Pittsburgh Steelers: Lawrence Timmons

PITTSBURGH -- Dick LeBeau may have been just as excited as Lawrence Timmons when the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker made the Pro Bowl earlier this week.

“In my opinion he can get out on the field with anybody in the National Football League and do well and I have said that repeatedly,” the Steelers defensive coordinator said on Christmas Eve. “It’s very rewarding to see guys like that get recognized. He just kept hanging in there. Lawrence never says anything but I know how he’s got to be feeling inside. He’s a great player.”

Timmons, who is third in the AFC with 121 tackles, made his first Pro Bowl even though he has been one of the NFL’s most consistent, versatile and durable linebackers for years. He has excelled while playing both inside linebacker spots -- sometimes in the same game this season -- and also taking snaps at outside linebacker when needed there because of injuries.

Timmons started four games at right outside linebacker in 2011 because of an injury to James Harrison.

The next season Timmoms started every game at inside linebacker, and he became the first linebacker since Joey Porter to lead or tie for the team lead in tackles, interceptions and sacks in a season.

That the 2007 first-round first-round draft pick has finally been recognized as a Pro Bowler is long overdue, LeBeau said.

“He never [complains]. He just does what we ask him to do. wherever we’ve asked him to go,” LeBeau said. “He’s been an All-Pro performer in my eyes and in production’s eyes.”

Timmons, who has missed just two games in his career because of injuries, found out he had made the Pro Bowl on Tuesday from coach Mike Tomlin.

“I didn’t know what to say at first,” Timmons said. “I was too excited, just to represent this defense and all of the guys who played this defense before us so it’s really quite an accomplishment.”
PITTSBURGH -- To say this has been a trying rookie season for linebacker Ryan Shazier might be an understatement.

Shazier has missed seven games because of ankle and knee injuries. He has also lost the starting job he had held since the beginning of offseason practices.

So why does the first-round draft pick seem to have an abundance of Christmas cheer this week?

"I know people want you to be down and out but I'm up and happy," Shazier said. "We're winning and I can't feel any better. If we get to the Super Bowl and win it that's all that matter to me. I'm not worried at all."

The Steelers can greatly enhance their Super Bowl chances Sunday night by beating the visiting Cincinnati Bengals and winning the AFC North.

The Steelers beat the Bengals, 42-21, at the beginning of the month in Shazier's first game back from the high-ankle sprain he sustained in early November.

Shazier only played special teams that afternoon, and it has been a tough slog as far as getting back on the field for the former Ohio State star, whom the Steelers may have given too much too soon.

Shazier has played just 24 defensive snaps in the Steelers' last two games and coach Mike Tomlin is making the 6-1, 237-pounder earn his way back onto the field.

Sean Spence has been playing alongside inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the Steelers' base defense with Vince Williams replacing him in the nickel package.

That has left Shazier as the odd man out -- for now -- though he said he doesn't mind having to compete with Spence and Williams in practice.

"You get better with competition," said Shazier, who has 29 tackles and two quarterbacks in eight games this season. "We're brothers but at the end of the day we're competing at all times. When Spence makes a play, I tell Vince he's got to make a play. If Vince makes a play, I've got to make a play."

As for having to bide his time with the playoffs on the horizon, Shazier said, "It doesn't matter what round you get drafted in, those guys have more experience and know more than me. I feel like all of us have a different type game and with all of us playing at the level we're playing at we can't be beat."
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


Ben Roethlisberger, QB, third Pro Bowl selection: Roethlisberger has been one of the NFL’s most prolific passers. He threw six touchdown passes in back-to-back games and the 11th-year veteran has 4,635 passing yards, trailing only New Orleans’ Drew Brees (4,671 yards) going into the final week of the season. Roethlisberger can break his own Steelers record for touchdown passes in a season (32) if he tosses three scoring passes Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Opponents have picked off Roethlisberger just eight times and he has a current streak of 132 passes without an interception.

