AFC North: Dick LeBeau

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix:

Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger looked like anything but a rookie in throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns without taking a sack in a 27-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

Imagine what a seasoned quarterback like the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees might do to the Steelers on Nov. 30 at Heinz Field following Pittsburgh’s bye week.

The Steelers did not consistently pressure Mettenberger, who was making his third start, even though they blitzed him often. He stepped up in the pocket with confidence and moved well in it even when the Steelers generated pressure from their outside linebackers.

The Steelers were credited with just five quarterback hurries against the Titans, and it’s not like they didn’t try to pressure Mettenberger. They sent five or more pass-rushers on 62.5 percent of Mettenberger’s dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, their highest rate since a Dec. 19, 2011, loss at San Francisco.

The Steelers have to find a way to generate the kind of pass rush that consistently harassed the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck and Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco in earlier wins.

The bye week provides extra time to heal for injured starters such as strong safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker Ryan Shazier and nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Getting Polamalu and Shazier back against the Saints would add speed and give Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau more flexibility as he tries to find a way to pressure Brees, who has been sacked just 13 times in 10 games.

The Steelers have to make Brees uncomfortable in the pocket by hitting him early and often.

If the perennial Pro Bowler gets as much time to throw as Mettenberger did Monday night, the Steelers may well have to win a shootout against a Saints team that is currently 4-6 but sure to play with a sense of urgency when it visits Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH -- Comparisons have been made between Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Tennessee Titans rookie signal-caller Zach Mettenberger because of their size and arm strength.

Titans wide receiver Nate Washington offered another parallel last week.

Washington, who played for the Steelers early in Roethlisberger’s career, said Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt is just as hands on with Mettenberger as he was with Big Ben.

Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive from 2004-06, Roethlisberger’s first three years in the NFL.

“He still holds Zach accountable just as he did Ben,” Washington said of the Titans’ first-year coach. “He teaches him relentlessly and harps on him about making sure he is technically sound with his drops, he makes sure he keeps the ball up and makes sure he is throwing the ball properly with his form. I constantly see him preaching to him about that as I did when Ben was growing up in this league.”

The Steelers should provide a measuring stick of how much Mettenberger has grown since taking over for the injured Jake Locker late last month.

The Steelers have been tough on rookie quarterbacks since Dick LeBeau returned as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2004, going 17-2 against them during that span.

And to put into perspective how inexperienced Mettenberger is, consider that his 495 career passing yards are 27 less than what Roethlisberger produced in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts last month.

The day Roethlisberger made a run at the NFL’s single-game passing record was the day Mettenberger made his first career start.

The fourth-round draft pick out of LSU has shown promise despite his inexperience and here is what the Steelers are saying about the 6-foot-5, 224-pound Mettenberger:

Free safety Mike Mitchell: “He has a really strong arm and seems to be very professional (as) a young guy by the way he controls the line of scrimmage type stuff. He doesn’t seem like he’s young and doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not going to be as mobile as (Michael) Vick obviously so that will help us out. I feel like it’s always a little bit easier when you have to defend a pocket passer.”

Coach Mike Tomlin: “He has a ridiculously strong arm. He is your classic pocket passer. He is a talented young man. I really got a chance to get to know him at LSU while he was in school because I annually go to their pro days.”

Defensive end Brett Keisel: “He’s got a strong arm and they’re kind of simplifying things for him. The potential’s there and Whisenhunt has had success with young quarterbacks. We have one in here that he did well with and they have a good feel for us and our schemes so it’s going to be a challenge.”

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: “He’s got a real strong arm. He’s big so he’s got real nice vision of the field. I haven’t seen a ball that he can’t get there. Watching him in college he was definitely a winner there (at LSU). (He) had a lot of big, deep throws. He throws a wonderful deep ball.”
PITTSBURGH -- Comparisons have been floated this week between Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will duel Monday night in Nashville.

They are premature -- if not patently absurd -- since Mettenberger has as many NFL starts (two) as Roethlisberger has Super Bowl victories.

But Nate Washington, who has played with both quarterbacks early in their respective careers, said he can see some parallels, starting with arm strength.

"(Mettenberger) can make those tight throws like Ben can," said Washington, who has been with the Titans since 2009 after playing parts of four seasons with the Steelers. "You see those types of plays develop in order to give them a chance. He is one of the guys when plays break down, he seems to find a way to make a play with his arm. Those are a lot of things that kind of remind me of Ben, seeing those types of things and that type of play from him."

