Pittsburgh Steelers: Arthur Moats

This is the 13th in a series that looks at 17 plays that shaped the Pittsburgh Steelers' season – one from every game.

For this series we will go in chronological order.

No. 1: Running back Le'Veon Bell’s 38-yard touchdown scamper in a 30-27 win over the Cleveland Browns.

No, 2: Wide receiver Justin Brown's lost fumble after a 6-yard reception in a 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 3: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones' sack of quarterback Cam Newton for an 8-yard loss in a 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

No. 4: Wide receiver Antonio Brown's drop of a sure touchdown pass in a 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No. 5: Cornerback Brice McCain's 21-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

No. 6: Cornerback Cortez Allen getting beat for a 51-yard touchdown catch by Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron.

No. 7: Bell’s 43-yard reception in a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans.

No. 8: Cornerback William Gay's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

No. 9: Wide receiver Markus Wheaton's 47-yard touchdown catch in a 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 10: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's rare and untimely interception in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets.

No. 11: Bell's 5-yard touchdown run in a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans.

No. 12: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills' 69-yard touchdown catch in a 35-32 win over the Steelers.

No. 13: Outside linebacker Arthur Moats capitalizes on botched exchange in Cincinnati.

The setting: The Steelers were trailing the Bengals, 21-10, early in the fourth quarter when Moats came up with one of the most critical takeaways of the season.

The play: Quarterback Andy Dalton had burned Pittsburgh for a 20-yard touchdown run off a read option but gave the Steelers the opening they needed when the Bengals ran the same play later in the game. Dalton faked to running back Jeremy Hill, but when he pulled it back Hill’s hip jarred it loose. Moats, starting at right outside linebacker for the injured James Harrison, alertly jumped on the ball right after Dalton and wrestled it away from him. The turnover gave the Steelers the ball at the Bengals' 24-yard line.

What it meant for the bigger picture: The Steelers needed just four plays to score the go-ahead touchdown and erupted for 22 points after Dalton’s lost fumble to beat the Bengals, 42-21. The victory -- Le'Veon Bell highlighted it by tying Walter Payton’s NFL record for most consecutive games with at least 200 yards from scrimmage with three -- put the Steelers just percentage behind the first-place Bengals in the bunched-up AFC North. The resounding way in which they beat the Bengals also provided a springboard for the Steelers, who won their final four regular-season games for the first time since 2005.
PITTSBURGH -- Jarvis Jones, chatty and friendly, has been one of the more accommodating players to the media in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room.

But a question of whether the outside linebacker needs to get bigger during the offseason caused Jones to all but roll his eyes last week.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJarvis Jones missed 11 games this season because of a wrist injury, making it difficult for the Steelers to evaluate his contributions.
"If y'all want me to be bigger I'll be bigger," Jones, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, told reporters. "I just feel like you've got to be stronger and you've got to know the game. If you make plays and do the things you need to do, size doesn't really matter."

The problem for the Steelers is they don't have a much better idea of whether Jones needs to get bigger to succeed at this level than they did at this time a year ago.

A dislocated wrist derailed Jones' season -- he missed 11 games and wasn't the same when he did return -- making the 2013 first-round draft pick again one of the biggest concerns heading into the offseason.

The Steelers desperately need Jones to emerge as an impact edge pass-rusher, and they need everything to fall into place for the former University of Georgia All-American next season -- from staying healthy to taking advantage of the opportunity he will have in 2015, with so much uncertainty at outside linebacker.

The Steelers are encouraged by the growth they saw from Jones in the first two and a half games this season before he hurt his wrist. But they realize it is only a small sample size, something Jones also acknowledged.

"Before my injury I really think I was on the right path of having a good season," Jones said. "Not saying I was going to have a mind-blowing season because we don't know. Coach Joey [Porter] really coached me up and had some good things going and that injury just threw me back."

Jones worked his way back from the injured reserve/designated to return list to play in Pittsburgh's final five games. But Jones played sparingly behind James Harrison at right outside linebacker.

"He was playing with a hurt hand," Harrison said. "He wasn't really using it. From previous tape I ended up seeing before he got hurt, he was looking good."

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said how Jones dealt with the injury is a significant part in evaluating the latter's second NFL season.

