Pittsburgh Steelers: Lance Moore
Few teams are more acquainted with what Jones can do as a return man than the Steelers.
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.
The good: The Steelers appear to be in excellent shape at the front end of their wide receiver rotation. Brown, who led the NFL in 2014 in catches (129) and receiving yards (1,698), is signed through 2016. Bryant is coming off a season in which his eight touchdown receptions fell one short of tying Louis Lipps’ record for most scoring catches by a Steelers rookie. Bryant should only get better as he gets more comfortable in the offense and Wheaton is still on the rise after the second-year man caught 53 passes for 644 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2014.
The bad: There is uncertainty after the Steelers’ top three wide receivers. Lance Moore wants out of Pittsburgh after playing a bit role in 2014 and the Steelers are likely to release the veteran from the final year of his contract. Heyward-Bey contributed primarily on special teams, so even if the Steelers bring him back he probably won’t be a significant factor in the passing game.
The burning question: How big of a jump will Bryant make in his second season? The 2014 fourth-round draft pick has a chance to be special. The 6-foot-4, 211-pounder has a rare blend of size and speed and he appears willing to work for it. Only the depth at wide receiver and the fact that Bryant was overshadowed at Clemson dropped him as far in the draft as he fell.
The money: This is another position where the Steelers get a lot for their money. Brown will make a base salary of $6 million in 2015 while Wheaton and Bryant have base salaries of $605,000 and $510,000, respectively. Moore is due to make $1.5 million but will only count $322,500 against the salary cap if the Steelers release him.
Draft priority: Medium. This is another deep draft for wide receivers, so it would make a lot of sense for the Steelers to address the position in the later rounds when they could find another steal. The Steelers have taken at least one wide receiver in nine of their past 10 drafts.
He said it: “I saw growth in him and that growth came with snaps. The thing is, he has to continue to grow and have an open mind. He has to acknowledge that he doesn’t have all the answers. Sometimes that is seemingly more difficult than it appears.” – Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Bryant.
And away we go...
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I see half of the equation happening. Lance Moore wants out of Pittsburgh and I think the Steelers will grant the veteran wide receiver his wish since he never really fit into the offense. I don't think Santonio Holmes will be brought back to provide depth at wide receiver considering he turns 31 in March and caught just eight passes in nine games last season before the Chicago Bears released him. Moore was clearly frustrated with his role last season but did not complain about it. Holmes, who has never been known as a team-first player, might not be so quiet about if the Steelers brought him back to play limited snaps. I understand that this time of year generates nostalgia for Holmes because his game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLIII is replayed over and over. But it's time for Steelers fans to move past Holmes. I think the organization did that a long time ago.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I have my doubts. Troy Polamalu said after the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens that it was fair to question whether he had played his last game for the Steelers. And that was before the Steelers parted ways with Dick LeBeau, the only defensive coordinator Polamalu has played for since becoming a starter in 2004. Ultimately I think Polamalu, who turns 34 in April, might decide to call it a career because he simply can't run well enough to do the things that once made him one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. And Polamalu always struck me as the kind of player who would move on rather than try to hang on after his skills had eroded to a certain point. If Polamalu is not there yet and wants to come back in 2015, he will likely have to take a pay cut to do so. Polamalu's base salary is $6 million next season with a salary-cap hit of $8.25 million. That is too expensive for an aging safety who did not record a sack or interception in a season for the first time since 2007.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: All of that depends on who is available at No. 22, if the Steelers stay where they are in the first round. I don't take a cornerback or outside linebacker with the first pick just to fill a need, but I don't necessarily take the best players available, either. I know the Steelers have to find a running back to provide quality depth behind Le'Veon Bell. But it would be silly to take one with their first-round pick even if a player such as Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is at the top of the Steelers' draft board when it is their turn to pick. The Steelers have too many other needs to indulge in such a luxury, which is why their first-round pick will be a player whom the Steelers really like and one who also addresses a need. It seems to happen that way every year.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I would bring back Keisel and try to re-sign Harrison for one more season because of what each can provide both on the field and in the locker room. Keisel accepted a part-time role last season, and if you are choosing between him and Cam Thomas as far as bringing one of those players back to provide depth at defensive end, what is the decision? Keisel is clearly the better player and it's not like Thomas has any upside or long-term future in Pittsburgh. The Steelers might need edge pass rushers in the worst way, depending on what happens in free agency, and Harrison showed last season that he can still get after the quarterback. My hunch is that the Steelers will commit to going all the way to getting younger on defense with a new coordinator in Keith Butler. And even if they want Harrison back, I think he signs with the Tennessee Titans if LeBeau asks Harrison to join him there.
