AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- While talking to Jacoby Jones by his locker, he was holding a bag of beef jerky.

What's that about?

The Steelers' kick returner says he loves it. Snacks on it throughout the day. From tobacco to coffee, some players have habits to help stay stimulated in team meetings.

Jones has the jerky.

"Protein, baby," he said.

Jones, a nine-year veteran picked up off waivers Nov. 6, is averaging 20.8 yards per kickoff return in four attempts.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio BrownAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarSteelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will likely draw Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in Week 12's best matchup.

One group has had injuries and suspensions, the other has lost some cachet after back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. But make no mistake -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' passing game against the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom secondary is one of the league’s best matchups this week.

Antonio Brown and Richard Sherman are destined to spark several good downfield matchups, with some friendly on-field dialogue along the way. Both love to talk. Sherman’s known for it, and Brown, though soft-spoken off the field, is louder on it. He’ll have a few words for Sherman if he gets a few big gains.

Sherman customarily played one side for the Seahawks' defense, but as ESPN Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia reports, Sherman has shadowed some of the big dogs at times this year. Brown simply isn’t a fair matchup for Cary Williams. And Brown moves around enough where he’ll see plenty of Sherman’s long arms and range. This matchup will be entertaining at the line of scrimmage, where Sherman can use his length to jam receivers and where Brown has enough moves in his arsenal to disrupt a good jam.

On the surface, it’s difficult to know what the Steelers will get from Seattle compared to previous years. The stats -- 203 passing yards allowed (second in the league) and nine touchdowns allowed (tied for third) -- suggest this group is still feared. The 5-6 record suggests there’s something missing with these Seahawks.

How some of the game’s best receivers have fared against Seattle:

Randall Cobb, Week 2: Eight catches for 116 yards.

Calvin Johnson, Week 4: Seven catches for 56 yards (and the near-touchdown batted away by Kam Chancellor)

A.J. Green, Week 5: Six catches for 78 yards

Dez Bryant, Week 8: Two catches for 12 yards

Larry Fitzgerald, Week 10: 10 catches for 130 yards

Sherman shadowed Green and Bryant, who, to be sure, had just returned from a foot injury that cost him half the season. But Sherman also held Torrey Smith catchless in Week 7.

Sherman did not play exclusively on Fitzgerald, who often works from the slot as part of the Cardinals’ lethal multiple receiver sets.

The Steelers have depth at the top with Martavis Bryant, who has five touchdowns in five games since returning from a four-game suspension. The Seahawks could designate Sherman to cover Brown and slide safety Earl Thomas toward Bryant, a natural deep threat.

This will be Sherman’s biggest test of the season. Brown is on pace for 1,826 yards on 126 catches. In two and a half seasons, Brown has had one game with less than 40 yards.

Safety play will be crucial for Seattle, because Brown can usually get the short gains in the Steelers’ quick passing game. The Seahawks will need Thomas and Chancellor to help redirect Brown on downfield attempts and limit his yards after the catch.

Brown is probably the game’s best receiver working the sideline. His footwork in this area is unparalleled. It will be fascinating to see how much Brown and Roethlisberger can connect to that part of the field, and whether Sherman’s athleticism and instincts can thwart those plans.

Turns out a painful facemask to a high-profile player was small change on the NFL scale.

The league fined Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Arthur Moats $8,681 -- the minimum penalty -- for his facemask on Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel in the second quarter of Sunday's 30-9 win.

The penalty twisted the quarterback's body to his right and forced a helmetless Manziel to the sideline for a quick evaluation. Moats said the move was unintentional and he was simply swinging his arm for a sack while being held by right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Moats took to twitter to apologize directly to Manziel, saying 'My bad on the facemask bro. No hard feelings," to which Manziel replied, "No hard feelings man just part of the game."

The Steelers are on a bye this week.

