Pittsburgh Steelers: Dri Archer

The Pittsburgh Steelers would be crazy not to do a little homework on Jacoby Jones, who was released Wednesday by the Baltimore Ravens, if not bring him in for a visit.

Few teams are more acquainted with what Jones can do as a return man than the Steelers.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
Doug Kapustin/MCT/Getty ImagesJacoby Jones ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in kick and punt returns in 2014.
Jones returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown last November at Heinz Field. He turned in a more memorable kickoff return against the Steelers a year earlier when he had to change direction after Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stepped onto the field.

The play created national headlines and raised questions about whether the Steelers coach had done it intentionally, something Tomlin vehemently denied. That Jones had to settle for a 73-yard return did nothing to take away from his reputation as one of the best return men in the NFL.

He bolstered that this season by joining Cincinnati’s Adam Jones as the only players to finish among the NFL’s top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns.

Jones averaged 30.6 yards per kickoff return in 2014, second-best in the NFL. The Steelers averaged 21.7 yard per kickoff return last season, tied for 26th in the NFL.

The Ravens balked at paying Jones $2.5 million in 2015 since the eighth-year veteran did not give them much as a receiver last season.

But the Steelers do not need pass catchers for the back end of their wide receivers rotation. They are set at their top three spots with All-Pro Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton.

Add tight end Heath Miller and running back Le'Veon Bell to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's stable of targets and there aren’t many more balls to go around.

Lance Moore found that out the hard way after signing a two-year, $3 million contract with the Steelers last March. Moore played limited snaps and caught 14 passes – Jones had five less for the Ravens in 2014 – and he wants out of Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are likely to grant Moore his request and now have even more impetus to do so.

They could take the money they save by releasing Moore – it is a little north of $1 million – and put it toward a short-term contract for Jones if he is amenable to one.

Jones turns 31 in July and he would give the Steelers a tried and true return man while serving as the No. 4 or even No. 5 wide receiver depending on what Pittsburgh adds in the draft.

It makes a ton of sense for the Steelers to upgrade at kickoff return after Dri Archer faltered so badly last season before losing his job.

Jomes might be the right guy at the right time and the right price.

And it wouldn’t hurt the Steelers to at least look into that possibility.
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #mail.

