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Preseason Power Rankings No. 15: Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben AP

I’ve been accused of both being a Steelers fan and hating the Steelers.  Neither statement is accurate.

Here’s one that is:  After spending most of my life living in and within 100 miles of Pittsburgh, I know the Steelers as well if not better than any NFL team.

And here’s one thing I know:  When they are expected to be bad, they usually find a way to be pretty good.

In 2013, that theory could get its toughest test in years.  The roster is in transition, with a mix of aging veterans who are getting close the being kicked to the curb (including one with really long hair), a nucleus of players who are in their prime and who need to lead like it, and youngsters who’ll be relied upon to step up or step off.

For now, the consensus of the six PFT scribes placed the Steelers at No. 15.  Plenty of people think they’ll end up much worse.  Which tells me that there’s a good chance they’ll finish much better.


Perhaps the greatest strength of this franchise, year in and year out, comes from the franchise itself.  The Rooney family leads the team with a steady hand, never getting too high or too low in response to whatever may be happening at any given moment, month, or year.  Their patience could be tested over the next year or two, if the effort to change a flat tire on a moving car doesn’t work out very well.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains a strength, but he could be an even stronger presence in three ways.  First, he needs to become a real leader of the team, not just a leader in word or title.  When former teammate Hines Ward pointed earlier this year to a lack of leadership earlier this offseason, he was pointing directly at Roethlisberger.  It’s time for Ben to prove the MVP of Super Bowl XL wrong.  (Unless the MVP of Super Bowl XL is right.)

Second, Roethlisberger needs to do less.  In the two seasons the Steelers won Super Bowls with Roethlisberger at the helm, he had his two lowest full-season per-game passing-yard averages, other than his rookie season.  The Steelers have been trying to achieve greater balance between run and pass, and Roethlisberger needs to buy in to that approach completely.

Third, he needs to stay healthy.  Though Roethlisberger apparently has recovered quickly from late-offseason knee surgery, there’s a sense that his very large body will betray him sooner than later, making it very hard for him to match other franchise quarterbacks by playing deep into his 30s.

In contrast to the Patriots’ inability to find quality receivers in the upper rounds of the draft, the Steelers have mastered the art of reaching into the haystack and pulling out mid-to-late-round needles.  Even with Mike Wallace (a third-rounder) gone to the highest bidder, the Steelers have a paid of solid replacements in Antonio Brown (a sixth-rounder) and Emmanuel Sanders (a third-round pick).  This year, the Steelers reached for two more needles, picking Markus Wheaton in (where else?) round three and Justin Brown in (where else?) round six.

The offensive line has been a perennial weakness.  The fact that it isn’t this year sort of makes it a strength.  Marcus Gilbert steps in for Max Starks at left tackle, and Mike Adams will handle the right side.  Maurkice Pouncey anchors the middle, with Ramon Foster on Pouncey’s left and a fully-healed David DeCastro, a first-rounder in 2012, to the right of the apologetic Hernandez apologist.

On defense, the ongoing presence of ageless coordinator Dick LeBeau will be needed more than ever, as the team adjusts to the departure of linebacker James Harrison and the highly unlikely return of nose tackle Casey Hampton.  But the Steelers have shown over the last 20-plus years an ability to interchange parts and still have a strong defense.  Regardless of the names and faces, the end result will be a fierce, hard-hitting defense.


The Steelers desperately need leaders with the will and the ability to influence teammates, on both sides of the ball.  Last year, they simply weren’t able to adjust to the sudden departure of leaders like Hines Ward and Aaron Smith.  This year, it will be very hard to turn around the perceived status of the team without players who take the criticisms personally and motivate those around them to take it up a notch, or three.

The running back position is perhaps less of a weakness than it is unsettled.  Rashard Mendenhall has left via free agency, and the Steelers hope Le’Veon Bell can make a Franco-style impact as a rookie.  If Bell doesn’t, it’ll be up to a revolving door of journeyman to provide the balance the team needs on offense.

The tight end position could be an issue for the Steelers, if Heath Miller has trouble recovering from a torn ACL suffered late in 2012.  If he does, David Johnson (who tore an ACL last August) could get a chance to shine.

The defensive line isn’t necessarily a weakness, but it’s not as strong as it used to be, making it harder for the largely anonymous trio to tie up blockers, which allows linebackers to get to the ball.


On offense, a quartet of big names has bolted:  Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, and Willie Colon.  On defense, James Harrison has hit the road after rejecting a pay cut.  Casey Hampton didn’t even get a chance to turn down an offer; his contract expired, and the Steelers moved on.  (We still wouldn’t be completely shocked if he returns.)

