Tagged in: steelers

Steelers try to keep playoff hopes alive as Titans visit

Ben Roethlisberger still considers the Pittsburgh Steelers have what it takes to be a playoff team.

Time is running out, however, to prove it.

“We’ve got to make a run,” Roethlisberger said.

At this point, one step in the right direction would be considered progress.

The Steelers (6-6-1) have been spinning their wheels for more than a month heading into a visit by AFC South-leading Tennessee (9-4) on Sunday, mired in a five-game funk in which they’ve won just once and been bullied in a way they haven’t been bullied in decades.

A defense that concluded third in the league last season is now in danger of finishing in the bottom 10 for the first time in 30 years.

While Roethlisberger and the rookie-laden offense have had their fair share of issues, it’s what’s happening on the other side of the ball that’s been far more alarming.

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Three times in the last month the Steelers have found themselves trailing by at least 17 points.

Twice they put together rallies to make it respectable, but respectable margins don’t count in the win column — though it’s telling of how wide open the underwhelming AFC North is that Pittsburgh finds itself in the mix as Christmas looms despite just two victories since Halloween.

“You can’t spend a lot of time looking at big-picture perspective,” Tomlin said.

Maybe because the smaller picture is so daunting. The Titans are in a position to win their second consecutive division title even without star running back Derrick Henry, who hasn’t played since October due to a foot injury. Tennessee has found a way despite having 50 different players start at least one game. Only New Orleans has had more.

Tennessee’s success is a testament to its depth and the steadying presence of coach Mike Vrabel. “Things haven’t been perfect for us up until this point, but we have ourselves in a good situation,” Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.

“Coach Vrabel has talked about this last two weeks and that is that we are just getting started. Have a lot of football out in front of us and we want to play our best football here down the stretch.”

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Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers balancing recovery, preparation during short week

Ben Roethlisberger knows playing the Minnesota Vikings on a short week after a physical game versus the Baltimore Ravens is going to require little extra help.

“Just have as many people help as you can: chiropractors, masseuses, training staff,” the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said Tuesday. “Getting in the pools and just doing whatever you can to get yourself ready. Everyone has to do this throughout the year.

“I don’t think anybody really likes it except for the NFL and all the money that they make. Players, it’s tough. Obviously, the back end of it is the benefit, right? The weekend, some time off. That only really feels good if you get the win. But you’ve just got to find a way, really.”

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To balance the team’s recovery and preparation, the Steelers are only lightly practicing this week.

Tuesday’s shortened practice was more like a walkthrough.

“Yeah, so I’ll participate fully today,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s the craziest thing. Typically, I don’t even practice until Friday, and now we’ve got to play on Thursday. So I’ll be a full participant [Tuesday] and Thursday.”

Roethlisberger, 39, has fought through injuries and COVID-19 this campaign, dealing with injuries to his pectoral and hip early on. He stated Tuesday that his elbow, which was surgically repaired in 2019, feels fine.

“It’s my shoulder that hurts more than my elbow,” Roethlisberger said. “My elbow feels great, thanks to the doctors. It’s just dealing with throwing. Wish someone could keep track; like I’ve thrown a million throws in my life, so at some point your shoulder starts to wear down a little bit. Just like any quarterback, your arm always hurts a little bit.”

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Ben Roethlisberger expects this to be his last season with Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger privately has told former teammates and some within the organization that he believes this to be his final season playing quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, league sources told ESPN on Saturday.

Roethlisberger has not made any such public proclamations, and likely won’t, since he doesn’t want the latter part of the season to be about him as Pittsburgh tries to make a playoff push.

But sources say he and those within the organization are now operating as if he is entering the final five matches of his Hall of Fame career, with two of them fittingly coming versus the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh’s opponent Sunday and in the final regular-season game.

Roethlisberger is in the final year of his contract. He is 39 years old, turns 40 in March and has seen all of his quarterback draft classmates, such as Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, move on to the next chapters of their lives. Roethlisberger’s 18 seasons with one team is the most by a quarterback in NFL history.

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Roethlisberger has told many that he never would want to play anywhere other than Pittsburgh.

It doesn’t mean he couldn’t surface next season in another NFL city, but that is “highly unlikely,” according to one source.

That would mean that this year is expected to cap the career of one of the Steelers’ all-time greatest players. Roethlisberger will leave the franchise with more victories, touchdown passes and passing yards than any quarterback in Steelers history.

His 410 career touchdown passes entering Sunday’s game are eighth most in NFL history. His 62,870 passing yards are sixth in NFL history. His 161 career wins are fifth in NFL history.

