NFL Nation: Ben Roethlisberger

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said balance and selflessness have keyed the surge of an offense that leads the NFL in a number of categories, including total yards.

“No one cares about setting records or being the guy. We all just want to do it together,” Roethlisberger said Thursday on ESPN's "NFL Live." "The belief in each other has just been unbelievable."

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The Steelers are averaging 424.9 yards per game, tops in the NFL, and are sixth in scoring (27.8 points per game).

When asked if this is the most balanced offense he has played on, Roethlisberger said, “Probably just because of how good (running back) Le'Veon (Bell) is and how the good the receivers are and the offensive line is playing as well as they have since I’ve been here as a group. I think just with the play calling and the way everybody is being selfless, they don’t really care about anything but winning and finding ways to help this team win.”

The Steelers are 9-5 and they will clinch a playoff berth Sunday if they beat the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

The Steelers, who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2011, will win the AFC North if they win their final two games.

Roethlisberger has said the Steelers have been in playoff mode since the beginning of the month. His focus on the present is such that Roethlisberger said he is not thinking about how long he wants to continue playing or about his contract situation.

Roethlisberger has one year left on his contract after this season, but both the 11th-year veteran and the Steelers have said they want to get a deal done that will allow him to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t want to look forward to next year because then I feel like I’m cheating the now, I’m cheating this game, I’m cheating these teammates, these fans,” said Roethlisberger, whose 4,415 passing yards have already set a Steelers’ single-season record. “All I look forward to is the next game.”
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is on pace for 131 catches and 1,712 yards.

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To put that production into perspective consider that Brown also is on pace for more catches and receiving yards than the Kansas City Chiefs' wide receivers.

Yes, all of them.

The Chiefs, who visit Heinz Field this Sunday, have gotten 110 receptions for 1,370 yards from the seven wide receivers who have caught at least one pass for them this season.

Brown has caught 115 passes for 1,498 yards, both of which lead the NFL.

He also has 11 touchdown receptions while the Chiefs' wideouts have yet to catch a scoring pass 14 games into the season.

Brown has been the most consistent offensive player on the Steelers even though opposing defenses have thrown all manner of coverages at the two-time Pro Bowler.

“You name it, they’ve tried it,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “But it’s a testament to him [and] not only just him but the balance that we’ve been able to strike with our offense. I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ve said repeatedly, we seek balance. Because balance will allow us to utilize the strengths of our high-profile players like A.B. and like [running back] Le’Veon [Bell]. We’re striking that balance that we desired all season.”

A couple of notes:
  • The Steelers stayed at No. 10 in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings after beating the Atlanta Falcons, 27-20, on Sunday. The top three AFC North teams are as bunched together in the rankings as they are in the division. The Steelers are followed in the rankings by the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs are No. 13, right after the three AFC North teams.
  • The Steelers lost another player from their practice squad Monday when the New York Giants signed guard Adam Gettis to provide depth on their offensive line. The Steelers previously lost defensive ends Josh Mauro and Nick Williams from their practice squad. Mauro signed with the Arizona Cardinals and Williams signed with the Chiefs.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a finalist for the NFL FedEx Air Player of the Week after throwing for 360 yards against the Falcons. Roethlisberger won the award last week. Click here to vote.

QB snapshot: Ben Roethlisberger

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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A quick observation of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how he played in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

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Roethlisberger did not throw a touchdown pass in a game for only the second time this season, but he turned in one of his better outings in throwing for 360 yards and completing just more than his 77 percent of his passes.

The poise and patience Roethlisberger showed against the Falcons, who blitzed him on 40 percent of his pass attempts, will serve the 11th-year veteran well when the Steelers try to clinch a playoff berth Sunday by beating the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs are No. 2 in the NFL in passing defense, allowing 199 yards per game, but they are also one of the least opportunistic defenses in the league. Kansas City has intercepted just four passes, the fewest in the NFL, and Roethlisberger has not been picked off in the Steelers' past two games.