Who he beat out: Brees is the first alternate at quarterback even though the perennial Pro Bowler leads the NFL in passing yards. The Saints’ decline cost Brees a chance of making the Pro Bowl -- for now.

Le'Veon Bell, RB, first Pro Bowl selection: The second-year man made the first of what should be many Pro Bowls on the same day his teammates voted him Steelers MVP. Bell’s emergence is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are second in the NFL in total offense (415.4 yards per game). Bell leads the AFC with 1,341 yards rushing and the 6-1, 225-pounder has established a Steelers single-season record in yards from scrimmage (2,115). There is not a more complete back in the NFL.

Who he beat out: The back with whom Bell most favorably compares, Chicago’s Matt Forte, is a startling omission. Forte leads all NFL running backs in catches (94) and receiving yards (785). He is also third in yards from scrimmage with 1,772 yards.

Antonio Brown, WR, third Pro Bowl selection: The former sixth-round draft pick leads the NFL in catches (122) and receiving yards (1,570). Brown needs just two catches against the Bengals to pass Herman Moore and Wes Welker for the second-most receptions in a season in NFL history. Brown has caught at least five passes in 31 consecutive games. There were questions about whether Brown could approach his production in 2013, when he caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards. The fifth-year veteran has been even better this season even though opposing teams have tried all manner of coverages to take him out of the game.

Who he beat out: Wow, a tough group to crack. Rookie sensation Odell Beckham Jr., Golden Tate and Jeremy Maclin are among the wideouts who made the Pro Bowl only as alternates. Former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has caught 95 passes for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns, is also an alternate after a breakout season.

Maurkice Pouncey, C, fourth Pro Bowl selection: The fifth-year veteran has had a heck of a bounce-back season after missing most of 2013 because of a torn ACL. Pouncey has re-established himself as one of the premier centers in the NFL while playing in every game. Stout and athletic, Pouncey is effective pulling in the run game and his return is a big reason why the Steelers are tied with the Green Bay Packers in yards per play (6.2) and second in the NFL with 24.1 first downs per game.

Who he beat out: Chris Myers is an alternate despite anchoring a line that has the Houston Texans among the top rushing teams in the NFL. The Texans are fourth in the NFL with 135.9 rushing yards per game despite cycling through quarterbacks because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

Lawrence Timmons, LB, first Pro Bowl selection: Consistency finally earned the eighth-year veteran a Pro Bowl nod. Timmons, who has missed just two games in his career, is third in the AFC with 121 tackles and he has been a stabilizing force on a defense that has been besieged by injuries. The 6-1, 234-pounder has regularly played both inside linebacker positions in the same game this season and he has recorded at least 10 tackles in six of the Steelers’ 15 games. Timmons recorded 13 tackles last Sunday in a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. One of those stops came on a fourth-and-1 at the end of the first half with the Chiefs on the verge of scoring.

Who he beat out: Detroit's DeAndre Levy is third in the NFL with 140 tackles, and he is one of the best players on a defense that is second in the NFL in scoring (16.8 points allowed per game) and total yards (295.9 yards per game).
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers should be well represented on the Pro Bowl teams, which will be announced Tuesday night on the NFL Network.

Running back Le'Veon Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown are locks to make it.

The Steelers also will send at least one offensive lineman to the Pro Bowl given how well center Maurkice Pouncey has played after missing most of last season because of a torn ACL. Two should make it if enough voters have taken notice of how integral David DeCastro has become to the Steelers’ offense as a pulling guard.

The question is whether the Steelers will send any defensive players.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has said for several years now that linebacker Lawrence Timmons should make the Pro Bowl.

Timmons has again been a tackling machine for the Steelers. The eighth-year player made 13 stops in the’ 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on sunday, including one on a critical fourth down near the end of the first half.

Timmons is fourth in the AFC with 121 tackles, and he has been the Steelers’ most consistent defensive player over the last couple of seasons.

Timmons shrugged off a question about whether he was surprised that he has yet to make a Pro Bowl.