Mettenberger will have to buck history in order to beat Big Ben in the nationally televised game on ESPN.

Rookie quarterbacks have won just two of 17 games against the Steelers since 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the year Dick LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh for a second stint as the defensive coordinator.

Of course, if anyone can prepare Mettenberger for a LeBeau-coached defense, it is Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

He and LeBeau matched wits for three years in training camp and practices when Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

They were also golfing buddies off the field -- both are excellent players -- and Whisenhunt said LeBeau’s influence helped him when he became a head coach in 2007.

Whisenhunt, who was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator in Roethlisberger’s first three NFL seasons, has tried to downplay comparisons between Roethlisberger and Mettenberger. But Whisenhunt admitted that, like Roethlisberger, Mettenberger did not take long to open his eyes.

"I know one of the things that impressed me very early with Ben, and I remember talking with Coach (Dick) LeBeau about it on the field, was some of the throws he made in practice," said Whisenhunt, who is in his first season with the Titans. "I would say that it is fair to say that some of the throws that Zach has made in practice were the kind of things that got your attention."
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PITTSBURGH -- Frustrated Pittsburgh Steelers fans were fitting offensive coordinator Todd Haley for a dunce cap and planning for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s imminent retirement after an embarrassing 31-10 loss at Cleveland on Oct. 12 dropped them to 3-3 and into last place in the AFC North. Boos rained down on the Steelers the following week at Heinz Field after they fell behind the Houston Texans 13-0.

A flurry of touchdowns at the end of the first half vaulted the Steelers into the lead against the mistake-prone Texans, and they haven't looked back since. The Steelers have won their past three games by an average of 14.7 points and they are only .021 behind the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.

MVP: Wide receiver Antonio Brown. For those wondering what the two-time Pro Bowler could do for an encore after setting a Steelers record with 1,499 yards in 2013, Brown has been even better this season. The fifth-year veteran is on pace to catch 126 passes for 1,771 yards and 14 touchdowns. Coach Mike Tomlin compared Brown’s impact on games to that of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, and consistent double-teams have done anything but slow down Brown. He gets the nod over quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has thrown an NFL-record 12 touchdown passes in his past two games.

Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Cortez Allen. The player whom the Steelers signed to a five-year, $25 million contract in early September has been demoted twice this season. Allen leads the Steelers with two interceptions, but he played only one snap in a 43-23 win over Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night after losing his job at nickel back to Antwon Blake. It is way too early for the Steelers to give up on Allen, who turned 27 last week. But they have to hope he weathers this tough stretch because the Steelers are lacking in developmental cornerbacks right now.

Best moment: Trailing the Texans 13-3 in a Monday Night Football game, the Steelers exploded for 21 points late in the second quarter. The defense, offense and special teams all fed off another as a Steelers team that had managed three touchdowns in the previous two games scored three in a span of 1 minute, 36 seconds. A season obituary was ready to be written after the Texans controlled most of the first half at Heinz Field. But the Steelers scored 24 unanswered points, propelling them to a 30-23 win that saved their season.

Worst moment: The Cleveland Browns, already missing several key players on defense, lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to a season-ending knee injury during their Oct. 12 game against the Steelers. That still didn’t stop them from drilling their archrivals at the Dawg Pound. It got worse for the Steelers after their 31-10 loss when Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said, “We had so many injuries across the board it’s hard to believe we could have beaten a college team.” Ouch. The loss was only the Steelers' third to the Browns in their past 23 meetings and marked the low point of the season.

Key to the second half: The Steelers will go as far as their offense takes them. It has finally played up to its potential during a three-game winning streak in which the Steelers have averaged 41.3 points. The defense has shown marked improvement while the Steelers have gone from 3-3 to 6-3, and Pittsburgh is starting to get after opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers can score with any team if the offense continues to play at a high level. The emergence of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant only adds to the riches that the Steelers have at the skill positions.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are No. 16 in the NFL in total defense (357.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 21 in scoring defense (24.5 points allowed per game).

