On the Steelers: The focus is on Sunday's game against the Ravens
October 15, 2013 8:00 AM
Heath Miller pulls in a pass against the Ravens in 2012. The Steelers (1-4) are keeping their sights set on a matchup Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens before worrying about the rest of the schedule.
Le'Veon Bell picks up a first down Sunday in the first half against the Jets. Bell is one of seven rookies who got their first taste of NFL victory.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Now what? The Steelers won a game, but they still find themselves down at the bottom of their division, looking up at three teams including the Cincinnati Bengals (4-2), who reside in first place in the AFC North Division.
The Steelers (1-4) prefer not to peer anywhere beyond Sunday when they play the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field in a game that has lost its usual sizzle. Neither team has a winning record, a rare occurrence when they play. They previously met without one or the other having a winning record in the seventh game of 2002, when they carried 3-3 records and the Steelers won, 31-18, at Baltimore.
Yet it remains a game of importance for both teams. At 3-3, the Ravens are trying to sidestep that Super Bowl hangover the Steelers suffered in 2006 and 2009, when they failed to make the playoffs the seasons after they added to their Lombardi Trophy case. The Steelers' job again will be to avoid making this season irrelevant before the halfway point.
Steelers vs. Ravens.
4:25 p.m. Sunday
"It will be a tough game against Baltimore," Brett Keisel said. "I didn't even know that until you said that. It will be a good test for us."
That he did not know who they played beyond the Jets might be a good indication the Steelers have adopted coach Mike Tomlin's instructions to put away all thoughts of any games beyond the next -- including those games in their locker room that he has banned in his own version of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.
"We can't just be basking in this win here," offensive guard Ramon Foster said. "This is one win. We have to dig ourselves out of a hole. We can't relax, we have a big one next weekend at home and we have to be on top of the same mindset."
The victory was somewhat significant for their seven rookies, who experienced it for the first time as professionals.
"Hopefully, it will give them some confidence," said tight end Heath Miller, who is working on his ninth season. "They haven't had this feeling yet in their career. Hopefully, it's contagious, and they'll be hungry to get another one."
Jones makes progress
One of those rookies, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, was upset at first Sunday after he plowed into Jets quarterback Geno Smith with three minutes to go in the game.
"I didn't sack him," said Jones, who still is searching for his first.
"But I created a turnover."
Jones' hit on Smith caused the ball to flutter like a pop-up to shortstop that inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons easily fielded at the 3 to put the Steelers victory away at 19-6.
Sometimes, the near sack is worth more than a sack itself.
Jones is the first rookie to nail down a starting outside linebacker's job since they moved to the 3-4 defense 31 years ago.
His coaches believe, like other rookies at the position, Jones could have used one season in a backup role to learn the defense and refine his game.
But, with James Harrison gone, they decided to force-feed their prized rookie by starting him ahead of Jason Worilds, who continues to rotate into the position and had a sack Sunday.
Jones' progress has been slow, but he showed on that hit on Smith what he is capable of doing. He said getting a second-half lead for the first time this season benefited that style of play on defense.
"It's a great opportunity because now you make them one dimensional," Jones said. "We can open our playbook more and put more pressure on them. That was good for us, we got them behind.
"We could open up he defense a little bit and do more things we weren't capable of doing the last few games."
Brown's game was different
Antonio Brown had the kind of game few wide receivers experience. He caught nine passes to put him on pace for what would be a team-record 131 receptions. He completed a 15-yard pass for a first down. He dropped a touchdown pass. And he was sacked.
Brown joined Emmanuel Sanders, who was sacked once in 2012, as the only two non-quarterbacks on the Steelers to be sacked since Antwaan Randle-El in 2002.
Brown also leads the Steelers with a 7.0-yard average per rush -- although he only has run twice.
Injuries create problems
Two more injuries might force the Steelers to add two more players. They lost tight end David Johnson to what was described by Tomlin as a potential major injury to his left hand and wrist. Offensive tackle Levi Brown also could be finished with a triceps injury, something that kept him from playing at all in 2012 with the Arizona Cardinals.
If they are looking for a tackle to replace Brown, Max Starks remains available. The San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams cut Starks this season, but Starks was good enough to start 16 games in 2012 for the Steelers. Shouldn't he still have enough to serve as a backup for them one year later?
As for replacing Johnson, do the Steelers really need another tight end? They have four on the roster, now three without Johnson. Matt Spaeth will be eligible to return in a few weeks anyway.
Spence's next step: Practice
Inside linebacker Sean Spence said Sunday he will come off the physically-unable-to-perform list and start practicing Wednesday. The Steelers will have three weeks to decide whether to activate him to the 53-man roster, place him on injured reserve and end a second consecutive season for him, or release him.
Taking him off the PUP list affects them not one bit, other than to start his clock on the three-week decision. It will allow Spence to join them at practice and do more than the individual drills he has been working on exclusively with trainers. Depending on their record after three weeks, they could add him to the 53-man roster in order to allow him to practice the rest of the season -- or until they might need his roster spot. If they put him back on injured reserve, he cannot practice.
Either way, it fulfills linebackers coach Keith Butler's promise that they will do everything they can to allow this third-round draft choice to overcome a devastating knee injury that included nerve damage in the preseason of his rookie year in 2012.