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Defense disappoints in Steelers loss to Seahawks

Sure, if the Steelers had beaten the Seahawks Sunday at Seattle, it would have been hailed as a signature win.

The narrative would have gone something like “Watch out Patriots, Broncos and Bengals. Here come the Steelers.”

Instead, the Steelers lost 39-30 and the weaknesses that could keep them out of the playoffs were exposed once again.

The Steelers took part in a memorable duel with the two-time NFC champions in a stadium where no AFC team has won since 2011, but there’s no “nice try” for that. They lost a game they had a chance to win.

No one is going to stop the presses by saying that the Steelers’ secondary isn’t very good. But boy was it horrible on Sunday.

The Steelers were burned by a lot of receivers that shouldn’t scare anyone.

Let’s just say that Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse aren’t often mentioned as fantasy starts.

Yet Baldwin rang up 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns, both career highs.

Kearse, who’s caught one touchdown pass in each of the last two years, caught a career-high two against the Steelers.

Those five touchdown passes, and 345 passing yards, are a regular-season personal best for Russell Wilson. For the second straight game the Steelers allowed a quarterback to surpass his career high in passing yards.

Jimmy Graham accounted for 75 of those yards on four catches before suffering a season-ending knee injury. On a day in which they couldn’t cover middling receivers, the Steelers weren’t going to suddenly figure out how to stop tight ends.

The Steelers’ bend-but-don’t-break defense bent and broke, and for the first time since the Steelers’ Week 7 loss at Kansas City it failed to produce any turnovers.

While the Steelers’ offense hasn’t had to carry the defense as much as most people thought it would, it needed to do that on Sunday. And turning the ball over four times is no way to bail out the defense.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Post-Bye Week To-Do List

Fresh off their bye week, the Pittsburgh Steelers visit Seattle on Sunday. They haven’t played there since 2003.

While the Northwest might be unfamiliar territory for the Steelers, they’re in somewhat familiar territory 10 games into the 2015 season.

They’re 6-4 for the third time in the last four years, but in 2012 and 2014, they fell to 6-4. They arrived at that record after a loss.

This season, the Steelers have won two in a row to rise to 6-4. The last time the Steelers won to get to 6-4 was 1995, and they went to the Super Bowl that year.

Super Bowl thoughts are premature at this point even though the Steelers have overcome a lot to earn their 6-4 record and hold the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff picture.

If the Steelers can check the following boxes, they’ll have good chance to make the playoffs for a second straight year.

Take care of the ball

The Steelers did a good job of this earlier in the season, turning the ball over three times in the first six games.

However, they’ve given the ball away 10 times in the last four games.

Half of those turnovers are Ben Roethlisberger interceptions. Roethlisberger is fourth in the NFL with 314.5 passing yards per game, but he was rusty when he came back from his four-week absence and threw three interceptions in the Steelers’ 16-10 loss to the Bengals.

Roethlisberger has thrown at least one interception in each of his last four games. The last time he did that was the four games the Steelers lost to open the 2013 season. After throwing nine interceptions all of last year, Roethlisberger has thrown seven in six games this season. He threw just one interception in December last year when the Steelers won their last four games and captured the AFC North. He’ll need to regain that form as the calendar turns to December this year.

Improve tight end coverage

The Steelers have allowed the third-most receptions to tight ends this season (58) and the second-most touchdowns (eight).

Half of those touchdowns came in the season opener. Rob Gronkowski caught three and Scott Chandler caught one.

Antonio Gates caught nine passes, two for touchdowns, against the Steelers in Week 5. Travis Kelce caught a 26-yard pass on third down to keep alive a Chiefs touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of their 23-13 win over the Steelers in Week 7.

The Steelers limited Tyler Eifert to four catches for 39 yards in Week 8 but two weeks later yielded six receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown to Gary Barnidge.

Next on the docket is Jimmy Graham Sunday in Seattle. Even though he hasn’t fit in with the Seahawks offense like he did with the Saints, he’s still 10th in the NFL among tight ends with 44 receptions and seventh with 530 receiving yards.

Winning in Seattle will be difficult enough. No AFC team has done it since 2011. It will be even harder if Graham has a breakout game.