He has thrown 107 consecutive passes without an interception, but the Chiefs could employ a strategy that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns used earlier this season when they generally eschewed blitzing Roethlisberger and dropped extra players into coverage.

The Chiefs are certainly aware that Roethlisberger completed 60.3 percent of his passes and averaged 250.5 passing yards in those two games -- ones in which the Steelers struggled to beat Jacksonville on the road and suffered an embarrassing loss in Cleveland.

Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston is tied for the NFL lead with 17 sacks and Tamba Hali can generate pressure from the other side even though the four-time Pro Bowler has only six sacks this season.

Roethlisberger has shown great patience in the Steelers' past two wins.

He will probably have to do the same Sunday at Heinz Field with the Chiefs likely to rely on four players to pressure Roethlisberger while disguising coverages to try to confuse and frustrate the NFL's second-leading passer.
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ATLANTA -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 27th and final completion in a second consecutive impressive performance -- and in December, no less -- may have been one of his easier ones Sunday.

It came right after the two-minute warning of a game in which the Steelers had controlled but also let the Falcons hang around until the end. With the Steelers facing a third-and-one from the Falcons' 39-yard line, Roethlisberger faked a handoff to running back Le'Veon Bell and rolled to his right.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger didn't throw for a single TD pass against Atlanta, but as long as Pittsburgh won the game, he says he's fine with that stat.
The Falcons had gone all in on stopping the run, allowing Heath Miller to slip into the secondary. Roethlisberger hit the veteran tight end in stride for the catch that allowed the Steelers to run out the rest of the clock in a 27-20 win at the Georgia Dome.

The play covered 25 yards, but it was worth much more than that, even if it did give the Steelers a game-preserving first down, because of what preceded it.

At the two-minute warning with the Steelers needing to make one more play, Roethlisberger chatted with Todd Haley on the sidelines. The Steelers' offensive coordinator gave the veteran quarterback his choice of two plays and Roethlisberger opted for the one that closed out the Falcons.

That Haley did not insist on a run with the Steelers needing only a yard for a game-clinching first down or try to talk Roethlisberger into handing off to Bell shows how good of a good place the strong-willed offensive coordinator and equally strong-willed quarterback are right now.

The dynamic Bell has a knack for many things, especially showing both patience and power behind his underrated offensive line to get a yard seemingly whenever the Steelers need one.

Twice earlier in the game the Steelers had given the ball to Bell on third-and-one. Those plays netted a touchdown and a first down.

But Haley trusted his quarterback -- just as he had done the previous week in Cincinnati after calling for a deep pass with the Steelers backed up on their own 6-yard line in the fourth quarter of a close game.

Roethlisberger's 94-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant broke open the Bengals game. His 25-yard pass to Miller kept the ball away from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who overcame a slow start to throw for 310 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"We anticipated them to really try to stop the run on third down and we had a good play," Roethlisberger said of his final completion of the game, "and I got outside of the pocket. I figured worse-case scenario I'd just go down and use up clock."

He didn't need to slide or curl up in the fetal position after Bell's presence allowed Miller a free run in the Falcons' secondary. And Roethlisberger made Atlanta's defense pay one final time for its aggressiveness, something he had done all afternoon.

The Falcons blitzed Roethlisberger on more than a third of his pass attempts. He responded by completing 12 of 14 passes for 191 yards on plays in which the Falcons rushed him with at least five players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It helped Roethlisberger that he has so many options as far as spreading the ball around.

"Antonio Brown gets a lot of recognition. Le'Veon Bell gets a lot of recognition, but those guys are able to do what they do because when other guys are called upon they deliver," Coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers improved to 9-5. "We have a nice group of complementary guys that don't get a lot of volume in terms of opportunity but when they get the opportunity they deliver."

What also bodes well for the Steelers in their final two games is Haley and Roethlisberger operating on the same wavelength and both operating at a high level.