And the reality is the Steelers have been a middling defense for the last couple of seasons after playing it at an absurdly high level for the better part of a decade

There are numerous reasons why the unit has fallen off. One James Harrison won't entertain is that age has caught up with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turned 77 in early September.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's James Harrison
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJames Harrison was credited with a second sack of Andrew Luck on Wednesday.
"It's nothing about Dick LeBeau is getting too old," the veteran outside linebacker said. "You've got a bunch of idiots that don't know what they're talking about when they say that so I do take it a little personal."

Harrison is doing his part to defend LeBeau's reputation as well as restore the intimidation factor to a defense that has too often lacked it recently.

Harrison recorded his 15th multi-sack game while with the Steelers in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, though it didn't become official until Wednesday -- three days after Pittsburgh's victory.

Harrison had been credited with a sack of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Elias Sports gave the 36-year-old Harrison a second sack on Wednesday, taking one that had been credited to strong safety Troy Polamalu.

"That's messed up," Polamalu said.

Then he laughed and conceded that Elias had been correct in crediting Harrison with both of the sacks that the Steelers managed against the Colts.

It seemed like old times in the Steelers' locker room on Wednesday with Polamalu and Harrison joking around. Moments like the one the two longtime teammates shared after practice almost didn't happen.

Harrison was content to walk away from the game when he officially retired in early September. When Jarvis Jones went down with a dislocated wrist a couple of weeks later and the Steelers needed immediate help at outside linebacker, Polamalu was among those who helped coax Harrison out of retirement.

Harrison said he would not have returned for any other team -- and that he would not have done so had his two sons been against it.

Even more than a month after coming out of retirement, Harrison still seems a little conflicted about having to put on hold his promise to spend more time with his sons.

"The big thing is not having that time with my kids like now. If I'm lucky I may get a few hours a week," Harrison said. "Being back right now it's still kind of hard because you're missing that time with them, you're missing those moments that you can't get back."

What Harrison has been getting back is his legs after not doing any football-related drills for more than nine months and it is showing.

Harrison, who is sharing snaps with Arthur Moats at right outside linebacker, helped the Steelers put consistent pressure on Luck last Sunday. That and the number of times that the Steelers hit Luck could bode well for the defense in the second half of the season.

"I like the direction we're going in," Harrison said. "We still have a lot of things we need to get better at."
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gave cornerback Cortez Allen a vote of confidence, but he also acknowledged it might do the fourth-year veteran some good to step back while he is struggling.

Allen is expected to lose snaps to Brice McCain and probably his starting job when the Steelers play the Houston Texans Monday night at Heinz Field. The two will likely flip positions, with McCain starting at left cornerback and Allen playing nickelback when the Steelers go with five defensive backs.

The Steelers might not play a lot of nickel with shutting down Texans running back Arian Foster, the NFL’s third-leading rusher, their biggest challenge in the nationally televised game.

Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that there would be some lineup changes following a 31-10 loss at Cleveland. He also said McCain is a candidate to play more because of the “inconsistency” of other players.

It didn’t take any master code-breaking to figure out that Allen is in line for a demotion, even if it is only a temporary one. Allen leads the Steelers with two interceptions but consistency has eluded him.

The 6-foot-1, 196-pounder had a tough outing against the Browns, giving up a 51-yard touchdown catch to tight end Jordan Cameron, one of the key plays in the game.

“He’s still basically a young player and he’s at a difficult position and sometimes there are ups and downs there,” LeBeau said of Allen. “I have great confidence that he’ll find himself through it and be a very strong player.”

He better.

The Steelers signed Allen to a five-year, $26 million contract right before the start of the regular season, and they need to build around the former fourth-round draft pick at cornerback.

When asked if sometimes it helps struggling plays to take a step back and watch for a week, LeBeau said, “I’m thinking that it does. We’ll see.”
PITTSBURGH – NFL analyst Bill Cowher did not opt for subtlety or discretion in leveling his harshest criticism of the Pittsburgh Steelers since stepping down as the organization’s head coach following the 2006 season.

Cowher questioned the Steelers’ toughness on defense following Pittsburgh’s 31-10 loss at Cleveland on Sunday, and he did it on a national platform.

“I think they’re finesse on offense and soft on defense,” Cowher said late Sunday afternoon on CBS’ postgame show.

Cowher’s critique should resonate for several reasons.

It is all but impossible to refute after the Steelers were embarrassed by the Browns and lost by at least 20 points for the second time this season. And this is not the case of a former head coach looking over his successor’s shoulder or angling for a job.

