NFL Nation: Todd Haley

PITTSBURGH -- He still uses his GPS to make his way around Pittsburgh, but rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier didn’t need nearly as much navigational assistance when he was on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice fields in late May and June.

Shazier started alongside Lawrence Timmons from the outset of offseason practices, and he looked anything but lost despite learning a new defense on the run.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesRookie linebacker Ryan Shazier was a star in minicamp, but will his progress continue when the pads come on?
“He understands concepts very well,” linebackers coach Keith Butler said of the Steelers’ first-round draft pick. “He reminds me a lot of Larry Foote in terms of football intelligence, and he’s a very sharp guy.”

Not that Shazier will be exempt from the requisite rookie growing pains. Or that Butler wouldn’t prefer the Steelers easing the former Ohio State All-American into the NFL.

That is not an option in large part because Shazier’s speed and playmaking ability are both badly needed on a defense that slipped appreciably last season. Shazier, the Steelers’ most significant addition during the offseason, made it look easy at times during offseason practices. He turned in a couple of breathtaking plays, including a leaping interception of a pass that backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski thought he could throw over Shazier in the middle of the field.

The caveat with how good Shazier has looked: the 6-1, 237-pounder has only practiced with the Steelers in shorts. That changes Monday, when the Steelers don the pads at training camp following two non-contact practices.

If Shazier makes the same kind of progress at camp as he did during offseason drills he will start Sept. 7 in the season opener against the visiting Browns.

Here are the four other significant additions that the Steelers made during the offseason.

Offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The Steelers have too often fielded suspect offensive lines under coach Mike Tomlin, though constant injuries up front haven’t helped. A line that came together in the second half of last season will start a pair of former first-round draft picks and two second-round selections. Nobody is more qualified to bring the group together then Munchak. There are no excuses this season -- unless mass injuries consistently scramble the line.

S Mike Mitchell. As with Shazier, the Steelers added speed and a playmaker when they signed Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract in March. They badly needed both elements on the back end of their defense, and Mitchell will be a significant upgrade over Ryan Clark at free safety. He has aspirations of becoming one of the best safeties in the NFL, and the Steelers would love to see Mitchell achieve that goal in Pittsburgh.

RB/WR Dri Archer. The Steelers added a bolt of lightning to their offense when they drafted the ultra-fast Archer in the third round. He will return kickoffs and could allow the Steelers to relieve Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown of his duties as the primary punt returner. Archer’s speed and versatility gives offensive coordinator Todd Haley the kind of player he can use to exploit mismatches. If Archer is Chris Rainey 2.0 the Steelers will be more than happy with the investment they have made in the former Kent State star.

OLB Arthur Moats. The former Buffalo Bill has starting experience and versatility and gives the Steelers a promising option should there be injuries or ineffective play at outside linebacker. Moats can also play inside, though the Steelers are pretty deep there, and he is expected to establish himself as a core special-teams player. The importance of depth in the NFL can't be overstated, and the Steelers improved themselves in that area with the signing of Moats.
Here is the latest Steelers mailbag. If you have a Steelers' question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail. And away we go ... @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Le'Veon Bell could get 300-plus carries this season but not much more than that even if he plays every game. The Steelers say they are committed to running the ball this season, and I don't think that's just lip service from offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. However, I doubt that the Steelers lean as heavily on Bell as they did last season because of the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. Bell will start at running back but the other two will get touches as well. I like that approach because I think it will extend the number of productive seasons Bell has in the NFL. That's probably not good news for fantasy football owners who covet Bell, but he will still be a prominent part of the offense and the Steelers will put his receiving skills to good use too. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think he will because I expect Mike Adams, who may be the Steelers' most physically gifted offensive tackle, to benefit as much as anyone from offensive line coach Mike Munchak's tutelage. Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert got most of the first-team snaps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, but the real competition along both the offensive and defensive line won't start until training camp. Adams has said he wants the opportunity to start whether it is at right or left tackle and I'd like to see the Steelers give him a shot at unseating Gilbert. I thought Adams played well at right tackle when he made six starts there as a rookie and he could be the future there if the Steelers don't sign Gilbert to a long-term contract before the start of the regular season. @ScottBrown_ESPN: Still pretty quiet on that front but I think the Steelers will re-sign Brett Keisel though it might not be until right before the start of training camp. He would be a terrific mentor for second-round pick Stephon Tuitt and Keisel's presence would allow the Steelers to bring Tuitt along slowly. I agree too that Keisel still has something left, and he could play in a rotation with Cam Thomas and Tuitt with the limited snaps keeping him fresh throughout the season. I know the Steelers are committed to getting younger on defense but Keisel would contribute both on and off the field. I think if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has his way Keisel will be back for one more season. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Cortez Allen gets a new contract and that the Steelers let Marcus Gilbert play out the final year of his rookie deal. Allen is the only long-term starting cornerback on the roster right now and the Steelers can't afford to lose him. I think the two sides can reach a deal that is good for both and ensures that Allen is a Steeler well beyond the 2014 season. As for Gilbert, I just haven't seen enough from the former second-round pick to warrant the Steelers locking him up with a long-term deal. Much like outside linebacker Jason Worilds, I think the Steelers want to see more from Gilbert and will take their chances on getting a deal done after the season if he fits into the team's long-term plans. If Gilbert walks after the 2014 season the Steelers have Mike Adams to plug in at right tackle. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I believe that is the case since players are allowed in the building during the span that bridges the end of a season and the start of the team's offseason program. It would make sense too for the coaches to be available to rookies or first-year players who may have questions about the playbook. That availability, however, is limited in the sense that coaches take lengthy vacations not long after the conclusion of offseason practices since it is really the only extended break from football they will get all year. The building is mostly empty too since a lot of players travel somewhere to continue working out, often ratcheting up their training regimen to get ready for camp.
PITTSBURGH -- There is a reason, beyond the headaches that accompanied his production and flashes of greatness, the Pittsburgh Steelers have no interest in bringing back Santonio Holmes.

