NFL Nation: William Gay

Colts vs. Steelers preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
AM ET

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.


PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers took control of an eventual 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers after halftime Sunday night.

But the third quarter also exacted a heavy price from a defense that played its best game of the season.

And the question for the Steelers is where do they go from here after losing three starters, including at least two to major injuries.

Jones
Either cornerback Ike Taylor or outside linebacker Jarvis Jones' season is probably over.

One of those two is likely headed to injured reserve, while the other one will probably land on the short-term injured reserve list.

Teams are only allowed to use the short-term injured reserve exemption once per season, and even that only gives a player the opportunity to return to game action after sitting out a minimum of eight weeks.

The Steelers were thin at outside linebacker before Jones left the game with a wrist injury that likely requires surgery, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. They will need to add depth at the position, with Arthur Moats moving into the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

James Harrison is naturally the player many Steelers fans first think of when it comes to fortifying outside linebacker. But Harrison officially retired right before the start of the regular season.

Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, told ESPN.com that he has not heard from the Steelers. And Parise said he has “absolutely no idea” if the Steelers would have any interest in trying to talk Harrison out of retirement or whether Harrison would seriously consider it.

The Steelers almost have to go outside the organization to add an outside linebacker. Howard Jones is a candidate to get promoted from the practice squad, but the rookie is raw -- albeit talented -- and there is no way he is ready to move into the role of No. 3 outside linebacker.

Taylor
The Steelers have considerably more depth at cornerback, which will better help them weather the loss of Taylor to a broken forearm. William Gay will move into Taylor’s spot at right cornerback and probably slide to the nickel when the Steelers go with five defensive backs, with Antwon Blake replacing him at right cornerback.

Taylor’s playing career with the Steelers could be over if the 12th-year veteran is placed on injured reserve, as he is in the final year of his contract.

Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier appears to be the least seriously hurt of the three defensive starters who went down with injures against the Panthers. The first-round pick has a sprained MCL and the Steelers have to hope an MRI doesn’t reveal an even more significant injury.

Even if Shazier only sprained his knee against the Panthers -- and it is the same knee he hurt in training camp, causing him to miss significant practice time and the Steelers’ first preseason game -- he is likely sidelined for at least a couple of weeks.

The Steelers do have depth at inside linebacker. Sean Spence will step in for Shazier at weakside inside linebacker, with Vince Williams and Terence Garvin backing him up while Shazier is out.
PITTSBURGH -- Outrage inevitably followed the release of the video that led to Ray Rice’s release from the Ravens, an indefinite suspension from the NFL and widespread condemnation of the former Baltimore running back.

But one voice was more measured than emotional, that of Steelers cornerback William Gay, surely because of his unique perspective. Gay lost his mother to domestic violence when he was 7 years old. Carolyn Hall had been in an abusive relationship, and when she tried to leave Gay’s stepfather, he shot her and then himself. Hall was 30 years old.

Gay
“First and foremost, I’m against domestic violence," Gay said. "That was wrong of [Rice], but at the end of the day you don’t need to run away from Ray Rice. He needs help, so we have to do everything we can to help him.

"Domestic violence is real in the NFL and we need to get help. We’re not immune to it.”

Gay has lent his voice to campaigns devoted to stopping domestic violence. He visits shelters for battered women and serves dinner there. He shares his story with the women and children at shelters, offering hope that it can get better.

“I’m praying for him and his wife,” Gay said. “They’re in a tough situation and we just hope he becomes better. Best of luck to Ray Rice.”

Gay's personal tragedy left him lost and angry. For him to turn his life around, it took his grandmother and an uncle to tell him he was headed down a path that surely would end in prison.

Gay ended up excelling at football, earning a scholarship to Louisville and graduating in 3½ years with a degree in sports administration.

The former fifth-round draft pick is now in his eighth NFL season and is perhaps the most unsung player on the Steelers’ defense.
LATROBE, Pa. – The perception that the NFL is trying to further stick it to defenses by making the enforcement of illegal-contact penalties a major point of emphasis is not entirely accurate.

The illegal contact call works both ways, longtime NFL field judge Bob Waggoner said, as wide receivers will be scrutinized as much as defensive backs and will be penalized for pushing off, particularly when they are trying to create separation at the end of a route.

