By Christina Rivers
The Miami Dolphins stepped onto Heinz Field and shocked the Steelers last weekend in the snow. Fighting for a winning season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have prepared all week to keep Andy Dalton and A.J. Green from walking away with yet another AFC North win.
The Steelers will celebrate the inaugural NFL Homecoming, welcoming former Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famers Mel Blout and Franco Harris back to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh will be without defensive end Brett Keisel and defensive tackle Steve McLendon is highly questionable. Seven other players are listed as ‘probable.’ Despite opinions to the contrary, the Steelers will face the Bengals with the mentality that only a win is acceptable.
Keisel isn’t happy about his current situation. “This has been hell, just sitting around and wishing I could be out there with my teammates.” As a captain on the team, Keisel has been relegated to offering encouragement to his teammates on defense. “I want to fight with my teammates. That’s the hardest part, not being able to go out there and fight with your brothers,” Keisel said on Friday. As for his foot, Keisel admitted that he may have tried to get back onto the field too soon. “I probably pushed it too hard initially, and it set me back. And now it’s just trying to get it to where I can go out and perform the way I’m capable of.”
Alternatively, fellow defensive end Ziggy Hood has an ankle injury and is likely to play despite his being categorized as ‘probable’ for the Bengals game. While Al Woods is a viable option, it is Cameron Heyward’s opportunity to make a splash. Heyward credited his level of patience to his mother.
“Patience is a virtue was the first thing,” Heyward said about his wait to get more snaps with the defensive starters. “I also learned about the defense and more about my strengths and weaknesses. I was able to work on those so when my number was called I would be ready.”
Heyward says the key to stopping the Bengals is to stay aggressive. “We have to get after them and stop the passing attack, but first stop the run.” He specifically pointed out Cincinnati’s rookie running back Giovani Bernard. “To be a defensive lineman with the Steelers you have to keep running to the ball…you want to prevent any big plays.”
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gave Heyward and Jason Worilds high praise this week. “You’ve seen continued growth of two young players that we drafted early that we though a lot of. (Worilds) had some injuries…but I think you can see what we saw in him.” LeBeau added, “I really think the best football is in front of both of (these) guys.” Larry Foote also said that he feels that Worilds is just getting warmed up for a big game.
Despite their record, the Steelers have seen improvement on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t seen a translation into points on the scoreboard. It’s a situation that led offensive coordinator Todd Haley to say that despite progress, it hasn’t translated to winning.
“The run game has continued to look improved, though we haven’t been able to get into a game where we hand it off 25-30 times.” Haley pointed out that the improvement can be attributed to hard work by guys like Kelvin Beachum, Heath Miller and a healthy Matt Speath. “A lot of things have factored into (our losses), but one thing that has stayed the same is that these guys have continued to work and get better.”
Although Beachum has been hampered by a knee injury, the job at left tackle appears to be his. Haley credited Beachum’s performance as being caused by having a mindset to win.
“I think that he carries a chip on his shoulder,” said Haley. “He is mentally tough…He’s been told he’s not good enough to do a lot of different things. And yet he tries to prove everybody wrong, and he has to this point.”
Beachum has played as a tight end, an extra blocker and an offensive linemen for the Steelers at various times during the 2013 season, but has finally come into his own on the left side of the offensive line.
With Andy Dalton producing numbers on offense close to those of Peyton Manning in 2013, the Steelers understand that disrupting his process will be key. Despite the weapons the Bengals possess, cornerback Ike Taylor said that the Steelers defense doesn’t like the big plays that have been made against them and that it is “unfamiliar territory” that they have worked hard to prevent this weekend. “We’ve still got three games left so we’ve still got to finish strong and just bounce back.”
“We’ve got three games to get to .500,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was named as the Steelers’ 2013 Walter Peyton Man of the Year this week. “We’re still looking forward. There are three games left and this one is the most important. Maybe in the offseason we’ll look back and scratch our head.” Roethlisberger added, “I’m not going to look back yet.”
Official injury report
- DE Brett Keisel (foot)
- DT Steve McLendon (ankle)
- OG Kelvin Beachum (knee)
- WR Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder)
- OG David DeCastro (foot)
- OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle)
- DE Ziggy Hood (ankle)
- SS Troy Polamalu (shoulder)
- WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot)
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on