The fact that this is expected to be the final NFL season for the six-time Pro Bowler does not come as a surprise to many around the organization.

They felt that last season could have been Roethlisberger’s last and, in a way, the team even seemed to prepare for that, turning over much of its roster on offense this season and transitioning to the future there.

The Steelers have, on average, the youngest offensive roster in the league, with rookies manning the center and left tackle positions and playing at running back and tight end.

Though the Steelers have quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins on their roster, there are questions about whether either will succeed Roethlisberger.

The Steelers’ home finale is Week 17 versus the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 3, a game that will air on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Pittsburgh closes out the regular season in Baltimore on Jan. 9.

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Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook has dislocated shoulder

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook dislocated his shoulder during Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Cook is anticipated to miss at least the next two matches — Sunday at the Detroit Lions and the following Thursday versus the Pittsburgh Steelers — with the hope being he can return the next week for the Monday, Dec. 20, game at the Chicago Bears, the source told Schefter.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer would not disclose the nature of Cook’s injury Monday and stated his star running back was “day-to-day.”

“That’s what they’re telling me,” Zimmer said.

Cook was carted off the field late in the third quarter and ruled out for the remainder of the game.

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He was injured after being brought down by Niners defensive tackle Kevin Givens following a handoff.

The running back lost the ball in the process of being tackled and immediately grabbed for his chest with his right arm when he hit the ground.

He stayed down on the field for several minutes as athletic trainers tended to him. Both Vikings and Niners players knelt around Cook while he was moved onto a cart before being taken off the field and back into the locker room for further evaluation.

Cook’s day ended with 10 carries for 39 yards and six receptions for 64 yards. He was replaced by backup running back Alexander Mattison, who rushed three times for 8 yards and caught one pass for 2 yards after Cook left.

In other news Monday, the Viking placed cornerback Patrick Peterson on the reserve/COVID-19 list, putting his availability for Sunday’s game versus the Lions in question.

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Roethlisberger throws 2 TDs, Steelers top Broncos 27-19

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers silenced the noise. At least for a week.

Funny how having something resembling a running game for the first time in a long time will do that.

Riding an offensive balance nonexistent for most of the last two years, the Steelers held off Denver 27-19 on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.

Rookie Najee Harris ran for a career-best 122 yards and a touchdown for Pittsburgh (2-3) before a cramping issue in his calves forced him to stand on the sideline while a late rally by Denver fell short.

The Broncos (3-2) trailed by 18 in the fourth quarter before a pair of Teddy Bridgewater touchdown passes brought them within striking distance.

Bridgewater’s fourth-down heave to the end zone with 11 seconds left was intercepted by James Pierre, permitting the Steelers to exhale. For a minute anyway.

Asked if the triumph will quiet withering criticism he’s endured over the last month, Roethlisberger just smiled.

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“Probably not,” he said. “But we won the game, and that’s all that matters.”

And won in a way they’re probably going to need to keep pace in the highly competitive AFC North. With Harris churning through holes that didn’t exist over the first four games, the Steelers didn’t have to rely exclusively on their 39-year-old quarterback to make something happen.

That was kind of the plan all along and got lost amid a difficult first month. The Steelers dropped three of four behind a retooled offensive line that at times looked overmatched.

Not so much versus the Broncos.

The Steelers gave up one sack and kept Denver outside linebacker Von Miller in check while running the ball 35 times and passing just 25, the kind of ratio Roethlisberger is more than happy to live with.

Several times Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun with the option to run or pass, saw coverage that indicated he should probably throw it and opted to hand it off to Harris anyway because the 22-year-old runner and the five linemen in front of him had it going.

“Why take it out of his hand when you’re grinding it, you’re getting it?” Roethlisberger stated. “It was kind of fun to watch him excel and take over.”

Yet cramps forced out Harris in the middle of the fourth quarter. Bridgewater, who spent the bulk of the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol before returning to practice Friday, nearly drew the Broncos even.

Bridgewater completed 24 of 38 passes for 288 yards with a pair of scores: a 2-yard dart to Kendall Hinton and a 39-yard rainbow to Courtland Sutton with 5:46 to go that drew Denver within 24-19.

Bridgwater then drove Denver to the Pittsburgh 3 in the final seconds before Pierre’s first career interception ended the threat.

“We can’t wait until the game is out of hand to have a sense of urgency,” Bridgewater said.