Cowher has been out of coaching for almost a decade and has shown no inclination to return to the sidelines. The Pittsburgh area native has generally refrained from criticizing Mike Tomlin, and Cowher has done anything but hover over the organization he guided on the field from 1992-2006.

Cowher went 161-99-1 in 15 seasons as the Steelers’ head coach, and he led the team to its fifth Super Bowl title in 2005.

Like Tomlin, Cowher was just 34 years old when the Steelers hired him as their head coach.

Cowher’s most trying stretch came from 1998-2000 when the Steelers missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons. The Steelers are in danger of matching that after going 8-8 in 2012-13 and starting 3-3 this season.

The Steelers stuck with Cowher and he rewarded their patience by leading them to the playoffs in four of the next five seasons as well as the Super Bowl win.

Seven of Tomlin’s assistants either coached with Cowher or played for him in Pittsburgh, including defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Seven current Steelers players also suited up for Cowher, including strong safety Troy Polamalu, outside linebacker James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel.

Cowher has been an analyst for CBS since leaving the Steelers.
PITTSBURGH -- Stephon Tuitt didn’t try to hide a wide smile on Wednesday afternoon and for good reason.

“I literally felt like 90 percent of the plays I was in, I did right,” the rookie defensive end said. “That alone shows progress.”

Tuitt has played sparingly on defense through the first quarter of the season and when asked if a light went on for him during the Steelers’ first practice of the week, he said, “Kind of. I know I can play. What’s holding me back is not knowing the plays. When I start knowing the plays I’ll help my team. Just like anybody in a new system, it’s going to hit sooner or later.”

The sooner the better for Tuitt.

The Steelers, too.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said before the start of the season that he expected the immensely talented Tuitt to get significant playing time.

That hasn’t materialized as Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers six weeks ago, has played in a rotation with starting defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Cam Thomas over Tuitt.

Tuitt played just three snaps in the Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the second-round draft pick has just one tackle after four games.

But if Tuitt’s demeanor after practice on Wednesday is an indication, the 6-foot-5, 303-pounder is anything but frustrated as he adjusts to the NFL and veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell.

“He’s a tough coach but he really wants all of his players to get better. As long as you give him effort and show that you’re trying to get better every day you’ll always be on the same side,” Tuitt said. “I go hard every day, so it’s exciting.”

What really has Tuitt excited is his belief that he is getting closer to just playing and not thinking as much when he is on the field.

His development will only help a defensive line that has stabilized after getting gashed by the run in the Steelers’ first two games.

The Steelers have allowed just 105 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry in their past two games largely because of the improved play of the defensive line.

“Don’t let our record fool you,” Tuitt said. “We are a great team and we’re going to show it when the time comes.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers’ defense fixed one problem only to have another one surface at a most inopportune time.

The Steelers could not stop Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon late Sunday afternoon as the second-year man threw for 245 yards in the second half and needed just 33 seconds to drive the Buccaneers 46 yards for the winning touchdown.

The Steelers were solid against the run for the second consecutive game, but they didn’t put nearly enough heat on Glennon, who was making just his 14th NFL start.

“We have to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, especially late in the game,” veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said. “Rush and coverage work together.”

They better start working together or the Steelers may have to outscore teams to win games.

At the quarter point of the season, here is a statistical look at the Steelers’ defense compared to last season.

Scoring defense
2013: 27.5 (Points allowed per game)
2014: 24.8

Rushing defense
2013: 122.8 (Yards allowed per game)
2014: 113.3

Passing defense
2013: 199.8
2014: 239.5

Total defense
2013: 322.6
2014: 352.8

2013: 4
2014: 7

2013: 0
2014: 3

Third-down percentage
2013: 37.9 (conversion rate by opposing offense)
2014: 37.5

2013: 17-185
2014: 44-387

Analysis: There has been an alarming spike in penalties -- only the San Francisco 49ers have been flagged more than the Steelers. That's on the offense, defense, special teams and coach Mike Tomlin. The eighth-year coach called out his players after the loss to the Buccaneers and said he will fix the penalty problem. That vow, however, inspired more eye-rolling than confidence among a lot of Steelers fans. ... Like last season, this is a flawed defense. The lack of a consistent pass rush has exposed a suspect secondary, and the Steelers aren’t getting nearly enough impact plays from starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell. The two have one pass defended and no interceptions between them. Is it time to find a way to get second-year safety Shamarko Thomas on the field? ... The Steelers are averaging less than two sacks and less than one takeaway per game. ... Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has taken a lot of criticism, but I’m not sure he has the players to make this a consistently good unit. Still, it is incumbent upon LeBeau to find a way to get the most out of what he has.