Phillip RiversAP Photo/Denis PoroyRookie Bud Dupree has had a solid start to his career, leading the Steelers in sacks.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had eight selections in the 2015 draft. Here’s a closer look at how their picks have contributed:

2015 draft class:

Starters: None on offense or defense. Bud Dupree, Sammie Coates and Anthony Chickillo are among key special-teams contributors.

On the cusp: Dupree plays significant snaps as part of a four-man outside linebacker rotation. He also leads the Steelers with 4.0 sacks. He's been a positive so far as a de facto starter. He hasn't mastered his pass rush yet, but his athleticism shows and he's constantly around the ball. Jesse James isn't taking Heath Miller's starting spot any time soon, but he's slowly earning more reps and scored his first NFL touchdown in Week 9 against Oakland.

Undrafted free agents they like: Tyler Murphy is on the practice squad right now, but the Steelers have utilized his versatility on the 53-man roster. He caught a 16-yard pass in Week 1 and served as the backup quarterback in Week 7 while Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick were injured. The Steelers like his feel for the game. Offensive lineman B.J. Finney showed physicality in training camp and the team kept him on the practice squad as a result.

My take on class: The Steelers tried to upgrade the secondary with this draft, but Senquez Golson is injured and Doran Grant has spent most of the year on the practice squad. Coates has made minimal impact on the offense. All those factors make it difficult to give the Steelers an A grade. A solid B is in order, though. Dupree is panning out, and James is improving. L.T. Walton is part of the backup defensive end rotation. They still like Grant; he just wasn't ready to contribute right away. If Golson becomes a starter next year, this class will prove fruitful.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s take on class: Dupree has shown he knows how to get to the QB on occasion, but it's more flashes balanced by a lack of impact elsewhere. They expected more. This is another potentially good class that took a major hit before things started, because I thought Golson could have an impact. Whether they get another good mid-round WR story out of Coates is also a question, but it's hard to see him finding the reps.

PITTSBURGH -- Not that Antonio Brown's elite footwork on the field was ever in question, but now he's got a former Olympic star validating his skills, too.

Former U.S. star gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who won all-around gold at the 1984 Olympic Games, gave Brown a flawless score for his end-zone flip that punctuated a 56-yard touchdown in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 30-9 win over the Cleveland Browns.

After breaking free in the open field in the fourth quarter, Brown planted both feet by the goal line and launched into a flip. His landing really was perfect -- no imbalance, no stutter, both feet landing softly.

Brown told reporters after the game that the nearest official would give him "probably a 10."

"A little excitement, having fun with it," Brown said Sunday after his 10-catch, 139-yard, two-touchdown performance. "Gotta be smart. But I definitely stuck the landing."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked after the game that Brown definitely should not do that again. No one in the Steelers' locker room wants to risk injury to their precious commodity.

NFL peers took notice of Brown's flip, including a punter who cracked a lighthearted joke.

videoPITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have faced accomplished quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers this season.

Playing Johnny Manziel was the most exhausting.

“He really tested our cardio a lot,” safety Mike Mitchell said. “I didn’t appreciate he was going to be that good at [scrambling].”

Strangely, Manziel used the Steelers as a catalyst for his breakthrough as a pocket passer with a 372-yard performance Sunday. This doesn’t sound like a good thing for Pittsburgh’s defense. But Manziel taught the Steelers a few things about themselves, reminded them of a few others and prepared them for the stretch run.

The ideal version of Manziel is a quarterback who weaves through traffic as a runner looking to throw, not a passer looking to run.

The model is Russell Wilson, who faces the Steelers (6-4) in Week 12 in Seattle.

Manziel gave the Steelers some problems, which is a bit humbling, but his performance also highlighted what this defense does well: create turnovers, get red zone stops, sack the quarterback.

The plan against Manziel was clear, and it will be in two weeks against Wilson. Stop the run, protect the edge and try to make the quarterback one-dimensional throwing from the pocket.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny ManzielJason Bridge-USA TODAY SportsBrowns quarterback Johnny Manziel threw for 372 yards and caused the Steelers' defense fits with his scrambling.