And then there is this: Roethlisberger could not have cared less that a big statistical game -- he completed 77.1 percent of his passes for 360 yards -- did not add any touchdown passes to his season total.

"That's what's special about this team," Roethlisberger said. "I don't care about stats. All I want to do is win a football game. I'm sure Le'Veon doesn't care if he gets 100 yards or not. [Antonio Brown] no touchdowns? Doesn't matter. We just want to win football games and by any means necessary."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday that linebacker Lawrence Timmons is deserving of a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Timmons
DeCastro
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley essentially said the same thing about right guard David DeCastro.

DeCastro has emerged as one of the better guards in the NFL, and the 2012 first-round draft pick was a big reason why Le'Veon Bell gashed the Cincinnati Bengals for 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 win last Sunday.

Bell ran behind a pulling DeCastro early and often, and Haley said DeCastro would have been the first one he singled out for praise after the Steelers’ eighth win of the season.

"The Bengals’ guys were tired of seeing him coming around by the end of the game," Haley said.

DeCastro might face a numbers crunch as far as making the Pro Bowl.

Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are locks to make the team. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey are strong candidates to earn Pro Bowl nods.

Will the Steelers place more than four offensive players on the team?

Timmons faces a different problem.

The Steelers’ defense has struggled this season and might not send any players to the Pro Bowl.

Timmons, however, has been a stabilizing force on a unit that has been scrambled by injuries.

The eighth-year veteran started his 66th-consecutive regular-season game last Sunday and leads the Steelers with 104 tackles.

Timmons has recorded at least 10 tackles in six games this season.

"I’ve said the last several years that he plays at a Pro Bowl-level, and I feel that he’s doing that again," LeBeau said. "He’s a very, very good player. He does a lot of things for us. I think he can go and play with any group of athletes and hold his own, whether it’s across the ocean over there in Hawaii or this Sunday where we’re going to need him."

QB snapshot: Ben Roethlisberger

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
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PITTSBURGH -- A quick observation of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how he played in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

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Roethlisberger stayed patient in a game that Pittsburgh approached with a playoff mindset. It paid off big time as the Steelers scored 25 fourth-quarter points to blow past the Bengals.

Roethlisberger, who threw for just 19 yards in the first quarter, allowed the Steelers' running game to set up the Bengals defense for shots down the field later on.

The 11th-year veteran and the Steelers should take the same approach Sunday in Atlanta.

The Falcons have struggled against the run -- they are yielding 118.3 rushing yards per game -- and they will be on high alert at the Georgia Dome for Le'Veon Bell, who has gone over 200 all-purpose yards in three consecutive games.

The Bengals could not stop Bell, who rushed for 185 yards and ran early and often behind pulling right guard David DeCastro, and Roethlisberger and the passing game took advantage of that.

Roethlisberger completed 5 of 7 throws for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns on play-action passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

His 94-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the fourth quarter broke open the game, and a play-action fake to Bell set up the second-longest pass play in Steelers history.

Roethlisberger completed 25 of 39 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Steelers to their eighth win of the season. He did not force throws, and that approach is why the Bengals did not pick off Big Ben.

"The biggest thing was not turning the ball over," Roethlisberger said after the Steelers erupted for 42 points in the final three quarters against the Bengals.

Roethlisberger, who has thrown five of his eight interceptions in road games, and the Steelers should not deviate from the formula that worked so well in Cincinnati.

The Falcons' defense is atrocious, and it was on its heels the entire time Monday night in a lopsided loss at Green Bay.

The Steelers should make a commitment to the ground game Sunday, as they did by using two tight ends and a fullback or two tight ends against the Bengals, and let the run set up the pass.

In other words, the Steelers should not outsmart themselves in Atlanta.
PITTSBURGH -- A play that went largely unnoticed in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 42-21 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday is a big reason why I think running back Le'Veon Bell has emerged as a legitimate NFL MVP candidate.