@ScottBrown_ESPN would you bring back both Brett and James as backups who could start if needed especially with lack of depth at both spots?— Eugene Mannarino (@steelmann58) February 6, 2015
From @meeladzamani10 on Twitter: How likely is it that Bell will face a two-game suspension for his pot arrest?
@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers are bracing for a suspension and my guess is that it will be for one game at the beginning of next season. Bell's arrest is his first violation of the personal conduct policy, and I think that, plus his model behavior following his arrest last August, bodes well for Bell avoiding a two-game suspension. Remember that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended former Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games last July for punching out his then fiancee before public outrage eventually led to harsher punishment. Bell's arrest, while not something that should be taken lightly, does not rise to the level of domestic abuse.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: That falls more on the outside linebackers, especially in a 3-4 defense. The Steelers have not had an outside linebacker reach double-digits in sacks in a season since 2010, when both Harrison (10 1/2) and LaMarr Woodley (10) each accomplished the feat. The Steelers, not coincidentally, led the NFL with 48 sacks that season. Woodley was having a monster season in 2011 when he tore his hamstring at the end of October. He played just two games the rest of the season and was never the same player as a series of soft-tissue injuries limited his playing time and production -- and led to the Steelers releasing Woodley last March. There is no telling how good of a player Woodley would been with the Steelers had he stayed healthy - and perhaps more motivated after signing a six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011. But the pass rush hasn't been nearly what it was when both Harrison and Woodley were in their prime. That is why the Steelers desperately need Jarvis Jones to emerge in his third NFL season and play like the first-round draft pick that he was in 2013.
And the veteran wide receiver watched the game in street clothes.
And possibly his brief Steelers career since Moore mostly watched this season as Pittsburgh's offense rolled up 411.1 total yards per game, second-most in the NFL.
The ninth-year veteran caught just 14 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns and Moore rarely had more than a bit role in the offense.
Moore had significantly higher expectations when he signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the Steelers last March.
"It didn't go the way I'd hoped it would go but that's life in the NFL sometimes," said Moore, who spent his first eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints. "It's unfortunate that it unfolded the way that it did but I enjoyed my time here this season."
The season tested Moore's patience from the start.
The 5-9, 190-pounder played behind Justin Brown early. The emergence of rookie Martavis Bryant later usurped playing time at wide receiver, leaving Moore wondering if there is still a place for him in the Steelers' offense.
The Steelers will absorb a minimal cap hit ($322,500) in 2015 if they release the 31-year-old Moore in the offseason.
"I just want to play so whether that's here or somewhere else," Moore said. "I'd love to be here, I'd love to be a part of this offense but I think those are decisions that have to be made down the line."
DE Cam Thomas: The former San Diego Charger has started seven games and shown his versatility by playing extensively at both left defensive end and nose tackle. Thomas has 11 tackles and four quarterback pressures, but he has struggled to hold his ground when the Steelers have been gashed by the run. Thomas is ideally suited as a swing player who provides depth at defensive end and nose tackle.
WR Lance Moore: The ninth-year veteran had a frustrating start to the season, not dressing for the first two games because of a groin injury and then not getting on the field because the Steelers' coaches were determined to give Justin Brown every opportunity to establish himself as the No. 3 wide receiver. Moore has come in recently, catching two touchdown passes in the Steelers' last three games. The former New Orleans Saint has seven receptions for 109 yards and he has clearly etched out a role in the passing game.
CB Brice McCain: The addition of McCain has been as significant as any that the Steelers made given the broken forearm that sidelined Ike Taylor and the struggles that have resulted in two demotions for Cortez Allen in the last two weeks. McCain's pick-six against the Jacksonville Jaguars was huge considering how the offense scuffled in a 17-9 win. The former Houston Texan has also broken up two passes and is probably a starter until Taylor returns.
P Adam Podlesh: He never reported to training camp after his wife suffered life-threatening complications while giving birth to the couple's second child. ESPN NFL Nation reporter Tania Ganguli wrote an excellent piece on the ordeal that has led to Podlesh putting his football career on hold.
The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers renew one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries on Sunday night at Heinz Field. Both teams are 5-3 and a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. The Ravens beat the Steelers, 26-6, when the teams met in early September and they will try to sweep their bitter rival for the first time since 2011.
ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 8:30 p.m. ET game.
Brown: Jamison, how will the Ravens compensate for the loss of Jimmy Smith at cornerback and how bad is the timing for the Ravens to face Ben Roethlisberger when they are so thin at cornerback?
Hensley: To characterize losing Smith as “bad timing” is an understatement. It’s atrocious. Smith, who is sidelined with a foot injury, is not only the Ravens’ best cornerback but he’s also among the top five cornerbacks in the NFL. The Ravens have no one who can replace his combination of size, speed, aggressiveness and intelligence. Even the most optimistic supporter of the Ravens couldn’t think Dominique Franks, who was out of football for the first five weeks, can fill the void left by Smith.
The only way the Ravens can lessen the blow is with their pass rush. When Roethlisberger threw 522 yards and six touchdowns, he was hit twice by the Colts. The Ravens’ top three pass-rushers -- Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Pernell McPhee -- have combined for 14.5 sacks and 23 quarterback hits. Over the last five meetings with Roethlisberger, the Ravens have sacked him 10 times. If they can put that pressure on Roethlisberger, it will give him less time to find the open receiver.
While a lot of the focus has been on Roethlisberger, how have his weapons improved in the passing game? With the Ravens being without their top cornerback, will it be tough for them to match up with the Steelers?
Brown: The Steelers and Roethlisberger have to be salivating over the prospect of attacking the Ravens’ secondary. No Smith and a defense that is thin at cornerback has to reckon with a receiving corps that has changed considerably since the Ravens soundly beat the Steelers in Baltimore. Justin Brown, who lost a fumble inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line early in the teams’ Sept. 11 game, isn’t even in the picture at wide receiver right now.
Rookie Martavis Bryant, who has been a revelation in his first two NFL games, and reliable veteran Lance Moore will play against the Ravens after not dressing the first time the two AFC North rivals played. Those two along with Markus Wheaton should make the Ravens pay if they focus too much attention to two-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Brown, meanwhile, opens things up for the other receivers, including tight end Heath Miller, who is coming off his third career 100-yard receiving game.
Baltimore ran the ball effectively against the Steelers on Sept. 11 and it looks like Justin Forsett has really emerged for the Ravens. Has he been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this season and how are the roles defined in the Ravens’ backfield?
Hensley: It would’ve been difficult for anyone to predict this type of production from Forsett. In training camp, he was the No. 4 running back behind Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. Halfway through the Ravens’ season, Forsett is fourth in the NFL with 571 rushing yards. The Ravens needed Forsett to step up after Rice was cut and Pierce struggled to stay healthy. What stands out about Forsett is his vision to find the running lanes in the zone blocking scheme and determination to break tackles. The reason the Ravens signed Forsett was his familiarity with Gary Kubiak’s offense after playing in Houston two years ago. He has remained atop the depth chart by averaging 5.5 yards per carry, the third-best average in the league.
Forsett is the primary ball carrier and gets about 70 percent of the snaps. His work could be affected this week by a knee injury that kept him out of Wednesday’s practice. Pierce had been the Ravens’ back when they get in the red zone. But he was a healthy scratch last Sunday after averaging less than three yards per carry in three of five games. So, Taliaferro has become the top backup and scored two red zone touchdowns in Cincinnati.
The run game has been one of the most improved areas on offense, along with the Ravens’ line. Joe Flacco wasn't sacked in the first meeting, but the Steelers were able to get a lot of pressure Sunday on Andrew Luck. Should the Ravens expect a significantly better pass rush on Sunday night?
Brown: That depends on whether the Steelers can get a big lead early against the Ravens. The Steelers’ defense fed off the offense’s fast start Sunday and an early 21-3 lead forced the Colts to throw, throw and throw some more. Indianapolis had just 10 rushes in its 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh and two of those were scrambles by Luck. Making the Colts one-dimensional on offense allowed the Steelers to really go after Luck and they hit him a lot.
The Steelers probably won’t be as fortunate against the Ravens. They struggled to stop the run when the two rivals played earlier this season and teams with zone-blocking schemes have given the Steelers fits. Unless the Steelers jump out to a big lead early for the second consecutive game they will get a steady dose of Forsett and Taliaferro. That alone should temper the pressure they are able to put on Flacco.