Waggoner was part of a three-man officiating crew that met with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday to go over new rules and discuss ones that the league has categorized as major points of emphasis.

[+] EnlargeLeBeau
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesPittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau doesn't believe a new emphasis on illegal contact will have a big effect on NFL defenses.
Enforcing the illegal contact rule has become a priority, Waggoner said, because there is increasingly more clutching and grabbing beyond the 5-yard zone where defenders are allowed contact with receivers.

“I think what happened over the years is it’s kind of stretched a little bit,” said Waggoner, who is entering his 18th season as an NFL official. “It’s like a rubber band. Now we want to bring it back a little bit.”

Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay shrugged off the tighter enforcement of illegal contract and each said it won’t have a profound impact on defenses.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau agreed.

“I don’t think they’re going to officiate it much differently,” said LeBeau, who was a Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback with the Detroit Lions. “There’s always been a lot of defensive holding called and pass interference called. I don’t think it’s going to change the way we coach it. I hope our guys will react if they are being very much a stickler for the rule.”
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Clark bid an emotional farewell to Pittsburgh and the Steelers on Tuesday night, telling KDKA-TV he is "grateful to God that he let me be there. It's just one of the best organizations in sports."

Clark started for eight seasons in Pittsburgh, teaming with good friend Troy Polamalu to give the Steelers one of the best safety tandems in the NFL.

Clark
Hard-hitting on the field and away from it with opinions he never hesitated to voice, Clark will go down as one of the better free-agent signings in Steelers history.

The Steelers signed Mike Mitchell in March to get younger and faster at free safety. Clark re-signed with the Redskins, the team he had been with before signing with the Steelers in 2006.

Clark got choked up when he talked about the friendships he forged in Pittsburgh -- and the support he received after suffering a life-threatening illness due to complications from sickle-cell trait that were triggered during a 2007 game in Denver.

"Ike [Taylor], Troy and Will Gay, they're my brothers man, and I think that's the hard part about this game because I don't want people [in Washington] to think that I'm not excited about it because I really am," Clark said. "But when I was sick they came to the hospital and Troy cried with me and prayed with me. That's the things that I'll miss, that's the things that I'll remember."

Clark also said he won't soon forget the fan support the Steelers enjoy in Pittsburgh and far beyond Western Pennsylvania.

"To be able to go places and take over stadiums, the Steelers are spoiled by the fans they have," he said. "To be around just such good people [in the Steelers organization], for people to embrace me and treat me the way that they did. It's important. It was beautiful so I just thank them all."

Clark said the hit he will remember the most came in the Steelers' 33-10 win at New England in 2008. He drilled Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker after a pass sailed over the latter's head. The play epitomized the Steelers' handling of their longtime nemesis in a win that helped propel them on their run to the Super Bowl title.

"The Patriots had this mystique about them, they still do, and Wes Welker had a mystique about him of just being such a scrappy, tough [wide receiver] and we just don't like those guys," Clark said. "We didn't. So it just felt so good to hit him and it set a tone for us."

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Steelers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
10:30
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Cornerback may be the Pittsburgh Steelers' biggest need in this year’s draft, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers landing the top one on his board.

Kiper has the Steelers taking Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert with the 15th overall pick, changing his selection from Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III.

Kiper had the Steelers picking Nix in his first two mock drafts.

Kiper has Gilbert rated the 14th best player in the draft and the top one at what is considered a deep position this year.

The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert has good size and excellent speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.38 seconds at the NFL scouting combine last month.

Gilbert’s showing in Indianapolis bolstered his stock following a season in which he intercepted seven passes, recorded 42 tackles and was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the top defensive back in college football.

Here is what Kiper wrote about Gilbert, who could also be a return man in the NFL:

His athlete credentials are strong. On the field, he combines short-area quickness to adjust to routes and open-field speed to run with (or past) any receiver. He has enough size and strength to redirect routes at the line and can then flip his hips and run with anybody; he rarely allows much separation. Good ball skills and hands are evident both in coverage and the return game. Given the need at the position, it's not out of the question that he lands in the top 10.

The Steelers have not used a first-round pick on a cornerback since 1997 when they selected Chad Scott 24th overall but they need to draft at least two players at the position this year.

Ike Taylor agreed to a restructured deal earlier this week but he is not expected to play for the Steelers beyond 2014. William Gay and Cortez Allen are the only other experienced cornerbacks on the roster, and the former turned 29 in January.

Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard would make a lot of sense for the Steelers with their first pick in the draft.
PITTSBURGH -- Ike Taylor returning for one more season provides some stability at a position where the Pittsburgh Steelers are perilously thin.

It also provides the perfect opportunity for the Steelers to draft two cornerbacks, something they did in 2011 with mixed results, and turn them into Taylor’s shadows.

Dennard
Taylor
Among the many things Taylor can teach rookie cornerbacks is how to be a professional. Aside from maybe wide receiver Antonio Brown, no one in the Steelers’ locker room works harder than Taylor.

He is in terrific shape, and his maniacal work ethic is a main reason why Taylor’s play has slipped a little with age but not fallen off dramatically as is often the case for players who are pushing 34.

Taylor returning to the Steelers in 2014 does nothing to minimize their long-term need at cornerback, which is why they have to draft two of them.

The bigger question is whether this is the year the Steelers finally use a first-round pick on a cornerback, something they haven’t done since 1997 when they took Chad Scott with the 24th overall selection.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are at Michigan State's pro day today, according to the Detroit Free Press, and their presence will further fuel speculation that the organization will target Darqueze Dennard with its first-round pick.

Dennard and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert are widely considered the top cornerbacks in what is a deep draft at the position.

A consensus All-American in 2013, Dennard is a physical cornerback who can provide run support as well as stick to opposing wide receivers. He didn’t run a great 40-yard dash time (4.51 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine last month, but his time didn’t raise any red flags either.

Dennard, who broke up 14 passes and made four interceptions in helping the Spartans win the Big Ten in 2013, is the 18th-best player in the draft, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

Here is what Kiper wrote about Dennard:
He's the most versatile defensive back in the draft, with proven skill in any area of coverage. Dennard can play up and redirect routes or off in zone and make plays in front of him. He'll blanket even really good receivers in man-to-man, and he turns his head well to avoid penalties that could be called were he not to show ball awareness, given how tightly he can play in coverage. It's all there.

Whether the Steelers take Dennard or another cornerback in the first round remains to be seen. They have generally waited until the middle rounds to draft cornerbacks, something they did with the three veteran ones on their roster.

Taylor and Cortez Allen were fourth-round picks, and William Gay was a fifth-round selection.

No matter where the Steelers draft cornerbacks this year, those players will have no better mentor than Taylor.

Countdown to combine: Steelers

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
2:00
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- With the NFL scouting combine starting Feb. 22, we review positions of need and who the Pittsburgh Steelers might be looking at during the combine at those positions.

Position of need: Cornerback

Ike Taylor's play slipped last season, and there is no guarantee that the 11th-year veteran returns in 2014. Taylor is slated to make $7 million in base salary next season, and he will have to accept a drastic pay cut to play another season in Pittsburgh. Cortez Allen, who has shown signs that he can succeed Taylor as the No. 1 cornerback, is the only player at that position who still has upside. And Taylor, Allen and William Gay are the only three experienced cornerbacks on the roster. Look for the Steelers to draft at least two cornerbacks, as general manager Kevin Colbert has acknowledged that the position is lacking in depth.

Three players the Steelers may be targeting

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: He and Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert are the consensus top two cornerbacks in the draft. The 5-11, 195-pounder Dennard has decent size and teams love his physicality. There are questions about Dennard's speed, so his 40-yard dash time at the combine could have a significant impact on his draft stock. Teams will love his game tape, and Dennard recorded 62 tackles and intercepted four passes last season while playing for one of the best defenses in college football. The Steelers haven't used a first-round pick on a cornerback since Chad Scott in 1997, and they won't get a crack at Dennard in the second round. There does appear to be some depth at cornerback if the Steelers opt to address another position with the 15th overall pick of the draft.

Pierre Desir, Lindenwood: Given his size and athleticism as well as the Steelers' success with Taylor and Allen -- both were fourth-round picks from small schools -- it seems logical that they will take a long look at Desir at the combine. The 6-1, 195-pounder intercepted 13 passes in two seasons at Lindenwood University, a Division II school in Missouri, and teams often threw away from him. Desir addressed questions about his level of competition in college by playing in the East-West Shrine game as well as the Senior Bowl. Desir is not ranked among ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 10 cornerbacks, and he could be available in the third or fourth round. It will be interesting to see what his combine measurables are, and how Desir handles the big stage in Indianapolis.

