NFL Nation: Le'Veon Bell

Colts vs. Steelers preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
AM ET
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The streaking Indianapolis Colts will try to win their sixth game in a row on Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Slowing down quarterback Andrew Luck will be the Steelers' priority, and they have to find a way to minimize his impact or score enough to keep pace with the 5-2 Colts. Beating Indianapolis would give Pittsburgh a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season as well as a signature win.

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 4:25 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

Brown: Mike, the Steelers’ passing game has been torched by the likes of Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer this season. The Steelers' pass rush has been average, and they are suspect in the secondary. That is not a good formula for stopping Luck. What is the best way to contain him, if that is possible?

Wells: Blitzing Luck is the best way, but that appears to be a problem for the Steelers. Luck has done an exceptional job of spreading the ball around this season. He is not just focusing on receivers Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton. Luck had back-to-back games where he completed passes to nine different receivers this season. His biggest problem, though, is interceptions: He is tied for third in the league in that category with seven. The Colts have survived Luck’s miscues so far, but they won’t be as fortunate once they get to the playoffs and face teams that can make them pay for their mistakes.

The Steelers are a tough team to figure out. One week they get blown out by Cleveland, and then they come back and use an incredible performance in the second quarter to beat Houston. What is Pittsburgh’s identity?

Brown: Mike, I can’t figure out this team quarter to quarter, much less game to game. The defense certainly isn’t the one that people are accustomed to seeing. There is no intimidation factor, no swagger, and the Steelers are really just trying to get by defensively as they retool a unit that is in transition. The Steelers have the potential to forge a personality as a dynamic offensive team, as they have the NFL’s leading receiver in Antonio Brown, the second-leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell and, of course, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have moved the ball this season, but they have too often bogged down in the red zone. Maybe scoring three touchdowns in the last three minutes of the second quarter Monday night against the Texans will serve as a springboard for the offense. It had better put up a lot of points against the Colts if the Steelers are to beat one of the NFL’s hottest teams.

I normally don’t associate the Colts with the kind of defense they played in absolutely stifling the Bengals on Sunday. Is Indianapolis' defense underrated?

Wells: It is very underrated. I didn’t think this defense had a chance once linebacker Robert Mathis, last season’s sack leader, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles. The unit appeared to be headed for a rough season after it had only one sack over the first two games. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has taken a hold-nothing-back approach with his defense. With two cornerbacks who can blanket receivers, Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, Manusky is loading the box and constantly blitzing. That is why the Colts have 20 sacks and nine turnovers during their five-game winning streak. They have also held their past four opponents to 4-of-41 on third down. People might not have respected the Colts' defense before, but now teams have to take notice.

The Steelers have a history of being a good defensive team. They are 15th in the league in yards allowed a game. Are they on the decline defensively?

Brown: That is a great question. The Steelers have to hope it doesn’t get any worse defensively, or they could be in trouble. They have some promising young players to build around in rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier and rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt. But the Steelers have serious questions at outside linebacker, especially if 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones doesn’t develop into a pass-rushing force. Cornerback is also an issue, a position at which the organization has not drafted well or neglected, depending on your vantage point. Cortez Allen is the Steelers’ best young cornerback, and he recently lost his starting job to Brice McCain. Allen has the physical ability to develop into a No. 1 cornerback, but the 2011 fourth-round pick has to become more consistent. It could get worse before it gets better on defense, given some of the holes that the Steelers have tried to spackle over by moves such as coaxing veteran outside linebacker James Harrison out of retirement.

The Colts seem like they have something going with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at running back. Richardson seems to be playing much better than he did last season. Is part of the reason that Bradshaw has eased the pressure on Richardson to carry the Colts' ground game?

Wells: Richardson might never live up to the expectations as being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, but he is running better than he did last season, when he eventually was demoted. He is running with more confidence and making better decisions. Having Bradshaw has been a blessing for Richardson because he doesn’t have the burden of carrying the load in the backfield. Neither player has a problem sharing the work, and it helps that Bradshaw is familiar with sharing the load in the backfield. He went through it while with the New York Giants.

Brown looks like he could surpass the 1,499 receiving yards he had last season. What makes him so successful, and what type of challenges will he present to the Colts’ secondary?