LeBeau still high on Steelers' safeties

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH -- Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell have each accumulated a fair share of tackles, but neither has broken up a pass much less made a big play through the first two games of the season.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said that will change.

"I think they’re going to give us one of the best safety combinations in the league," LeBeau said Thursday after practice. "I’ve said that all along. I still feel the same way. With the whole group we’ve got some new faces, and the sooner we can tie it all together, all 11 guys knowing where the other 10 are going to be, the sooner we’re going to get to looking like I want us to look."

LeBeau dismissed the notion that Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract in March, is off to a slow start because he is getting used to playing with Polamalu.

"It’s still football," LeBeau said. "He’s in a new environment and a new system, and I think he’s only going to get better and better and more comfortable. But he’s always been a good football player and he’s playing good football right now."

The Steelers' defense has been anything but good following a strong first half in the season opener against the Browns.

The Steelers have given up 50 points in their past six quarters, and they haven’t been able to stop the run.

The Steelers are yielding 170.0 rushing yards per game, but LeBeau said the problems they had had stopping the run can be fixed.

"We’ve got to quit shooting ourselves in the foot. Most of the runs we have given up we haven’t gotten in our detailed assignments enough," LeBeau said. "The guys are working on that and we’ve got to get it done. You’re not going to give up those kinds of runs and be successful."

LeBeau: Steelers need to play with poise

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
PITTSBURGH -- Dick LeBeau conceded that communication issues hindered the Steelers in the second half last Sunday when they gave up 24 points and nearly collapsed against the Browns.

But the longtime defensive coordinator said the Steelers have to do a better job of handling adversity when momentum makes a U-turn as it did after the Steelers had built a 27-3 halftime lead against the Browns.

“We became a little bit rattled, and we can’t allow that to happen,” LeBeau said on Tuesday, which also happened to be his 77th birthday. “To me, that was the biggest issue. We didn’t give ourselves a chance and it showed. We have to do a better job of keeping our poise more than anything, and that’s what we’re working on.”

The Steelers’ poise will be tested Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens scored their first touchdown of the season last Sunday after they went no-huddle in a 23-16 loss to the Bengals.

LeBeau said he expects the Ravens to push the pace after the Steelers struggled against up-tempo offenses in their third preseason game at Philadelphia when the starters played extensively and again after the Browns fell behind in the season opener.

LeBeau said he is hoping the defense builds on its finish in the Browns game, when it forced several punts late in the fourth quarter and gave the Steelers a chance to win, which they did on a 41-yard Shaun Suisham field goal as time expired.

““We kind of lost our way there for a while,” LeBeau said, “but fortunately settled down there at the end and collectively we got the win.”

Browns' Brian Hoyer OK with his role

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
PITTSBURGH -- Brian Hoyer spent a couple of weeks with the Steelers in 2012 when the team needed quarterback depth because of injuries.

One of his fondest memories from his brief time in Pittsburgh is when he ran into defensive coordinator and fellow Ohio native Dick LeBeau shortly after the Steelers released him.

"He said, ‘It was great to have you here. If I can ever help you with anything you let me know,' " Hoyer recalled late Wednesday afternoon during a conference call with the Pittsburgh media. "I don't know if that offer is still on the table now that I'm the Browns quarterback but what a great guy and a great coach."

That offer is likely suspended until further notice and LeBeau will be anything but helpful to Hoyer on Sunday when the AFC North rivals meet at Heinz Field.

Hoyer will start in the 1 p.m. ET game, though the Steelers are also expecting to see Johnny Manziel.

That the journeyman is already sharing time at quarterback reflects how tenuous Hoyer's hold on the starting job is with Manziel considered the quarterback of the future.

One thing that the Browns probably love about Hoyer is his maturity and how he has dealt with Manziel mania. Hoyer praised Manziel's work with ethic on Wednesday and said he has no problem ceding snaps to the former Heisman Trophy winner if it benefits the team.

"If it can help us win then that's all I care about," Hoyer said. "Obviously you want to be the guy on the field but if there's a certain situation that they think (Manziel) helps us win that's what this game is all about. It's the ultimate team sport."