Bradley Roby, Ohio State: An up-and-down junior season raised questions about his maturity and probably cost the 5-11, 192-pounder a chance of getting drafted in the first round. Roby, who had 68 tackles and three interceptions last season, is arguably the most talented cornerback in the draft, and if he tests well and interviews well in Indianapolis he could re-establish himself as a first-round prospect. But if concerns about his inconsistency in 2013, as well as the one-game suspension Roby served for an offseason arrest, drop him into the middle of the second round or lower he could be of interest to the Steelers. Roby is a first-round talent and the right setting could make him a steal in the second round. Keep in mind that the Steelers have drafted 13 players from the Big Ten since 2007. Also former Buckeyes great Dick LeBeau is well-positioned to do the necessary homework on Roby.
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II, in a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, lauded the direction of the Steelers’ offense.

But he also said the Steelers have to improve across the board on the other side of the ball.

The Steelers slipped from first in total defense in 2012 to 13th. They also gave up an average of 25 more rushing yards per game while plummeting from second in the NFL to 20th in run defense.

“We need to be better,” the Steelers president said. “There’s no denying that. We weren’t good enough against the run when you look at where we ranked in the league. We weren’t good enough taking the ball away, rushing the passer. There’s things we need to improve on.”

The easy part is identifying where the Steelers were lacking on defense this season. More problematic is fixing a myriad of problems given the uncertainty on that side of the ball because of the confluence of age, salary-cap considerations and impending free agency.

Rooney said the Steelers aren’t in serious salary-cap trouble, but it’s no secret that the organization doesn’t have a lot of room under it, either.

And the cap is only expected to receive a modest bump from the $123 million teams were allowed to use on player salaries in 2013.

Tough decisions will have to be made during the offseason.

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor are among the players that the Steelers could ask to take a pay cut or outright release.

There are other questions too.

Is Steve McLendon the right fit at nose tackle or is he more suited to playing as a situational defensive tackle and end? Will the Steelers be able to re-sign outside linebacker Jason Worilds before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 11?

Rooney said the Steelers’ top priority in free agency will be re-signing their own players. Worilds should be at the top of that list and the Steelers may consider using a transition or franchise tag on him before the start of the free-agent signing period.

Then there is the secondary.

Free safety Ryan Clark is unlikely to be re-signed and there is a chance that Taylor and even Polamalu won’t be back in 2014.

The Steelers need to get younger in the secondary but they also need to have players ready to step in for departed veterans.

Can you name the cornerbacks on the Steelers’ roster other than Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay? Would the Steelers be either foolhardy or daring enough to replace both of their starting safeties in 2014?

The position will be addressed in the draft and maybe even in free agency where, as usual, the Steelers will pick their spots.

When asked if he buys into the notion that the decline of the Steelers’ defense last season could be linked to age catching up with the unit, Rooney said, “I’m not too concerned about age, it’s just getting better. We’ll be working hard on that this offseason.”

Steelers keep playoff hopes alive

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
11:05
PM ET
Ben Roethlisberger Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger and the Steelers survived a wild second half on the road against Green Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A punter with a distinct Aussie accent completed arguably the most important pass of the game.

A defensive end who hadn't played more than 10 snaps since the middle of November produced a sack and recovered a fumble that led to the late touchdown that set up a wild finish at snowy Lambeau Field.

A defense that might have taken the field with only some light clean-up work had coach Mike Tomlin played the percentages needed to make a last-second goal-line stand to preserve the Steelers' 38-31 win against the Packers on Sunday, ensuring Pittsburgh's playoff hopes survived another day.

The victory came in spite of the Steelers. But the improbable nature of the win seemed as apropos as the snow that coated the field at legendary Lambeau three days before Christmas.

The Steelers' alter ego has tried to sabotage this season countless times already -- including several times against the Packers -- and yet this team still ticks.

The Steelers are 7-8, and they will go into their final game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs. They still need a lot to happen, but the Steelers should be able to at least take care of their own business next Sunday -- and in less dramatic fashion than what transpired at Lambeau.

They play the 4-11 Browns in a 1 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field, which suddenly will have many fewer empty seats than recently expected.