They simply don’t need the 30-year-old wide receiver, who won the MVP Award in their last Super Bowl victory but has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeLance Moore
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoWide receiver Lance Moore, an eight-year veteran who signed with the Steelers this offseason, brings his 4,281 yards and 38 TDs to Pittsburgh.
Consider what offensive coordinator Todd Haley said last week about the Steelers’ receivers.

“It’s as deep a group as I’ve been around from top to bottom,” Haley said near the end of offseason practices. “I think some guys that are pretty good football players probably won’t make the team.”

Haley tempered his assessment of the Steelers' wide receivers with the acknowledgement that the current group has yet to show what it can collectively do in pads.

And, of course, everything looks better in June when every team is still undefeated and pass-rushers are wearing shorts and are prohibited from hitting quarterbacks.

But Haley’s comment about the overall quality of the Steelers' wide receivers resonates even at this time of year because of his resume.

He coached the wide receivers in Dallas and Chicago while climbing the coaching ladder, and the Arizona Cardinals had arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL in 2008 when Haley was their offensive coordinator. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin helped the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance and nearly led them to an upset of the Steelers in Tampa.

Whether the potential Haley sees in the Steelers' wideouts translates into production, one season after the loss of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, who combined for 1,342 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, remains to be seen.

Here are a few things to like about the Steelers’ wide receivers following organized team activities and minicamp:

  • Lance Moore, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract in March, stood out as much as any player during offseason practices. The former Saints wide receiver proved to be a quick study while learning a new offense, and he could put up big numbers if opposing teams pay too much attention to Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Moore reminds me of Cotchery in the sense that he is a pro’s pro.
  • Markus Wheaton still has a ways to go to win the starting job held down by Sanders last season, and that is a good thing. Wheaton had a solid offseason, but he will have a lot of competition during training camp. Justin Brown, who stood out during offseason practices, will be among those who push Wheaton. The 6-3, 209-pound Brown spent all of last season on the practice squad, but wide receivers coach Richard Mann said, "He’s just a different guy. He understands the concepts. He’s smoother. His body language is different.”
  • The Steelers have so much depth at wide receiver that Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft, will have trouble making the team. Heyward-Bey has to be consistent catching the call during training camp. But if he does that and makes the team, he would become a nice player to have as a No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver. "He has the speed. He has the talent,” Mann said. Hopefully we will put him in a position to succeed with his speed and smartness, and we will take advantage of what he does best.”

Plenty is still unknown about the wide receiving corps. What exactly will the Steelers get out of Martavis Bryant this season? Is Wheaton ready to emerge as a significant contributor after catching six passes for 64 yards as a rookie? Will Brown build on his strong offseason and make a serious push for a roster spot?

These are among the questions that won’t be answered until after the Steelers report to training camp on July 25.