And away we go...
@ScottBrown_ESPN That's a tall order, Carmen, and I'm not sure Dri Archer will ever develop into the kind of back that sounds an awful lot like Le'Veon Bell. That is not to say he can't become a contributor after barely playing as a rookie. Part of that is on the Steelers as far as finding a way to best utilize Archer and his word-class speed. The Kansas City Chiefs provided a template when they visited Heinz Field last December. They got rookie speedster DeAnthony Thomas the ball in space -- he caught six passes for 47 yards -- and he also returned both kickoffs and punts. That is the type of role I see Archer playing if he proves to the Steelers he can handle it. That starts with Archer restoring the faith the Steelers had in him as a kickoff returner when they used a third-round draft pick on him last May.
@ScottBrown_ESPN Brian Orakpo is the most accomplished of the three but he turns 29 in July and has twice suffered season-ending pectoral injuries. That would scare me if I'm the Steelers, and my guess is some team will take the kind of risk that would push Orakpo out of Pittsburgh's price range. ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson really likes Brandon Graham and thinks the former first-round draft could break out with regular playing time, something he has not received in Philadelphia. My preference, if the money is similar, would be Pernell McPhee, who is probably in the middle of Orakpo and Graham when it comes to upside. McPhee recorded 7 sacks last season for the Baltimore Ravens despite having a couple of pretty good pass-rushers in front of him in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. And he is a young 26 since he celebrated his birthday in December and does not have much tread on him. The problem with McPhee is I think he will also be out of the Steelers' price range. The same may be true of Graham as well as there are rumblings that he wants at least $20 million guaranteed in his next contract.
@ScottBrown_ESPN I'm with you when it comes to cornerback Marcus Peters as I just don't see the Steelers taking such a risk with their first-round pick. Peters has owned the mistakes that led to his dismissal from Washington's football team last season and is widely considered the most gifted cornerback in the draft, so never say never. Also, as you point out, it might make sense waiting to take an outside linebacker prospect if the elite edge pass-rushers in the draft are gone before the Steelers pick at No. 22 overall. Trading down in the first round -- or even out of it -- is a possibility, especially if a team that needs a quarterback wants to trade back into the first round to take a signal caller who emerges behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Free agency will be a factor too when determining what the Steelers do with their first-round pick. If they sign an outside linebacker or cornerback they feel is capable of starting it makes that position less of a need in the draft.
@ScottBrown_ESPN Do you remember that line in “Dumb and Dumber” when a smitten Lloyd Christmas, played by Jim Carrey, asks Mary Swanson, played by Lauren Holly, if they would ever be a couple? She eventually pegged the chances at one in a million to which the uproariously funny -- and cluessless -- Christmas proclaims, “So you're telling me there's a chance?!” Well, there is even less of a chance of the Steelers targeting Ndamukong Suh in free agency. He is an absolute beast but he will break the bank if he gets to the open market. The Steelers simply aren't in a position to bid on Suh and have too many other needs to spend money they don't have on one player.
@ScottBrown_ESPN I don't think it is fair to Shawn Lemon to place Cameron Wake expectations on him just because the latter also starred as a pass-rusher in the Canadian Football League before signing with the Miami Dolphins. Lemon first has to make the team and that won't be easy even with the openings Pittsburgh could have at outside linebacker. That said Lemon is not just another guy and the contract the Steelers signed the Akron product to is proof of that. The Steelers gave Lemon a three-year, $1.58 million deal with a $7,500 signing bonus, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Most players signed to future/reserve contracts get one-year deals with no guaranteed money. That the Steelers went significantly beyond those parameters with Lemon shows that they were not the only team who had interest in him following his breakout season in the CFL. Let's just hold off on the comparisons with Wake for now.
PITTSBURGH -- General manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this week that the Pittsburgh Steelers have not ruled out any position, aside from specialists, as far as consideration for their first-round draft pick.

And yes that includes quarterback.

But Colbert added a significant caveat.

"As I sit here today could we eliminate any position? No," Colbert said on Tuesday. "Between now and draft day a lot’s going to happen. We may sign a corner in free agency. We may sign a certain position to an extension."

The Steelers will get a long-term contract done with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at some point. They are also likely to sign a free agent to come in start, something they did with safety Mike Mitchell last year.

Whether they sign a cornerback or an outside linebacker -- the market could be relatively flush with pass-rushers -- remains to be seen.

One of the bigger questions the Steelers have to answer is how much of a priority they make adding a running back in the offseason.

Le'Veon Bell is expected to miss the first two games of the 2015 season because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. And Dri Archer and Josh Harris -- the only other running backs on the roster -- have 19 career carries between them.

The Steelers have to be wary about adding a back in free agency after getting burned by LeGarrette Blount last season. But can they go the first two games of the 2015 with Archer, Harris and a rookie running back they add in the draft?

Or might they make running back more of a priority in the draft?

Having Bell and Blount last year before the draft did not stop the Steelers from showing significant interest in LSU running back Jeremy Hill.

The Cincinnati Bengals picked Hill in the second round -- after making Giovani Bernard the first running back drafted the previous year -- and he emerged as one of the top rookies last season, rushing for 1,124 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

The general de-valuation of the position pushes running backs down in the draft as Bell and Hill, among others, have shown in recent years.

With the Steelers bracing for the worst when it comes to Bell’s NFL discipline for his arrest last August, a running back may fall to a position in the draft that they cannot afford to pass on.

And it could be sooner rather than later.
This is the second in a series that takes a closer look at the Steelers' positions with free agency and the draft approaching.

Under contract: Le'Veon Bell, Dri Archer and Josh Harris are under contract for 2015.

Free agents: Fullback Will Johnson is a restricted free agent.

The good: Bell is coming off a breakout season, one in which he finished second in the NFL with 1,361 rushing yards and led all running backs with 854 receiving yards. Bell set a slew of Steelers records in just his second NFL season. He turns only 23 this month and the 2013 second-round draft pick appears motivated to build on a season in which he earned All-Pro honors and emerged as arguably the best all-around back in the NFL.