"There's a chance," defensive end Brett Keisel said with a smile. "And we're going to fight."

And that is the rub on the latest edition of the Steelers, who have shown a knack for responding when pushed to the brink.

And you thought the Steelers had no identity.

"I think tonight showed there's no quit in this team," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "That's who we are."

Now let's talk about where they are with just one game left on the schedule.

"Still not going to talk about it, because we have to take care of our business," Roethlisberger said of the "P" word. "I don't even know what the scenario is, but I'm sure it's still pretty crazy."

It got a lot less crazy by the end of the afternoon games Sunday.

The Steelers got what they needed in wins from the Bills and Jets, and they can live with the Chargers beating the hapless Raiders.

They almost didn't hold up their end, squandering a double-digit fourth-quarter lead before scoring a late touchdown and then hanging on for dear life.

A compelling if not always cleanly played game -- the teams combined for 16 penalties -- could have turned following a bizarre sequence in the third quarter.

The Steelers' defense made an inspiring stand after Le'Veon Bell lost a fumble at Pittsburgh's 3-yard line. Steve McLendon blocked a short Mason Crosby field goal attempt, and Ryan Clark scooped up the loose ball.

Clark tried to lateral it to William Gay, but when the ball landed on the turf, Ziggy Hood swatted it out of bounds. Officials ruled that there had never been a change of possession, and they awarded the Packers the ball and a first down after an illegal batting call on Hood.

An irate Tomlin tried to challenge the call, which was made after a lengthy discussion among officials, but it was not reviewable. Tomlin seethed about the call even after the game.

"They screwed it up in my opinion," Tomlin said.

The Steelers nearly did the same after rebounding from that deflating swing with a pair of touchdowns.

They blew a 10-point lead before Keisel pounced on a loose ball that was a result of a Troy Polamalu strip-tackle with just less than two minutes left in the game.

The Packers delivered an early Christmas present when Nick Perry hopped offside before Shaun Suisham's 27-yard field goal attempt.

The Steelers had a first down at the 5-yard line with 1:35 left in the game. With the Packers having only one timeout remaining, Tomlin could have killed much of the clock and sent Suisham out for the equivalent of an extra point.

"I'm not into that," Tomlin said of having Roethlisberger take a knee twice after Bell had reached the 1-yard line. "Given an opportunity to score, we are going to score."

The score held up because rookie Shamarko Thomas chased down Micah Hyde after a 70-yard kickoff return, and the Steelers' defense had one more stand in it -- albeit barely.

The story of the game, at least from the Steelers' vantage point, could have been questionable coaching decisions and the sequence that gave the Packers that ball back after a blocked field goal.

Instead, the story was punter Mat McBriar throwing a 30-yard pass -- on his second read, no less -- after a perfectly called fake punt that served as a precursor to a wild third quarter.

It was Keisel, who still has trouble putting weight on his injured heel, making two of the biggest plays near the end of the game -- and near the end of his Steelers career.

It was about the improbable adding up to what seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago: the Steelers having a chance to play beyond Dec. 29 this season.

"You've got to give our whole team credit for continuing to fight," Keisel said, "for continuing to believe."
Jason Campbell is sidelined by a concussion and Brandon Weeden will start Sunday against Jacksonville.

Yet there's no outrage.

Campbell
No anger.

No pounding on tables.

Not locally, not nationally, not on the talk shows, not even on "The View."

Campbell was sidelined by a hit that the NFL is trying to abolish. Breathe on a quarterback's head these days, and a flag is thrown. Brush his helmet with a feather, it's a flag.

Yet last Sunday William Gay clubbed Campbell in the face mask, forcing a fumble and key turnover, and little is mentioned.

This isn't to vilify Gay, whose tackle was made fast and aggressively in a game that is supposed to be fast and aggressive. He did not seem to go for Campbell's face mask the way James Harrison ducked his helmet and drove it into Colt McCoy's jaw.

But it was a penalty.

And somehow a referee -- Terry McAulay of Bottle Game fame -- and an umpire standing in the backfield missed Campbell's head snapping to the side as he was hit.

Perhaps it was even too fast for them, but to think two people missed the call ...

And to think it's not the subject of discussion nationwide is even more baffling. Campbell was hit in the face mask, pure and simple. It should have been a penalty and it should be the topic of discussion.