The loss made Denver’s perfect September look more like a mirage. The Broncos piled up wins against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets last month. Tested by Baltimore and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks, the Broncos came up short.

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Pittsburgh Steelers acquire CB Ahkello Witherspoon from Seattle Seahawks

After an initial 53-man roster that was short on cornerbacks, the Steelers have fortified the position by obtaining Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks for a 2023 fifth-round pick, the teams revealed.

Witherspoon, 26, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was expected to compete for the starting job at left cornerback, but Seattle moved D.J. Reed over to the left side and Tre Flowers into the starting role at right cornerback, making Witherspoon a trade candidate. A day earlier, Seattle traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sidney Jones.

Witherspoon was unsatisfied by being relegated to a backup role, a source told ESPN’s Brady Henderson. The Steelers will take on $1.5 million of Witherspoon’s salary, while the Seahawks save that amount against their cap. However, Seattle is still on the hook for $1.25 million in dead money in 2021 and 2022 from his signing bonus.

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Witherspoon was taken in the third round by San Francisco in 2017 and started 33 of 47 career games with the 49ers in four seasons. He recorded 116 tackles and four interceptions and had 24 passes defended.

The Steelers initially had just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster following cuts: Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Joe Haden. They added one more a day later, signing Arthur Maulet after moving three other players to injured reserve.

Before adding Maulet, defensive coordinator Keith Butler expressed apprehension about entering the season with so few cornerbacks.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks,” Butler said. “We’ve got guys who can play different positions. Cam can play different positions. He can play the nickel. Forty-two [Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason.

“We think we’re OK right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in never-never land, we’ll see what happens.”

Witherspoon gives the Steelers depth at cornerback behind veterans Haden and Sutton, who emerged late in training camp as the likely slot cornerback after Mike Hilton’s departure. With Sutton in the slot, undrafted free agent Pierre was slated to be the outside cornerback opposite Haden.

The outside cornerback depth is young and relatively unproven, and Witherspoon’s experience elevates the position group.

The Steelers released defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to make room on the roster for Witherspoon.

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Pittsburgh Steelers undergo special teams makeover, release punter Jordan Berry, long snapper Kameron Canaday

The Pittsburgh Steelers are ushering in a new era in the team’s kicking unit. While kicker Chris Boswell’s job is safe, he’ll have a new supporting cast for the 2021 season.

The Steelers released punter Jordan Berry and long snapper Kameron Canaday, league sources confirmed to ESPN. With their departures, rookie seventh-round pick Pressley Harvin III is the presumed punter and Christian Kuntz, who played FCS football at nearby Duquesne University, is the team’s long snapper.

Berry first joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and has been the team’s primary punter for the better part of six seasons.

He was briefly released last year when the team brought on former Kansas City punter Dustin Colquitt for a month, but Berry re-signed with the team in October and reclaimed punting duties.

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He averaged 44.4 yards per punt in his career, including a career best 45.8 last season. He went toe-to-toe with Harvin, a Georgia Tech product and 2020 Ray Guy winner, throughout training camp and the preseason.

“It really has been competitive,” special teams coordinator Danny Smith said during training camp. “It really has. It’s good to see two pros put their best foot forward. No pun intended. But Jordan’s punting the ball better than he ever has and Pressley is very talented, so it’s been quite a competition.”

Harvin impressed from the jump, averaging 46 yards per punt over his three preseason appearances.

Berry rose to the occasion and averaged 43.9 yards per punt in two preseason matches, but the team opted to go with their draft pick.

At long snapper, Kuntz, a Pittsburgh area native, won the job over four-year long snapper Canaday after spending part of the 2020 season on the Steelers’ practice squad.

He also spent the 2019 training camp with the Steelers before being waived during final cuts. He’s been on rosters and in camps with teams since 2017 and had a stint in the XFL with the Dallas Renegades, earning praise for his versatility of being a linebacker and long snapper.

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Pittsburgh Steelers shoring up defense with Melvin Ingram addition

The Steelers are signing edge rusher Melvin Ingram, his agent confirmed on social media Monday.

Ingram is signing a one-year deal, according to NFL Network.

The 32-year-old Ingram fills a major hole in the Steelers’ defense left by the free-agency departure of Bud Dupree to the Tennessee Titans.

“I met with Coach [Mike] Tomlin,” Ingram told NFL reporter Josina Anderson. “You can tell he’s very involved and a players’ coach. That’s what stood out to me. He wants to win, and that is what I am on.