As Mann said, “When we start playing tackle, we will figure out what we have.”
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger predicted that the University of Central Florida's Blake Bortles will be the best quarterback to emerge from the 2014 NFL draft class, and he took a wait-and-see approach when it comes to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

Not that Roethlisberger is planning to cede the spotlight to these young quarterbacks or any other ones entering the NFL in the near future.

Roethlisberger, a little more than two months removed from celebrating his 32nd birthday, said retirement is nowhere near the horizon for him, even though he is the third-longest tenured player on the Steelers.

"I feel like I'm in great shape," Roethlisberger said Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan. "I think I can get five, six, seven more years out of this arm and these legs."

Roethlisberger played every snap last season, and the Steelers' extensive use of the no-huddle offense in the second half of 2013 limited the hits he absorbed, as Big Ben generally got rid of the ball quicker.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said that the organization plans to maximize Roethlisberger's remaining seasons by surrounding the 11th-year veteran with as much talent as possible.

Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract, the same length he had on his rookie deal when the Steelers made him the highest-paid player in franchise history.

Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, told recently that he has maintained contact with the Steelers regarding a new contract. Roethlisberger, who signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in 2008, said his only hope is that his next contract allows him to finish his career where it started.

"However that gets done, that's all that matters to me because I bleed black and gold," Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger's more immediate focus is on the offseason program that has entered its second phase.

Steelers players were allowed to start working out under the supervision of coaches Tuesday. While they were limited to less than an hour of work with coaches, Roethlisberger said the offense worked on a number of different things, including the no-huddle attack.

The Steelers played at another level after offensive coordinator Todd Haley loosened the reins on the no-huddle attack last season. Roethlisberger is among those who are optimistic that the no-huddle will remain a big part of the offense in 2014.

"I think and I hope that we've all kind of come to the conclusion that maybe we need to do it more," Roethlisberger said. "I think we might go into [practices] using it a lot more so that it is more of a regular thing."
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin has another coaching spot to fill, and this time he has to replace one of his most trusted lieutenants.

Running backs Kirby Wilson is leaving Pittsburgh for the same position with the Minnesota Vikings, a source confirmed to ESPN.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported Wilson's departure, which is not yet official, hours after reporting that Wilson was no longer a candidate to become the Ravens’ offensive coordinator.

Wilson twice interviewed for the opening in Baltimore -- he was one of three finalists for the job -- and his departure leaves just five assistants on the staff who have been with Tomlin since he became the Steelers’ head coach in 2007.

The Steelers permitted Wilson to pursue other jobs even though he had one year left on his contract and was significantly involved in crafting game plans.

The one question that will trail Wilson out of Pittsburgh is what might have been for the well-traveled assistant.

Wilson would have been one of the top candidates to take over at offensive coordinator in 2012 after the Steelers did not renew Bruce Arians’ contract. But Wilson was badly burned in house fire about a month earlier, and he couldn’t start working again -- even on a limited basis -- for more three months after the blaze that nearly cost him his life.

The Steelers hired Todd Haley to replace Arians, and when it became apparent that Haley would return in 2014 Wilson started looking around for other opportunities with Tomlin’s blessing.

The loss of Wilson comes three days after the Steelers hired Mike Munchak as their next offensive line coach. Running backs coach is the only position Tomlin is expected to have to fill with both coordinators returning as well as linebackers coach Keith Butler.

Butler had been a candidate to join Ken Whisenhunt’s staff in Tennessee as the defensive coordinator but he never interviewed for the position.

Wilson joins his sixth NFL organization after coaching running backs such as Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Bell with the Steelers.

Bell, under Wilson’s tutelage, rushed for 860 yards in 2013 despite missing the first three games of the season. The second-round draft pick also broke Franco Harris’ Steelers’ record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie with 1,259 yards and established himself as a focal point of the offense in the coming seasons.

Wilson will join first-year coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, and he will work with the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson.

Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013 despite weathering foot and groin injuries, the latter of which sidelined him for two of the Vikings’ last three games.

Peterson had groin surgery last week but the Vikings said he should be fully healthy after a six-week recovery period.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin has filled the one opening he has on his staff right now, and it looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers coach hit a home run.

Mike Munchak has agreed to become the Steelers' next offensive line coach, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and the fourth one during Tomlin's seven-year tenure.

Munchak interviewed in Pittsburgh last Friday and his history makes him the ideal choice to mold a young offensive line that returns every starter next season and should also get Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey back from a major knee injury.

Munchak, one of the greatest guards in NFL history, is in the Pro Football of Fame, and he also distinguished himself coaching the offensive lines in Houston and Tennessee.