“I’m a very positive person. If it happens, it happens,” he said. “I just love the game. This was a dream of mine since I was little and I get an opportunity to do it every day.”

The Steelers have two other Pro Bowl candidates on defense as both cornerback William Gay and defensive end Cameron Heyward have stated their cases this seasom.

Gay has returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns, and Heyward leads the Steelers with 6.5 sacks.

Reviewing the Steelers' snap counts

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
Here is a look at the distribution of playing time in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-12 win against the Kansas City Chiefs:

Offense (54)

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (54)

Running backs: Le'Veon Bell (50), Will Johnson (15), Dri Archer (1)

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown (53), Martavis Bryant (29), Markus Wheaton (27), Lance Moore (8), Darrius Heyward-Bey (6)

Tight ends: Heath Miller (53), Michael Palmer (10)

Offensive line: Kelvin Beachum (54), Maurkice Pouncey (54), David DeCastro (54), Marcus Gilbert (54), Ramon Foster (53), Mike Adams (15), Cody Wallace (1)

Analysis: Bryant caught just one pass for 44 yards despite playing the second-most snaps among the wideouts. The Steelers took a couple of early deep shots with Bryant but Roethlisberger did not throw the rookie's way the rest of the game. ...The five starting offensive linemen would have played every snap for the third consecutive week had Foster not had to come out of the game for a play despite the veteran left guard's protests. Foster stayed down briefly after a play and officials made him go to the sidelines for a play even though he was not hurt. ...The Steelers used Adams as a third tight end on more than a quarter of their snaps with Matt Spaeth out because of an elbow injury. ...Archer got on the field for one play after not dressing for the Steelers' previous two games. The rookie third-round pick has just 45 yards from scrimmage this season. The Chiefs showed the Steelers how to use Archer in the coming seasons with rookie running back De'Anthony Thomas, whose size and speed make him similar to Archer, caught six passes for 47 yards, as the Chiefs got him the ball in space.

Defense (66)

Defensive line: Cameron Heyward (57), Stephon Tuitt (56), Cam Thomas (17), Steve McLendon (13), Daniel McCullers (4)

Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons (66), Jason Worilds (66), James Harrison (58), Vince Williams (33), Ryan Shazier (20), Sean Spence (13), Jarvis Jones (8)

Cornerbacks: William Gay (66), Brice McCain (65), Antwon Blake (51), B.W. Webb (1)

Safeties: Will Allen (66), Mike Mitchell (66)

Analysis: Harrison added more confirmation that he is a freak of nature by playing 88 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps even though he is 36 years old and had missed the previous two games because of a knee injury. ...Tuitt, who recorded a sack and forced a fumble against the Chiefs, is averaging 54.7 snaps in the three games he has started at left defensive end. ...The Steelers used their nickel package for the majority of the game, which explains the limited number of snaps for McLendon and Spence. ...The Steelers used a legitimate three-man rotation alongside Timmons. Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers will continue to play Williams, Shazier and Spence with Timmons inside. The three will compete for snaps in practice.

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
PITTSBURGH -- Another round of high marks after the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 20-12, to clinch their first playoff berth since 2011.

 Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger leads the AFC in passing yards (4,635), but he has been at his best during this three-game winning streak when the 11th-year veteran has patiently taken what defenses have given the Steelers. Game manager is often a back-handed compliment or even an indictment when it is conferred on quarterbacks. Roethlisberger’s past three games are proof that the title can also be the ultimate compliment. Grade: A

Running backs: Le’Veon Bell ran against a defense determined not to let the second-year man beat it for the second week in a row. Bell grinded out 63 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries but he opened up the middle of the field for tight end Heath Miller, who caught seven passes for 68 yards. Grade: B-

Receivers: Miller and Antonio Brown each caught a game-high seven passes. Brown had what is a quiet game for him but still led the Steelers with 72 receiving yards. The two-time Pro Bowler also worked to get free in the end zone on his 3-yard touchdown catch. Martavis Bryant caught a 44-yard pass on the third play of the game but was shut out the rest of the way. Grade: B-