The bad: Bell is such a well-rounded back that finding a quality backup for him might be tricky. The Steelers can’t bring in a proven back via free agency given the discontent that LeGarrette Blount had with his role last season. Archer showed very little as a rookie after the Steelers used a third-round pick on him. Harris is similarly unproven though he is more of a traditional back than Archer. Also, the Steelers figure to be without Bell for a game at the beginning of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, stemming from his arrest last August for possession of marijuana.

The burning question: How confident are the Steelers that Archer and Harris will show the improvement that is needed to shore up depth at running back?

The money: Bell will be one of the biggest bargains in the NFL as long as he plays on his rookie contract. His base salary in his third NFL season is just $779,600. Archer and Harris have base salaries of $518,000 and $510,000 respectively, next season.

Draft priority: Medium. The draft appears to be a deep one for running backs, which mean the Steelers should be able to find a quality one in the middle rounds. They have too many other needs to use a high pick on the position for a second year in a row. But it will be a surprise if the Steelers don’t draft a running back for the eighth year in a row.

He said it: “I just want to continue to try to be as productive as possible. This is only my second year so I feel like I have room for improvement. There’s still a lot of things I can work on and get better at.” – Bell.
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail. And away we go...

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Le'Veon Bell is going to be the every-down back but the Steelers need an upgrade behind him unless they think Josh Harris develops into the kind of player who can handle a heavy workload if Bell is out. The Steelers are bracing for a one-game suspension of Bell, probably at the beginning of 2015, because of his arrest for marijuana possession and driving under the influence. Injuries, meanwhile, are always an X factor, so someone better be ready behind Bell. This appears to be a deep draft for running backs and that's the way the Steelers have to go after what happened with LeGarrette Blount. They should be able to find a quality back in the middle rounds, after they have addressed their myriad needs on defense.

@ScottBrown_ESPN It's so tough to tell because of the limited repetitions Landry Jones gets in practice. Through little if any fault of his own, it is simply a wasted draft pick unless Jones makes enough progress to supplant Bruce Gradkowski as the No. 2 quarterback. Even if that happens -- and that is a big if at this point -- why would the Steelers use a fourth-round draft pick in 2013 on a quarterback when they had so many other needs and after they had signed Gradkowski to back up Ben Roethlisberger? The Steelers had three different quarterbacks start games in 2012 because of injuries so that is the best explanation why they took Jones in the following draft even when they had already gotten younger at quarterback behind Roethlisberger.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Yep, could definitely see them having an interest in the former University of Washington standout if he is still available when they make their second-round pick. Marcus Peters is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the draft though he has some questions to answer -- first and foremost why he got kicked off the team last season. It's hard to imagine the Steelers taking a chance on Peters in the first round even as needy as they are at cornerback. What they will have to determine during the pre-draft process is whether he is worth the risk. The Steelers, like every other NFL team, will do their homework on Peters before ultimately deciding when they are willing to gamble on him if they are at all.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Steelers president Art Rooney II said recently that there have not been any talks on that front. I expect discussions to really start now with the 2014 season in the books and free agency on the horizon. Roethlisberger is under contract for next season, but it would help the Steelers if they get a new deal done before March 10 (the start of free agency), so they can lower his cap hit of $18.395 million in 2015 and use the savings to address other areas of need. Rooney has said the Steelers aren't setting any sort of deadlines as far as signing Roethlisberger and I assure you a deal will get done. For comparison sake, Roethlisberger signed his eight-year, $102 million contract in 2008 on March 3.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I would be surprised if they get a third-round compensatory draft pick this year. The formula for determining compensatory picks is based on how many free agents a team signed and how many it lost the previous year. The Steelers were busier than usual last March signing free agents such as safety Mike Mitchell, outside linebacker Arthur Moats, cornerback Brice McCain and defensive end/nose tackle Cam Thomas. All started at least eight games in 2014 and Mitchell started every game last season. Emmanuel Sanders had a heck of a season in Denver, catching 101 passes for 1,404 and nine touchdowns, but unless I am missing somebody Sanders was the only free agent who left the Steelers and became a full-time starter elsewhere. I don't believe linebacker Larry Foote counts when it comes to determining compensatory picks since the Steelers released the veteran before he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. I am interested to hear general Kevin Colbert's thoughts on what the Steelers expect to receive as far as compensatory picks. They will be announced at the NFL owners meetings in late March.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Lawrence Timmons can play outside if the Steelers need him there because of injuries, something he did in 2011 when he started four games at right outside linebacker in place of James Harrison. But I don't think the Steelers would even entertain such a move full-time for Timmons. Coach Mike Tomlin said in early January that even with the depth the Steelers have at inside linebacker, none of those players stand out as candidates who could move outside. And why even consider a position change for Timmons? He is a Pro Bowl inside linebacker and is probably just another guy at outside linebacker.