Munchak rose to head coach in Tennessee but he was fired earlier this month after the Titans went 7-9 and he refused to make sweeping changes to his staff.

Munchak has extensive experience teaching the outside zone blocking scheme that would appear to be an ideal fit for rookie running back Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers installed the scheme last year but ditched it following the torn knee that Pouncey sustained eight snaps into the Steelers' season opener.

Munchak has Pennsylvania roots as he is a Scranton native who starred at Penn State in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He becomes the third assistant on Tomlin's staff who was previously a head coach joining defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and offensive coordinator Todd Haley in that distinction.

Munchak takes over for Jack Bicknell Jr., whom Tomlin fired after just one season.

No-huddle takes offense to another level

December, 26, 2013
PITTSBURGH – Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff chances: “We’ve already worked a little magic last week and [all of the games] fell for us. I’ve seen stranger things happen.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley on if one of four things doesn’t happen Sunday and the Steelers miss the playoffs by a game: “It’s easy to look back but we can’t do that.”

The shame if the Steelers miss the playoffs is that they would probably be a tough out because of how their offense has come together since Haley went all in on the no-huddle offense.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsGoing without a huddle has helped Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense.
The Steelers are averaging 29.3 points in their last eight games, and Haley can only wonder what might have been had Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey not sustained a torn ACL on Pittsburgh’s first possession of the season.

“We had big plans for the no-huddle coming into the season,” Haley said.

Fernando Velasco, by all accounts, learned the offense faster than could have expected. But it took time for him to get comfortable with everything before Haley felt confident in unleashing the no-huddle attack. And he had to pull the reins back a little bit after Velasco tore his Achilles and Cody Wallace became the third starting center of the season.

But the no-huddle, and how it has transformed the Steelers' offense, is the biggest story of the second half of the season. Ben Roethlisberger has never played better and taken less hits while running the offense in which he calls the plays.

Roethlisberger’s command of the no-huddle isn’t the only reason why the Steelers’ offense could really take off next season. Youth abounds on offense and, as Haley observed, “especially up front. A lot of guys have a lot of playing time. Not only that, they’ve shown they can play in the league. We have a lot of bodies on hand and, as everybody gets healthy [that] should bode well for what we are trying to do.”

It seems a foregone conclusion that Haley will return next season, and as much as his relationship with Roethlisberger has been scrutinized, consider what the veteran quarterback said earlier this week.

“I think all of the coordinators have been open to input, but I think this is probably the most that they've accepted [from him]. We’ve used it and tweaked it to benefit the team,” he said.

It has also benefited Roethlisberger. He has been sacked just six times in the last six games after getting dropped 35 times in the first nine games.

Roethlisberger praised his line for keeping him clean but also acknowledged that the no-huddle is conducive to keeping him upright.

“When I’m calling plays I can call it based off what the defense is giving us,” Roethlisberger said. ”The ball will come out quicker because I’ve kind of predetermined where I’m going with the ball.”

The Steelers would love nothing more than to sneak into the playoffs and see how far Roethlisberger and the offense takes them.

If they fall short, the one consolation they have is the offense could be even better next season.

Antonio Brown chases records, greatness

December, 20, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Hines Ward left the NFL as a two-time Super Bowl winner, a Super Bowl MVP and with his name etched all over the Steelers record book.

His parting gift to the organization he played his entire career for may have been Antonio Brown – or at least the impact Ward had on Brown the two seasons they were teammates.

“He brought it every day,” Brown said of the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver. “He always had a goal in mind. He was always after something.”

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsThe dedication of Antonio Brown has earned the receiver respect within the Steelers organization.
Ward, it can be argued, may have done too good of a job in mentoring Brown and helping him develop.

Brown supplanted Ward in the starting lineup during the 2011 season. Now he is after the Steelers records that Ward set.

One of the few that Ward didn’t establish – receiving yards in a season – is within Brown’s grasp. The fourth-year veteran also has an outside chance of breaking Ward’s record for receptions in a season (112).

Brown needs 18 catches in the Steelers’ final two games to finish with 113. He needs just 92 receiving yards to break Yancey Thigpen’s record for receiving yards in a season (1,398).

“I tend not to think about it,” Brown said of the record he is chasing. “I’m just trying to go out and execute my assignment, and most importantly, help the team win. I feel like if I go out and do that, those things will fall into place. I don’t spend time consuming myself with what’s in front of me.”