Offensive line: The Steelers averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, but the Chiefs loaded the box. The line largely neutralized Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Houston recorded his NFL-leading 18th sack but that was the only time that Roethlisberger got sacked. Grade: B

 Defensive line: Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles managed just 29 rushing yards and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt forced the only turnover of the game when he belted Charles from behind after a 3-yard catch. Defensive end Cameron Heyward recorded 1 sacks, and he and Tuitt consistently generated inside pressure when the Steelers were in their nickel package. Grade: A

Linebackers: Outside linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds combined for 3 sacks and Harrison absolutely owned Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher. Inside linebacker Vince Williams recovered the fumble that Tuitt forced and Lawrence Timmons made tackles all over the field. The inside linebacker recorded a game-high 13 stops. He also made a key play in the end zone when he did not bite on a double move by Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and forced an incomplete pass. Grade: A

Secondary: Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith took advantage of soft coverage to dink and dunk his way to 311 passing yards and his first 300-yard game this season. The Steelers were just OK at tackling after the catch, and a missed tackle by cornerback William Gay resulted in a 33-yard catch and run by wide receiver Albert Wilson, the Chiefs’ longest play of the game. Cornerback Antwon Blake recorded seven tackles and made a huge pass break up in the end zone when Smith tried to hit wide receiver Dwayne Bowe with a back-shoulder throw. Grade: C

Special teams: The Steelers gave up a first down on a fake field goal, though the defense still ended up holding Kansas City to a field goal. Brad Wing boomed a 56-yard punt after an earlier 34-yard punt, and the Steelers’ kick coverage units were superb. The Chiefs averaged just 20.8 yards on five kickoff returns, and the dangerous De’Anthony Thomas did minimal damage as a returner. Grade B-

Coaching: Mike Tomlin has his team peaking at the right time. The Steelers are playing their best football as they chase an AFC North title and a home game in the playoffs. The Steelers didn’t abandon the run even with the Chiefs intent of stopping it, keeping the middle of the field open for Miller. The defense shut down the run, got to the quarterback early and often and forced the Chiefs to settle for field goals when they got close to the Steelers’ end zone. That is how it is supposed to work in Dick LeBeau’s defense. Grade: A

Know the enemy: RB Jamaal Charles

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in their last six games.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles and
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Steelers' chances of a postseason berth will be favorable if they can stop the Chiefs' versatile Jamaal Charles.
If they extend that streak to seven they will likely secure the win that puts them back in the playoffs.

That is how much running back Jamaal Charles means to the Kansas City Chiefs.

"You name it he does it -- run, catch, short-yardage, goal line, two-minute," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. "We ask a lot of him and he puts in a lot of time [with his] work ethic and takes it all on and does a great job with it."

Indeed, Charles became the Chiefs' all-time leading rusher earlier this season (6,773 yards) and he is averaging 5.52 yards per carry for his career. The 5-11, 199-pounder has battled various injuries this season but that hasn't stopped Charles from scoring 14 touchdowns, tied for first in the NFL.

He is also fourth in the AFC with 950 rushing yards and has caught 33 passes for 235 yards and five touchdowns.

Here is what the Steelers are saying about Charles:

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons: "He runs great in between the tackles, catches the ball, has great contact balance. Definitely one of the most dangerous running backs in the league right now. With his speed he doesn't compare to any backs we've faced."

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds: "A lot of people who have his skill set can't get to the second level. He has the ability to get to the second level and that's when his ability really shines. He has some wiggle and he runs a lot harder than his size would suggest."

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: "Always have had a lot of respect for him. He's dangerous and they don't have to block everybody. If they can just hold [blocks] for a little bit, he gets a little crease [and] he can do the rest. He's got a bunch of touchdowns but that's pretty much a routine regular year for him. He's a great back."

Outside linebacker James Harrison: "He has good vision and he's fast as grease lighting. He can cut on a dime and he has the ability to go horizontal to vertical in just one step."
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he expects rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier to play more Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Heinz Field.