Coach John Harbaugh made a comment earlier this week about how the Ravens are comfortable playing at Heinz Field. What did you make of that comment and can it be traced to the Ravens winning in Pittsburgh in 2010, 2011 and 2012?
Hensley: That’s exactly what Harbaugh meant by that comment. He was saying that the Ravens know what it takes to win in Pittsburgh. You can’t blame Harbaugh for taking a confident stance, especially considering the circumstances. It was just a week ago when the Ravens sat atop the AFC North after winning five of their previous six games. Now, after losing in dramatic fashion in Cincinnati, the Ravens could potentially drop to last place with a loss in Pittsburgh. By saying the Ravens are comfortable at Heinz, Harbaugh is telling his players that they can win in Pittsburgh because they’ve done it before.
The Ravens beat the Steelers earlier this season by keeping them out of the end zone. While the Ravens rank second in the league in fewest points allowed, the Steelers defense uncharacteristically ranks 16th in yards allowed and 21st in points given up. Do these numbers truly reflect how the defense is playing?
Brown: Unfortunately for the Steelers, they do. There were questions about the defense, and that was before the Steelers lost starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor to significant injuries. Cornerback Cortez Allen, whom the Steelers signed to a five-year, $25 million contract right before the start of the regular season, has struggled so much that the fourth-year veteran has been demoted twice in the past two weeks.
The Steelers have also had issues stopping the run and an offense that can stay balanced is going to give them problems. The defense has shown signs of improvement and it has generated consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as takeaways during the Steelers’ two-game winning streak. If that continues against the Ravens the Steelers have a great chance of improving to 7-4 with games against the lowly Jets and the two-win Titans next up on the schedule.
It did not get him out of his household chores the following day.
That he pulled diaper duty less than 24 hours after throwing for 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-34 romp over the Indianapolis Colts reinforced to Roethlisberger that even moments for the ages pass.
As such, Roethlisberger said he has moved on from the Colts game even if he received reminders of his sublime performance as recently as Wednesday, when the NFL named Big Ben its AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
"That was last Sunday's game and it's in the rearview mirror," Roethlisberger said. "It was a fun win but it's Baltimore time and that's what the focus went to Monday morning."
It better have considering the game against the Ravens comes close to a must-win for the Steelers if they have designs on capturing the AFC North title. A loss to the Ravens would force the Steelers to sweep the Cincinnati Bengals just to finish .500 in the division.
Even if they did that they would still probably fall short in the tiebreaker that could well decide the AFC North championship.
The Steelers are unlikely to come close to matching the offensive outburst that carried them past the Colts though Lance Moore said Wednesday, "Why can't we do it more times?"
"Things kind of all have to come together for that to happen," the veteran wide receiver said. "Offensive line has to protect, the pass catchers have to catch the ball, the quarterback has to be on target and on time and the coordinator has to call the right plays. A lot of things have to happen for that to happen but we've seen it once and I think we've got the guys that can do it again."
Roethlisberger, who last Sunday joined Y.A. Tittle as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in a game, said he is only concerned with one number when the Steelers try to avenge an earlier 26-6 loss to the Ravens.
"I don't care what are stats are as long at the end of the game we've got more points than the other team," Roethlisberger said. "Just win."
Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson builds a strong case for Brown, who leads the NFL with 719 receiving yards this season after finishing second in the league with 1,499 receiving yards last season.
The PFF piece is the latest example of Brown starting to get his due as a premier wide receiver. In the past there were questions about whether the fifth-year veteran was a legitimate No. 1 receiver, because he is 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds in a league that covets tall wide receivers.
"From the day I got here he wasn’t a household name other than special teams, and you’ve just seen the guy ascend and put himself up there with the great receivers in the game right now," said Todd Haley, who took over as the Steelers' offensive coordinator in 2012. "He continues to get better, and that’s the exciting thing."
Brown is having an All Pro-caliber season even though no one has emerged as the Steelers' clear cut No. 2 wide receiver, something that would help divert some attention from Brown. Markus Wheaton, who starts opposite Brown, has slumped after a promising start, and former No. 3 wide receiver Justin Brown was a healthy scratch last Monday night.
Wheaton, Brown, Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Martavis Bryant are all trying to solidify roles, and for now the Steelers are content to play their receivers -- well, at least the ones not named Antonio Brown -- based on situations.
"You’d love to see somebody jump up and say, 'Hey, we can’t have this guy off the field,' and that’s usually the way it works, so right now we’re kind of in that process and we just need guys to make plays," Haley said. "When your number’s called you need to step up and make the play, and if you don’t there’s some guys champing at the bit to show that they can do it."
