but also what their personnel is, how different people in their offense have different roles within it. So, we've started that process this week. It'll continue up until game time, but we're just really excited to get a second shot at them."
When it comes to personnel for the Chiefs offense, they definitely have their share of talent, but the combination of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce might be one of the most lethal combinations in the NFL. And the last time the two teams met, Kelce didn't play, inactive for the game as he hadn't cleared the COVID-19 protocol.
Kelce is Mahomes go-to guy, a tight end who can do everything, including making a defense pay if they don't tackle him when he immediately makes a catch.
"Travis Kelce, his work speaks for itself," said Spillane. "He's one of the best tight ends ever to play the game. He's a matchup problem for anyone across the field. He's known to take five-yard catches and turn them into 55-yard touchdowns. So, tackle the catches is the main emphasis for us this week.
"Kelce can really do it all. He's a versatile tight end that makes plays down the field, turns short yards, short catches into long runs, blocks, gets involved in the screen game. He's a complete player who could do it all and he's going to be a big matchup for us this weekend. We do things personnel wise and schematic wise to limit him as much as possible. But at the end of the day, we still got to play football."
And getting him the ball is a quarterback who just seems to create magic game in and game out. Containing Mahomes will be anything but easy, but it will be necessary.
"Mahomes is one of the best at staying behind the line of scrimmage, but still keeping his eyes downfield," said Spillane. "Anytime he's still behind that line of scrimmage he's looking for a receiver to get open. So, we've got to rush, contain rush. And then also on the back end we've got to plaster our people once he breaks contain and make sure that he doesn't have any easy receivers to throw the ball to."
The challenge is a huge one on Sunday night, but one that Spillane wouldn't trade for the world. He knows how precious these moments are, how tough it can be to make it into the postseason. And he knows that outside of the walls of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex that many might not have the Steelers as favorites to win.
But for him, it's special and it's going to be fun.
"Every week I'm here is a fun week for me," said Spillane. "I enjoy coming out to practice every day, being around my teammates, playing on Sunday. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and we're very excited to be out here. Maybe people didn't picture us making the playoffs from the outside looking in. But we always had a sense of belief within the locker room. That was very important and integral for us to be where we're at today. We're just gonna keep believing in each other, loving each other and playing for each other and good things will happen."
The person who drives that belief is Tomlin. He is the one who never falters on his players, always encouraging, motivating, and keeping them believing in themselves and their teammates.
"Mike Tomlin sets the stage for us every morning at 8:30 (am). He starts our days with the team meeting, and he gets us on the right page every single day," said Spillane. "Every time I talk about Mike Tomlin, I can't say enough good things about him because I think he's really amazing at what he does.
"He does a great job getting all 53 people on the same page and doing it in a quick and concise manner, where you have an understanding of what the game plan is going to look like for the day, but also our mentality for the practice and any important information going forward."
Take a look at the best portraits from the Steelers' Week 18 game against the Baltimore Ravens