Shazier has played primarily on special teams the last two weeks after missing the previous three games with a high-ankle sprain.

Shazier, a first-round draft pick, has missed seven games because of knee and ankle injuries. The Steelers are making Shazier earn his spot back, and Vince Williams and Sean Spence have been playing ahead of him alongside Lawrence Timmons.

Shazier played just four defensive snaps in the Steelers’ 27-20 win at Atlanta last Sunday. The 6-1, 234-pounder could play a bigger role this week since the tight ends are a big part of Kansas City’s passing game.

“We’d like for him to get a few more snaps,” LeBeau said. “I think he’s about 100 percent now and that’s good to see. He’s a tremendous athlete, can really run, and we really like him.”

A couple of notes:
  • If Todd Haley has an opinion about which one of the Steelers’ Big Three has been the team’s most valuable player, the offensive coordinator isn’t saying. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le'Veon Bell are second in the NFL in passing yards and rushing yards, respectively. Wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the NFL in catches and receiving yards. “I am not really paying attention to any of that,” Haley said in regard to team MVP discussion. “These guys are performing at a high level though. But they need to continue to do that because we have the biggest game of the year this week. We probably have to play our best game.”
  • Cornerback William Gay has returned all three of his interceptions this season for touchdowns to thrust himself into consideration for the Pro Bowl. LeBeau, who had 62 interceptions during a Hall of Fame playing career, said, “Will has always been a really intelligent player and if he gets close to the ball he’s going to get his share of interceptions. I think we’re just seeing Will doing what Will Gay does.”
  • Roethlisberger has been voted NFL FedEx Air Player of the Week for the second week in a row. Roethlisberger won the award after throwing for 360 yards and completing just over 77 percent of his passes in the Steelers’ win over the Falcons.
ATLANTA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome:
  • The Steelers’ final road game of the regular season seemed like a home contest at times -- and the players and coaches noticed. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Steeler Nation,” coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers improved to 9-5. “They were special in the building today. We are used to seeing it, but it never gets old. Terrible Towel-waving fans were noticeably loud -- whether Steelers players were trotting onto the field for pregame warm-ups or the Steelers were making a big play on offense or defense. Steelers fans were loud enough that some of the Falcons players were asked if they felt like they had a home-field advantage Sunday. “I know that Pittsburgh fans travel well since I am from Philadelphia and I know that Philly fans travel well, too,” Falcons cornerback Robert McClain said. “The fans were there for us. We did not execute.”
  • Worilds
    The Steelers were generally tight-lipped about a penalty that went against outside linebacker Jason Worilds and helped the Falcons get back into the game. With the Steelers leading 13-0 in the second quarter, Worilds sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for an 11-yard loss. The play was wiped out, however, after Worilds was called for roughing the passer, even though it appeared to be a legal hit. Three plays later, Ryan threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester. Worilds declined to answer questions about the call after the game. So did Tomlin. “I’m not going to talk about that call because it was horrendous,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. The Falcons weren’t entirely happy with the officiating, either. A questionable holding call on Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant with just over three minutes left in the game saved the Steelers from punting. And the Steelers were able to run out the rest of the clock. “You guys question a number of things. We have the same thing about the game as well, and officiating is one [part] of it,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said after his team fell to 5-9. “Unfortunately that’s not anything that we can talk about as the head coach in the National Football League.”
  • Several Steelers sustained minor injuries during the game, including inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (back), strong safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and free safety Mike Mitchell (groin). All, however, returned to the game. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert missed his third consecutive game despite practicing every day last week. Gilbert, who is working through ankle and knee injuries, had been listed as probable on the Steelers’ final injury report of last week. Tomlin said Gilbert did not have a setback Saturday that caused him to miss the Falcons game but that, “We’ve got to go with the most healthy bodies.”
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday that linebacker Lawrence Timmons is deserving of a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley essentially said the same thing about right guard David DeCastro.