The Steelers don’t seem to be in a hurry to set a hierarchy after Brown, the two-time Pro Bowler. It could change on a weekly basis, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he doesn’t have a problem with a largely rotating cast at wide receiver.
"We work every day with all of them, so it’s really just knowing who’s out there on a particular play, because each guy may run a route a little bit different," Roethlisberger said. "As long as I know who’s in there as we’re going, I’m fine and I feel confident with whoever’s in there is going to make a play."
But coach Mike Tomlin was in no mood to talk about wide receiver Antonio Brown’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore the day after it happened -- or at least discuss how the play came about with the Steelers trailing the Texans late in the first half.
Tomlin refused to confirm that he had indeed made that play call, though he did not deny it either.
“I take responsibility for all calls,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I’m not going to get into the intimate details about how we administer our business on the sidelines during the course of football games. I don’t think that’s prudent. I don’t think that helps us.”
When asked what the Steelers were thinking as a team when they opted for Brown to throw a pass near the goal-line, Tomlin said, “The idea is to score and Antonio has proven to be a guy who is capable delivering plays for us, whether it’s running the ball or throwing the ball. You just want to put the ball in playmakers’ hands, and he is that.”
Brown caught nine passes for 90 yards in addition to his scoring toss, and the two-time Pro Bowler probably should have finished with over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Brown made a spectacular 16-yard catch in the corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter and appeared to get both feet in bounds, if only by an inch, for a touchdown that would have likely put the Texans away.
But the ruling of a touchdown on the field was reversed after a video review and the Steelers had to settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal that gave them a 27-16 lead. Brown took to social media after the game to voice his displeasure with having a touchdown taken away from the Steelers.
The fifth-year veteran posted a picture on his Twitter account that showed both of his feet in bounds and wrote “[bleeping] refs.”
Tomlin said he did not know anything about what Brown wrote on his Twitter account.
“I don’t get into the social media stuff,” Tomlin said. “I thought it was an extremely close play and usually when plays are that close they stay with the ball on the field. I was of the impression that it was going to remain [a touchdown].”
When asked if he has a problem with Brown protesting the call the way he did, Tomlin said, “We’re professionals. I expect them to behave that way both on and off the grass.”
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
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
That likely means Darrius Heyward-Bey will continue to dress because the sixth-year veteran plays special teams. Meanwhile, Justin Brown still appears to be ahead of Lance Moore as the primary slot receiver.
Brown had his best game of the season last Sunday, catching all three passes thrown to him for 26 yards in the Steelers’ 17-9 win at Jacksonville. Haley said the 6-foot-3, 209-pounder was an “integral part” of the Steelers’ running game.
“He did a very good job. He was physical and he helped get the runners 3-4 yards multiple times,” Haley said. “I thought he did a real good job in that and made a couple of tough catches when called upon. I thought he played good.”
A couple of notes:
- Rookie running back/wide receiver Dri Archer has yet to make an impact in three games -- he missed two contests with a sprained ankle -- as he has just 15 rushing and receiving yards combined and four kickoff returns for 65 yards. The Steelers tried to get Archer the ball several times against the Jaguars, and Haley said the third-round draft pick was close to breaking a big play. Haley said the 5-8, 173-pound Archer’s touches have been limited with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount ahead of him. “I don’t think he can carry it 25 times per game if he were the feature guy but he is a good runner inside and outside,” Haley said of Archer. "I think he has very good vision. He is putting the ball where it is supposed to go. I haven’t seen any issues there.”
- The Cleveland Browns were expected to struggle on offense while All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended but are averaging just under 26 points per game. The Browns are also fourth in the NFL with 143.3 rushing yards per game. The success of the Browns’ offense starts up front, where Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and Pro Bowl center Alex Mack have been joined by guard Joel Bitonio, who has been one of the top rookies in the NFL. “They’re working good together. They’re cohesive and it’s showing,” Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison said. “They’re averaging something ridiculous rushing. Their zone blocking is very good.” Said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, “Their line play is excellent, as good as anybody we’ve played.”
But Tomlin did not interpret the show of emotion as something directed at him due to Moore's limited playing time in the three games that he's suited up.
Moore is admittedly frustrated with his role with the Steelers as he has been unable to wrest the primary slot receiver job from Justin Brown after ceding it when a groin injury sidelined him for the better part of a month.