New faces on offense include backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who displaced Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.  Rookie quarterback Landry Jones has prompted Batch to suggest that, if Jones develops well, he could eventually displace Roethlisberger.  Three rookie skill-position players, led by Le’Veon Bell, will help the offense find its groove in year two under coordinator Todd Haley.

First-round linebacker Jarvis Jones, if his neck really is a non-issue, could make a huge impact from the get-go, making Steelers fans forget all about Harrison.  (Until, of course, Harrison is chasing around Roethlisberger when the Bengals face the Steelers.)

Position battles.

The Steelers want Le’Veon Bell to become the bell cow back, but he’ll have to earn it.  Other contenders include Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, and diminutive-but-effective La’Rod Stephens-Howling.

Beyond Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, the spots on the receiver depth chart are up for grabs. Don’t overlook Plaxico Burress, who’ll have his first full offseason and training camp to prepare for an NFL campaign in five years, as the primary red-zone target.  The slot job could come down to Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton.

Pencil in Jarvis Jones as the replacement for James Harrison, but Jones will need to fend off Jason Worilds.

Despite the return of starting corners Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, the return of William Gay could make things interesting, especially if Allen slips.

At safety, it could be hard to keep rookie Shamarko Thomas off the field, even with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on the roster.  (It also could be hard for Thomas to avoid the inevitable nickname of “Sharknado.”)

At punter, incumbent Drew Butler will battle it out with Brian Moorman, who was the incumbent in Buffalo a year ago.


The Steelers feel like a team in transition that borders on turmoil.  They missed the playoffs in 2012, and many see them as the third-best team in a competitive AFC North.

But the Steelers have a way of finding their groove when they’re being doubted, and it should surprise no one if coach Mike Tomlin wills the team toward postseason contention.  If they get there, they’ve still got enough talent and experience to cause problems for supposedly “better” teams in the AFC and, if it comes down to it, the NFC.

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Rams statement: Stedman Bailey in “critical, but stable, condition”

Stedman Bailey Getty Images

St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey was shot Tuesday night in Miami and remains in the hospital following the incident.

The team released a statement just after midnight EST.

“We are aware Stedman Bailey was involved in an incident this evening,” the team said in a statement. “We have spoken with Stedman and he is in the hospital in critical, but stable, condition. We are gathering facts about the situation and will provide updates as we learn more.”

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Bailey was shot twice in the head while sitting in a car with several family members. The driver of the car was shot many times while shielding the children in the vehicle from the gunfire. His wounds are apparently life-threatening.

Bailey will have surgery tomorrow to tend to his injuries.

Bailey is currently in the middle of a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. He has 12 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown this season for St. Louis.

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Source: Stedman Bailey has been shot

Lance Kendricks, Stedman Bailey AP

Rams receiver Stedman Bailey was shot Tuesday evening in Miami. A league source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed to PFT that rampant rumors of the incident are indeed true.

Per the source, a statement from the Rams is expected within the next hour or so. The source was unable to confirm at this point any specific details regarding Bailey’s condition.

Bailey played college football at West Virginia. He was a third-round pick of the Rams in 2013.

UPDATE 12:28 a.m. ET: Mike Silver of reports that Bailey suffered a head wound that is not considered to be life threatening. Per Silver, Bailey is scheduled to undergo surgery in the morning.

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Reports: Marshawn Lynch needs “a couple weeks” to determine status

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 22, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks expected to be without running back Marshawn Lynch this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They’ll need to get comfortable with him missing a few more weeks before learning what his status will be for the remainder of the season.

According to Adam Schefter of, Lynch needs “a couple weeks to see how he does” after meeting with a specialist – Dr. William Meyers – in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Lynch missed Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers due to an abdominal injury suffered late in practice on Nov.6. Head coach Pete Carroll was asked Monday if he could envision any scenario in which Lynch was able to play against Pittsburgh.

“I don’t know about that now. It’s legitimately bothering him. He would have played yesterday if he could have,” Carroll said. “That’s why they treat you. They’ll treat him back there. Maybe the docs have got something they can help him with. I don’t know.”

In Carroll-speak, any use of the word “legit” or its other iterations tends to imply an injury is of a significant severity.

“(Surgery) could happen. I don’t know that,” Carroll said. “That’s a possibility but the (intention) is to go back there for the evaluation to find out what’s next. There are a couple choices, possibly, depending on what the doc feels is necessary. Then we’ll just wait and see what that all means.”

By giving Lynch a few weeks to bounce back from the injury, it could also possibly jeopardize any chance of Lynch coming back this season. Per Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, Lynch is expected to miss 4-5 weeks due to injury with the hope being he’ll be back in late December.

However, if he doesn’t bounce back as expected the delay in further treatment options could potentially leave Lynch out of time. In the interim, the Seahawks will get an extended look at the future with Thomas Rawls taking the reins during Lynch’s absence.

