Can you believe the football field actually could be a safe haven for the Pittsburgh Steelers? While most of the time the team prefers to lay low at all times, after a very tumultuous week, the Steelers are looking forward to getting back on the field, and can you blame them?
Hear what the players had to say, outside the walls of BTSC, as they head into Ravens Week...
To say the Steelers have had an unconventional week is something of an understatement. And not just because they were uncharacteristically shredded by an opponent's running game.
You perhaps have heard something about the national anthem, inflammatory tweets from the president, a pair of hour-long team meetings, pregame photos that went viral, an impromptu news conference and league-wide protests of perceived racial injustice?
“No offense,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said Friday, “but ‘Ravens' tops everything.”
And so, as luck would have it, the perfect opponent for regaining focus just happens to be on the Steelers' schedule immediately following the game in which their “butchered” handling of the anthem in Chicago preceded a defeat to a previously-winless Bears team.
“No impact,” veteran guard Ramon Foster said of any lingering hangover from the Chicago experience, “(because) it's Baltimore week.”
Baltimore weeks always carry a palpable heightened intensity at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and the past three days have been no different.
While the Steelers news cycles on Monday and Tuesday went national because of the anthem-related comments of Ben Roethlisberger, Alejandro Villanueva and Mike Tomlin, Steelers players insist that turning their attention to game-planning for Sunday's game in Baltimore wasn't difficult. Foster said the switch was flipped when players came in Wednesday morning.
“Wednesday, it became Baltimore week,” said Foster, the Steelers' second-longest continuously tenured player. “We lost. They lost last week. So, I’m sure they’re soaking in their sorrows right now, too.”
The Steelers and Ravens fell to 2-1 with embarrassing losses on Sunday. Baltimore's shame stems from being on short end of a 44-7 score, while in the Steelers’ case, it’s because they were beaten by a Bears team that’s currently 1-3, having just been thrashed 35-14 by the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.
With Cleveland and Cincinnati both sitting at 0-3, it seems about as certain as it can be for a September prediction that the AFC North champion will be on the field Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium — be it the Steelers or the Ravens. Sunday's game potentially will have major implications on playoff seeding.
The Steelers know this — not that they need that to treat Ravens week appropriately.
“There is a lot of motivation,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “We lost (last week). We play Baltimore. As a defense we got exposed (last week), if you want to put it that way.”
“As much as last weekend was … a bit of crazy moment,” Heyward continued, referring to the anthem situation, “if we want to be professionals, that's what happens. You've got to go on to the next game. And I'm looking forward to this. Since Sunday night when we got home, we were like, ‘I can't wait to play Baltimore.' So we’ll get that (Sunday).”
Stephon Tuitt was looking forward to this season.
And what a season it has been — for all of two plays. Tuitt nearly had a sack when he got into the backfield on the first play from scrimmage Sept. 10 at Cleveland, and he injured his left biceps while tackling Isaiah Crowell for a 9-yard loss on the next snap.
“Those two plays show you what type of year I was planning on already having,” Tuitt said Friday. “And from there I got all the confidence in that, and I'm going to continue with it.”
Finally, on Sunday in Baltimore, Tuitt will get the chance to continue with it. After a full week of practice, Tuitt was given the green light on his recovery and he’ll return to the lineup for the AFC North showdown with the Ravens.
“That's going to be awesome. I'm excited to get back,” Tuitt said. “I'm like a chicken with my head cut off right now; I'm just running around, happy.
“I'm just glad everything went the right way this week. I was patient with it. It was hard, but we overcome the hard, and now I'm back out here, back to playing football, back to being with my guys and winning football games.”
Tuitt has missed two games due to injury in each of the past three seasons.
The four-year veteran signed a $60 million contract extension the day before the opener in Cleveland.
Measured by production alone through three weeks, Le'Veon Bell is half the running back he was last season. A year after having the third-most yards from scrimmage per game in NFL history (157.0), Bell is averaging almost exactly half that (78.7).
Bell is beginning to lament he's not performing like one of the NFL's best running backs.
“I haven't been that special player yet,” he said. “I've been kind of just playing football. So I have to go out there and be the special player I can be.”
Bell is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and 4.3 yards per reception after posting 4.9 and 8.2, respectively, last season. He has yet to rush for more than 100 yards in a game (he averaged more than 100 last season) and has yet to surpass 100 yards from scrimmage in any of the Steelers' three outings.
For the first time, Bell acknowledged on Thursday that his training camp no-show could be to blame.
“It could be the surgery,” he said. “I would say it could be rust from not being in camp. It could be a combination of a lot of things.”
Bell had groin surgery in May. He did not sign his franchise-tag tender until September, electing to train on his own.
None of his 65 touches this season have accounted for more than 15 yards.
“I think I'm just as explosive as I always have been,” Bell said. “Just so far I haven't really (had a big play). I have been close to breaking a couple of runs (and) close to breaking a couple catches, but it just hasn't happened yet. Guys are making good tackles on me. ... I feel like I am kind of due for a big play. So I have got to go out there and execute and do what I can.”
The narrative going into the Steelers' upcoming showdown against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium will be all about how the team's problems on the road will compound with their usual struggles against the Ravens.
The Steelers haven't won in Baltimore since Charlie Batch led them to victory with ten unanswered points in the fourth quarter back in 2012. The last time Ben Roethlisberger won there was in 2010, when he hit Isaac Redman for the game-winning touchdown pass despite playing with a broken nose.
The Steelers’ offense has been a key part of the team's struggles in that regard, averaging around only 14.3 points per game in Baltimore. Yet there are some key traits that have led their offense to success against the Ravens' defense in the past.
We’ll get you ready for Sunday's showdown by taking a closer look at some of those keys.