The outrage is completely missing.

And that's wrong. It sure seems that if this hit had happened to Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning it would be a topic. That it happened to Campbell, or to a losing team like Cleveland, does not diminish the impact of the hit or the consequences.

Had that flag been thrown, the Browns might (emphasis on might) have gotten into the game. They did little to show they could or would, but the chance was there.

Worse, they're without their starting quarterback because of a hit that should have been flagged.

It will be interesting to see what the league has to say about it.

It'd be nice if there was some outrage from them.
SteelersAP Photo/David Richard
 
CLEVELAND -- Most of the players had cleared out of the visiting locker room at FirstEnergy Stadium, leaving behind a carpet covered with athletic tape, empty water bottles and some stray towels.

Will Allen, one of the unlikely catalysts of a three-game winning streak that, three weeks ago, seemed as likely as a Ben Roethlisberger statue in Cleveland, had just stripped off his uniform. When Mike Tomlin saw Allen, the coach reacted as if he had swallowed the whistle that he wears around his neck during practice.

"Take that shower pill, Will," Tomlin said as he made one of his final sweeps of the locker room late Sunday afternoon. "Let's go."

Tomlin had every reason to be in a hurry after the Steelers resumed their dominance of the Cleveland Browns with a 27-11 win despite being outgained and yielding more than two football fields' worth of receiving yards to Josh Gordon.

The Steelers have a short week before their game in Baltimore on Thursday, and they didn't exactly have time for a quick visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before busing back to Pittsburgh. The brisk pace that Tomlin encouraged after his team won its third game in a row was fitting on a symbolic level, too, since the best thing the Steelers can do right now is keep moving.

Stopping to look around after improving to 5-6 can be only counterproductive to what the Steelers are now in position to do: make the playoffs after nearly burying themselves by going oh-for-September.

The Steelers are among a cluster of teams in line for the second wild-card berth in the AFC, but you aren't likely to hear them talking about playoff scenarios, not even if they beat the Ravens on Thanksgiving night and sweep their rivals for the first time since 2008.

"Can't," Roethlisberger said after throwing for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns and improving to 16-1 against the Browns. "I'm not looking around. It's all about focusing on one game, because that's all we can control, you know?"

Fair enough.

And it would be foolhardy for the Steelers to do anything but stick with the tunnel vision that has allowed them to overcome the shelling they absorbed in New England as well as Dick LeBeau, one of the keenest defensive minds in the history of football, suddenly forgetting how to coach.

LeBeau sure looks a lot smarter when blitzing cornerback William Gay takes advantage of an unobstructed path to the quarterback to deliver a jarring hit that produces a fumble, as he did Sunday against the Browns' Jason Campbell. Or when Gay steps in front of a receiver for an easy pick-six because the Browns have to start throwing the ball almost exclusively to make up a huge deficit.

Gay and strong safety Troy Polamalu were the biggest reasons the Steelers came up with four takeaways against an offense that was largely helpless aside from Gordon.

The Steelers are plus-seven in turnover differential the past two weeks, and, as loathe they are to look at the big picture, recent developments bode well. The Steelers are creating turnovers and hanging onto the ball. They are protecting Roethlisberger (he has been sacked just once in the past two games), and they are running the ball enough, if not always efficiently.

That is a formula for winning. It also produces the kind of synergy that allows teams to do what the Steelers refer to as "stacking wins."

"There's not one unit right now that's carrying the team," Roethlisberger said. "One unit doesn't feel like they've got to step up because they've got to pick up the other groups. We all are playing together, and I think that's what's so much fun about it."

The Steelers have had fun the past three weeks at the expense of teams with perpetual quarterback issues (Bills and Browns) as well as an oft-downtrodden one (Lions) that looked down after ascending to first place in the NFC North.

Questions remain about whether the Steelers' defense can stand up to a big-time quarterback. And, as Polamalu said after Gordon caught 14 passes for 237 yards, "It was definitely nice getting turnovers, but we gave up a lot of big plays on the back end. If we want to compete with elite teams in the league, we can't do that."

How and where the Steelers stand relative to the rest of the league is the last thing they are worrying about. Such things are for others to debate, whether it is sitting in front of a radio microphone or standing with colleagues in the coffee station.