The Steelers also encounter Eifert again at Cincinnati in Week 14 and Barnidge at Cleveland in Week 17.

Take advantage of backup (or aging) quarterbacks

When the 2015 NFL schedule was released, it looked like Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning would be visiting Heinz Field in December.

Now there’s a strong possibility it will be Matt Hasselbeck and Brock Osweiler instead.

The Steelers host Indianapolis in Week 13. It’s likely that Luck still will be sitting out with a lacerated kidney. If he is, then the Steelers would follow their first trip to Seattle since 2003 by facing the quarterback they faced in that 2003 game.

According to, Manning is eyeing a return from his foot injury in Week 15. That’s when the Broncos go to Pittsburgh.

By then, Osweiler might have earned the starting job permanently. He threw three touchdown passes last week in his debut as a starter, a 17-15 win at Chicago. Manning, meanwhile, has lost his fastball. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and a league-high 17 interceptions this year.

The 40-year-old Hasselbeck is 3-0 as a starter this season, Neither he nor Osweiler would be a walk in the park for a Steelers defense that’s 28th in the league in passing yards allowed. But regardless of who the opposing quarterback is in the Steelers’ two remaining home games, it won’t be a Hall of Fame-level Manning or a Pro Bowl-level Luck.

Then in Week 16 the Steelers will see Matt Schaub, not Joe Flacco, when they go to Baltimore. Schaub made the Pro Bowl for the Houston Texans in 2012, but has thrown 10 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions since then and hasn’t started a game since 2013.

Unless the Browns’ quarterback soap opera takes another dramatic turn, it will be Josh McCown under center when the Steelers go to the Dawg Pound in Week 17. Manziel threw a for career-high 372 yards against the Steelers in Week 10, but has been demoted because of a party video that surfaced. The 36-year-old McCown has never faced the Steelers in his career.

So the Steelers could be facing four backup quarterbacks, or some combination of backups and starters having down years, in their games against the Colts, Broncos, Ravens and Browns.

The defense is getting a break and needs to capitalize.

Improve punting

Jordan Berry has not fulfilled his preseason promise.

After averaging 49.8 yards per punt and beating out Brad Wing for the Steelers punting job, Berry has averaged just 42.3 in the regular season. That’s 30th in the league.

Wing, meanwhile, is averaging 44.8 yards per punt with the Giants.

Berry has done a decent job getting his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He’s tied for fifth with 20 of those. His punts have been returned an average of 6.8 yards, seventh-best in the league.

The Steelers haven’t ranked higher than 26th in average yards per punt since 2011. The defense gives up 371.4 yards per game, and even a couple of yards of field position would help.

Stay healthy

Of course there’s nothing the Steelers can do that would guarantee they’ll be injury-free for the rest of the season.

But they can take measures to decrease the chances of another injury.

They can turn their pass protection up a notch and give DeAngelo Williams a breather every now and then.

Considering their fortunes this season, no one can assume the Steelers are out of the woods when it comes to injuries.

Le’Veon Bell and Kelvin Beachum have suffered season-ending injuries. Maurkice Pouncey hasn’t played since suffering a leg injury in the preseason. Ben Roethlisberger has been knocked out of games twice this season. Landry Jones left the game with an ankle injury four minutes into his Week 10 start against the Browns but should be ready to go as Roethlisberger’s backup on Sunday.

With so many players getting hurt, 2015 has sometimes had the feel of an injury-cursed season.

Fortunately, Williams is averaging five yards a carry and gives the Steelers hope that they can survive without Bell. But he’s 32 and the Steelers can’t run him into the ground. Jordan Todman will have to play a series here and there.

The best way to prevent another cart ride for Roethlisberger is to keep him clean. The Steelers have allowed 23 sacks through 10 games, which puts them on pace for 37 for the season. Roethlisberger was sacked only 33 times last year and he’s suffered 10 of the 23 sacks this year.

It will be hard enough for the Steelers to win their first playoff game since 2010 without Bell. Without Bell and Roethlisberger? Forget it.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

Defense helping Steelers avoid losses to bad teams

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ ability to protect their home turf and defeat the Cleveland Browns 30-9 Sunday is significant in more ways than one.

