By Christina Rivers
While the Pittsburgh Steelers got valuable time to rest and recoup during week 12, they will come out of the extra time to practice and work on their identity as a team in excellent position to make a push for post-season play in the NFL in 2014. As of Sunday afternoon, the Steelers were projected by the league to be seeded in fifth place in the AFC. While the team continues to develop, they’ve shown that they are a team that has the capability to be a contender.
On Thursday night, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, handing ‘KC’ their fourth loss. That placed the Chiefs one seed lower than Pittsburgh in the current AFC race. While things could change, as far as seeding, following Monday night’s game, the Steelers are still in the hunt within the AFC North division as well. The Cincinnati Bengals edged out the Houston Texans, 22-13. The Cleveland Browns pulled out a surprising win over the Atlanta Falcons, 26-24. The Baltimore Ravens will play the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. As of 5:00 p.m. (Eastern) on Sunday, only the Bengals sit ahead of Pittsburgh in the division at 7-3-1.
The Steelers appear to believe that it will be their offense that carries them to success in the remainder of the 2014 regular season. The combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown – nicknamed by Steelers fans as the ‘Three B’s’ – Pittsburgh has a potent trio of premier players in key skill positions on offense. Roethlisberger sits in the top five of all NFL quarterbacks this season in attempts, yards, completions, yards-per-attempt, completion percentage, passer rating and touchdowns. Bell is ranked second in the NFL in rushing behind DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys. Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte is the only other running back in the league with more receptions than Bell (who has 57). Brown leads the league in receiving yards and catches, tied for second place in number of receiving touchdowns.
One focus of the week away from on-field play against an opponent was to gauge where several injured players on the Steelers roster would be come Week 13 when the Saints come to Heinz Field after battling the Ravens on a short week. Veteran cornerback Ike Taylor is scheduled to have an MRI done on his surgically-repaired forearm. The results of the scan should be a strong indicator of whether Taylor can return for the last quarter of the season. Taylor has been participating in practices of late, but not in any contact drills. Safety Troy Polamalu (knee sprain) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle) are expected to be back on the practice field but are likely to be worked at a limited capacity as they continue to build strength. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon continues to struggle with a nagging shoulder injury that will likely be a source of discomfort the more contact he receives and may be reserved in practice as well. Jarvis Jones currently remains on the IR-designated-to-return list heading into week 13.
Mike Tomlin has stayed true to his word thus far, moving Dri Archer and Josh Harris up the depth chart at running back behind Bell rather than reaching out to a free-agent running back to bring to the team during a period where many teams released players and picked up others ahead of a push to the end of the regular season. The offense will have a different dimension to it with Archer and Harris on the field, but no major adjustments to the playbook are expected. While there is a bit of uncertainty about the level of depth, Pittsburgh makes a statement by showing their belief that the two youngsters will be able to handle their assignments.
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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