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

For this series, we went 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: Running back 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 victory 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’ fumble recovery in a 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 14: Gay’s 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Steelers’ 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

No. 15: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s forced fumble in a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

No. 16: Steelers lose Bell to a knee injury in a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 17: Roethlisberger’s short pass attempt turns into disaster and halts Steelers’ comeback bid.

The setting: The Steelers had battled back from a double-digit deficit in their AFC wild-card game against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Even after the Ravens answered a Roethlisberger touchdown pass with a field goal, the Steelers only trailed 23-15 when they got the ball back with just under 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The play: The Steelers were facing a third-and-4 from their 26-yard line when Roethlisberger, under pressure, tried to dump off a pass to running back Ben Tate. The ball clanged off the hands of Tate, who had signed with the Steelers earlier that week, and into the arms of Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. A short return set up the Ravens at the Steelers’ 21-yard line.

What it meant for the bigger picture: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass to tight end Crockett Gillmore on the next play and Baltimore went on to beat the Steelers in the playoffs for the first time, 30-17. The absence of Bell – the All-Pro running back did not play against the Ravens because of a hyperextended knee – showed his importance to the Steelers’ offense. It also magnified the Steelers’ need to find a quality back to play behind Bell. Roethlisberger took the blame for the interception that killed the Steelers’ chances of rallying past the Ravens at Heinz Field. But it hit Tate right in the hands, and maybe Tate catches it if he had more than a week to practice with the Steelers. The Steelers, however, were forced to play Tate significant snaps against the Ravens because he was more proven than rookie running backs Josh Harris and Dri Archer. The Steelers need Harris to emerge as their No. 2 back – and for Archer to become more of a weapon in the offense and return game – or bring in another player who is capable of spelling Bell and carrying the load when he is out. And Bell is likely to serve a one-game suspension at the beginning of next season because of his August arrest for marijuana possession and driving under the influence.
This is the 16th 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' fumble recovery in a 42-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

No. 14: Gay's 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

No. 15: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt's forced fumble in a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

No. 16: Bell and the Steelers pay dearly for a 19-yard catch by the All-Pro running back against the Bengals.

[+] EnlargeBell
AP Photo/Don WrightReggie Nelson's hit on Le'Veon Bell left the Steelers without the running back's services for the wild-card game against the Ravens.
The setting: The Steelers were leading the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-10, with less than seven minutes left in the third quarter went Bell went down after a hit that cast a pall over Heinz Field.

The play: Bell lined up in the right slot and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit him in the middle of the field with room to run. The Steelers lost a lot more after a signficant gain when Bengals safety Reggie Nelson cut down Bell at Cincinnati's 43-yard line.

What it meant for the bigger picture: Bell, in obvious pain, clutched his right knee as Steelers medical personnel ran out to him. After a few tense moments, Bell got up and jogged off the field. The Steelers beat the Bengals, 27-17, to finish 11-5 and in first place of the AFC North. But Bell did not return to the game and he was later diagnosed with a hyperextended right knee. The Steelers were buoyed that he did not sustain any structural damage but it became obvious leading up to their AFC wild-card game that Bell would not be able to play against the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers, trying to minimize distractions, officially declared Bell out two days before the Ravens game, leaving them with rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer and newly signed Ben Tate at running back.
Mel Kiper Jr. loved the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 NFL draft last May, giving it a grade of an A- in his post-draft report card.