“My role is my role. He just told me to come in and be me. Everyone knows how I play.” Ingram, who had interest from other NFL teams and visited the Steelers on Monday, will strive for the spot opposite T.J. Watt that is now occupied by second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith.

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With Dupree’s exit, the depth behind Watt and Highsmith was perilously thin.

NFL journeyman Cassius Marsh and sixth-round draft pick Quincy Roche were anticipated to be the primary backups.

Ingram, a 2012 first-round pick, had spent his nine-year career with the Chargers, racking up 49 sacks — fourth in franchise history — en route to three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2017 to 2019.

He played in just seven matches last season because of a nagging knee injury that landed him on injured reserve twice, and he failed to record a sack for the first time in his career.

The Chargers opted not to re-sign him after his four-year, $64 million deal expired following the 2020 campaign.

Ingram may not be as productive as he was in previous years, but he’s in a defense that will give him tons of easy openings along the defensive line, and a secondary that will force opposing quarterbacks to think twice before throwing. That alone could provide Ingram with a career resurgence, and the Steelers with the cog they need to keep that line firmly established as the NFL’s best.

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Pittsburgh Steelers release guard David DeCastro, agree to terms with Trai Turner

The Pittsburgh Steelers revealed on Thursday that they released six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro.

DeCastro was released with a non-football injury designation.

The Steelers later agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner on a one-year deal, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The 31-year-old DeCastro has been fighting ankle issues and is evaluating whether surgery is required, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, adding that retirement is a strong option for him.

He didn’t participate in minicamp recently. When asked a week ago regarding DeCastro, coach Mike Tomlin said, “If I thought injury circumstances or reasons why people were not participating were significant, I would share them with you.”

DeCastro was in the final year of his contract with a $14.2 million cap hit. Releasing him saves the Steelers $8.75 million in cap space. He was the Steelers’ first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2012 draft.

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“David was without a doubt one of the premier offensive linemen during his time with us,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement.

“He helped us win a lot of football games, but it was David’s consistency, reliability and professionalism that stood out more than anything else. We wish him the best moving forward in his career.”

DeCastro missed the first two matches of 2020 with lingering knee issues but appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s final 14 games.

With DeCastro’s release, the Steelers will have one returning starter on the offensive line: Chukwuma Okorafor, who is likely moving from last season’s spot on the right side to left tackle. Kevin Dotson also started for DeCastro a few times last season, but he’s slated to be the left guard.

The Los Angeles Chargers released Turner in March after first attempting to trade him. Turner, 28, was limited to nine games last season because of a groin injury, but he said recently he was “back at 100 percent.”

Turner had no guaranteed money left on a four-year, $45 million extension he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. Turner was selected to five Pro Bowls in his first six NFL seasons. Chosen in the third round of the 2014 draft by Carolina, he has played in 93 career games with 89 starts.

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Le’Veon Bell Signs Reported 1-Year Chiefs Contract

Running back Le’Veon Bell signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday after being released by the New York Jets earlier in the week, the team stated.

Kansas City did not release terms of the pact, though ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Bell is expected to sign a one-year deal. 

Schefter noted Bell wants to win a Super Bowl and believes the reigning champs give him the best chance to do so.

The three-time Pro Bowler is in his seventh season in the league, and Kansas City marks his third team after his career started with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. After missing the 2018 season because of a contract dispute, he signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets in March 2019.

Bell’s 19 months with the Jets were rocky at best. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported in May 2019 that head coach Adam Gase liked Bell on the field but “didn’t love the money.” 

Across 17 games with the Jets, Bell had 264 carries for 863 yards and three touchdowns, and he caught 69 passes for 500 yards and a touchdown. He got off to a slow start in 2020, as he missed three games with a hamstring injury and had only 74 yards on 19 carries in the two games he did play.

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When Bell returned in Week 5, he played only 67 percent of the offensive snaps. In 2019, he appeared for more than 80 percent of the team’s snaps in 11 games and over 90 percent five times.

In the days leading up to Bell’s Tuesday release, Gase was outspoken about the running back’s social media activity.

The Michigan State product liked multiple tweets about his lack of usage, and he had expressed his frustration throughout the campaign.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas wrote in a statement that the two sides explored the possibility of a trade, but they could not reach an agreement with another team before deciding to release him.

The Chiefs spent their first-round pick this year on running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rumbled for 138 rushing yards in his debut. However, he has yet to top 64 yards in each of his other four games, and Kansas City lacks much reliable depth behind him.

Expect Bell to immediately slide in as a complement to Edwards-Helaire, particularly as a pass-catching option on third downs.

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