It came on a first down with a little less than three minutes left in the first half.

Bell took a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry was in perfect position to drop him in the backfield. But Bell spun away from Gilberry, leaving him clutching for air and turning what should have been a loss into a 9-yard run.

Why was the run so significant?

The Steelers' defense had started leaking some serious oil after a strong first quarter. The Bengals put together a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives in the second quarter and they took a 14-7 lead after their second score.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLe'Veon Bell has 1,231 rushing yards this season, but also has come up with key plays at key moments for the Steelers.
Markus Wheaton brought the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone and was dropped at the Steelers' 14-yard line. Had Gilberry thrown Bell for a loss on the next play the Steelers might have gotten conservative and gone three-and-out -- leaving Cincinnati enough time to get its offense back on the field for one more drive before halftime.

The Steelers instead built on Bell's run and drove inside the Bengals' 5-yard line before settling for a Shaun Suisham field goal before the half.

A 14-10 halftime deficit could have easily been 17-7 or even 21-7 had the Steelers given the Bengals the ball right back late in the second quarter.

Bell's run did not allow that to happen and the Steelers later erupted for 25 fourth-quarter points to blow past the Bengals in a game they had to win.

That wasn't the first time that Bell turned in the kind of play on which games turn.

The Steelers were trailing the Houston Texans by 10 points late in the second quarter a week after getting embarrassed in Cleveland. Their fans, none too happy with the Steelers' 3-3 record and a slow start against the Texans, let them hear about it.

Then Bell turned a reception on a short crossing route into a 28-yard gain. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant on the next play and the Steelers added two more touchdowns after the two-minute warning.

That outburst propelled them to a 30-23 win and launched a three-game winning streak that included victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers' best stretch of the season might not have happened without Bell's catch-and-run late in the first half against the Texans.

Plays such as that and the run Bell made late in the first half against the Bengals are the ones that build MVP arguments every bit as much as numbers such as 1,231 rushing yards in 13 games and 71 receptions for 693 yards.

And testimonials such as that one that center Maurkice Pouncey offered after Bell piled up 235 all-purpose yards in Cincinnati.

"I keep telling you guys all the time as an offensive line you can really appreciate a running back like that," Pouncey said. "He sets up the blocks good. Some plays you can't hit it as fast as others. He gets the gist of that. He has great vision. He cuts on you real quick and makes guys look stupid. He makes it easy. Trust me."

No arguments here.
CINCINNATI – Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

O-line delivers: The Steelers’ offensive line provided enough running lanes for Le'Veon Bell to rush for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an average of 7.1 yards per carry. It also didn’t allow a sack and provided enough protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 350 yards and three touchdowns. “It always starts up front,” Roethlisberger said after the Steelers scored 42 points in the final three quarters. “The o-line played great.”

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Ben shows no ill effects: Roethlisberger answered questions about how much he hurt himself after banging his throwing hand off the wrist pad of a New Orleans Saints linebacker last Sunday. Roethlisberger shook off a slow start to complete 25 of 39 passes, and he did not throw an interception in achieving a passer rating of 118.5. Roethlisberger dismissed a report last week that he had broken a bone in his right wrist, saying he had only temporarily lost feeling in a couple of fingers. His play in improving to 10-2 lifetime against the Bengals showed that whatever he did to his hand last Sundayhad little effect ... or he is a really good actor. “I tried to tell everyone after the game [last week] and again this week that there was no issue,” Roethlisberger said after the Steelers ran their record to 8-5.

Taylor takes seat: There was a difference of opinion on who took Ike Taylor out of the game after he gave up an 81-yard touchdown catch to Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green at the end of the third quarter. Coach Mike Tomlin said he made the decision to lift Taylor because he couldn’t run well enough after sustaining a knee contusion during the game. Taylor said he went to the coaches and told them to take him out of the game because he couldn’t keep up out on the field. “I ain’t never done that before but at corner you’ve got to be able to run,” Taylor said. “If you’re not able to run you ain’t helping nobody.” The 12-year veteran said he will be able to play next Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
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CINCINNATI -- Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell burnished his candidacy for the NFL Most Valuable Player Award by joining the late, great Walter Payton in a most exclusive club.