"Right now, we're just trying to dig our way out of a hole. Are we out if it? No, I don't think so," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said after catching six passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. "Are we playing like a playoff team? I don't know. Is there room for improvement? Yes, there is, and that's what it's all about."

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No-call on Campbell sack hurts chances

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
6:47
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CLEVELAND -- Should it have been a penalty and if it were called would it have mattered?

That’s the question the Cleveland Browns might be asking after their 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was a loss that seems to make one play meaningless, because Pittsburgh pretty much thrashed the Browns.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gay
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesWilliam Gay sacked Jason Campbell and forced him to fumble, but the Steelers cornerback may have gotten away with striking Campbell in the head.
Again.

But one key play in the thrashing came midway through the third quarter when Steelers cornerback William Gay blitzed free and blindsided Jason Campbell at the Browns' 47-yard line. Gay forced Campbell to fumble, Will Allen returned it to the 4 and Pittsburgh scored a touchdown on the next play to extend a 13-3 lead to 20-3.

Live and on replay, it seemed clear that Gay hit Campbell in the facemask as he tackled him. The facemask would be the head, which is a no-no in the modern-day NFL.

A week earlier, Drew Brees drew a flag when San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks tackled Brees in the shoulder and neck.

That was penalized.

The hit to Campbell’s facemask was not.

“I talked to the officials about that,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I felt like he was hit on the head. They didn’t feel that way.”

Chudzinski said the official told him Campbell was hit in the shoulder. But the replay clearly showed Campbell’s head snapping as Gay hit him in the facemask.

What would have changed had the call gone the Browns' way?

Maybe not much. Pittsburgh exerted its will on the Browns from the middle of the second period on, and they had earlier sent Campbell to the sidelines for one play with a rib injury. He returned and had the Browns at the Steelers 39-yard line, down 13-3 with 7:59 left in the quarter.

Gay lined up outside Allen on the defensive right of the formation. Gay stutter-stepped to the line as if he were blitzing, then backed off. As Campbell continued the snap count, Gay lined up alongside Allen -- and looked like he was blitzing.

Browns guard John Greco said the protection was focused to the side away from Gay, the Steelers' left.

“It’s just the kind of thing where we’re working one way and they brought one extra,” Greco said. “Just kind of timing. Didn’t get it off fast enough.”

Which would indicate that in that situation Campbell had to get the ball out quickly to his hot read. He didn’t.

Gay and Allen both blitzed, and running back Chris Ogbonnaya had to block the guy closest to the quarterback -- Allen.

Gay made Campbell pay. But even in making a good play, Gay hit Campbell in the facemask.

Had the penalty been called, the Browns would have had a first down at the 24, with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

Do they go on to win? Doubtful, considering the way the Steelers played.

Should the play have been flagged? Many less obvious flags have been thrown. It wasn’t a vicious hit. It was just a fast play in which Campbell flinched and Gay got his hand up.

But it also sent Campbell to the sidelines for the game with a concussion, which he could have received on the hit or when the back of his head hit the frozen field.

Either way, the no-call cost the the Browns possession, field position and a quarterback the believed in.

Cornerback Joe Haden said the injury deflated the team.

"You saw it," Haden said. "That's what happened."

It also led to a ton of frustration from a team that two weeks ago had hopes of getting into the mix of the AFC North race, but now is back in last place in the division.

“It’s how the tide turns, right?” said safety T.J. Ward.

William Gay proves his worth to Steelers

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
12:15
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OAKLAND -- As if a trip across the country a week after the Pittsburgh Steelers slugged it out with the Baltimore Ravens isn’t bad enough, imagine if they had to lug a 1-5 record into the Coliseum.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gay
Don Wright/AP PhotoSteelers WR William Gay breaks up a pass intended for Ravens WR Jacoby Jones in the second quarter of their Week 7 game.
Instead, the Steelers visit the Oakland Raiders today with a real chance to fight their way back from an 0-4 start.

They are 2-4, though if not for a couple of critical pass break-ups made by William Gay last Sunday, the Steelers would be going nowhere even faster than the perpetually rebuilding Raiders.

Gay saved two touchdowns, including one when he recovered after getting beaten by Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones and batting away an underthrown Joe Flacco pass.

And those weren’t the only plays by the seventh-year veteran that stood out when the Steelers watched tape of their 19-16 win against the Ravens.