Moore apologized for the spike on Monday, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gave him a vote of confidence on Tuesday.
“He knows there’s going to be a time when we’re going to need him to come up big for this time and it’s not going to be one catch here, one catch there. It’s going to be games and drives,” Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan during his weekly radio show. “Guys like that that have been around and know the game know what it’s going to take and when we’re going to need him.
“Lance and I will communicate about (the delay of game penalty) but he’s been around long enough that I don’t think a lot needs to be said to him. I think he knows that his emotion got the best of him there for a split second, and sometimes that’s all it takes. I think he’ll be harder on himself than anyone else could be.”
Tomlin said he understands where Moore was coming from as a competitor -- to a point.
“Obviously we want him to be a positive contributor to our efforts (and) he’s capable now specifically that he’s healthy,” Tomlin said. “But we can’t tolerate that even in frustrating moments.”
A couple of notes:
- Roethlisberger has been sacked nine times in the last two games -- two more times than he was dropped in the Steelers' first three games combined. Roethlisberger heaped blame on himself for the four sacks he took last Sunday in Jacksonville, saying he held onto the ball too long at times. “It’s our job to keep the quarterback upright and he’s included in that,” Tomlin said. “Over the last two games we haven’t done a good enough job of it.” The Browns have just five sacks in their last three games.
- Rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt said after practice last Wednesday that he had made a breakthrough as far as knowing the plays. Not coincidentally, the second-round draft pick logged 12 snaps against the Jaguars after playing mostly on special teams in the Steelers’ first four games. “I think he is getting better every week,” Tomlin said of Tuitt. “I think his participation or increased participation, although it’s not a ridiculous increase, is reflective of that, and I expect it to continue.”
"I've always played with emotion and I guess that time my emotion got the better of me," Moore said following the Steelers' 17-9 win against the Jaguars. "You don't want to do things like that to hurt your team. It's definitely something I'll learn from. Next time I'll fake spike or something."
Moore's quip couldn't mask that frustration more than excitement after making a play led to the spike.
Moore doesn't generally draw the kind of penalty that the whole team had been put on notice for by Tomlin. The ninth-year veteran is the consummate professional, something that his former coach took the extra step of pointing out last spring.
After New Orleans released Moore in March, Saints coach Sean Payton released a lengthy statement that thanked the former undrafted free agent for his contributions and praised his approach to the game and his professionalism.
The Steelers signed Moore to a two-year, $3 million contract shortly after his release from the Saints but five games into the season the 5-9, 190-pounder has just two catches for 38 yards.
Moore, who is just two seasons removed from a 1,000-yard receiving campaign, has caught the only two passes thrown his way. But he has not been able to regain the No. 3 wide receiver job he ceded to first-year man Justin Brown when a nagging groin injury sidelined Moore for the better part of a month and the first two games of the season.
The Steelers' coaches like Brown's potential and the blocking the 6-3, 209-pounder provides in the running game. If the win in Jacksonville is any indication, Brown is becoming more comfortable with playing an increased role after spending all of last season on the Steelers' practice squad.
He caught three passes for 26 yards against the Jaguars and held onto one catch after absorbing a pretty wicked shot. Brown played 37 snaps compared to 12 for Moore, and the latter knows he simply has to bide his time and make the most of the opportunities that come his way.
"Hopefully (the coaches) continue to see that in practice and have more confidence in me because that's what it's about, them having that confidence in me," Moore said. "I'm a veteran player and I've been playing for a long time, and they brought me here to do a specific job."