"How susceptible you are to injury is an element of the evaluation. We all are evaluated on all elements on how we perform," Tomlin said. "Oftentimes we have no control over some of the things that happen to us. We have all the control over how we respond and how we bounce back.

"I would imagine that he knows a lot more about himself as a football player and a professional now than he did prior to that injury. It creates misery, short-term misery, but also an opportunity for big-time growth. It will be interesting to see what that discussion is for him from his perspective and from ours as we move forward with him."

Jones, the only Steelers outside linebacker signed beyond 2014, plans to work with Marcel Pastoor, the team's assistant strength coach, before returning to Atlanta to train with Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston, who led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014.

Whether Jones can approach Houston's level as a pass-rusher -- the two were college teammates and are close friends -- remains to be seen. Just as uncertain is who will be playing outside linebacker with Jones next season in Pittsburgh.

Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats will be unrestricted free agents in March unless the Steelers sign both or use a tag on Worilds for the second year in a row. Harrison hasn't decided if he wants to play in 2015, and the Steelers may move on from the 12-year veteran.

"Hopefully they'll come back," Jones said. "I love playing with those guys. They're very passionate about this game and they respect this game."
PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison did not have to introduce himself to the reporters hovering over him as he sat in front of his locker earlier this week.

But the veteran outside linebacker felt the need to do so anyway following a question about whether there are enough snaps to go around at a position that has legitimate depth for the first time this season.

“My name is James Harrison. I’m a player,” he said. “You’ve got to ask the coaches about that.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a four-man rotation at outside linebacker on Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs if the coaches choose to go that route.

Harrison, who is expected to return to action after missing the past two games because of a knee injury, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats have all started at least one game at right outside linebacker.

Jones, who opened the season as the starter, may be in line to play the most snaps there as he continues to get his football legs back after missing nine games because of a dislocated wrist. Moats, who has started 10 games at right outside linebacker, may actually be the odd man out there with Harrison returning.

The Steelers could use Moats at left outside linebacker to spell Jason Worilds, who played every snap in a 27-20 win at Atlanta last Sunday.

“They’ll all play,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “You can never have too many good players. Early part of the year we were looking around to see if we four [outside linebackers to play].”

The injury that Jones sustained in a Sept. 21 win at Carolina left the Steelers perilously thin at outside linebacker and compelled them to coax Harrison out of retirement.

Jones and Harrison will play together for the first time on Sunday, and the former is hoping to make more of an impact after registering just one quarterback sack in the Steelers’ past two games.

“I really haven’t done much,” said Jones, who has been playing in the nickel package while working his way back into football shape. “Being in football pads is totally different than just running on the field and changing direction. I’m excited to see how it’s going to look when James comes back with the four-man rotation.”

Reviewing the Steelers' snap counts

December, 15, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Here is a look at the offensive and defensive snap counts in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons

Offense (59 snaps)

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger 59

Running backs: Le'Veon Bell 59, Will Johnson 16

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown 55, Markus Wheaton 35, Martavis Bryant 25, Lance Moore 21

Tight ends: Heath Miller 57, Matt Spaeth 23, Michael Palmer 2

Offensive line: Kelvin Beachum 59, Ramon Foster 59, Maurkice Pouncey 59, David DeCastro 59, Mike Adams 59

Analysis: The Steelers' starting offensive linemen played every snap for the third consecutive game. Mike Adams played right tackle in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert for the third straight game, giving Gilbert (ankle, knee) another week to get healthy. Gilbert is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. ... Bell has played all but five snaps in the Steelers' last two games. ... Johnson, who played both fullback and tight end, logged significant snaps early when the Steelers primarily went with their big personnel package (one wide receiver and three tight ends) on their opening possession of the game. ... Wheaton had perhaps his most efficient game of the season, catching all five passes thrown his way for 66 yards. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey played only on special teams for the second consecutive game.