DeCastro has emerged as one of the better guards in the NFL, and the 2012 first-round draft pick was a big reason why Le'Veon Bell gashed the Cincinnati Bengals for 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 win last Sunday.

Bell ran behind a pulling DeCastro early and often, and Haley said DeCastro would have been the first one he singled out for praise after the Steelers’ eighth win of the season.

"The Bengals’ guys were tired of seeing him coming around by the end of the game," Haley said.

DeCastro might face a numbers crunch as far as making the Pro Bowl.

Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are locks to make the team. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey are strong candidates to earn Pro Bowl nods.

Will the Steelers place more than four offensive players on the team?

Timmons faces a different problem.

The Steelers’ defense has struggled this season and might not send any players to the Pro Bowl.

Timmons, however, has been a stabilizing force on a unit that has been scrambled by injuries.

The eighth-year veteran started his 66th-consecutive regular-season game last Sunday and leads the Steelers with 104 tackles.

Timmons has recorded at least 10 tackles in six games this season.

"I’ve said the last several years that he plays at a Pro Bowl-level, and I feel that he’s doing that again," LeBeau said. "He’s a very, very good player. He does a lot of things for us. I think he can go and play with any group of athletes and hold his own, whether it’s across the ocean over there in Hawaii or this Sunday where we’re going to need him."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers could be without right outside linebacker James Harrison for another week.

 Harrison, who didn’t play in a 42-21 at Cincinnati because of a knee injury, is questionable for the Steelers game Sunday in Atlanta.

Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers will see how much Harrison is able to practice this week before making a decision on his availability for the Falcons game. The same also applies to right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who has missed the past two games because of ankle and knee injuries.

“We’ll watch his movement and ability to anchor,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Tomlin said Jarvis Jones, who is listed behind Harrison at right outside linebacker on the depth chart, responded well physically after playing against the Bengals in his first game since dislocating his right wrist in a Sept. 21 win at Carolina.

“We feel really good about him moving forward from a health standpoint,” Tomlin said. “Steve McLendon the same thing.”

McLendon returned to action against the Bengals after missing the previous two games because of a shoulder injury. The fifth-year nose tackle helped limit Cincinnati to 86 rushing yards on 21 carries.

Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier played against the Bengals after missing the previous three games because of a high-ankle sprain, but the first-round pick only saw action on special teams.

Tomlin said Shazier, who has missed seven games because of knee and ankle injuries, has to win back the starting job opposite Lawrence Timmons.

Vince Williams and Sean Spence have been splitting snaps at weakside inside linebacker.

“Obviously [Shazier] is a viable option for us,” Tomlin said. “He’s a talented young man, but guys like [Williams and Spence] have done an above the line job in their contributions.”

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
PITTSBURGH -- The marks, like the Pittsburgh Steelers' fifth loss of the season, aren't pretty.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger threw for 435 yards and two touchdowns but it was hardly a game to remember. He threw a pair of interceptions after tossing just one in his first five games at Heinz Field and had too many throws sail on him. Big Ben has to play better if the Steelers are going to make a serious run at the playoffs. Grade: D

RUNNING BACKS: Le'Veon Bell rushed for 95 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry and the Steelers probably did not run him enough against a suspect defense. Dri Archer got stuffed for no gain on the only carry the rookie received and the Steelers continue to show little trust in the third-round draft pick despite publicly saying they are pleased with him. Grade: B+

RECEIVERS: They didn't help Roethlisberger early when Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant each failed to come up with catchable balls in the end zone on consecutive plays early in the second quarter. Tight end Heath Miller caught eight passes for 82 yards and was targeted a game-high 14 times. The 10th-year veteran would have easily gone over 100 yards with a touchdown had Roethlisberger not overshot him a couple of times. Grade B-

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers played well enough to win up front though pressure on Roethlisberger early in the third quarter led to a tipped ball that defensive end Cameron Jordan intercepted deep in Steelers territory. The Saints only sacked Roethlisberger one time and he generally had enough time to throw. Grade: B-