When the Browns produced 15 rushing yards on 14 carries, it was all up to Manziel.

“You’re going to have to beat us at something he hadn’t done,” outside linebacker Arthur Moats said. “The fact he did do that that was definitely impressive. But for us, we didn’t change our game plan. We continued to hunt.”

The Steelers are an imperfect defense, but they always continue to hunt. Giving up 372 yards isn’t uncommon for this secondary. Palmer beat that total by 49 yards in Week 8. When a quarterback can convert yardage into scores, as Derek Carr did in Week 9, the Steelers are in a tight game.

But the Steelers point to one Manziel drive in particular that shows improvement on defense.

Midway through the third quarter, Manziel found a groove on a drive that lasted more than eight minutes. He completed his first 12 passes from the pocket.

Manziel was ready to punctuate that drive with a throwback Texas A&M play. He pump faked, avoided several sacks and dove at the half-yard line. Defensive end Cam Thomas tackled him before he crossed the goal line.

Three plays later, the Browns found themselves at the 25-yard line, thanks to two penalties and a Ryan Shazier sack for a loss of 9 yards. Two plays later, Mitchell undercut a quick slant route for an interception and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was knocked down because of all the Steelers defensive backs flying around, looking for contact.

“There weren’t a lot of scrambling areas where [Manziel] could step out and throw,” said defensive end Cam Heyward, who recorded one of the Steelers’ six sacks on the day. “When you get the lead like that, it forces them to pass the ball. We stopped the run when they wanted to do it.”

The Steelers aren’t going to be a shutdown passing defense. But when they get after quarterbacks with gang sacks, they are hard to beat with the offense behind them. They’ve been in the top half of the league in scoring defense for much of the year, as well as top 10 in sacks.

The Steelers give Manziel his props. He was better than they thought. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons says Manziel has “all the intangibles to being a great quarterback one day.”

But despite the yardage allowed, they are encouraged Manziel’s athleticism didn’t prevail in the red zone, where the Browns went 2-for-6. Timmons, Heyward and Stephon Tuitt all applied pressure from the interior.

“Getting the quarterback on edge is everything, when they aren’t able to finish through their throws,” Timmons said. “Compress the pocket, make them feel uncomfortable, that’s what we need.”

Whether they can do the same against Wilson on the road looms large. Some Steelers already are thinking about Wilson, even though they don’t have to because of the bye week.

“We still have some more guys to play that can scramble,” outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said when asked about the strategy against Manziel. “We’ve got to play Russell.”


PITTSBURGH -- Here's a look at Pittsburgh Steelers players who were "up" and those who were "down" in Sunday's 30-9 win over the Cleveland Browns.


Ben Roethlisberger: This one's too easy. Roethlisberger barely practiced during the week because of a foot sprain, didn't have an extensive game plan and still imposed his will on the Browns with 379 passing yards.

Antonio Brown: Brown continued his surgical receiver work. He's got 27 catches, 423 yards and two scores the last two weeks. Enough said. Brown has been uncoverable.

Cam Heyward/Mike Mitchell/Stephon Tuitt: Here are three of many who produced defensively with big plays. One sack apiece for Heyward and Tuitt, and another turnover for Mitchell, who's caused four of them in the last five games.


Michael Vick: The team must not trust him with the offense if they kept him inactive in favor of a hobbled Roethlisberger. Vick told reporters during the week that he was the No. 2 quarterback.

Arthur Moats: Moats didn't play poorly except on one play, an ugly facemask on Johnny Manziel that caused a 15-yard penalty and will likely earn Moats a fine.

Jacoby Jones: Jones hasn't looked crisp since his arrival on waivers. He muffed a punt that he recovered and almost picked up a kick that would have lost major yardage.