Defense (60 snaps)

Defensive line: Cameron Heyward 53, Stephon Tuitt 51, Steve McLendon 24, Cam Thomas 11, Daniel McCullers 6

Linebackers: Jason Worilds 60, Lawrence Timmons 57, Vince Williams 35, Jarvis Jones 34, Arthur Moats 25, Sean Spence 22, Ryan Shazier 4, Terence Garvin 1

Cornerbacks: Brice McCain 59, William Gay 58, Antwon Blake 38, B.W. Webb 3

Safeties: Troy Polamalu 56, Mike Mitchell 52, Will Allen 11

Analysis: Who would guessed this? McCullers played more snaps in a December game with the Steelers pushing for the playoffs than Shazier, the Steelers' 2014 first-round draft pick. Shazier saw his first action on defense since sustaining a high-ankle sprain against the Baltimore Ravens in an early November game. Shazier, who opened the season as a starter at inside linebacker, continues to play behind the Williams/Spence tandem. Williams and Spence combined for 10 tackles against the Falcons. Spence recorded the Steelers only tackle for a loss when he shot a gap on a Falcons running play. ... The Steelers are all in on Tuitt, the rookie defensive end, as the second-round pick has clearly supplanted Thomas in the starting lineup. ... Jones and Moats split time at right outside linebacker with the former playing when the Steelers were in their nickel package. Moats is probably the odd man out when James Harrison returns from a knee injury that has sidelined him for the last two games. Moats could be a candidate to spell Worilds at left outside linebacker assuming Harrison is able to return to action Sunday. Worilds has played every snap the last two games.

A look at the Steelers' snap counts

December, 8, 2014
PITTSBURGH – Here is a review of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ snap counts in their 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Offense (73 snaps)

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger 73

Running backs: Le'Veon Bell 68, Will Johnson 22, Josh Harris 5

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown 71, Markus Wheaton 41, Martavis Bryant 24, Lance Moore 22

Tight ends: Heath Miller 72. Matt Spaeth 37, Michael Palmer 2

Offensive line: Kelvin Beachum 73, Ramon Foster 73, Maurkice Pouncey 73, David DeCastro 73, Mike Adams 73.

Analysis: Bell has played 158 of the Steelers’ 163 snaps in their last two games. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder came out of the game only one time – and that was after a 53-yard run -- before the Steelers took him out for good with a 21-point lead late in the fourth quarter…Harris received four carries late in the game and gained 9 yards. The undrafted rookie has clearly moved ahead of third-round pick Dri Archer, who did not dress against the Bengals because coach Mike Tomlin wanted an extra special-teams player on the active roster…The Steelers went into the game with a plan to employ bigger personnel packages and establish the run, and they stuck with it as Spaeth saw his most extended action of the season. ... All five offensive linemen played every snap for the second consecutive game.

Defense (61 snaps)

Defensive line: Stephon Tuitt 53, Cameron Heyward 52, Steve McLendon 24, Cam Thomas 22, 13, Daniel McCullers 7

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons 61, Jason Worilds 61, Vince Williams 34, Jarvis Jones 31, Arthur Moats 30, Sean Spence 27

Cornerbacks: William Gay 61, Ike Taylor 38, Brice McCain 37, Antwon Blake 20

Safeties: Mike Mitchell 61, Troy Polamalu 55, Will Allen 6

Analysis: Tuitt made his first NFL start and easily saw the most playing time of his young career while playing in place of Brett Keisel, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury the previous week. The rookie seemed to settle in as the game progressed and he knocked Andy Dalton out of the game for one play after drilling the Bengals quarterback in the midsection during a pass play. ... The coaches made it clear to rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier that the first-round pick will have to earn his way back onto the field after missing seven games because of knee and ankle injuries. Shazier played only special teams in his first game back from a high-ankle sprain, with Williams and Spence sharing duties at the linebacker spot opposite Timmons. … Talk about an efficient game for Moats. Despite playing roughly half of the defensive snaps he recorded two sacks and a quarterback pressure and recovered a fumble. … Blake should be a candidate for more playing time after performing well in the fourth quarter following the removal of Taylor from the game because of a knee contusion. Blake finished with four tackles and led the Steelers with two passes broken up.
PITTSBURGH -- Jarvis Jones returned to action Sunday with the Steelers shorthanded at outside linebacker, but it was Arthur Moats who proved to have impeccable timing.

Moats recorded two of the Steelers’ three sacks and he turned in one of the plays of the game in a 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

After a Shaun Suisham field goal had trimmed the Bengals' lead to 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, Moats recovered a fumble deep in Cincinnati territory following a botched exchange between quarterback Andy Dalton and running back Jeremy Hill on a read-option.

Dalton appeared to be in perfect position to recover the loose ball but Moats simply took it away from him.