Kiper dropped the grade after re-visiting every team’s most recent draft in large part because the Steelers did not get much out of first-round pick Ryan Shazier and third-round pick Dri Archer in 2014.

Shazier, the No. 15 overall pick, missed seven games because of knee and ankle injuries and lost his starting job at inside linebacker to the combination of Sean Spence and Vince Williams.

Archer, the fastest player in the 2014 draft, lost his job as the Steelers’ primary kickoff returner in the first half of the season and played sparingly on offense. The speedy running back managed just 63 yards from scrimmage and will be a major question mark heading into next season.

Kiper did not drop the Steelers’ draft grade much because of what the team got out of fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant. The sleek wide receiver caught 26 passes for 549 yards and eight touchdowns despite not dressing for the first six games of the season.

Bryant tied for fourth among NFL rookies with eight touchdown catches. The Clemson product came within one scoring grab of tying Louis Lipps' Steelers record for most touchdown receptions by a rookie.

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, meanwhile, came on strong after a slow start. The second-round pick started the final four games after Brett Keisel went down with a season-ending triceps injury. Tuitt recorded 17 tackles and a sack and improved as much as any player on the Steelers.

Team president Art Rooney II said on Wednesday that he was pleased with the contributions the Steelers received from their rookies last season.

“Shazier had some injury issues, which I think slowed him down, but certainly showed the potential to make plays on the field,” Rooney said. “Tuitt, once he got in there did a nice job. Martavis did a nice job. We had some rookies come in and make significant contributions.”

As for my take on the Steelers’ 2014 draft, ask me in three years.

Just as it is too early to criticize the Steelers for drafting Shazier over Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who made the Pro Bowl, or advocate dumping Archer, it is also premature to put Bryant in the elite class of NFL deep threats or anoint Tuitt as a worthy heir to No. 91, which former Steelers great Aaron Smith wore before him.

The Steelers certainly got some promising returns from their rookies. Now is a critical time for all of them, especially linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who spent last season on injured reserve, and tight end Rob Blanchflower, who was on the practice squad in 2014.

Coach Mike Tomlin has said players generally make the most improvement from their first to second NFL season.

That is yet another reason why there is still a ways to go before a fair assessment can be made of the Steelers’ 2014 draft class.
PITTSBURGH -- Running back Josh Harris did not sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers until after the start of training camp. The undrafted rookie did not make the 53-man roster until the middle of November.

Now he is approaching the opportunity of a lifetime -- and a chance to justify the Steelers' decision not to sign an experienced running back after they released the disgruntled LeGarrette Blount on Nov. 18.

"I can’t say that I’m shocked," Harris said of his ascent, "because I know how hard I work. It’s just having to show it."

He will do that on a national stage if Le'Veon Bell is unable to play against the Ravens because of a hyperextended right knee.

Harris is in line to start Saturday with Bell probably still a couple of first downs shorts of questionable for the 8:15 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

Harris had just nine carries for 16 yards in five regular-season games, but the 5-11, 210-pounder ripped off a 59-yard run last Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

A holding penalty wiped out much of the gain. But the play goes down as one of the Steelers’ most significant 3-yard runs in recent memory given the role Harris might play against the Ravens.

"Josh is ready," said Bell, who did some light running and rode a stationary bike on Wednesday. "I’ve been watching him all year and I know what he’s capable of. You got a little glimpse of him (in) the Bengals game. He’s explosive. He knows all of his assignments. He’s not out there thinking any more. He’s just playing football. He’s only going to get better."

Harris, who will share time at running back with Dri Archer if Bell doesn’t play against the Ravens, said it has been a challenge to stay in the moment as he prepares for Saturday night.

"It’s tough because I just sit at home and say I wish that we could play now," Harris said. "I’m just going to take full advantage of the (preparation) time. I want to be that guy who, when he had his shot he did all he could to help out this team."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has offered scant details about how the running back situation will play out Saturday night when the Baltimore Ravens visit Heinz Field for an AFC wild-card playoff game.