Week 10 of the 2015 NFL season was not an easy one for home teams. Visitors won 10 of the 13 Sunday games. Perhaps the most shocking was the Lions’ 18-16 win over the Packers, their first victory at Lambeau Field since 1991.

That makes the Steelers’ 12-game home winning streak over the Browns the NFL’s second-longest. The Colts have beaten the Texans 13 straight times at Indianapolis.

Seven days earlier, Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to be out “at least a few weeks” with a midfoot sprain. On Sunday Roethlisberger replaced an injured Landry Jones and threw for 379 yards, the most in NFL history by a quarterback who didn’t start, and three touchdowns.

The Steelers (6-4) would be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs if the season ended after 10 weeks. They’re in this spot despite Roethlisberger missing four games and Le’Veon Bell’s season ending after just five and a half games.

While the Steelers’ ability to overcome injuries to Roethlisberger, Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum is commendable, it’s obscuring another feather in their cap.

It seems the Steelers have finally kicked the habit of losing to inferior competition.

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Steelers can survive Ben Roethlisberger’s latest injury

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ high-powered offense was going to take us on a thrill ride this year

There have been a few unfortunate cart rides mixed in, but if nothing else the 2015 season has been an emotional roller coaster.

Ben Roethlisberger rode his second cart of the season in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 38-35 win over the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field.

Usually the terminus of that transportation line is an early offseason. It was for Maurkice Pouncey, Kelvin Beachum and Le’Veon Bell.

Roethlisberger, though, appears to once again be showing how fitting it is that his “Big Ben” moniker is inspired by a timepiece.

Throughout his career, he’s taken a lickin’ and kept on tickin’.

Roethlisberger’s season survived Mark Barron’s dive at his knees at St. Louis in Week 3, and it looks like it will survive an Aldon Smith sack that crunched his left foot on Sunday.

The Steelers’ franchise quarterback has a mid-foot sprain, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It wasn’t clear how long he would be out, but he could miss as little as two weeks.

The news could have been worse, and it was just one more hairpin turn in Sunday’s wild emotional ride.

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Steelers lose Le’Veon Bell, but defense provides glimmer of hope

There was only so much the Pittsburgh Steelers defense could do.

Who would have thought back in August that any scribe would type a sentence implying that the Steelers defense did anything positive?

The unit has come a long way from the liability it looked like it would be in August, but it couldn’t bail out Ben Roethlisberger in Sunday’s 16-10 loss to the Bengals.

In his first game back after missing four weeks with an MCL sprain and bone bruise, Roethlisberger threw three interceptions. Two came in the final six minutes to set up the Bengals’ go-ahead touchdown and a crucial field goal.

Not everything the defense did registered on the stat sheet. In intercepting Andy Dalton twice, sacking him three times and protecting a one-score lead for 57 minutes, the defense infused some spirit into a Heinz Field crowd that was muted by Le’Veon Bell’s ugly knee injury in the second quarter.

According to Jason LaCanfora of, the Steelers expect to put Bell on season-ending injured reserve Monday with what looks like an MCL tear.

That would be a huge blow to the Steelers’ playoff hopes, but it was almost possible to forget the image of Bell being carted into the locker room as a secondary that was salvaged from the junkyard confounded Dalton in the fourth quarter.

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How can the Steelers stop Tyler Eifert?

How fitting it is that in late October the Pittsburgh Steelers are being taken for a haunted hayride by tight ends.

Tyler Eifert and the Cincinnati Bengals, clad in the black and orange of Halloween, bring their 6-0 record to Heinz Field just a week after the Steelers’ ghoulish performance against Travis Kelce.

The Steelers had narrowed a 16-3 deficit to 16-13 and had momentum on their side in the fourth quarter on Sunday when Alex Smith threw a 26-yard pass to Kelce on third down, keeping alive a touchdown drive that secured the win for the Chiefs.

It was Kelce’s sixth reception of the day for a total of 73 yards.The Steelers have allowed 44 receptions to tight ends this season. Only the Giants (48) have allowed more. The Steelers have yielded six touchdowns to tight ends this season. Only the Raiders (seven) have allowed more.