There's nothing more predictable than NFL subterfuge when it comes to player availability based on injuries. I would classify Ben Roethlisberger's chances to play as 20 percent or lower. Apparently, the Steelers see 50-50. That leaves the door open for Big Ben to run on the field Sunday.

For your planning purposes, though, expect Landry Jones to make that run. It's Roethlisberger, so you never know. His pain tolerance is known to be high. But indications all week from the Steelers' South Side facility was Jones is the guy this week. Michael Vick told that for this week he's the No. 2 quarterback and Jones is No. 1.

Steelers fans will see a heavy dose of Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker. James Harrison is out with a knee injury. Harrison, who sat out practices this week, is listed as a backup on the team's depth chart, but gets a starter's load of snaps most weeks. This is a big opportunity for Jones, who has been productive in his third season but has 1.5 sacks to show for his work through nine games. Rookie Bud Dupree and veteran Arthur Moats both play on the right side, but could slide over to left for balance.

The Steelers got good news on linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee), who is probable for Sunday despite missing practice time this week.

PITTSBURGH – Landry Jones isn't citing Psalms 16:5 to sound righteous in news conference settings.

Listen carefully. He's explaining why he's so relaxed right now, why he plans to "let it loose" Sunday against Cleveland, marking his second career NFL start in relief of the injured Ben Roethlisberger.

"God holds your lot. He has my future laid out for me," Jones said about the verse. "That takes the pressure off me. Whether I’m here, another team, whatever, it takes the pressure off me knowing he has my future. I can go out there and kind of play aggressive and play the way I want to play.”

Open the pages of Jones' book and you might be surprised. Something is happening with him. Those who watched Jones closely in the preseason and training camp have reason to scratch their head by his positive regular season performance.

Jones looks like a different guy. He’s embodied the "gamer" label by elevating his play in two relief appearances, throwing for two touchdowns to beat Arizona in Week 6 and completing 4-of-6 passes for 79 yards in Sunday’s win over Oakland. This is the same guy who admitted in the preseason he didn't have an NFL identity yet.

Jones isn’t as accurate as Roethlisberger, but he takes a calm confidence into Heinz Field.

His next challenge: Sustaining play over a full game's work. In Week 7 in Kansas City, three turnovers overshadowed an otherwise solid performance.

“You can’t overthink things," Jones said. "You have to go out there and play and make plays within the offense. Kansas City game, I was trying to do too much. You just have to go out there and play."

The Steelers were conservative with Mike Vick at quarterback, in part because he signed in late August and hadn’t mastered the offense yet. Jones has been in the system for three years and knows all the plays. Receivers can feel at home with Jones running the offense.

Jones, a Big 12 disciple, is also used to slinging it. At Oklahoma, he attempted nearly 2,200 passes in four years. He takes that attitude into the Cleveland game. He isn’t afraid to attempt tough third-down throws.

"We're going to play to win regardless of who is in there," Jones said.

A recent play by Jones at the line of scrimmage caught teammate Mike Mitchell’s eye.

During the Arizona game, Mitchell saw Jones check out of a running play and into a back shoulder fade to Antonio Brown for a sizable game.

“You’re not making that kind of check … unless you’re feeling pretty confident you’re going to execute that,” Mitchell said. “That’s really what I see from him.”

Jones occasionally goes for style points, but coach Mike Tomlin isn't looking for that out of his relief pitcher. His message is clear: Do what's necessary to win.

“When you make it that black and white, it makes no bones about what’s expected, allows him to have a crystal clear focus and how he needs to remain in spite of things that may or may not occur,” Tomlin said.

This sentiment should relieve Jones of the pressure to make every throw or overwhelm a defense at the line of scrimmage. Don’t turn the ball over, make a few third-down throws and the Steelers will likely beat the Browns. DeAngelo Williams is averaging almost 125 rushing yards per game in his last three starts.