But he did make one thing clear when it comes to rookie scatback Dri Archer blocking outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose 16 career sacks of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the most by any player.

“If I want him to block Suggs then I’m stupid,” Tomlin said.

Beyond Tomlin using a player other than the 5-8, 173-pound Archer to pass protect it is anyone’s guess how the eighth-year coach will employ his running backs against the Ravens.

Le'Veon Bell will start and play extensively if he is healthy enough after hyperextending his right knee last Sunday night.

But Tomlin is preparing for every other scenario in large part because if Bell if able to play there won’t be much division of labor in the backfield.

If Bell doesn’t play -- and the odds of that are pretty high -- Tomlin will have to etch out the running back roles among a pair of rookies, a free agent that the Steelers signed Tuesday afternoon and Will Johnson, a fullback who has lined up more at tight end this season.

Josh Harris, whom the Steelers signed off their practice squad last month, will likely start if Bell does not play against the Ravens, and the speedy Archer will also receive more snaps.

Tomlin said Ben Tate will also be in the mix even though the fourth-year veteran will only practice with the Steelers three times before Saturday night.

Tate, who was released by the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings this season, will learn as much of the offense as he can over the next three days. Tomlin said the abbreviated time for Tate to absorb the offense won’t preclude him from playing significant snaps against the Ravens since he is in football shape.

Johnson could also see playing time as a running back if Bell doesn’t play, Tomlin said.

“When you’re talking about replacing an impact guy like [Bell] it’s not a one-man job,” the eighth-year coach said. “It never is. It’s a multiple-man job and it might be a multiple-man job across positions. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to play with a back on third down. It may mean that we play with an additional wideout or an additional tight end. We’re going to turn over all the stones to make sure that we’re prepared to replace his significance.”

As for Bell's chances of playing Saturday night, Tomlin said, “We’re going to do what’s right and we’re not going to be swayed by circumstance.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are meeting with Ben Tate on Tuesday and are expected to sign the veteran running back, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Steelers had no interest in Tate in November after they released LeGarrette Blount because they had already committed to playing Le'Veon Bell almost every snap -- and because Tate had just been released by the Cleveland Browns because of unhappiness with his playing time.

Bell's status is a Primanti Brothers sandwich-sized question mark after the AFC's leading rusher hyperextended his knee Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

That is why Tate is in Pittsburgh and probably relocating here, if only temporarily. How much Tate can help the Steelers -- if they sign him -- remains to be seen.

The fourth-year veteran has less than a week to learn the offense and will get all of three practices with his new teammates if the Steelers sign Tate.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder does have 2,363 career rushing yards -- 2,307 more than the two current running backs on the Steelers' 53-man roster not named Bell -- and he scored a pair of touchdowns in Cleveland's 31-10 win over Pittsburgh in October.

Tate had most recently been with the Minnesota Vikings, and the fifth-year player can at least provide a veteran presence in the backfield if Bell is unable to play Saturday night against the visiting Baltimore Ravens.

Even if Bell is able to play in Saturday's prime-time AFC wild-card game -- and that is a big if for reasons ranging from pain tolerance to possible long-term risks of bringing the second-year man back so soon from a knee injury -- the Steelers will have to manage Bell's snaps.

If the Steelers hold Bell out of their third meeting this season with the Ravens, Josh Harris figures to get the majority of the carries.

The 5-11, 210-pounder opened eyes Sunday night when he ripped off a 59-yard run against the Bengals after Bell got hurt. A holding penalty wiped out the big run, but it proved to be a significant play, as Harris pointed out after the Steelers' 27-17 win against the Bengals.

"That's on tape," said Harris, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie in late July. "[The coaches] see that, 'OK, we can put him in and he can do things like that.'"

Both Harris and Dri Archer, a third-round pick who has played sparingly, said they are confident they can get the job done at running back if Bell is unable to play Saturday.