Hoyer has seemingly been the ultimate team player since the Browns took Manziel in the first round of the draft.

He has blended in, something that is impossible for the polarizing Manziel to do -- ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge ripped Johnny Football on Wednesday -- and adjusted to the circumstances that changed radically after the draft.

"I've eliminated watching ESPN, NFL Network, going on line, going on social media, reading the newspaper and it's actually made my life pretty simple," Hoyer said. "It's like you're living in the '60s or the '70s, you're not getting caught up in it."
PITTSBURGH -- Rookie Ryan Shazier created quite the buzz in training camp and the preseason but it is another young linebacker on whom the Steelers used a first-round pick who is most critical to the defense making significant improvement in 2014.

The question, with the regular-season opener less than a week away, is how much of a jump will outside linebacker Jarvis Jones make in his second season?

“I’m not thinking too much but I’m not where I want to be,” the Steelers’ 2013 first-round pick said. “I’ve just got to continue to work and not overthink things and when I’m out there just be more comfortable and be myself so that will allow me to make plays.”

Jones didn’t make enough of them last season when the former Georgia All-American registered just one sack despite starting eight games and playing 612 snaps.

The Steelers' starting right outside linebacker has to make significant improvement this season or it could have a domino effect on a defense that gave up too many big plays last season and recorded just 34 sacks, the Steelers’ lowest total since 1990.

If Jones doesn’t put consistent pressure on the quarterback, it will allow teams to focus on slowing down left outside linebacker Jason Worilds. And if Worilds is consistently double-teamed or offenses use a running back to chip or block the fifth-year veteran and the pass rush suffers as a whole, it will only further expose the Steelers’ cornerbacks.

Jones is in the year where Mike Tomlin expects players to make their most improvement, and the eighth-year coach said last week he is pleased with where Jones is despite an unsettling third preseason game in Philadelphia.

“Jarvis is a type of young guy that I expect him to continually be on the rise,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes you think as you push forward toward opening day that you can take the snapshot of the individual and the group and that’s the finished product and really that’s far from the case. I expect him (and) I expect us to continually get better even as we push into this season.

“The reality is, ultimately if we’re going to be the type of team that we need to be and want to be and (the) individuals that we need to be and want to be, we’re going to be continually in growth and develop(ment) particularly from a young guys standpoint.”

Jones is a young guy but the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder has had an entire offseason to get stronger and hone his pass-rushing moves. He is working with former Steelers pass-rushing great Joey Porter and he has had more than a year to learn defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s system.

In other words, there are no built-in excuses as there were last year when Jones was trying to find his way as a wide-eyed rookie.

“I think I’m doing a good job as far as getting there but I’m not going to make predictions,” Jones said. “I feel good about myself. I’m just going to continue to work.”
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would probably take issue with where linebacker Lawrence Timmons ranks among the NFL’s top 100 defensive players, according to

Timmons, a player whom LeBeau has said should have made several Pro Bowls by now, is No. 77, falling 15 spots from his 2013 ranking.

It’s hard to imagine why Timmons dropped so much considering the season he had in 2013. The eighth-year veteran led the Steelers with 155 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and also recorded three sacks. Granted, it was a down year for the Steelers' defense, but Timmons excelled despite playing alongside a rookie (Vince Williams) who was feeling his way at weakside inside linebacker for much of the season.

Timmons is versatile and durable -- the former first-round pick has started 53 consecutive regular season games -- and he is the Steelers’ best player on defense.

In another ranking, a handful of Steelers showed up on ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando’s list of 50 players poised to break out Insider this season, including right guard David DeCastro (No. 3) and running back Le'Veon Bell (No. 9).

Here is what Sando wrote about DeCastro:
  • DeCastro was quite proficient as a run-blocker while playing 15 games last season after a knee injury wiped out his 2012 rookie campaign. He has a shot at ascending among the best guards in the league if he can stay on the field.

Here is Sando’s take on Bell:
  • Lots of people in the league believe the Steelers are primed for a big season, and Bell figures to play a prominent role in their success after a foot injury slowed him as a rookie in 2013. Look for the goal-line carries to go to LeGarrette Blount, however (consider that an alert to fantasy owners).

Also showing up on Sando’s list are defensive end Cameron Heyward (No. 26) and outside linebacker Jason Worilds (No. 27).