“Ray Rice caught a ball out in the flat and Gay made the tackle,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “That was crucial because that was in the red zone. Gay has always been a solid tackler.”

That is why the Steelers re-signed Gay after he spent last season in Arizona.

Tackling the catch, as the Steelers call it, is critical in coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense. Gay’s proficiency in that part of the game is why he has been playing over promising third-year man Cortez Allen in the Steelers’ base defense.

“He’s playing well, playing consistently and he played well in the Baltimore game,” LeBeau said of Gay.

More and more Steelers fans appear to be giving Gay his due, if grudgingly. At the very least, they are no longer blaming him for everything from Steelers' losses to traffic snarls on Pittsburgh’s major roads.

As much criticism as Gay endured during his first stint in Pittsburgh, the Steelers did not hesitate to bring him back last March when it became clear they would not be able to re-sign Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers signed Gay, whom they had selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, to a three-year contract just days after Arizona released him.

“Coach Mike (Tomlin) says often that your tape is your resume,” LeBeau said. “He had good tape when he was here. He had good tape when he was in Arizona. We knew he was a good man. I’m glad that Mike brought him back.”

Gay has turned out to be one of the better under-the-radar signings by any team.

He leads the Steelers with four passes defended and is fifth on the team with 28 tackles.

Gay stepped up when an ankle sprain sidelined Allen in the season opener and sidetracked the latter's development. He has never missed a game in his NFL career and leads all cornerbacks with 102 consecutive games played.

Yes, Gay has limitations, but he is dependable and durable, and it looks like Steelers fans are finally embracing him for what he is.

And not bashing him for what he isn’t.

Observation deck: Giants-Steelers

August, 10, 2013
8/10/13
11:04
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Here are my observations from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 18-13 preseason loss to the New York Giants on Saturday night:
  • No one should jump to conclusions off one performance, especially the preseason opener. But, among the AFC North teams, the Steelers had the sloppiest start to the preseason. There were special-teams gaffes, head-shaking penalties from outside linebacker Jason Worilds and a rough debut for rookie quarterback Landry Jones. It's not going to be a fun couple of days reviewing the film for coach Mike Tomlin.
  • Tomlin decided to sit Le'Veon Bell (ankle) just a few days after he had announced the rookie running back would receive snaps with the first team. While some might consider this a setback, there is a silver lining in this for Bell. Resting him indicates the Steelers don't want to risk injuring him further, which is a sign he figures big in the team's plans early in the season. Last year's running backs, Isaac Redman (who got the start) and Jonathan Dwyer, combined for eight carries for 22 yards, which shows why the Steelers need a healthy Bell.
  • Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling was the offensive star for Pittsburgh. A free-agent pickup from Arizona, Stephens-Howling finished with 40 yards on seven first-half carries by showing his elusiveness. Remember, he's on the team because the Steelers parted ways with Chris Rainey after his off-the-field incident in January.
  • If Worilds wants to win the outside linebacker job, he's going to have to play better than this. After recording a sack to end a drive on third-and-1, he was flagged for roughing the passer twice in a span of three plays. That led to his getting benched in favor of Chris Carter.
  • This was a nightmare first game for special-teams coach Danny Smith. Drew Butler had a punt blocked (which came after Marshall McFadden was flagged as an ineligible man downfield), returner David Gilreath made the poor decision to field a punt at his own 3-yard line and Justin Brown was penalized for an illegal block in the back.
  • When is cornerback Cortez Allen going to be fully recovered from knee surgery? That's the question the Steelers were asking when Allen's replacement, William Gay, was beaten for a 57-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Injuries at cornerback haven't left the Steelers with many options at that spot. The good news for Pittsburgh is that Allen should be ready to suit up before the regular-season opener.
  • Jones had an embarrassing first NFL snap when he ran into running back Baron Batch while attempting to hand the ball off to him. Jones had to jump on the ball in the end zone, which resulted in a safety. To be fair, few rookie quarterbacks have stellar performances in their first preseason game. Jones finished 5-of-9 for 48 yards. Here's how the other quarterbacks fared: Ben Roethlisberger was 4-of-8 for 36 yards, Bruce Gradkowski was 6-of-11 for 35 yards and John Parker Wilson was 4-of-5 for 35 yards.

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