Brown: I thought Brown would have a really tough time matching his production in 2013, when the fifth-year veteran set a Steelers record for receiving yards in a season. He has been even better this season and has scored five touchdowns after reaching the end zone eight times in 2013. Brown is an excellent route-runner, makes tough catches in traffic and is dazzling after the catch. The Colts will have to limit the damage Brown does after the catch, and I would imagine they will do everything they can to take him out of the game. But no team has succeeded in doing that, even though a reliable complement opposite Brown has yet to emerge.

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PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell is quietly building a strong case for MVP consideration.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back ranks among the NFL's top three in rushing yards (599), yards from scrimmage (938) and first down (44).

Bell
And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Bell, who has played in just 20 NFL games, is only going to get better.

"I don't even think we've used him to the full potential," Roethlisberger said. "When we go no-huddle and I'm calling the plays I like to get him out in empty sets because you can utilize him in mismatches. I still think the best is yet to come from him."

One of Bell's best attributes is his versatility and he is as comfortable catching the ball after lining up as a wideout as he out of the backfield. Bell caught eight passes for 88 yards in the Steelers' 30-23 win over the Houston Texans last Monday night, and his 43-yard catch-and-run served as the catalyst in a 24-point explosion late in the second quarter.

Bell is not even halfway through his second NFL season but he has already set a Steelers record for most yards from scrimmage (2,197 yards) after two seasons. The 2013 second-round pick needs just 295 yards to pass Franco Harris for the most rushing yards by a Steelers player in his first two seasons.

Bell is also close to another milestone.

If the 6-1, 225-pounder gain 50 yards from scrimmage Sunday against the visiting Indianapolis Colts he will pass Barry Foster and Jerome Bettis for the most yards from scrimmage by a Steelers player in the first eight games of a season since 1970, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bell's emergence has led to fewer carries for LeGarrette Blount, who was signed in March to complement Bell, but it doesn't appear that the Steelers are overworking him.

Bell is averaging just under 22 touches per game and the Michigan State product said he has learned this season to avoid hard hits, something that should also allow him to thrive while weathering the grind of an NFL season.

"We don't want to run him until the wheels fall off but you've got to have him out there because he can do a little bit of everything," Roethlisberger said, "and that's why I think he's one of the best all-around backs in the game."
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room after a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans Monday night at Heinz Field.
  • Timmons
    Linebacker Lawrence Timmons starred, registering a game-high 12 tackles as well as a sack. The eighth-year veteran also turned into an Internet sensation as he was leading one of the Steelers' better defensive efforts of the season. Timmons vomited several times during the game -- video of it quickly made its way to the internet -- though he said he wasn't sick afterward. Timmons said his stomach problems first started after Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick inadvertently kicked him in the stomach. He later vomited after over-hydrating to replace the fluids he had lost after Fitzpatrick kicked him. "Just a little bloated," Timmons said, "but I'm good now."
  • The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points with three minutes left in the second quarter to turn a 13-point deficit into an 11-point halftime lead. Coach Mike Tomlin said the play that led to that barrage of points happened when the Steelers, down 13-0, were facing third-and-10 from their own 14-yard line. Le'Veon Bell caught a short pass over the middle and turned it into a 43-yard catch and run. The Steelers' longest play of the season allowed them to flip the field and get on the scoreboard after a 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. "They were in man-to-man. He won versus a linebacker," Tomlin said of Bell's 43-yard catch. "I think that provided the type of emotion that the group needed."
  • A short week won't help right tackle Marcus Gilbert as he tries to come back from a concussion. Gilbert left the second quarter and did not return. The fourth-year veteran will have to pass a battery of tests before he is cleared to play Sunday against the visiting Indianapolis Colts. Gilbert sustained the only injury of note against the Texans, Tomlin said. Mike Adams replaced Gilbert and played his first extended snaps of the season. The Steelers almost had to replace their starting left tackle, too, during the game. Kelvin Beachum went down with a shoulder injury late in the third quarter but he didn't have to miss any snaps because of the change in quarters. "It was touchy there for awhile," Tomlin said. "We were about to see (center Maurkice Pouncey) at left tackle."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are fourth in the NFL in total offense (404 yards per game) but just 18th in scoring (22.8 points per game) because they seem to break out in the football equivalent of hives when they get near the end zone.