Brown spends most of his time when he's in the Steelers’ locker room at the corner stall that used to belong to outside linebacker James Harrison. The symbolism of Brown moving into Harrison’s old digs became apparent earlier this week when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin compared the two in terms of work ethic.

"Ridiculous" was the word Tomlin used to describe it.

“I know and hear what he is doing on his own time, and it’s off the charts,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Brown. “I think the guy comes to work every day and works as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen work.”

Haley said that ethos isn’t the only reason why Brown emerged as a No. 1 receiver following the departure of Mike Wallace.

“The cohesiveness between him and Ben Roethlisberger, you can see it building as the year has gone on,” Haley said. “Brown is doing a lot of the little things the right way, which early on would get him in trouble a little bit at times and break that trust a little bit. When you break it down he is a terrific player with outstanding ability.”

Haley added that Brown is “breaking the trend” for No. 1 receivers. The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder is not the tall, rangy prototype. He is also not what Tomlin would call a pedigreed player as Brown lasted until the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft.

Brown wasn’t even the Steelers’ first sixth-round pick that year as they selected him after taking running back Jonathan Dwyer.

If Brown uses that slight as fuel, he is not saying.

“Every day I get up and walk the Earth, that’s motivation for me to go out and make something of myself,” he said.
PITTSBURGH – A rule that stops a play as soon as a helmet comes off took a touchdown away from Le'Veon Bell last Thursday night. But the Pittsburgh Steelers running back scored in just about every other way imaginable near the end of a loss to the Ravens.

Some Ravens players have wished Bell well on Twitter and expressed their respect for the rookie embracing a head-on collision that left him with a concussion. And his teammates surely respect Bell for lowering his head at about the same time as Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith because of his determination to get into the end zone.

[+] EnlargeBell
AP Photo/Gail BurtonLe'Veon Bell has been praised for his toughness, including the big hit he took on Thanksgiving.
At 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds, Bell is built for a rivalry that is as violent and nasty as ever. He is built for Pittsburgh, too, and is the running back who most reflects the city’s blue-collar sensibilities since Jerome Bettis suited up for the Steelers.

“He’s bigger than I think people really understand,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said of Bell. “He’s been extremely tough all year. He’s going to be a star here, I believe.”

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley agreed with Clark. Sort of.

“I’m not going to start carving the bust for Canton, but at the same time, we've been excited from Day One [about] the things that he’s shown us, the attitude, his development, and he had some setbacks and he handled those in a positive manner,” Haley said. “He’s not there yet but he’s gotten better every week and definitely has the skill set and things you’re looking for.”

Bell is as important in the passing attack as he is in the ground game because of his reliable hands and the trust he has already earned from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for his ability to identify and pick up blitzing linebackers.

Running the ball appears to be the last part of Bell’s game to truly come together, and part of that can be attributed to the Steelers’ season-long difficulty to consistently open holes for the backs. Despite averaging 3.3 yards per carry, Bell has shown promising glimpses. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his first two games against Baltimore.

Bell also matched the Ravens’ physicality in both meetings, and he said the extreme example of that – the collision with Smith while also taking a shot from Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw – won’t change his running style.

“As a running back you can’t think about getting hit because you’re going to get hit regardless,” Bell said. “That’s not the hardest I've been hit, and I’m sure I’ll get harder. I was just trying to do whatever it took to win. I really just wanted to get into the end zone.”

That mindset is one of many things for the Steelers to like about Bell. Here is another reason: Bell has completely transformed the Steelers’ running game, and he is still just scratching his potential as a runner.

“You’ve got a guy back there that’s a big dog, so to speak. It gives you a chance to be multidimensional and helps a lot of people out,” Haley said. “He gets it.”

Pro and con: Steelers' no-huddle offense

November, 22, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Todd Haley did not tip his hand regarding the topic that has dominated talk at Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters this week and more than a few Western Pennsylvania establishments that serve adult beverages.

But the question had to be posed to Haley, and it dealt with whether or not he would be more inclined to run the no-huddle offense from the start of the Browns game given the success the Steelers had with it in beating the Lions.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBen Roethlisberger and the Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Lions using the no-huddle.
“I am not going to divulge anything like that,” the Steelers offensive coordinator said with a laugh. “Sorry.”

What makes it just as difficult to project how much the Steelers will use the no-huddle offense against the Browns is a handful of variables as well as this: Arguments can be made for the Steelers to go no-huddle a lot in Cleveland or hardly use it at all.