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Dick LeBeau has taken his share of criticism over the last couple of seasons, and some of it is warranted. As great of a defensive mind as LeBeau is I'm not sure he has put the players he has in the best positions. It's tough when a 3-4 defense doesn't get a consistent pass rush from its outside linebackers, but LeBeau has to find a way to get pressure from somewhere. I will say this: It is ludicrous to say that the game has passed him by. I'm not sure that anyone could coax great defensive play from a group that is aging in key spots, is breaking in new players and is lacking in playmakers. As for the game-winning touchdown catch by Vincent Jackson last Sunday, it looked like cornerback William Gay had help inside so I'm not sure why he let Jackson get that open on the outside.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think it's been a team effort as far as playing down to opponents. Consider the Steelers' last two losses in Oakland. Last season, the Steelers allowed a 93-yard touchdown run to Terrelle Pryor on the first play from scrimmage and that set the tone in a terrible loss. The previous season in Oakland, the Steelers gave up 34 points to the Raiders in a three-point loss. There are certainly examples of the Steelers' offense playing down to the level of the opponents -- and last year's loss in Oakland would qualify as one -- but the common denominator in losses to lesser opponents is the Steelers beating themselves. Usually it's with turnovers. Last Sunday against the Buccaneers it was with penalties, an untimely poor punt and an uncharacteristic drop by Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown. I think we can agree that whatever is causing the Steelers to lose to teams they should beat it has to stop, and it is incumbent upon coach Mike Tomlin to put an end to it. The Steelers, after all, are 6-9 in their last 15 games against teams with losing records.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think hate it a pretty strong word. Justin Brown seems like a great guy and by all accounts he works his tail off so I'd love nothing more than for him to succeed. But I still don't see the Steelers playing him over Lance Moore, who has much more of a body of work. Brown didn't produce much in the preseason, and if my math is correct he logged the most snaps of any Steelers skills player. Through four games, Brown has seven catches for 59 yards, has lost a fumble and dropped a touchdown pass. I'm not saying the Steelers should give up on the 2013 sixth-round pick after four games but I also question how patient they can be with Brown. This team needs to win in the worst way this season after consecutive 8-8 campaigns, and I simply think Moore playing the No. 3 wide receiver gives them the better chance of doing that.
@ScottBrown_ESPN why so much hate for J Brown? He is the 3 receiver in an offense that features the 1,2 and tight end. Only so many targets— Paul Barkley (@pdbarkley) October 1, 2014
@ScottBrown_ESPN: If I'm puzzled over why Justin Brown is playing over Lance Moore on offense, this is the biggest mystery to me on defense. Thomas had a really good training camp and preseason, and he appeared poise to make the kind of jump Mike Tomlin expects from his second-year players. Yet four games into the season, Thomas has played mostly on special teams. You would think the Steelers would use a package to get Shamarko Thomas on the field with starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell -- or spell those two from time to time -- but we have yet to see that. The Steelers have gotten few impact plays from Polamalu and Mitchell, so why not get Thomas on the field more?
@ScottBrown_ESPN is there a reason Shamarko Thomas isn't out on the field more? Have to believe he is more of a playmaker than backup CBs— Grizzly Adams (@madams241) September 29, 2014
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I doubt it will be this week after he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an illness, and it's hard to see Martavis Bryant making the game-day roster in the foreseeable future. The Steelers aren't going to dress six wide receivers and Justin Brown, Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are all ahead of Bryant. Heyward-Bey plays on special teams so it's hard to see Bryant moving ahead of him, and he probably isn't going to dress unless there is an injury at wide receiver. It's a long season, so Bryant will get on the field at some point. But right now it looks like he is headed for the NFL equivalent of a redshirt season.
@ScottBrown_ESPN when can we expect martavis Bryant making his steelers debut— Zack bickel (@Zackbic123) October 2, 2014
Consider what Haley said when asked if Brown is playing ahead of Moore, who missed the first two games of the season with a groin injury, because he is a better blocker.
“Not that Lance can’t block but again I’ve said that Lance had a setback,” Haley said on Thursday. “He missed a considerable of time, which included no-huddle reps and things like that. Justin is making progress and doing a good job in the run game.”
A couple of thoughts:
- Unless I am missing something, Brown is doing a nice job in the running game but he is not exactly the second coming of Hines Ward as a blocker.
- Moore has a body of work, having established himself as a trusted Drew Brees target for eight seasons in New Orleans. Moore has 347 career receptions for 4,923 yards and 38 touchdowns. Brown has seven career catches for 59 yards. Granted, he has only played four NFL games, but the 6-3, 209-pounder has already lost a fumble and dropped a touchdown pass.
- Have the Steelers run that much no-huddle to justify playing Brown over Moore because they are worried about Moore making a mental error?
I’m at a complete loss to explain why Brown has played over Moore the last two games and particularly last Sunday. Moore doesn’t strike me as the type of player who would do something to land himself in a coaching doghouse.
Did the coaches think he did not push himself enough to come back from the groin strain that cost him about a month? Or do they see something in Brown to continue playing him over Moore?
“As Lance gets up to speed that competition is improving and I think that will make them all better,” Haley said. “We will have to see how it plays out. Competition is good.”
Which begs the question: Is there actually one going on between Brown and Moore?