The Steelers have scored touchdowns just 44 percent of the time they have had the ball inside their opponents’ 20-yard line, and their red-zone offense is what needs to be fixed the most with an AFC North game looming Sunday in Cleveland.

Tomlint
Tomlin
“We have to execute better, we have to look at our play selection and we’ll do both,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Tomlin said, in retrospect, the Steelers should have run more from inside the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 20-yard line last Sunday.

And that is an understatement.

The first three times after the Steelers had moved inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line, they attempted 10 passes. They did not try one running play even though Le'Veon Bell has emerged as one of the best backs in the NFL.

The only time the Steelers didn’t try to pass when they reached the red zone was at the end of their 17-9 win when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a knee on three consecutive plays to run out the clock.

And the Steelers moved inside the 20-yard line late for a fourth and final time after a pass play that has some folks in a tizzy.

“I don’t think a finger can be pointed at anyone in particular, just executing better,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan about the play calling. “We knew going in that we were going to try to throw the ball against them, and that included the red zone.”

Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show that he wishes he could have a couple of plays back when the Steelers were in the red zone. The 11th-year veteran did not fault offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s play calling for the offense’s continued struggles from inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Roethlisberger said the Steelers are close to fixing what has been a season-long problem.

“It’s a yard off here, two yards off there and we can make those corrections and get better this week in practice so we don’t make those (mistakes) again,” he said.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The disconnect offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked about last week between the yards the Pittsburgh Steelers have piled up and the points they have scored continued Sunday at EverBank Field.

The Steelers managed just a touchdown and a field goal on offense in their 17-9 victory over the winless Jaguars despite 372 yards of total offense. Three trips inside the Jaguars’ 15-yard line resulted in just 10 points.

“We left points off the board,” running back Le'Veon Bell said after rushing for a game-high 82 yards. “We’re starting to get better and we just need to do little things here and there. We have to have better practices this week.”

Roethlisberger
Something has to trigger more production of points from an offense that is averaging 404.4 yards per game and has a trio of elite skills players in Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Roethlisberger said after the Steelers avoided back-to-back embarrassing losses that it starts with him.

“I have to play better,” Roethlisberger said.

The 11th-year veteran had one of his stranger games with the Steelers on Sunday. It looked fine statistically, as Roethlisberger completed 72 percent of his passes and throws to 10 different receivers.

But Roethlisberger averaged just 7.6 yards per passing attempt against a defense that had given up passing yards in chunks. He also lost a fumble inside the Jaguars’ 15-yard line after holding onto the ball too long and getting sacked.

“Everybody wants to do what they can to be the best, and a win is a win at the end of the day,” Roethlisberger said. “We did spread the ball around. A lot of guys made big plays.”

The Steelers didn’t rely on big plays to run out the clock after the Jaguars punted with just more than four minutes left in the game.

Bell gained 9 yards on a run and caught an 8-yard pass when the Steelers were facing second-and-long each time. The Steelers twice converted on third down and never gave the ball back to the Jaguars a week after they couldn’t get the one first down they needed to run out the clock in an eventual 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Bell said of the drive that ended inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line when Roethlisberger took a knee on three consecutive plays. “We will continue to do that and get better.”
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he knew Le'Veon Bell was "special" and not just because of what the running back has done through the first three weeks of the season.

Bell
Bell leads the NFL with 461 yards from scrimmage and his 5.9 yards per carry is tops among players with more than 30 totes.

And, said Roethlisberger, "I think the thing that gets overlooked sometimes, not from us, is his pass blocking. He does such a good job of picking up blitzes. Even if a linebacker is blitzing (and) has a 6-yard head start, he’s not going to get out of the way or cut him. He’s going to stick in there and do his job because he knows how important it is."

Bell’s all-around play has made him the talk of the NFL, and Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith knows containing the Michigan State product on Sunday will be one of the keys to the 0-3 Buccaneers springing an upset at Heinz Field.

"I don’t use special very often, but I think you could use that with him and his play," Smith said of Bell. "He has good size but he has quick feet. He has the feet of a small back, can make you miss in the open field, can run in between the tackles and has good hands. He’s as good a back I think as there is in the league."

Former NFL great LaDainian Tomlinson said essentially the same thing this week on the NFL Network.