“He actually did have it first,” Moats said after helping the Steelers improve to 8-5. “I just got down there and started going to work and after that was waiting for them to blow the whistle.”

Moats answered a whistle of another sorts Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

With James Harrison out because of a knee injury and Jones’ workload limited because he hadn’t played in a game since dislocating his right wrist in September, the Steelers leaned on Moats at right outside linebacker.

He split snaps with Jones there and turned in a game-changing play -- similar to what cornerback Brice McCain, another of the Steelers’ under-the-radar free-agent signings last March, did earlier this season at Jacksonville when he returned an interception for a touchdown.

“Moats played lights out,” Jones said. “He really stepped up.”

Jones actually played one more snap than Moats -- 31 to 30 -- but the Steelers eased the 2013 first-round draft pick back into action playing him primarily in their nickel defense.

“They just wanted to work me back in and play me on third down and in key situations,” Jones said after playing in his first game since Sept. 21. “The plays I did get, I felt fine. I had fun out there and it was a great team win.”

The question is what the Steelers do moving forward as Jones continues to get his football legs back and with Harrison likely to return next Sunday in Atlanta.

Moats is probably the odd man out at right outside linebacker but his play against the Bengals may compel the coaches to find ways to get him on the field -- and possibly spell Jason Worilds some at left outside linebacker.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 8, 2014
CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers received high marks in their 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are the grades:

QUARTERBACK: So much for Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. Roethlisberger threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns and outdueled Andy Dalton, who played well except for a lost fumble. A slow start – Roethlisberger threw for just 19 yards in the first quarter – knocked this grade down a bit. Grade: A-

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLe'Veon Bell found the end zone for the first time in six games on Sunday in Cincinnati.
RUNNING BACKS: Le'Veon Bell showed why he can stake a claim to the best running back in the NFL right now. His uncanny patience and ability to set up his blocks allowed the second-year man to rush for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He also chipped in with 50 receiving yards and a score and still doesn’t hesitate to do dirty work such a picking up blitzes. Grade: A

RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown caught nine passes for 117 yards and a touchdown and made some timely, chain-moving grabs. He also became the first player in Steelers history with at least 1,300 receiving yards in the first 13 games of the season. The Steelers are still too reliant on Brown in the passing game but rookie Martavis Bryant had a huge 94-yard touchdown catch, his seventh scoring reception in seven career games. Grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing Bell to average 7.1 yards per carry. The line also allowed Roethlisberger enough time to throw for the 11th-year veteran to take control of the game after the first quarter. The Steelers were particularly effective running left behind pulling right guared David DeCastro. Tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth also merit mention here with the contributions each made as blockers. Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE: The return of nose tackle Steve McLendon helped the Steelers limit the Bengals’ 1-2 punch of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill to 63 yards on 14 carries. Take away Dalton’s 20-yard touchdown run off a read-option that completed fooled the Steelers and the Bengals managed just 3.3 yards per carry. Grade: B-

LINEBACKERS: Arthur Moats played his best game as a Steeler, notching a pair of sacks and making one of the plays of the game when he wrested a loose ball away from Dalton after a botched exchange between the Bengals quarterback and Hill. The Steelers need their edge pass rushers to generate more pressure on the quarterback, but the linebackers made plays when the defense needed it: Grade: C+

SECONDARY: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green had his way with the Steelers and had catches of 56 and 81 yards on the way to 224 receiving yards. The Steelers are just trying to get by at cornerback, and safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell have to play better on the back end. Cornerback William Gay had a nice bounce-back game after struggling the previous week against the New Orleans Saints. An illegal hands-to-the-face penalty on outside linebacker Jason Worilds nullified a nifty interception Gay made in the second quarter. Grade: D

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brad Wing improved after a shaky start, but the Steelers need more from the first-year player. Shaun Suisham made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 44-yarder that pulled the Steelers within a point of the Bengals early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers did not get much out of their return game and yielded a couple of significant punt returns to the Bengals: Grade: C

COACHING: The Steelers stayed the course with their running game and their success on the ground set up Roethlisberger’s 94-yard touchdown pass. Coach Mike Tomlin played to win when he gave the green light for the deep ball that Roethlisberger threw with the Steelers backed up on their own 6-yard line and leading by just seven points in the fourth quarter. Grade: A
CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers activated outside linebacker Jarvis Jones from the injured return/designated to return list Saturday, and his return couldn't come at a better time.