Bell piled up 235 rushing and receiving yards in the Steelers' 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, making it the third consecutive game in which the second-year man has accumulated at least 200 all-purpose yards.

Payton, the former Chicago Bears great, accomplished the feat in 1977. "Sweetness" had been the only player in NFL history to do so before Bell joined him.

"It's an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Walter Payton," Bell said after rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns and catching six passes for 50 yards and a score. "I've heard a lot about him. Obviously I haven't seen a full game of how he runs, things like that, but I've seen a lot of highlights."

Bell continued to generate a lot of his own highlights in what has been a breakout season for the 2013 second-round draft pick. Running early and often behind pulling guard David DeCastro, Bell gashed the Bengals for 7.1 yards per carry.

He ripped off runs of 53 and 22 yards and the latter resulted in the touchdown that snuffed out any chances of a late rally by the Bengals.

Bell has 1,231 rushing yards -- only the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray has more -- and his 71 receptions are second on the Steelers as well, a team single-season record for most catches by a running back.

"He is a special talent," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I've said for many, many weeks now that's he's one of the best all-around backs in the game. You don't see a guy that takes pride in catching the ball and pass blocking and picking up blitzes like he does. I'm just proud of the way he's grown every week."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs are just over 30 percent according to numberFire.com, a website that uses metrics to calculate NFL teams’ chances of winning the remaining games on their schedule.

The Steelers are one of 11 AFC teams that are at least two games over .500 and one of six teams that are 7-5 at the three-quarter point of the season.

According to numberFire.com, the Kansas City Chiefs have the best chance of making the playoffs (47.2 percent) among the 7-5 teams and the Steelers are fourth (31.2 percent).

The Steelers are looking to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs by winning their final four games.

If the Steelers can accomplish something they haven’t done since 2005, they will finish 11-5 and win the AFC North.

“If any team can do it, we can do it,” starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “Last year, everybody counted us out when we were 0-4, and we proved that we’re a team that can finish strong. With the veteran leaders we have on this team, I just think we can do it. We’re a better team than last year.”

The Steelers, who won six of their final eight games in 2013, have four contests to prove that they have indeed turned a corner after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.

“It’s all about us right now,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, “and that’s the mentality.”

Roethlisberger talked last week about the need to approach a game against the New Orleans Saints with a playoff mentality. Pittsburgh promptly fell flat in a 35-32 loss at Heinz Field on Sunday.

The dispiriting defeat left the Steelers little margin for error as they embark on a four-game stretch that includes two contests against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers visit the Bengals on Sunday for a 1 p.m. ET game.

“I’ve been here a long time, so it’s easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure they understand the importance of it as well.”

When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati. TV: CBS

December football is here.

In the regularly contentious AFC North, close games turn competitive and there's an added concern that weather could play a role in dictating schemes and the outcome. Forget the "12th Man," in this part of the country Old Man Winter is the extra element that can either be a benefit or a detriment in these always physical late-year contests.

Ahead of the first of two end-of-season meetings between these longtime foes, we turn to ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Scott Brown and ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter Coley Harvey to preview Sunday's matchup:

Harvey: We'll let you answer the first one, Scott. With December's unpredictable weather now here, the big question is should teams run more or pass more? Running back Le'Veon Bell has been an answer for Pittsburgh much of the season, but I seem to remember something about Ben Roethlisberger throwing 12 touchdowns in two games. How heavy might the Steelers lean on his arm the rest of the season, especially if conditions are poor?