The case for: The Steelers opened in a no-huddle offense against the Lions to keep Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley from settling into the game, and they also wanted to try to wear out the mammoth tackles.

The Browns are just as stout up front as the Lions, and nose tackle Phil Taylor is better than Suh or Fairley. The Browns also like to play a lot of defensive linemen and not huddling would limit how much Cleveland could substitute.

The most obvious reason for going with the no-huddle a lot is that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thrives in it, and it may be the best way to attack a Browns defense that probably isn't going to give up a lot of rushing yards.

The case against: Rain didn't hamper the Steelers' ability to run the no-huddle against the Lions. Snow and the wind that whips off Lake Erie may be a different story. If the weather is as bad, as expected, the last thing the Steelers need to do is run a hurry-up attack that could leave them prone to turnovers.

The Steelers committed eight turnovers in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland last season, and their top priority Sunday should be hanging onto the football.

Haley lauded the communication that took place among the players and coaches against the Lions, but that becomes increasingly more difficult when playing on the road and in a stadium where fans boo and bark at the visiting team.

Haley says: “I thought Detroit was real good (on defense) but I think this team's better. It starts inside with Taylor and (defensive end Ahtyba) Rubin. The front seven in general, I think, is probably the best front seven we've seen. We've got our work cut out for us because as we move into late November and December you've got to be able to run the ball effectively when they know you're running it.”

My take: the Steelers should use the no-huddle sparingly against the Browns. The weather and crowd increase the difficulty of running it effectively, and it's not like the Steelers are going to need a lot of points to win a shootout with journeyman Jason Campbell starting for the Browns.

If I'm coach Mike Tomlin I lean toward a more conventional approach on offense and lean on my defense and special teams. Make Campbell beat you; don't do it to yourself.

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 17, 2013

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 37-27 win over the Detroit Lions:

What it means: The Steelers finally bagged a signature win, and they did it after a disastrous second quarter had pushed their season to the brink and caused more than a few fans to leave Heinz Field early. They improved to 4-6 after blowing a 14-point lead and then rallying from a seven-point halftime deficit. With winnable games at Cleveland and Baltimore next up on the schedule, the Steelers are still in the AFC North race as well as the wild-card hunt. There have been a lot of big wins in the Mike Tomlin era. This has to rank near the top of the list.

Stock watch: The defense pitched a second-half shutout after Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson toyed with it in the second quarter. And the Steelers scored a season-high 37 points because of the brilliance of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Roethlisberger threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns, and he led the Steelers to a win after they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter for the 32nd time of his career, including the postseason. The oft-criticized Haley called a masterful game; had their execution near the end zone been a little better, the Steelers would have scored a few more touchdowns.

Missed opportunities: The Steelers’ red zone struggles reached a new and almost comical low. The Steelers had to settle for field goals three times after driving inside the Lions’ 15-yard line, and they should have had touchdowns all three times, including late in the third quarter. The Steelers had a first down at the Lions’ 1-yard line, but they couldn’t punch in what would have been a game-tying touchdown. Le’Veon Bell got stuffed twice, and those runs sandwiched Roethlisberger overthrowing a wide-open David Paulson after a perfect play call by Haley.

Déjà vu all over again: It was hard to imagine the Steelers having as bad a quarter then they did earlier this month in New England when the Patriots scored four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to blow open what had been a tie game. But the defense suffered another epic collapse, and this one allowed the Lions to score 27 points in the second quarter while gaining 280 yards. Detroit’s outburst came despite a lost fumble early in the second quarter and a goal-line stand made at the end of the half by the Steelers. The Lions’ three touchdown drives came on a total of 11 plays.

Next up: The Steelers travel to Cleveland next Sunday. The Browns dropped to 4-6 after blowing an early 13-point lead and getting routed 41-20 in Cincinnati. The Steelers lost in Cleveland last season after losing five fumbles and committing a ghastly eight turnovers.

Dwyer pushing for more playing time

November, 15, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Dwyer didn’t look at his release by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a wake-up call.

“All it did was just basically piss me off,” Dwyer said, “and want to prove everybody else wrong and make them regret everything they did.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJonathan Dwyer is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season.
It is safe to say that Dwyer has channeled his anger over a mistake made by the Steelers and turned it into a positive.

Dwyer has emerged as a tone-setter since re-signing with the Steelers in early September, and the fourth-year running back has supplied jolts of energy -- whether he is running over a defender or throwing a key block.