Tomlinson, who is fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, said there is not a running back he would take over Bell right now.

"It’s an honor to have a guy like LaDainian Tomlinson say something like that, because growing up that’s who I used to watch and I looked at him as the best running back in the NFL," Bell said. "It is really just humbling and I’m just glad to have that said from him, a guy who is a future Hall of Famer. It means the world to me."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has been the breakout star three weeks into the NFL season.

The second-year man leads the AFC with 315 rushing yards and his 5.9 yards per carry is the highest among all players with more than 30 carries.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonLe'Veon Bell averaged 7.0 yards rushing on 21 carries in Pittsburgh's Week 3 game at Carolina.
The dynamic running that has powered the NFL's best rushing attack has its roots in a talk Bell had with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in March 2013.

The two met at Michigan State the night before Spartans' pro day and Tomlin told Bell he would probably have to play at a lower weight to succeed at the next level.

"He bought into that," Tomlin said.

Indeed, Bell, who played at close to 250 pounds in college, showed up at Steelers' rookie minicamp a week after they drafted him and weighed in at 244 pounds.

Bell dropped about 20 more pounds over the course of his rookie season and is currently at the weight that, to paraphrase Tomlin, obviously agrees with him.

"He ended last year in the mid-220s. He reported back this year in the mid-220s," Tomlin said. "He has shown he is committed to maintaining a level of conditioning over the course of a 12-month calendar and he has taken off from there. I think his play is reflecting that."

Is it ever.

Bell, who uses patience to set up his blocks, has also shown the kind of quickness and burst that was not evident until the end of last season when the 2013 second-round pick was finally healthy after missing the first three games because of a sprained foot.

He is second in the NFL in rushing, and with the offense running through Bell the Steelers lead the league in rushing with 163.3 yards per game.

Bell is not the only reason why the Steelers have dramatically improved in running the ball after averaging 86.4 rushing yards per game last season.

LeGarrette Blount is averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and he ripped off a 51-yard run in the Steelers' 37-19 win against the Carolina Panthers. Bell had broken free for an 81-yard run earlier in that game.

Last season the Steelers' longest run was 43 yards, and the big runs turned in by Bell and Blount against the Panthers are part of the mounting evidence that Pittsburgh has the best running back tandem in the NFL.

"He's really another starting running back," Bell said of Blount. "He could go anywhere and start."

And, Bell said, don't forget about Dri Archer.

The rookie running back has been out since spraining his ankle in the Steelers' season opener. But his speed and versatility allow the Steelers to use a bunch of different formations and force teams to account for Archer, who may play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"You've got to respect him because he's arguably the fastest player in the league," Bell said. "We all know what (Archer) can do. He gets the ball in open space, he's going to be gone. He and (Steelers wide receiver) Darrius Heyward-Bey are the fastest two players I've ever seen live. We've got plenty of weapons. This offense is only going to get better."
PITTSBURGH -- Will Johnson said he will be ready if the Steelers need him to do more than just block tonight against the Ravens.

Johnson
Johnson, a fullback/tight end, will serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 running back at M&T Bank Stadium with rookie Dri Archer out because of a sprained ankle.

Johnson played a little bit of running back in the Steelers’ final preseason game, and he carried the ball one time for 6 yards.

Johnson played tailback and defensive back in high school.

“It feels natural," the 6-foot-2, 238-pounder said of playing running back. "If they need me in an emergency situation, I could do it.”

The Steelers could sign rookie Josh Harris from the practice squad to also provide depth behind Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. My guess, however, is that the Steelers are comfortable with Johnson as their No. 3 running back and won’t add Harris to the 53-man roster.

In addition to Archer, wide receiver Lance Moore won’t play against the Ravens because of a groin injury. Here is my projection of the five healthy players who will be deactivated by the Steelers for the 8:30 p.m. ET game at M&T Bank Stadium:
  • WR Martavis Bryant: The rookie fourth-round pick is listed as probable after coming back from a shoulder injury, but Darrius Heyward-Bey gets the nod over Bryant because the latter plays special teams.
  • G Chris Hubbard: I have the Steelers dressing eight offensive linemen with rookie Wesley Johnson getting the last spot on the game day roster because of his versatility. The last time the Steelers played at Baltimore they barely had enough healthy offensive linemen to finish the game. In a game as physical as this one it will be wise for the Steelers to have an extra offensive lineman active.
  • CB D.W. Webb: He only played a few snaps on special teams against the Browns and will lose his spot to cornerback Brice McCain unless McCain has a setback with his groin.
  • NT Daniel McCullers: Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon is fine after missing some time in the season opener because of a stinger.
  • QB Landry Jones: Has yet to dress for an NFL game and that won’t change unless there is an injury at quarterback.