"When you have the running game we do, it forces teams to put a lot of guys in the box, single high safety," Jones said. "That takes the pressure off me, let’s me go out there, make simple reads."

Now that's how Jones can set his future. Get a win and Jones might cement No. 2 quarterback in 2016. He entered the last three regular seasons as the No. 3, with the team feeling compelled to sign Vick in late August.

Things have changed, but Jones hasn't.

"Can’t play timid, worrying about mistakes or the future," Jones said.

A look at the highs and lows of the first half of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers and what to expect in the second half:

Midseason MVP: Defensive end Cam Heyward. His 27 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble through the first eight games aren't flashy. But Heyward has altered offensive game plans, applied constant quarterback pressure and sets the tone for a better-than-expected defense. He also has a blocked field goal.

Best moment: The Wildcat Walk-off, naturally. Le'Veon Bell taking a direct snap from the 1-yard line in San Diego and slithering into the end zone as time expired was one of the league's best snapshots of the 2015 season. Bell was brilliant before the knee injury, and this moment captured that. Bell had nearly 600 rushing yards in 5 1/2 games.

Worst moment: Ben Roethlisberger's second interception against Cincinnati. As Bengals corner Shawn Williams dove in front of Darrius Heyward-Bey for the pick, setting up the Bengals' late touchdown, it encapsulated the Steelers' struggles this season. The timing was off, the injuries were piling up and it cost Pittsburgh a huge game. Roethlisberger threw an interception on the very next pass. It also reminded us that the game could have been different if Bell hadn't gone out in the second quarter.

Mark your calendar: The Steelers-Bengals game on Dec. 15 will be wild. The Steelers will be salty from Vontaze Burfict celebrating after Bell's injury, and also from the way they lost to Cincy. If the Steelers are poised for a second-half push, and they should be, this game will highlight that growth.

Key to second half: Stay healthy. Stay healthy. Stay healthy. Not sure the Steelers can take any more injury issues. The Steelers must strive for balance on offense. Feeding DeAngelo Williams will keep safeties off Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, which gives Roethlisberger more room to operate. The defense needs more consistency. It has played better than expected but suffers the occasional

PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is set miss a game for injury for the 17th time in his career. Over a 12-year span, that’s not significant time, roughly 1.4 games per year. Fellow quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have each missed whole seasons for injuries. Drew Brees had serious shoulder surgery between stints in San Diego and New Orleans.

But 2015 is slowly becoming Roethlisberger’s most injury-ridden year. The Pittsburgh Steelers' starter has been carted off two NFL fields, once for a knee sprain that resulted in a four-game absence and again Sunday against Oakland for a midfoot sprain. Through 10 games, he will have missed half the season. If he’s not right after the Week 11 bye, he’ll miss more time.

What’s going on with Roethlisberger’s body? And why is this happening now? Those answers aren’t easy to decipher, but this is a good time to examine Roethlisberger’s injury history and where things might go from here.

Ben RoethlisbergerKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger has yet to suffer a major injury despite being sacked 428 times in his 12-year career.

An active X-ray: The list of minor injuries -- key word: minor -- is long for a quarterback who's taken 428 sacks over his career.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Roethlisberger missed three games in 2012 (shoulder); one apiece in 2011 (ankle), 2009 (concussion), 2007 (ankle), and 2006 (appendix); four more in 2005 (knee); and one in 2004 (ribs).

Fighting through injury is nothing new for him. This is just the first season in which a small wave of them has crashed ashore at Steelers’ South Side complex.

A series of unfortunate body parts: Roethlisberger’s two injuries were caused by direct contact when the body part was in a vulnerable position. Roethlisberger’s foot, for example, was bending backward as Aldon Smith sacked him Sunday.

According to ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell, though the knee and the foot might work together to challenge his overall rehab -- he played seven quarters between injuries -- this is not a cause-and-effect scenario.

Isolated incidents, basically. The knee didn’t cause the foot to sprain.