 James Harrison is expected to miss the Steelers’ 1 p..m. game ET Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals because of a knee injury, meaning Jones and Arthur Moats will split duties at right outside linebacker.

Moats had started at the position after Jones dislocated his right wrist in September before giving way to Harrison, who played all but three of the Steelers’ defensive snaps last Sunday in a 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Jones, the Steelers’ first round draft pick in 2013, recorded two sacks before going down in the Steelers’ 37-19 win at Carolina.

Both defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and linebackers coach Keith Butler said Jones was starting to come into his own before getting hurt.

“He improved steadily last year. You can go from the middle of the [2013] season on, and he was playing really good football,” LeBeau said last Thursday. “He was playing pretty good football [this year]. He got hurt early [in the season]. He was looking good in camp. He’s probably going to be a little rusty, but he’s a developing, good football player.”

The Steelers placed cornerback Cortez Allen on injured reserve to make room for Jones on the 53-man roster.

Allen had surgery to repair a broken thumb last month, but the fourth-year veteran practiced every day last week and had been listed as probable for the Bengals game on the Steelers final injury report of the week.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will continue to put a patchwork defense on the field Sunday when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals.

Starting outside linebacker James Harrison is doubtful for the 1 p.m. ET game after hurting his knee last Sunday. With Harrison expected to miss his first game since re-signing with the Steelers in September, the Steelers will likely go with a rotation of Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker.

Jones is still on the injured reserve/designated to return list, but the Steelers are expected to activate the second-year man from that list, something that would probably happen Saturday.

Jones has been out since dislocating his right wrist in a Sept. 21 win at Carolina, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday there is a "good chance" that Jones plays against the Bengals.

The Steelers will be without a starter on the other side of the ball as right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out for Sunday because of an ankle injury. Gilbert, who said he is also dealing with a knee injury, will miss his second consecutive game and third one this season.

Mike Adams will start in his place at right tackle.

All of the other players on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week are listed as probable for the first of two games they will play against the AFC North-leading Bengals this month. That includes linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle), nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), and cornerback Cortez Allen (thumb).

The Bengals will be without Vontaze Burfict, their top linebacker, as he has been ruled out for Sunday because of a knee injury.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who is on the injured reserve/designated to return list, plans on playing again this season.

His position coach is only cautiously optimistic that Jones will be able to make it back from the dislocated wrist the second-year man sustained in the Steelers’ 37-19 win at Carolina on Sept. 21.

 “I hope he can, but we’ll see,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler told ESPN.com. “A linebacker’s got to be able to use his hands. If he can’t use his hands, he can’t play. He’s defenseless, and we’re not going to put him on the field if he’s defenseless so we’ll see.”

Jones has been working out and attending Steelers’ practices and meetings. The 2013 first-round pick has 21 days to play in a game after the Steelers activate him.

“We’ll find out when he comes back and see how he can use the hands, how much it’s going to affect his wrist and the scar tissue in his wrist,” Butler said. “Jarvis was really coming on.”

Jones started the first four games at right outside linebacker and recorded two sacks before getting hurt against the Panthers.

The Steelers coaxed James Harrison out of retirement shortly after Jones went down, and Harrison has four sacks and nine quarterback pressures in seven games. Harrison started in place of Arthur Moats at right outside linebacker last Monday night, and the 36-year-old has played more snaps as he has dropped weight and worked himself into optimum football shape.

Jones peppers Harrison with questions when the two are on the practice field and in meetings, and the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder said he has no problem playing behind the five-time Pro Bowler if he is able to return this season.

“James is having a terrific season right now,” Jones said. “He brought a lot of energy. He’s playing well, he’s making plays and whenever I get back whatever the coaches decide, they decide. It’s just going to make [the defense] that much better.”