Steelers' Archer, Moore out vs. Ravens

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
4:30
PM ET
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will be a little shorthanded on offense Thursday night in Baltimore.

Running back Dri Archer (ankle) and wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) were ruled out for the Steelers’ game against the Ravens.

Archer sprained his ankle in the Steelers’ 30-27 victory over the Browns last Sunday and Moore did not play in the season opener because of a nagging groin injury.

Justin Brown will again serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said fullback Will Johnson will also play running back in case of an injury to starter Le’Veon Bell or backup LeGarrette Blount.

Brown caught three passes for 38 yards against the Browns and played extensively in his first NFL game, which reflected the confidence Haley has in him.

“Justin did a lot of real good things for his first time out there in a home opener with a different level of intensity that you see from preseason games that he played in to real games,” Haley said of Brown’s NFL debut. “He handled it well. He fought through his mistakes and bounced back. He didn’t let it get him too down or too up when he made some plays. And he didn’t shy away from competition. I think it’s a great start to grow from."

All other Steelers players who have been dealing with injuries, including wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder), cornerback Brice McCain (groin), safety Shamarko Thomas (Achilles, ankle) and center Cody Wallace (hamstring, finger), are listed as probable.
PITTSBURGH -- The running back ESPN analyst Jon Gruden compared Le’Veon Bell to when the latter entered the NFL stood outside of the Steelers' locker room Sunday afternoon.

Eddie George, who rushed for almost 10,500 yards and 78 touchdowns during his NFL career, waited to congratulate fellow Ohio State products such as linebacker Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward after the Steelers’ 30-27 win over the Browns.

Bell
His face lit up when asked about Bell, who became the seventh player in Steelers history to record at least 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in the same game.

“I’m surprised at how lean he looks,” George told ESPN.com. “He looks like a totally different back. Quicker and leaner.”

Bell looked nothing like the back who averaged a plodding 3.5 yards per carry last season as a rookie.

The 2013 second-round pick gashed the Browns for 5.2 yards per carry and also caught six passes for 88 yards. Bell showed his trademark patience but also exhibited some wiggle and repeatedly slipped out of tackles.

He powered a running game that churned out 128 yards and gave the Steelers the kind of balanced they have too often lacked in recent seasons.

“I thought this was a game that everyone got to see what he can do,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after leading his 34th career fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a Steelers win. “I thought his endurance and conditioning was superb.”

It needed to be and not just because Bell’s play helped make the difference in a win that the Steelers had to have.

Bell let down his teammates with his arrest for marijuana possession and driving under the influence a couple of hours before the Steelers flew to Philadelphia for their third preseason game. He went a long way toward re-gaining the trust he broke with his career day.

Of the Steelers standing behind him after his arrest, Bell said, “It means a lot. Those guys put trust in me so I’ve obviously just got to keep moving forward and try to get better.”

Gruden once compared Bell and George because of their similar builds and running styles. George, who made four Pro Bowls during his career, said Bell is on his way to becoming a Steelers great at running back.

“He’s next in line to do it,” George said.

Steelers won't be running on empty

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
10:00
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The difference a year makes at running back is striking.

Consider the Pittsburgh Steelers went into their season opener last year with Isaac Redman, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling as their top three running backs.

[+] Enlarge Le'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael PerezLe'Veon Bell's involvement in the Steelers' passing game should make him the team's busiest running back.
None is in the NFL right now, though injuries are a factor there.

The Steelers' top three running backs going into the season opener Sunday are Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer.

The trio, in addition to being a major upgrade in talent, offers power, speed and versatility.

The biggest question -- aside from the judgment exhibited by the top two backs a couple of weeks ago -- is whether there will be enough work to keep everyone happy.