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Steelers were too easily moved out of their gaps up front, allowing Mark Ingram to gash them for 122 rushing yards and for the Saints to average an unacceptable 5.5 yards per carry. The Steelers must play better up front and do it without veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, who appears to be out for the rest of the season after suffering a triceps injury. Grade: D

LINEBACKERS: Outside linebackers Jason Worilds and James Harrison combined for 17 tackles and Worilds had the Steelers' only sack. The Steelers did not get a consistent pass rush from their edge players after they got to Saints quarterback Drew Brees early and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (five tackles) had a quiet game. Grade: D

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Cornerback Ike Taylor got caught peeking at the quarterback on the 69-yard touchdown catch he gave up to Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills. William Gay got beat several times and nickel back Antwon Blake's holding penalty negated a Vince Williams sack that would have forced a punt early in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were only trailing by 12 points. The safeties weren't much of a factor. Grade: D

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Steelers have finally found a kickoff returner in Markus Wheaton who averaged 29.0 yards on three returns. Shaun Suisham made three of four field-goal attempts. The Steelers should have gotten the veteran kicker closer on a 54-yard field-goal attempt that came up short at the end of the first half. Grade: C+

COACHING: Terrible clock management at the end of the first half cost the Steelers points and the Saints clearly made better adjustments as the game progressed. How could Mike Tomlin not have his team better prepared coming off a bye week against a team that doesn't play all that well on the road and had less than a week to get ready for the Steelers? Grade: F

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers stumbled badly after winning three in a row and the 20-13 loss to the New York Jets was a total team effort. I may have been a tad generous with the marks, low as they are.

QUARTERBACK: Ben Roethlisberger's statistical line -- he completed 30 of 43 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown -- is hard to reconcile with how he played against a secondary that was ripe to be exploited. The two interceptions he threw were costly -- and head-scratching -- considering Roethlisberger had been picked off just three times in the Steelers' first nine games. Grade: D

RUNNING BACKS: The running game is in a rut. The Steelers averaged 2.1 yards per carry after averaging just over 3.0 yards per carry during their three-game winning streak. Neither Le'Veon Bell nor LeGarrette Blount were a factor in the game, and the former had the Steelers' longest run from scrimmage. That 8-yard gain was cancelled out by Blount's 8-yard loss when the Steelers were at the Jets' 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Grade: D

RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown showed he is human, losing a fumble late in the first quarter that set up the touchdown that gave the Jets a 17-0 lead. Rookie Martavis Bryant had a game-high 143 receiving yards and his 80-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers a chance to tie the game. Markus Wheaton was quiet with four receptions for 43 yards. Grade: C-

OFFENSIVE LINE: The running backs had nowhere to go and Roethlisberger was sacked twice and hit seven other times. There were stretches when the line gave Roethlisberger plenty of time to throw but the Jets' front seven certainly got the better of this matchup. The Steelers need to re-establish the run moving forward and that starts up front. Grade: C-

DEFENSIVE LINE: It allowed the Jets to impose their will early though it settled down and largely did a good job against the run even though the Steelers allowed 150 rushing yards. The Jets didn't overpower the Steelers when they ran as much as they tricked them and also benefited from quarterback Michael Vick scrambling away from pressure. Defensive end Cameron Heyward had a sack and two quarterback hits. Grade: C+

LINEBACKERS: Lawrence Timmons turned in a game-high 13 tackles and outside linebackers Jason Worilds and James Harrison combined for four quarterback hits while Worilds also had 1 1/2 sacks. The linebackers did miss some tackles and also took some poor angles when rushing Vick. This unit played the best of any against the Jets though that's not saying too much. Grade: B-

SECONDARY: Cornerback William Gay had the Steelers' lone pass breakup and that was on a ball that Vick threw right to him and should have been intercepted. Gay also got beat on T.J. Graham's 67-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter though where was the safety help? Mike Mitchell's most memorable play, if you want to call it that, is when he dived over the line of scrimmage as Vick took a knee at the end of the game. Grade: D