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 3, 2014
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers generally received high marks after beating the Baltimore Ravens, 43-23, on Sunday night at Heinz Field.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger has thrust himself into the midseason MVP discussion after throwing for an NFL record 12 touchdown passes in the last two games. Roethlisberger missed a couple of early throws before finding his groove and burying the Ravens with 340 passing yards and six touchdowns. Grade: A

RUNNING BACKS: The Steelers managed just 55 rushing yards and averaged 2,5 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount had some nice runs but managed just 23 yards on 10 carries. Le'Veon Bell was not a factor in the running game, though he did catch five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. Grade: C

[+] EnlargeHarrison
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJames Harrison was part of a linebacking corps that had its best game of the season on Sunday.
RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown should be in the MVP discussion after catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, and he continues to get help. Rookie Martavis Bryant caught two more touchdown passes, giving him five in three games. Markus Wheaton hauled in a 47-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to give the Steelers a double-digit lead near the end of the first half. Six different receivers have caught at least one touchdown pass in the last two games. Grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE: It endured a hideous stretch at the beginning of the second quarter when the Ravens sacked Roethlisberger on three consecutive plays. The line did not allow a sack the rest of the way, but it did not provide much running room for the running backs. The Steelers had some success running behind right guard David DeCastro but too many runs had no chance because of the lack of push up front. Grade: C

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers held the Ravens to 63 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry, and their success in stopping the run started up front. Nose tackle Steve McLendon played well after missing the previous two games because of a shoulder injury. Rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt flashed as a pass rusher when the second-round pick got some snaps. Grade: B

LINEBACKERS: The unit played its best game of the season. Right outside linebackers James Harrison and Arthur Moats combined for three sacks and five quarterback pressures and left outside linebacker Jason Worilds intercepted a pass that set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had a game-high 11 tackles and a sack. Grade: A-

SECONDARY: Cornerback Brice McCain gave up an early 35-yard touchdown catch to Torrey Smith but the defensive backs settled down after that. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had just one other completion that was 20 yards or longer despite throwing or 303 yards. Nickel back Antwon Blake broke up a pair of passes. Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS: This unit’s biggest contribution came on a botched hold that Brad Wing salvaged when he completed a pass to tight end Matt Spaeth for a 2-point conversion. That’s all you need to know from a game in which the Steelers gave up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Wing netted just 36.5 yards on six punts. Grade: D-

COACHING: Mike Tomlin has pushed all of the right buttons during a three-game winning streak, and he won a key challenge that forced a Ravens punt in the third quarter. The defense continued to attack after battering Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck the previous week, and maligned offensive coordinator Todd Haley must be doing something right. The Steelers are averaging 41.3 points in their last three games. Grade: A
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are No. 16 in the NFL in total defense (357.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 21 in scoring defense (24.5 points allowed per game).