"There's never enough touches," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said with a grin, "but if we stay on the field there will be enough touches [to go around]."

A couple of factoids dug up by my colleagues at ESPN Stats & Information could indicate how the roles of the running backs will evolve this season.

  • Bell caught 45 passes in 13 games last season, and his 65 targets were the most times quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has ever thrown to a running back in a season. Bell, who missed the first three games last season because of a sprained foot, will get the most touches this season among the running backs because a significant amount of them will come in the passing game.
  • Blount averaged 2.16 yards after contact last season, third-highest in the NFL. The 6-foot, 250-pounder gives the Steelers something they haven't had since Jerome Bettis: a big, punishing back with good feet who can help the Steelers grind out the clock when they have a lead in the fourth quarter.
  • Archer is the X-factor of the trio because of his speed and versatility. The Steelers will lean heavily on Bell and Blount when running the ball and try to get Archer the ball in space.

One thing that is certain to happen no matter how the situation at running back plays out: The Steelers stop the decline in the ground game that has taken place the last three seasons.

Since piling up 120.3 rushing yards per game in 2010, the Steelers have averaged 118.9, 96.1 and 86.4 rushing yards per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I'm excited about where we are with the guys in the backfield," Haley said. "Le'Veon's 100 percent going into it this year, he's got almost a full year of experience playing in the league, which is huge. LeGarrette Blount is a proven commodity, a big back at the position. I'm excited to see Dri Archer when he's getting his backfield snaps."

Browns vs. Steelers preview

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
12:00
PM ET
Johnny Manziel and Ryan Shazier USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on these rookies in Week 1: Cleveland's Johnny Manziel and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier.
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their long-standing rivalry Sunday at Heinz Field.

And something has to give in the game in which Johnny Manziel is expected to make his NFL debut. The Browns have lost 10 consecutive games at Heinz Field, while the Steelers haven't won a season opener since 2010.

ESPN NFL Nation Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN NFL Nation Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 1 p.m. ET game.

Brown: Pat, how many times have you written the surname Manziel since the Browns drafted Johnny Football in early May? Well, let's get the obligatory Manziel chatter out of the way. How do you see the Browns using Manziel on Sunday and how much do you expect him to play?

McManamon: As for the first part, Scott, let's say more than five and less than 10,000, but just barely less. I would be surprised if Manziel does not see the field for a play or a series in each half. The Browns and coach Mike Pettine have been coy about how he'll be used, but he does bring a different element than Brian Hoyer, and the Browns could put him on the field the same way the Steelers first used Kordell Stewart. Certain down-and-distance situations might be good for the read-option, or certain spots on the field might be good for a quarterback who can move. I don't think Manziel will play a lot, but I do think he'll play in the right spot, as judged by the coaching staff.

Scott, a slow start doomed the Steelers last season. How determined are they to avoid that slow start again, and how much bad luck is it for the Browns to draw the Steelers in the opener?

Brown: For the record, I am not going to start calling you Pat McFootball no matter how many times you privately lobby me to do so. Take a picture with the Biebs in it and we will talk. With that order of business out of the way, I will say the schedule-makers did not do the Browns any favors by having them open in Pittsburgh. I suspect the Steelers will publicly downplay the notion that this is a must-win game, but in reality it is. The Steelers cannot start slow again this season, and with road games against the Ravens and the Panthers looming, they have to beat the Browns. As hard as it is to win in the NFL, nothing is more served on a platter than an opponent that hasn't won in Pittsburgh in more than a decade and has an offense riddled with question marks. Did I mention Ben Roethlisberger, who has never forgiven the Browns for passing on him in the 2004 NFL draft, has lost just one time to Cleveland?

Getting back to the Browns' offense, who do the Steelers have to worry about beating them with wide receiver Josh Gordon out for the season?

McManamon: Nobody, really. The Browns will try to run the ball and use tight end Jordan Cameron creatively, but there is no real outside threat even close to the threat Gordon provided. And Cameron better get used to consistent double coverage. It's almost unfair to throw a quarterback into a game with these circumstances. Running back Ben Tate probably will be the offensive bell cow. He'll be featured prominently in the game plan. But the Steelers stop the run in their sleep. This game will be a serious challenge for the Browns' offense and offensive coaches.