A lot of unlikely things have happened since the Steelers cut ties with Dwyer when they set their 53-man roster.

An errant cut block by a teammate ended center Maurkice Pouncey’s season only a handful of snaps into it. Recreational guidelines in the Steelers’ locker room drew national attention. The Steelers’ gave up 93 yards rushing on the first play of a game and 95 yards rushing the entire game two weeks later against a solid running attack.

That Dwyer would play his way into the good graces of coach Mike Tomlin a little more than two months after the Steelers released him, has to rank as one of the biggest surprises of the season.

And a welcome one for the 3-6 Steelers.

“I like the energy he brings, not only on offense, but he’s been a spark plug for us in term of the things we’ve asked him to do on special teams,” Tomlin said of Dwyer. “I like where he is.”

The seventh-year coach hasn’t always been able to say that, and that is probably an understatement.

Dwyer’s struggles with his weight during the offseason tested the Steelers’ patience, and they gave up on their 2012 leading rusher after trading for Felix Jones less than a week before final cuts.

That seems like a long time ago, and not just for Dwyer.

“He’s come back with a clear heart and up for anything,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “He said that from Day 1 once he came back, and it showed. Every opportunity whether it’s one snap, three snaps, five snaps, special teams, you see him and you notice him out there. “I think that when guys do that and show that on a consistent basis, they earn the respect of their teammates and they earn the respect of their coaches.”

They also earn a bigger role, something Tomlin said Dwyer has done given his success when spelling starting running back Le’Veon Bell.

Dwyer is second on the Steelers with 139 rushing yards, and the 5-11, 229-pounder is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. What can’t be quantified is the value of the emotional lift Dwyer provides the Steelers when he batters an opposing defense.

The former sixth-round pick hasn’t just won back Tomlin with runs that have proven to be as punishing as they are timely, but also fans who criticized Dwyer last season for coming out of games after tapping his helmet.

Dwyer said those gestures weren’t an indication that he was tired, but an acknowledgement that the next back in the Steelers’ rotation was up.

“It aggravated me,” Dwyer said of the perception created by his helmet taps. “Everybody thought I was out of shape. That doesn’t mean I’m gassed or tired or out of shape. I don’t really care about it anymore. I’m just worried about what my teammates and what coach Tomlin and other people around the league expect out of me.”

Roethlisberger still fuming over report

November, 12, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Incredulous and angry, Ben Roethlisberger again assailed an NFL Network report that he may ask the Pittsburgh Steelers to explore trading him after the season because of his frustration over the direction of the franchise.

“It’s stinkin upsetting. It fires me up because it’s like where do you make this stuff up. It’s unbelievable,” Roehtlisberger said Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan during his weekly radio show. “I love putting that jersey on every week and it’s the only one I could ever see myself in. That helmet, there’s something special about that logo and putting those colors on.

"I’ve said from day one I want to play for one organization and there’s not one organization in the world that I would rather play for than this one. I look at the Rooneys like they’re family. We have never asked, are not going to ask (for a trade). This is home and this is family and that’s why I’m so upset this even got brought to my attention at the end of the (Bills) game.”

The Steelers and Roethlisberger’s agent, Ryan Tollner, issued denials of the report before and during Pittsburgh’s 23-10 win against the Bills. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport stood by his report on two Pittsburgh radio stations, including The Fan, on Monday.

Roethlisberger didn’t just take issue with the report that he may want out of Pittsburgh. He also refuted the part of the report that contends he is unhappy with the Steelers’ offensive coaches -- and not just coordinator Todd Haley.

Roethlisberger said when quarterback coach Randy Fichtner has been mentioned in the past as a candidate for college coaching jobs that he all but begged Fichtner to stay with the Steelers.

“Randy’s a great guy,” Roethlisberger said. “I would never want another quarterback coach. I enjoy our coaches.”

That, said Roethlisberger, includes Haley, the oft-criticized coordinator whose relationship with Roethlisberger has been a source of fan intrigue since he joined the Steelers in February 2012.

“Our relationship has grown so much and I’m not just saying that to appease the media and the fans,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s becoming a really good relationship and I’m enjoying how it’s growing every week and I’m looking forward to it continuing to grow. I feel like I’m getting better and we’re getting better.”

Roethlisberger said he is frustrated that the 3-6 Steelers haven’t won more this season, but added he is fully vested in turning the team into a perennial Super Bowl contender again.