Brown: I expect the offense to run through Bell here in December and not just because the weather will add varying degrees of difficulty to throwing the ball extensively. Bell has been an absolute stud and he is the only player in the NFL with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards. Bell is so valuable to the Steelers that they cannot take him off the field, leading to questions of whether they are going to wear him out. They will deal with that problem after the season since there is no proven depth behind Bell at running back, and since the Steelers need to win three of their last four games to give themselves a realistic shot of making the playoffs. Roethlisberger has been mired in a bit of a slump, but he is too good of a quarterback not to play well down the stretch. The Steelers would love to strike a balance between running and throwing that will keep defenses on their heels, and that is probably the formula to them finishing strong and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Speaking of the playoffs, Coley, the Bengals are in excellent position to reach the postseason for a fourth consecutive year, but there are still questions about how far Andy Dalton can take them. What's your assessment of where he is at this point of his career and whether he is the guy to lead them deep into the playoffs?

Harvey: While the Bengals won't admit it, Scott -- their extension of his contract earlier this summer is a sign of that -- there is uncertainty about whether he's the guy upon whose shoulders you can ride a deep postseason run. He keeps showing signs of inconsistency. One week, he's the best quarterback this side of the Ohio River, and the next, he looks like the worst to have played the game. Cincinnati's 10-4 December record since Dalton became the starter in 2011 is a testament to him knowing how to win with a lot of pressure on the line. But he still hasn't shown he can consistently handle the big, prime-time stage. He can take a big step toward proving that in three weeks when the Bengals play the Broncos on a Monday night. As for where Dalton is in his career, I'd say he's taken significant leaps this season, both as a player, and a leader. While he didn't play his best Sunday at Tampa Bay, the fact he gutted out a winning performance while feeling sick earned a lot of respect in the locker room.

Brett Keisel's loss earlier this week was a big blow to a defense that rallied around the vet. In what ways will his absence affect Pittsburgh, namely with the Bengals still tinkering with the right tackle position following Andre Smith's own season-ending injury? Keisel certainly would have exploited a Bengals' weakness there.

Brown: It's a shame what happened to Keisel, not only because of how well he had been playing but also how much he has meant to the Steelers for so long. Keisel embodies their blue-collar ethos and he is the consummate professional in everything he does, including dealing with the media. He is a huge loss, especially on a defensive line that may be without starting nose tackle Steve McLendon for another week as he works to regain strength in the shoulder that has been a recurring problem for the fourth-year veteran. With Keisel out, it is time for rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt to assert himself. The second-round draft pick already has an NFL body and is immensely talented. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau raved about him during training camp and has continued to say Tuitt is going to be a big-time player in this league. Keisel had blocked Tuitt from playing time but now that he's out, the former Notre Dame standout has to emerge in the last quarter of the season.

Coley, like Bell, Jeremy Hill is another young back who has emerged this season. Has he overtaken Giovani Bernard as the Bengals' top back, and what are their respective roles?

Harvey: That appears to be the case looking strictly at numbers from last week's game -- Hill had 17 touches and Bernard only had 11. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson contends he's still easing Bernard back into the flow of things after a series of injuries kept him out for three games earlier this season. This will be Bernard's third game since his return. As far as their roles, the Bengals use both in similar ways. Both can run between the tackles. Both can hit the edge and go. Bernard has the edge in receiving, although he hasn't been used in that regard much lately. I think you'll see the backs alternate drives through the first three quarters, but by the fourth, Hill will reprise his role grinding out late yards as "the closer," especially if the Bengals are leading.

Scott, how prepared is LeBeau's defense for the possibility of misdirection and gadget plays? The Bengals used three consecutive such plays to get their offense on track last Sunday, and it worked. Many here thought that by running them, the Bengals may also have been trying to get LeBeau to think about a few extra things this week.