That’s good news in that these seem like freak occurrences, not the start of a pattern.

Are injuries simply catching up to him?: In a word: No. Based on his track record, Roethlisberger shouldn’t be considered injury prone. If he misses significant time in 2016, too, then maybe let’s talk. Then it would be hard to ignore the 16 games Brees and Brady and others log most years.

That he's never had a major injury speaks to Roethlisberger's durability, overall.

Roethlisberger is 33 and still has a number of good years left. As with all quarterbacks approaching their mid-30s, Roethlisberger’s challenge will be curbing the wear and tear with offseason training and playing in a style that protects his body, which offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system is designed to do.

PITTSBURGH -- Fresh off a 225-yard, two-touchdown day, this money quote was said with conviction.

"It does help when guys like the media doubt me," Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams said after the 38-35 win over the Raiders. "So thanks for the fuel guys. Keep it up."

Not sure what doubt Williams is referencing, exactly. The sentiment this offseason from personnel evaluators was Williams still had explosion in his legs for at least a few more years but durability was still a question because of his history with the Panthers.

What's clear is Williams, 32, seems ready to tackle all challengers, from any ounce of media skepticism to his own head coach's motivational tactics. It's becoming obvious that Williams is on a mission to regain his spot in the running backs hierarchy. In three games as a starter while Le'Veon Bell was suspended or hurt, Williams is averaging 124.6 rushing yards per game.

DeAngelo WilliamsJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesDeAngelo Williams runs the ball for a second-quarter touchdown against the Raiders.

Any time Tomlin motivates Williams, it seems to pay off big-time. When Tomlin asked Williams during the offseason to drop some weight, Williams slimmed down to around 210 pounds, which has helped him regain his Memphis-days quickness.

And in anticipation of the Raiders loading the box to stop the run, Tomlin challenged his running back and his offensive line not to make the Steelers one-dimensional.

Williams listened. He consistently sliced through the Oakland defense for 170 rushing yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns, often hitting the second level for big gains. Antonio Brown won one-on-one matchups on the outside, while the running game kept safeties honest.

“I think we answered (Tomlin’s) call and his challenge,” Williams said.

In the process, Tomlin is finding out Williams isn’t a one-dimensional player. He knew Williams, a free-agent acquisition signed to a two-year deal, could still run the ball proficiently. But Williams is showing growth as a receiver, too, catching two passes for 55 yards plus a two-point conversion catch in the flat Sunday.

‘We were able to see some signs of that that maybe we hadn’t seen,” Tomlin said. “The running, that’s DeAngelo.”

That’s 29 touches for Williams against the Raiders, a sign he’s hardly a supporting player in this offense. He and Brown are the featured playmakers entering Sunday’s game with the Browns.

Williams has become one of the best stories of the Steelers' season, and not simply because of production. The Steelers don't rely heavily on free agency, so when they bring in a high profile player from another team, there's hardly a guarantee he'll coalesce with a tight-knit locker room.

Williams did.

"He's one of the few guys that we've seen come in with free agency that fits perfectly in with us," guard Ramon Foster said. "That's the way we work. He's that guy."

Williams isn't one to back down from a fight. He has been a vocal supporter of breast cancer awareness after losing his mother to it. And after Williams' 480 rushing yards and five touchdowns in about a quarter-season's worth of work, the Steelers appreciate the fight he's taken to the field every week.

"I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit, the way he’s conditioned himself and his mindset about playing this game," Foster said.

PITTSBURGH -- The tone and outlook completely shifted within hours.

In the fourth quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Oakland Raiders, right tackle Marcus Gilbert was smashing his helmet on the ground in disgust as Ben Roethlisberger left the field once more on a cart.

About an hour later, the Steelers seemed at ease in the locker room, ready for anything. They've seen their injury report fill up weekly. What's another one?