“I hate when people say you’re rebuilding because to me that’s a slap in the face to the people that are out there playing,” Roethlisberger said. “No one wants to win more than I do, I promise you that, at everything. That’s who I am. It pains me to lose at anything. That’s why I’m going to do everything I can to turn it around and win football games. Just because we lose football games I’m not going to jump ship and quit.”

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills:

[+] EnlargeJerricho Cotchery
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsSteelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown behind Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore during the second quarter of their Week 10 game.
It's a start: The Steelers improved to 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, and EJ Manuel averaged less than four yards per passing attempt. Manuel's inexperience and the fact he was playing in his first game in five weeks because of a knee injury precluded the Steelers' players from saying the defense is back after giving up 610 total yards the previous week at New England. “No offense [to the Bills], but they have a quarterback who hasn’t had the opportunity to play in awhile,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. “I think they played extremely vanilla and didn't allow him to do much so we needed to stop the run and that was the first step toward getting back, but we have a long way to go.”

Sleeper hold: Jerricho Cotchery tied his career high for touchdown receptions in a season when the 10th-year veteran hauled in his sixth scoring catch late in the second quarter. Running what he called a “fall-asleep fade,” Cotchery delayed his release and caught Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore peeking into the backfield. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put enough touch on the pass for the touchdown that snapped a 3-3 tie. “It was a great call by [offensive coordinator Todd] Haley," Cotchery said. "He went into the archives for that one and pulled it out at the right time.” According to Cotchery, it was a play Haley had used when he coached the wide receivers for the Bears from 2001 to '03. "It's something that we’ve been working on," Cotchery said. "We executed it well."

Key to victories: Roethlisberger always talks about how important balance is to the Steelers' offense, and the math backs him up. In the Steelers’ three wins, they have run the ball 51.1 percent of the time. In six losses they have run the ball just 30.5 percent of the time. The Steelers established the run early against the Bills and rushed for 136 yards on 4.1 yards per carry. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, had fewer passing attempts (30) than Steelers rushing attempts (33). "I thought we were able to find a rhythm and establish the running game and convert on some third downs," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

OL sustains another injury: The Steelers lost another offensive lineman to injury when left guard Ramon Foster hobbled off the field early in the third quarter after hurting his ankle. Safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) also left the game with injuries and did not return. Tomlin said all three were evaluated after the game but he did not have any information beyond that. Woodley said his injury was not serious. "I'll be good to go," he said.

Steelers won't deviate from script

November, 1, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- No less a coach than Bill Parcells had little use for scripted plays at the beginning of a game.

“If he caught us sneaking a first 10 [in] he was after us,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was an assistant under Parcells with the New York Jets in the late 1990s. "[But] as I’ve got into the coordinator business, I do think the players like the night before to hear and be able to think through those first couple. You like to give them just a little heads up, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re thinking,’ so they’ve got a chance to mentally go through it and go through the process before it actually happens.”

The script – it is about 10 plays – the Steelers take into games has come under scrutiny with the offense generally getting off to slow starts this season. Haley does not think the approach has been an issue in part because of how carefully constructed the script is.

Haley asks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to give him plays the 10th-year veteran likes, and he puts together the script after collaborating with the other Steelers coaches following the final practice of the week.

The script isn't finalized until after Haley meets with Roethlisberger the night before a game.

“We’ve thrown [out] the first play if it’s like, ‘Ooh, I am not super comfortable with that being the first play, maybe we move it down to the third play and move the third play up,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “There is some altering going on Saturday nights.”

Haley dismisses any notion that the Steelers have been too conservative with their script, and he said feeling out a defense and trying to discern what formations it is using is something usually associated with West Coast offenses.

“I believe in you better run your best plays because you may not have another chance,” Haley said. “We’re running what we think are our best runs and passes.”

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders agreed.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve been conservative,” Sanders said. “Hey, sometimes it takes guys a little while to get into a rhythm. We need to do a better job of getting into a rhythm faster.”

Haley said he did some extra “research” this week to figure out why the Steelers have scored just two touchdowns in the first quarter this season. That includes poring over film of previous contests, and one conclusion Haley has made is that scripted plays haven’t held back the offense at the start of games.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Haley said of the script. “Who do we have where? Who do we need to look out for? Who do we need to protect? What are the matchups that we can win? Then, we’ve got to make that happen. We’ve got to just keep trying to dig and figure out what gives us the best chance to get out of the gates a little better.”




Thursday, 8/21
Friday, 8/22
Saturday, 8/23
Sunday, 8/24