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's messed up," Polamalu said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I like the direction we're going in," Harrison said. "We still have a lot of things we need to get better at."
A big mailbag this week. If you have a Pittsburgh Steelers question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #mail. And away we go.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Ryan Shazier is listed as probable on the Steelers' final injury report of the week and I expect him to play. How much the rookie linebacker plays remains to be seen. I would think Shazier will share snaps with Sean Spence at left inside linebacker. The Steelers need to be smart with their first-round pick, and I would think they would put Shazier on a pretty strict snap count since he still has to work his way back into optimum football shape after missing the last four games because of a sprained knee.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I wondered about that myself while covering the game last Monday night. Sean Spence looked like he got caught out of position a number of times though he did recover a fumble during the pivotal second-quarter stretch when the Steelers scored 24 unanswered points. Vince Williams seems to make plays when he is in the game and he started 11 games last season as a rookie. My guess is Williams isn't good enough in pass coverage, at least in the eyes of the coaches, to play more snaps.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Well, they aren't exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears or even the Seattle Seahawks from last season. The Colts are beatable but the Steelers are going to have to play their best game of the season to end Indianapolis' five-game winning streak. First and foremost, the defense is going to have to produce takeaways, just as it did in the 30-23 win over the Houston Texans. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck makes questionable throws at times and if the Steelers are in a position to pick him off they have to capitalize. The offense also has to put it together for an entire game. There is no reason why a unit that has the Steelers' talent shouldn't consistently score in the high 20s and low 30s. It is probably going to have to put up a lot of points for the Steelers to beat the Colts.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: It's temporary and a nod to how Brice McCain has played in practice as well as in games and a message to Cortez Allen that he has to be more consistent. The Steelers haven't given up on Allen by any means, and remember Ike Taylor endured a benching in 2006 and it ultimately made him a better player. Plus, it's not like Allen is tethered to the bench. He played a lot of snaps against the Texans because the Steelers frequently used their nickel package. The same could happen Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think it's had a big impact. Jarvis Jones is a huge upgrade over Arthur Moats and James Harrison at right outside linebacker. And from a big-picture standpoint it is critical that Jones fulfills the potential that led the Steelers to take him with their first-round pick in 2013. The only way he is going to do that is by getting on the field, something that could happen Nov. 17 against the Tennessee Titans. That is when Jones is eligible to play in a game and he can come off the injured reserve/designated to return list at the beginning of November. Ike Taylor too has been missed given the struggles that Cortez Allen has endured. The Steelers -- and Allen -- might be better off right now to let him watch and regroup a little. They don't have the luxury of doing that because Taylor is out.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: If the Steelers miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season I think the heat gets turned up on general manager Kevin Colbert as well as coach Mike Tomlin. I don't think either loses his job but there is no question that the Steelers have to start drafting better. Like most teams, they've had their share of hits and misses but I'm not sure I'd use the word "poor" to describe his drafts. His overall record is still pretty good and Colbert would be the first to admit he has to do a better job given the Steelers' philosophy of building through the draft. As for Art Rooney II, he wanted an offensive coordinator with a different approach and one who would minimize the punishment absorbed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. We can debate all day whether the Steelers made the right call in "retiring" Bruce Arians, but it's Rooney II's team and he made the decision that he thought was best for the organization.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: That all depends on Martavis Bryant and whether he builds off a promising debut. I think his role will gradually expand and certainly there is an opening for him with Justin Brown seemingly falling out of favor with the coaches and Markus Wheaton trying to work his way out of a funk. Bryant's size and speed needs to be used in the passing game, and what I really liked about the rookie is that it wasn't too big for him last Monday night against the Houston Texans. He got open twice on go patterns and made a really nice catch for the Steelers' first touchdown. His play against the Texans bodes well for Bryant moving forward as long as he can minimize his growing pains.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: No chance. Michael Sam has to play in a 4-3 defense because he can't cover anybody and outside linebackers have to be able to play the pass in Dick LeBeau's defense. Plus, I don't think Sam plays specials teams. He is basically a situational pass rusher who is not a good fit in a 3-4 defemse. 

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 13, 2014
The Steelers' report card is a mess after a 31-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Here are the marks:

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger admittedly did not play well against a team he normally owns. He led the Steelers to one meaningless touchdown, and his passer rating of 64.4 was almost doubled by Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (113.0). Grade: D

[+] EnlargeDonte Whitner
AP Photo/David RichardTaunted by the Browns? It was that kind of day.
Running backs: The Steelers controlled the game in the first quarter by running the ball successfully, and they finished with 138 rushing yards and averaged 4.3 yards a carry. The Steelers ran the ball three consecutive times inside the Browns’ 10-yard yard line early in the game but couldn’t score a touchdown: Grade: B-

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown showed up, catching seven passes for 118 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty that put the Steelers in position to score an early touchdown. The Steelers, however, are still too reliant on Brown as Markus Wheaton had just 33 receiving yards despite getting 11 targets. Lance Moore caught a touchdown pass but also had a drop: Grade: C-

Tight ends: Heath Miller was a non-factor in the passing game as he caught two passes for 19 yards. The 10th-year veteran also missed a block on a misdirection pitch early in the game and Le'Veon Bell was dropped for a short loss when the Steelers needed a yard for a first down. Grade: D

Offensive line: It couldn’t impose its will on a depleted Browns front seven in critical situations, most notably on the three running plays near the Browns’ end zone early in the game. What looked like a blown assignment on third down from the Browns’ 2-yard line left Cleveland linebacker Craig Robertson free to stop LeGarrette Blount well short of the end zone. Grade: D

Defensive line: The Browns exploded for 157 rushing yards in the final three quarters, and the Steelers' problems with stopping the run started up front. This unit continues to struggle with zone-blocking teams, and it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being any more than an average run defense this season and that’s if they make significant improvement. Grade: D

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 10 tackles, but he struggled against the run, too. The Steelers didn’t get any quarterback pressures from their outside linebackers. Arthur Moats, who has been starting at right outside linebacker for the injured Jarvis Jones, did not record a tackle. Grade: D

Cornerbacks: The inconsistency of Cortez Allen continues. The fourth-year veteran struggled in pass coverage a week after playing his best game of the season. None of the Steelers’ three cornerbacks broke up any passes. They are not getting enough help from the pass rush, but this group has to play better. Grade: D