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wheaton returned a kickoff 34 yards and the Steelers may have finally found someone who can actually get the ball past the 20-yard line. Not much else went right in this phase of the game. Shaun Suisham badly hooked a 23-yard field goal attempt after making a 53-yarder at the end of the first half. An offside penalty on Darrius Heyward-Bey nullified a recovered onside kick in the fourth quarter. Brown lost a fumble on a muffed punt return. Grade: D-

COACHING: The Steelers came out flat and the game plan was uninspiring. Why didn't the Steelers try to attack the Jets downfield more considering New York was starting two backup cornerbacks? Coach Mike Tomlin did not manage his timeouts all that well, and in the fourth quarter the Steelers looked like they were still trying to establish the run when they were down by 17 points. The Steelers' worst loss of the season starts with the coaches. Grade: F
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The AFC North is Exhibit A for how quickly things can change in the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were percentage points out of first place at this time last week. They then moved into a tie for first place with the Cleveland Browns last Thursday night after the Browns pounded the Bengals in Cincinnati.

The Steelers enjoyed their shared time at the top of the division for three days. A 20-13 loss to the New York Jets Sunday dropped them into a tie with the Baltimore Ravens, behind both the Browns and Bengals.

“That’s the way the North is right now, it’s a jumbled mess,” Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel said after the Steelers fell to 6-4. “Everyone’s kind of right there together, and we need to assert ourselves and make sure with these last few games that we’ve got that we continue to work and continue to stay in the hunt.”

The teams in the AFC North are so tightly bunched together that a loss to the Jets, who entered Sunday with only one win, could prove costly at the end of the season. The Steelers should lament that as much as how they utterly threw away a game with a sloppy and uninspired start.

“This is a team we should beat,” Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “But this is the NFL. You can’t win when you have four turnovers and not enough defense.”

That about summed up the loss that snapped the Steelers’ three-game winning streak. Here is a recap of ESPN coverage of the Steelers’ latest loss to a team that entered the game with a losing record:
Here are takes on the Steelers' loss by Pittsburgh sports columnists:
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook writes that Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the two players most responsible for a three-game winning streak, were also most responsible for ending it.
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Rob Rossi takes an interesting look at where the Steelers lost this game. It happened, Rossi writes, before any of their four turnovers.
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier, who advocated a change at offensive coordinator after an Oct. 12 loss in Cleveland, refrains from doing so after the offense sputters in the loss to the Jets. That, Collier writes, would be piling on.
A by-the-numbers look at the Pittsburgh Steelers-New York Jets game on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Minus-15: Jets’ turnover differential, which is the worst in the NFL

3: Sacks by Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward

3.02: Yards per carry for the Steelers in their last three games

3.5: Yards per carry allowed by the Jets

4: Sacks by Heyward that have been nullified by Steelers’ penalties

4: Wins by the Jets in 21 games against the Steelers, including the postseason

11: Receptions that have gone for at least 25 yards by Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, second most in the NFL

17: Games since 2012 in which Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons has recorded at least 10 tackles

20: Combined quarterback pressures by Steelers’ defensive end Brett Keisel and outside linebacker James Harrison

20: Steelers’ NFL rank for scoring touchdowns when in the red zone (54.8 percent)

26: Completed passes that have gone for at least 25 yards by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tied with Andrew Luck for the most in the NFL

28.0: Points allowed per game by the Jets, second worst in the NFL

30: Jets’ NFL rank for touchdowns allowed when opponents are in the red zone (68.8 percent)

49: Combined quarterback pressures by the rest of the Steelers’ players

55: Plays that have resulted in first downs by Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, tied for second in the NFL

65.7: Passer rating for the Jets, worst in the NFL

111.9: Passer rating for the Steelers, best in the NFL

129: Receiving yards by wide receiver Percy Harvin last Sunday in his second game with the Jets.

139.9: Rushing yards per game by the Jets, third best in the NFL

2,403: Career yards from scrimmage by Bell, which is already the most by a Steelers player in his first two seasons.