"I've had the privilege to sit behind a back who is one of the best backs in this league," said Harris, who has rushed for 16 yards on nine carries. "I know how hard I work, and being able to sit behind a guy who also works hard and see how he does things will also help me out."
PITTSBURGH – There is a good chance the Pittsburgh Steelers will go into their AFC wild-card game Saturday night with rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer as their running backs and fullback Will Johnson, who has played more as a tight end this season, also available for duty.

Not that I would bet against Le'Veon Bell to play against the Baltimore Ravens.

The AFC’s leading rusher takes an incredible amount of pride in his durability -- Bell has played in 29 consecutive games -- and had never been hurt, in high school or college, before missing the first three games of his rookie season because of a mid-foot sprain.

The second-year man will do everything he can to play against the Ravens, which means the Steelers might have to protect Bell from himself.

Even if Bell doesn’t risk more serious injury to his right knee by playing against the Ravens, it makes little sense for the Steelers to play the freshly-minted Pro Bowl running back -- in what promises to be a hard-hitting game -- if it only further weakens him.

Winning a division title as well as game in the playoffs is fine for most franchises. It is not for one that has won six Lombardi Trophies, which is why the Steelers have to take a bigger-picture approach to Bell's injury.

They can’t make a legitimate run at a Super Bowl title without a healthy Bell, so why not rest him for a week and put the ball in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s hands?

Roethlisberger strafed the Ravens’ secondary for 340 passing yards and six touchdowns the most recent time the AFC North rivals played at Heinz Field. The Ravens allowed 249 passing yards per game in the regular season, and no team has had an answer for Antonio Brown, who has had one of the finest seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history.

Roethlisberger-to-Brown in front of a charged home crowd, with a defense that has made significant improvement in the second half of the season? It might not be that simple, as far as the Steelers advancing past the wild-card round for the first time since 2010.

But the Steelers have to be tempted to try that formula and bring Bell back the following week, if they beat the Ravens, in Denver.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 29, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Here are the marks for the Pittsburgh Steelers after they beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-17, to win the AFC North and snag the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger missed some throws in completing 24 of 38 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. But he also missed pregame warm-ups because of a stomach virus and played well considering the circumstances. His 63-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown sealed the win that delivered the Steelers' first AFC North title since 2010. Grade: B

[+] EnlargeBrown
AP Photo/Don WrightSteelers receiver Antonio Brown has been reliable in the red zone this season, scoring once against the Bengals in Week 17 and 13 overall this season.
Running backs: Le'Veon Bell managed just 20 yards on eight carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with a hyper-extended right knee. But the AFC's leading rusher caught six passes for 80 yards, showing what a weapon he is in the passing game. Josh Harris had a 59-yard run negated by a holding penalty and Dri Archer made a couple of key catches after Bell got hurt. Grade: C+

Receivers: Running out of superlatives when it comes to Brown, who turned in one of the finest seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history -- as well as the catch and run that allowed the Steelers to hold off the Bengals. Tight end Heath Miller caught three passes for 41 yards, and he and wide receiver Markus Wheaton executed textbook seal blocks on Martavis Bryant's 21-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Grade: A-

Offensive line: The Steelers have averaged just 43.3 rushing yards in their last three contests and they need the line to impose its will more in the ground game. A bad snap by center Maurkice Pouncey led to a costly turnover and left guard Ramon Foster's holding penalty wiped out what would have been the longest run of the game. But the line did not allow a sack and provided excellent protection on a night when its quarterback was already dealing with a stomach virus. Grade: B-

Defensive line: The Steelers allowed only their second 100-yard rusher in their last nine games but they shored up the run after Jeremy Hill gashed them for 71 yards and 6.5 yards per carry in the first half. Cameron Heyward forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter when he sacked Andy Dalton. Heyward finished the season with 7.5 sacks, tied for the team lead, and also led the Steelers with 21 quarterback hurries. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons recorded a game-high 11 tackles and Jason Worilds helped preserve the Steelers' win with a late sack of Dalton. Worilds tied Heyward for the team lead in sacks. And the fifth-year veteran would have finished with 8.5 quarterback takedowns -- the same number as last season -- had a sack in Atlanta not been taken away from him by a highly questionable roughing the passer penalty. Grade: B-