Speaking of offense, how has and how will the marijuana possession charges against Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount affect the team, if at all, this weekend?

Brown: It is a footnote to this game. Not to minimize the stupidity that the Steelers' top two running backs showed -- and they are worthy of all of the unflattering nicknames that have surfaced on social media, among other places -- but the issue has presumably been dealt with from the Steelers' end. If Bell and Blount had been suspended for the season opener, we would have seen Roethlisberger throwing a ton of passes and a one-dimensional offense. But with both Bell and Blount slated to play against the Browns, the Steelers' offense will be at full strength.

I am real interested in seeing whether the Steelers try to set up the pass through the run or vice versa. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin predictably gushed about Cleveland's defense at his news conference earlier this week, and certainly that unit is the strength of the Browns. Will that defense be as good as advertised?

McManamon: Let's tap the brakes on this "good defense." Nobody knows yet. The defense has new names -- and they are good names to have -- but they might not be improved. Also, a defense that was supposed to be good a season ago made a habit of blowing late leads. The weak spot this season is the same as last -- cornerback opposite Joe Haden. First-round pick Justin Gilbert is going through significant growing pains, and Buster Skrine is coming off a thumb injury. The Browns wanted Isaiah Trufant to be the nickelback, but he's on injured reserve. Smart teams pick at weaknesses; it would be surprising if the Steelers don't pick on the second corner. The other concern, which has been an ongoing issue: Will the defense wear down because it's on the field too much due to the offense struggling?

Staying with defense, Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is an Ohio State guy, and there's been a lot of positive press on him throughout preseason. Has he been that good?

Brown: He has, but the caveat, of course, is that Shazier has yet to play in an NFL game that counts. That changes Sunday, and most telling about the progress Shazier has made is the fact he will become the first Steelers defensive rookie to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001. There will be the inevitable growing pains as the first-round pick adjusts to the speed of the game at this level. Probably the biggest concern with Shazier is whether he will consistently be able to shed blocks since the 6-1, 237-pounder is not the biggest linebacker. The Browns' offensive line is one of their biggest strengths, so it will be a good opening test for Shazier. I think the kid is going to be a star, and I predict he will win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Most significant move: The Steelers cut a pair of players who appeared in games for them last season. In the process, their plans along the defensive line came more into focus. The team released defensive end Brian Arnfelt, who appeared in two games at the end of last season, and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, who played in four games in 2013. Josh Mauro, an undrafted rookie, has the edge for the last defensive spot if the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen, and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers, a sixth-round pick, is almost sure to stick on the 53-man roster. Defensive end Ethan Hemer may be the odd man out with defensive end Nick Williams and nose tackle Roy Philon likely grabbing spots on the practice squad. Arnfelt entered training camp with a good chance at making the team, but the second-year man fell out of favor with the coaches and Mauro passed him at defensive end. Williams still has a chance to unseat Mauro if he plays well in the Steelers’ final preseason game Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.

Running back shuffle: The Steelers are down to five running backs after releasing three at that position Tuesday, including Tauren Poole, who got a long look from the coaches. A roster spot is there for the taking if either Josh Harris or Stephen Houston seizes the final opportunity against the Panthers. The Steelers may go with three running backs and fullback Will Johnson even given the uncertain status of starter Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Coach Mike Tomlin has said the team is considering all options as far as punishment following their arrest on marijuana possession charges. (Bell has also been charged with driving under the influence.) That includes a suspension -- and the Steelers can maneuver around the collective bargaining agreement by simply deactivating Bell, Blount or both for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Browns. I don’t expect the Steelers to sit either for an entire game, and a suspension from the NFL wouldn’t come until next season. That means Harris or Houston will have to play his way on to the 53-man roster, or the two could be vying for a spot on the practice squad. The Steelers will also keep an eye on the waiver wire to see which running backs become available at the end of the week.

Steelers’ moves: Arnfelt, S Jordan Dangerfield, C Chris Elkins, Fangupo, WR C.J. Goodwin, RB Jordan Hall, LS Luke Ingram, RB Miguel Maysonet, OT Emmanuel McCray, WR Kashif Moore, Poole, CB Devin Smith, OLB Vic So’oto, CB Lew Toler, TE Eric Waters
PITTSBURGH – Isaac Redman, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in four-plus seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, should not have any regrets after announcing his retirement on Friday.