The Steelers (4-3) have to put an end to this horror show on Sunday. They can pretty much forget about winning the AFC North if they fall at home to the Bengals. If they don’t conjure up some tricks to stop Eifert, the game won’t be a treat for Steelers fans.

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Landry Jones should be Steelers’ starting QB until Roethlisberger returns

It seemed awfully cold for Landry Jones to be playing quarterback, Alejandro Villanueva to be at left tackle and a guy named Chris Boswell to be kicking field goals at Heinz Field.

But this was no preseason game. It was the real deal, and the Pittsburgh Steelers MacGyvered their way to another win without Ben Roethlisberger Sunday.

And in the spirit of this Halloween season, the Steelers are now a little less haunted by The Night of the Living Tebow.

Roethlisberger was 29 when the Steelers went down in Denver to end their 2011 season. For the first time since then, a quarterback younger than 30 called the signals for the Steelers.

That might seem like trivia on the surface, but what this means is that the Steelers don’t necessarily have to rely on a journeyman when Roethlisberger is injured. They could have a viable backup with upside for the life of Roethlisberger’s five-year contract.

That’s assuming Jones gets a promotion on the depth chart. Roethlisberger likely will hit the practice field again this week with hopes of playing at Kansas City Sunday. But if he can’t go, Jones should start.

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Le’Veon Bell earns place in Steelers history with game-winning TD

Le’Veon Bell has little to prove.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back already is the team’s reigning Most Valuable Player and a First Team All-Pro. He owns the franchise’s single-season record for yards from scrimmage.

But on Monday night, he became an immortal part of the Steelers’ storied history.

Bell lifted the Steelers to a dramatic 24-20 road win over the San Diego Chargers with a 1-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat as time ran out.

So far, this is the showpiece of the Le’Veon Collection of dazzling plays Bell has made in his three-year career.

This play could even get a name. Maybe The Wildcat. Or THE wildcat. Not only might the play save the Steelers’ season, it also breathed new life into this languishing gadget play.

And America has a new goal-line play to talk about.

Move over, Malcolm Butler.

Ben Roethlisberger has The Tackle and his game-winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLIII. Troy Polamalu had his pick-six against the Ravens in the 2008 AFC championship game and his strip-sack of Joe Flacco in a 2010 victory at Baltimore that ultimately won the AFC North.

It remains to be seen if Bell’s touchdown will be that historic. It could depend on how the Steelers’ 2015 season turns out. But at the very least Bell has contributed to the Steelers’ list of legendary plays.

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Steelers face uphill climb without Ben Roethlisberger

Sunday was not a good day for the Pittsburgh Steelers despite their 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams.

Hard-core Steelers historians might have felt a sense of trepidation about the day, even with the return of Le’Veon Bell.

The last time the Steelers played at St. Louis, Willie Parker broke his leg in Week 16 of the 2007 season. The Steelers won that night, but were one-and-done in the playoffs without their star running back.

Unlike Parker eight years ago, Bell left the Edward Jones Dome unscathed. He was indispensable, scoring the game’s only touchdown.

Another indispensable Steeler wasn’t so fortunate.

Ben Roethlisberger left the stadium on crutches, suffering a left knee injury after Rams safety Mark Barron sacked him late in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger went down in a manner similar to Tom Brady in 2008. Brady also was taken down by a safety who went at him low. After Bernard Pollard ended Brady’s season, that type of hit was made illegal. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, however, said he didn’t have a problem with it according to Ed Bouchette of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This wasn’t one of those times when Roethlisberger gets up, makes a face and limps around a little bit. That barely even fazes anyone anymore. This time, Roethlisberger went down and he stayed down.

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Steelers don’t need Bell, Bryant to rout 49ers

When an NFL team wins as emphatically as the Pittsburgh Steelers did on Sunday, pundits often trot out an old sports cliche and say that the team is “sending a message.”

The Steelers sure did send a message by torching the San Francisco 49ers 43-18 at Heinz Field.

The recipients of this message aren’t necessarily the rest of the teams on the Steelers’ schedule. Rather, the Steelers served this notice to two of their own teammates.

At least it seemed that way.

Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant now know that their replacements can help this offense light up the scoreboard. The lesson here should be that if they let the team down again, life can go on without them.

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