Cornerbacks: All Brice McCain and Antwon Blake did was combined for two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The pair along with William Gay limited Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green to eight catches for 82 yards, three weeks after the perennial Pro Bowler scorched the Steeler for 224 receiving yards and a touchdown. Grade: A

Safeties: Will Allen has been an upgrade over the injured Troy Polamalu at strong safety the past two games and the 11th-year veteran turned in several key plays early and finished with seven tackles. Free safety Mike Mitchell added five stops and a few big hits and the back end of the defense did not give up a big play. The Bengals' longest completion was a 19-yard pass from Dalton to H-back Ryan Hewitt. Grade: B+

Special teams: A lot to like here even with the failed fake punt at a critical juncture in the fourth quarter. Brown's 71-yard punt return for a touchdown showcased his magical skills with the ball in his hands. But the Steelers also did an excellent job of blocking the play. They also limited Adam Jones to an average of 22.8 yards on five kickoff returns. Jones had averaged 44.3 yards on three kickoff returns in the Bengals' previous game. Grade: B+

Coaching: Can we please put to rest any silly claims that Mike Tomlin's early success as a head coach was a result of his inheriting Bill Cowher's players? The man can coach and his teams have gone 12-4 combined in the second half of the past two seasons. One sign of how the Steelers improved as the season progressed under Tomlin: they were penalized 31 times in the first three games and just 11 times in the last four contests. This grade gets knocked down a bit because of that dubious decision to attempt a fake punt. Grade:A-

Quick Take: Ravens at Steelers

December, 29, 2014
» Wild-Card Round: Schedule » AFC: BAL-PIT | CIN-IND » NFC: DET-DAL | ARI-CAR

PITTSBURGH -- Three things to know about the Pittsburgh Steelers' 8:15 p.m. ET matchup Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC wild-card game at Heinz Field:

1. The Le’Veon Bell watch: The Steelers running back -- and team MVP -- left a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night with a hyperextended right knee. Bell did not do a whole lot in the Steelers’ 43-23 win over the Ravens on Nov. 2, the last time the AFC North rivals met at Heinz Field. But Bell, who had 58 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in that game, does not have experienced depth behind him. Dri Archer and Josh Harris, the only other running backs on the Steelers' 53-man roster, have 19 NFL carries between them.

2. Expect close game: History strongly suggests the renewal of one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries will produce a tightly contested game, despite the fact the Ravens beat the Steelers by 20 points in Baltimore early in the season only to lose in Pittsburgh by the same margin almost two months later. The five games the teams played prior to this season were decided by a total of 14 points. The Steelers are 2-0 against the Ravens in playoff games at Heinz Field.

3. Big Ben on a roll: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tied his Steelers record for touchdown passes in a season with 32. Six of those scoring passes came against the Ravens at Heinz Field, where he also threw for 340 yards. Roethlisberger threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals on Sunday night to share the NFL passing title with New Orleans’ Drew Brees (4,952 yards).
ATLANTA -- The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t have to worry about Julio Jones, the NFL’s leading receiver, but they do have some injury concerns of their own Sunday when they play the Atlanta Falcons.

The Steelers, who are trying to improve to 9-5, will be without right tackle Marcus Gilbert, outside linebacker James Harrison and cornerback Ike Taylor.

Gilbert will miss his third consecutive game because of ankle and knee injuries, and the fourth-year veteran is a surprise scratch for the 1 p.m. ET game at the Georgia Dome.

Gilbert practiced last week and had been listed as probable on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week. Mike Adams will start in his place at right tackle.

Harrison had been listed as questionable after he was only able to practice on a limited basis last week. He will miss his second consecutive game because of a knee injury.

Taylor is also out as expected after the 12th-year veteran did not practice last week because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

The Steelers’ four healthy scratches Sunday are rookie running back Dri Archer, wide receiver Justin Brown, quarterback Landry Jones and defensive end Clifton Geathers.

The Falcons' Jones, who leads the NFL with 1,428 receiving yards, had been listed as questionable on the Falcons’ final injury report of the week because of a hip injury. The Falcons will also be without starting safety William Moore, who hurt his ankle last Monday night in Green Bay.