Safety: The play of Mike Mitchell was one of the few positives for the Steelers. Mitchell forced a fumble and also prevented a pair of catches with jarring hits that separated the receiver from the ball. Troy Polamalu had eight tackles, including one for a loss. But he appeared to be the one who blew the coverage on Browns tight end Jordan Cameron's 45-yard catch early in the second quarter. Grade: C+

Special teams: A botched hold on a field goal attempt helped turn the game in the Browns’ favor. Dri Archer consistently comes up short of the Steelers’ 20-yard line on the kickoffs he is able to return, and he has been a disappointment on special teams. Brad Wing posted a net average of 42.1 yards on seven punts. Grade: D

Coaching: The Steelers fell apart in the second quarter and coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t pull them out of their tailspin. Something is really off and it is incumbent upon Tomlin to pull the Steelers together. Todd Haley has to get much more out of an underachieving offense. His approach simply isn’t working. Grade: F
PITTSBURGH -- Brian Hoyer made a quite impression on the Pittsburgh Steelers despite spending only a couple of weeks with them late in 2012.

Pittsburgh signed Hoyer after injuries left the team thin at quarterback, and everyone from Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley has said they aren’t surprised by the success Hoyer is enjoying in Cleveland even though he never threw a pass while with the Steelers.

[+] EnlargeHoyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Steelers said they aren't surprised by the success Brian Hoyer is enjoying with the Browns.
“We really got kind of excited about Brian while he was here,” said Haley, the Steelers’ third-year offensive coordinator. “He brought a lot to the meetings and out on the field. He has real good football intellect as far as the feel and what was going on. He was driven and he wanted to prove that he was pretty good.”

Hoyer has been more than pretty good through the first four games of the season. The former undrafted free agent has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns and just one interception.

He is 5-2 in seven career starts with the Browns and has led already led three game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter.

And to think Hoyer was only supposed to serve as a placeholder until rookie Johnny Manziel took over at quarterback.

“I don’t think he was fazed by drafting Johnny,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. “That was important because anybody else in his position it would’ve been easy for him to just shut it down and accept the fact that when you draft a first-round quarterback it’s kind of an unwritten rule that he’s going to be the starter and he’s the future of the franchise.

“I think it was great because it made both players better because we did have a good competition and it was an open competition through training camp. Brian won the job and I think he’s done a great job since he’s won it.”

Here is what the Steelers are saying about Hoyer:

Cornerback Brice McCain: “He’s just putting everything together and the offense really fits him well. We’ve got to get him off his spot and make him uncomfortable. He sits in one spot but his pocket awareness is pretty good. He steps up when he needs step up and he makes quick accurate throws. He reminds of [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback] Alex Smith when Alex Smith doesn’t turn the ball over. He only has one interception but he had a lot of opportunities to throw a lot more picks. People aren’t capitalizing right now. He has some tipped balls that should have been picks and dropped balls that should have been picks. We can’t miss opportunities to get picks on him.”

Safety Mike Mitchell: “He’s extremely smart and can make all of the throws. He doesn’t have the laser-strong arm but his accuracy is up there with any of them. He’s a good decision maker, doesn’t hold onto the ball very long. You can see that by how many times he’s been sacked (four). It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: “He’s very good at avoiding pressure. He’s very good at keeping the play alive. He’s a guy that looks to throw it but if he’s got room to run, he’s smart. He knows how much he needs and he’ll get it. You can’t put the numbers they’ve been putting up without a good offensive line and a good quarterback.”

Outside linebacker Arthur Moats: “Any time you get a guy who’s been under Tom Brady for a long time, you’re definitely going to learn something from him so you see a lot of similarities between the two. [Hoyer] is doing a really good job of what they ask him to do. He gets the ball out on time, he’s very smart in the pocket. I feel like that’s a lot of reasons why they’re having success and they’re running the ball really well too. It’s not putting as much pressure on him.”

Defensive end Cameron Heyward: “He’s just poised in the pocket and doesn’t turn over the ball and he’s not getting sacked a bunch. We always think that if you hit the quarterback enough, he’s going to get hazy and start to throw some bad balls but the offensive line held up well and it’s going to be important for us to get pressure on him.”