Brown: Unfortunately for LeBeau, he has enough to worry about following a 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The run defense sprung major leaks in that game, and the Steelers did not build on a strong start as far as pressuring Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who torched them for five passing touchdowns. Dalton is not Brees, but if the Steelers cannot stop the run their defense just doesn't work, and the Bengals will burn a suspect secondary with play-action passes. The Steelers certainly have to be on guard for gadget plays, especially since the Bengals have a very capable thrower in receiver Mohamed Sanu. But, again, if the Steelers cannot stop the run, they have no chance of winning unless they outscore the Bengals.

Steelers fans were screaming for Pittsburgh to use its first-round draft pick on a cornerback. They bypassed Darqueze Dennard and he ended up in Cincinnati. How has he looked, and a bigger picture question, what is the biggest reason for why the Bengals have allowed an NFL-low 11 touchdown passes?

Harvey: Steelers fans wanted a corner and Bengals fans wanted linebacker Ryan Shazier. Looks like the two players are in the wrong cities! Dennard has looked great in the time he's been on the field -- which has been seldom. He's only played 46 defensive snaps all season, and he missed two games due to various injuries. In his brief defensive action, he has six tackles, one sack and a deflected pass. Special teams is where he's been a star. One of the Bengals' featured gunners, he has regularly gotten downfield to help keep Cincinnati's net punting yards in check. You won't see much Dennard this season because the Bengals have four other former first-round pick cornerbacks who were already here. As for why Cincinnati's kept its passing touchdowns low? The Bengals' defense, namely safety George Iloka, has done a great job clinging to its philosophy of not letting passes get over their heads. Solid pressure up front has helped, too.

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin infamously said before he had coached a game in Pittsburgh that the Steelers would run Willie Parker “until the wheels fall off.”

Bell
Both happened in 2007 when Parker went down in the penultimate game of the regular reason.

Parker was leading the NFL with 1,316 rushing yards when he broke his lower right leg against the St. Louis Rams. “Fast Willie” was never the same after returning from the injury, as he played just two more seasons with the Steelers before exiting the NFL in 2010, a couple of months before his 30th birthday.

Do the Steelers run a similar risk with Le’Veon Bell, who is on pace for around 300 carries and 90 receptions in his second NFL season? Probably not, at least in the short term, as the Steelers will lean heavily on Bell as they try to emerge from a pack of 7-5 teams in the AFC.

The offense has to continue to run through Bell, especially with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling with his accuracy and with three of the Steelers’ final four games coming in cold-weather cities, including two in Pittsburgh. As Tomlin pointed out, Bell is a sturdy back who is built for a heavy workload.

Parker, meanwhile, was a smaller back, and the injury that compromised his blinding speed was more the result of an unfortunate hit than overuse. Losing a step because of the serious leg injury was the biggest reason why Parker flamed out after three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

The concern that the Steelers should have with Bell is not that he will suffer an injury over the next month, but how the pounding he takes adversely affects his productivity over the course of his career.

Those hits, after all, add up and start to chip away at a running back's speed.

The Steelers have to strike a balance of featuring Bell in their offense without eventually wearing him down to maximize the seasons at which he plays at a high level.

They thought they had done that when they signed LeGarrette Blount in March. But he pouted his way out of Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have no choice right now but to rely almost exclusively on Bell, who is too good of a blocker and receiver to come off the field on passing downs.

They can address their need for a back who can lighten Bell’s load in the offseason. That player will be found in free agency or the draft, if he is not already in the Steelers’ locker room.

Tomlin is fond of saying he “doesn’t live in his fears," and for now, that means riding Bell as far as the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder and the offense take the Steelers.

QB snapshot: Ben Roethlisberger

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how he played in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 13:

Ben Roethlisberger is a perfect representation of the Steelers in that both are hard to figure.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger, who leads the Steelers against the AFC North-leading Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati, is easily having his best statistical season. The 11th-year veteran threw 12 touchdown passes over consecutive games earlier this season. He has twice thrown for more than 400 yards at home this season, doing it again Sunday against the Saints.