Then, by Sunday night, news broke that Roethlisberger will likely miss only a few weeks with a foot sprain. Not a season-ender.

The reality is this: The Steelers can, and should, go 6-4 entering the Week 11 bye, with Roethlisberger set to return shortly after that. Only the Cleveland Browns stand in the way of that. And Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. No reason why the Steelers, even with Landry Jones, can't shake a struggling Browns squad.

This is what playoff rejuvenation looks like.

Antonio BrownJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesAntonio Brown, who had 17 catches for 284 yards in the win over the Raiders, believes the Steelers can start fresh even with their rash of injuries.

"We look at this as a fresh start to a new season," Antonio Brown said after his brilliant performance of 17 catches for 284 yards.

The Steelers could sense the calm even when the avalanche started -- the Big Ben injury, Brown dropping a punt, the Raiders' offense surging.

Offensive guard Ramon Foster said players didn't discuss the injury on the sideline because they were convinced they were winning, and "we just made it happen."

The Steelers are an imperfect team that can offset their flaws with flare. On defense, they will give up big plays -- and there were several from the Raiders' offense -- but created multiple turnovers once again. Mike Tomlin opened up his press conference with the words "great fight," which is how the Steelers want it.

They aren't going to blow teams out, especially with Roethlisberger out again. They have to outmuscle teams for wins, while letting Brown and the offense handle the rest.

"Do whatever you can within the parameters of the game," cornerback Antwon Blake said about playing with an edge. "That's what we do."

Defensive end Cam Heyward said the defense played "like crap" Sunday, and he's right in some spots. The Steelers missed tackles and let too many receivers slip past them for easy scores. Miscommunication was happening often. But the Steelers are active hitters, which safety Mike Mitchell said offenses are starting to notice by avoiding the middle of the field at times. Mitchell got a big hit on Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray, knocking Murray out of the game while forcing a fumble.

Couple that attitude with at least four capable playmakers on offense and the Steelers can make a playoff push regardless of roster shuffling, assuming Roethlisberger is back relatively soon. The loss of Le'Veon Bell threatened the Steelers' offensive balance, but DeAngelo Williams is proving that's not an issue. In three starts for Bell, Williams is averaging 124.6 rushing yards per game.

The Steelers will likely battle with the Jets (5-3) and possibly the Raiders (4-4) for wild card spots.

"Whatever the circumstances are," tight end Heath Miller said, "we are going to come to work, do our best to execute the game plan and see what happens."

PITTSBURGH -- A look at the Pittsburgh Steelers' players who were "up" and those who were "down" in Sunday's 38-35 win over the Raiders.


Antonio Brown: He was unreal. No other way to describe it. Brown finished with 17 catches and 284 yards, but he could have had at least 50 more if passes were placed perfectly. The guy was out to break records Sunday and he did, setting franchise highs in receptions and yardage.

DeAngelo Williams: The Steelers couldn't ask for more from Williams, who rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns and added 55 yards receiving. He looks rejuvenated in Pittsburgh. Explosive, too.

Mike Mitchell: He's created a turnover in three of his past four games, setting the tone for a defense that thrives off turnovers. He wasn't healthy last year, but now that he is, he's performing.

Antonio BrownAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarAntonio Brown set a Steelers record with his 284 receiving yards Sunday against Oakland.


Martavis Bryant: He looked a bit off, dropping two passes and failing to get on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger on a pass close to scoring range. Bryant did have an impressive 14-yard touchdown off a screen pass, but he's capable of much, much more.

Jacoby Jones: In his Steelers debut, Jones averaged 20.8 yards per kickoff return on four chances and a 1-yard average on punt returns. He looked worse than the numbers. Didn't seem to have any burst when hitting the holes.

Jarvis Jones: Didn't hear his name called much other than a fumble recovery after a Mitchell hit. He finished with one tackle. He's generally played well this season but didn't make enough of an impact against Oakland.



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Monday, 11/30