Redman
Redman
Redman, who is only 29, has to walk away from the game because of a career-ending spinal injury. No one can question whether Redman left anything on the field.

“Last season I tried my best to play through a neck injury but I just wasn’t myself on the field,” Redman wrote on his Twitter account. “After being released I sent to Cali to see Dr. Watkins [doctor who did Peyton Manning’s neck surgery]. After 2 MRIs and a CAT-scan he then told me I had suffered a career-ending injury to my spinal cord. Various teams have called but as you can see I was unable to go. I would like to thank all my fans for the tremendous support throughout my career.”

Redman spent most of his rookie season on the Steelers’ practice squad before making the team in 2010 and playing four seasons in Pittsburgh. He opened 2013 as a starter because of an injury to Le’Veon Bell but rushed for just 12 yards on 10 carries.

The Steelers released Redman in the middle of October last season after he had been deactivated for three consecutive games.

The injury helps explain why Redman struggled so badly in his final NFL season as he averaged 4.2 yards per carry from 2010-12 and just 1.2 yards per carry in 2013.

Redman captured the fancy of Steelers fans in 2009 when he starred in the goal-line drill at training camp.

Little was known about the undrafted rookie from Bowie State in Maryland until the defense couldn’t keep him out of the end zone during one of the most anticipated drills at camp.

After bursting onto the scene, Redman found himself surrounded by reporters. As coach Mike Tomlin walked past Redman to give his daily camp briefing, he coolly said, “Sorry to interrupt you, Isaac.”

The day turned Redman into something of a cult figure and while he only made the practice squad that season, he played his way on to the 53-man roster in 2010 and rushed for 247 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

Redman always ran hard, and he thrived in the role of complementary back and spot starter.

He should be remembered fondly by Steelers fans despite the unfortunate end to his career.

PHILADELPHA -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suddenly has a lot more to worry about than his top two running backs facing citations for marijuana possession.

The Steelers' third preseason game turned out about as well as the infamous car ride that landed Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in trouble and in unflattering headlines a day earlier.

The Steelers struggled in every aspect Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were dominated when it mattered most in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles, crisper and more physical than their in-state rivals, raced to a 17-0 halftime lead when starters from both teams were in the game, and it could have been worse for the Steelers.

Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles just missed on a few throws that would have netted big gains, but he still completed 19 of 29 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.

Ben Roethlisberger played two series in the second half, and he salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable night by leading a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger, who struggled with his accuracy and threw a bad interception in the first half, capped the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller.

That march wasn't nearly enough to offset the ineptitude that the Steelers showed at times in all three phases of the game.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers' third preseason game:
  • Blount's play, ironically enough, was among the few positives that the Steelers could take away from the thorough beating they received from the Eagles. Blount, who alternated with Bell, rushed for 32 yards on seven carries and showed the nifty footwork that is unique for such a big back. Bell started the game and Blount also played on the first series.
  • If the preseason is any indication, the Steelers still haven't fixed a run defense that yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. The Eagles repeatedly gashed the Steelers in the running game even though LeSean McCoy played just two series because of a thumb injury. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Tomlin won't be happy with how they pushed around the Steelers. Defensive end Brett Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers on Wednesday but didn't play against the Eagles, should help the defensive line. Improvement must be made across the board.
  • Wide receiver Justin Brown has faded and his hold on a roster spot should be tenuous after he failed to catch a pass despite getting extended work with the first-team offense as the No. 3 wide receiver. Brown, playing in place of Lance Moore, drew Roethlisberger's ire early when he ran a comeback route and had a pass sail over his head. The 2013 sixth-round pick was later flagged for offensive holding. In three preseason games Brown has three catches for 15 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
  • The Steelers didn't sustain a lot of injuries, but the two that were announced are worth watching. Linebacker Sean Spence left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and outside linebacker Jason Worilds didn't play again after hurting his right knee in the same quarter. Worilds may have been the Steelers' best defensive player before getting hurt. Of course that's not saying much considering that the Steelers gave up just under 500 yards of total offense.
  • There has to be some concern over Shaun Suisham, who has already missed two field goals in the preseason, the same number he missed all of last season. The 10th-year veteran has also missed a 33-yard extra point in preseason play.

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