But gaudy numbers -- Roethlisberger is on pace to establish career highs in completions, passing yards and touchdowns -- obscure the reality that he has been as erratic as the Steelers this season. That is a major reason why Pittsburgh (7-5) is on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture as it enters the final quarter of the season.

The Saints game was a perfect example of how up and down Roethlisberger has been, and how his numbers are misleading. Roethlisberger struggled with his accuracy, consistently overshooting his receivers, including Heath Miller after the tight end broke free in the end zone in the third quarter after easily beating Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton with a double move.

Prior the two touchdown drives Roethlisberger led after the Saints had basically locked up the game, he had completed only 19 of 42 passes for 273 yards and two killer interceptions.

He hurt his throwing hand late in the first quarter and also struggled with the wind. But Roethlisberger did not use either as an excuse for his scattershot passing, and the wind did not appear to bother Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw five touchdown passes at Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger must play better Sunday against the Bengals, who have allowed an NFL-low 11 touchdown passes this season.

Steelers' defense no match for Saints

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
7:20
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
    LeBeau
  • Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau looked a little dazed as he walked through a tunnel that led to the coaches and players' exit at Heinz Field -- and for good reason. Strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor returned to the starting lineup from their respective injuries, and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham did not catch a pass against the Steelers. That did not stop the Saints from lighting up the Steelers for 257 passing yards and 5.5 yards per carry. Polamalu said the Steelers did not pay too much attention to Graham, who did not have a pass thrown his way, at the expense of stopping the run. “Our game plan is always to stop the run first, and as you can see, when we don't do that, the floodgates open,” said Polamalu, who had missed the previous two games due to a sprained knee. The Saints rushed for 143 yards, including 122 from Mark Ingram.
  • Coach Mike Tomlin said during a brief -- and at times terse -- postgame news conference that the Steelers fell to 7-5 in large part because the offense and defense did not play well off each other. The offense managed just two field goals in the first 16 minutes of the game, despite dominating time of possession. The defense couldn't consistently get off the field any time the Steelers pulled closer to the Saints after New Orleans had seized control of the game. “This is an absolute team loss. It's not just on one person. We all didn't play well,” free safety Mike Mitchell said. “When we were getting stops, we weren't scoring. When we were scoring, we weren't getting stops.”
  • Le'Veon Bell became the first Steelers player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Rashard Mendenhall in 2010, and the second-year running back had another huge game from a statistical standpoint. In his first game since rushing for a career-high 204 yards, Bell established career bests in yards from scrimmage (254) and receiving yards (159). His running and especially his running after the catch were only enough for the Steelers to make the final score close. “We made a lot of mistakes. Turnovers were huge for us,” Bell said. “We've got to work on not hurting ourselves.”
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell couldn’t say enough about his offensive line after rushing for a career-high 204 yards Monday night in a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans.

The second-year man took his appreciation for his blockers a step further on social media.

Bell posted a picture of the Steelers’ offensive line and included that unit with his name in an attempt to solicit online votes for the NFL FedEx Ground Player of the Week.


Bell rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown in the second half against the Titans to rally the Steelers from an 11-point deficit. The Michigan State product ran the ball seven consecutive times in the fourth quarter, allowing the Steelers to kill the final seven minutes on the clock and improve to 7-4.

“Those guys just kept moving guys off the ball and making my job easy,” Bell said. “I got to the second level a lot, and you have to give a lot of credit to the guys up front. I definitely feed off those guys.”

The feeling is mutual.

“This kid makes our job a lot easier,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “If we get bodies on bodies, he’ll make that extra guy in the box miss. We just look forward to him building his confidence because he’s very capable of being the top running back in the league. This guy is a special guy.”

Bell is second in the NFL with 951 rushing yards and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is third with 3,270 passing yards. Wideout Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 1,161 receiving yards.

“With this offensive line and the quarterback we have and the playmakers we have on offense, we can be unstoppable,” Gilbert said.

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