UPDATE 12:32 a.m. ET: Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Lynch will have surgery on Wednesday for a sports hernia and is expected to miss a month.

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Chip Kelly was a little testy on Monday

Chip Kelly AP

The Eagles have lost two straight games at home, punctuated by a 45-17 loss to a team that won a total of two games in 2014. And the strain of a season with as many losses (six) through 10 games as the team had through 16 in each of Chip Kelly’s first two seasons have increased the level of stress for the head coach.

That stress manifested itself on Monday, when Kelly got a little testy in two different settings.

First, during an appearance with Angelo Cataldi of 94WIP in Philadelphia, Cataldi asked Kelly if the coach gets mad at players during or after a blowout loss at home to a middle-of-the-pack team.

I don’t think you have to yell at grown men,” Kelly said, via CBS Philly. “I think every single play in that locker room is as disappointed, or more disappointed, than anybody in this city in terms of how we played and what the outcome of this game was. So for someone to have yell at them or raise their voice, they’re not two-year-olds. They’re grown men. They know exactly what’s going on. That’s Harry High School stuff. That doesn’t flow and that doesn’t work and that’s not what people talk about. If that’s what people want, if people want a screamer and yeller, then let’s hire you ’cause you’re really good at it.”

Said Cataldi in response: “I’m not sure I’d be worse than 4-6.”

Later, during a press conference, a reporter reminded Kelly that he doesn’t need to yell at players because they’re grown men, but then asked whether Kelly has considered making personnel changes. Here’s how the rest of the exchange went, from the transcript distributed by the team.

Kelly: “No, not at all.”

Q: “And why not?”

Kelly: “Because I feel confident in the guys we have right now.”

Q: “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and getting the same results –”

Kelly: “I’ve never heard that before. Thanks for sharing that with us.”

Q: “Well, it’s Einstein.”

Kelly: “Okay.”

Q: “But do you ever look –”

Kelly: “We lost two games. I think sometimes people panic and throw the baby out with the bath water. I think we have a really good football team, and I’m very confident in those football players.”

To use Kelly’s metaphor, he’s not willing to throw out the baby or the bath water. And it’s creating a nasty soup of water plus the stuff a baby will inevitably deposit in the water if the baby is left in the water long enough.

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Broncos tried to get Jimmy Clausen on waivers

Jimmy Clausen AP

Here’s how bad it has gotten for the Broncos: In the effort to fill up their depth chart with healthy quarterbacks, they tried to get Jimmy Clausen.

According to Mike Klis of, the Broncos made a waivers claim for Clausen, who was cut by the Bears on Monday. The Broncos, at 8-2, had lower priority on the waiver hierarchy than the Ravens, who secured Clausen with a 3-7 record.

The Broncos will work out Christian Ponder on Wednesday. The team has announced that Peyton Manning will miss at least two more weeks due to a lingering foot injury, and they only have Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian on the active roster, other than Manning.

There aren’t many options in free agency. Apart from, you know, a certain quarterback who led the Broncos to the final eight in 2011.

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Broncos to work out Christian Ponder on Wednesday

Christian Ponder, Kareem Martin, Matt Shaughnessy, Shaquille Riddick, Alameda Ta'amu AP

Here’s the latest tangible piece of evidence that Peyton Manning won’t be practicing or playing for a while — and the latest bit of proof regarding the current lack of competent NFL quarterbacks.

The Broncos have announced that they will work out Christian Ponder on Wednesday.

Ponder, the 12th overall pick in 2011, signed with the Raiders in the offseason after his rookie contract in Minnesota expired. He was later cut by Oakland, and he has since not landed with another team.

The Broncos currently have two healthy quarterbacks on the roster: Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian, an undrafted rookie from Northwestern.

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Peyton Manning, in a walking cast, will miss “at least” the next two weeks

Peyton Manning AP

Brock Osweiler gets a minimum of two more games to prove himself in Denver.

According to the Broncos, Dr. Robert Anderson advised quarterback Peyton Manning to spend the next week or more in a walking cast. After removal of the case, rehab on the injured foot will continue. He reportedly has a partially torn plantar fascia tendon in his foot.

“Peyton and I had a good visit today, and we’ve got a plan in place for his recovery,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “His foot will be in a cast for at least a week, but he’ll be able to be part of meetings and do some workouts with the rest of the team.

“We expect him to be unavailable for at least a couple of games. We’ll proceed from there and will continue to support him as he does everything he can to get healthy.”

It means Manning will miss Sunday’s game against the Patriots (which we already knew) and the following Sunday’s game at San Diego. The “at least” implies he could miss more games, such as Week 13 against Oakland and Week 14 at Pittsburgh.

Kubiak said last week that Manning will return as the starter when he’s healthy. On Monday, Kubiak said the team would take it week by week. Now, it’s settled for at least two weeks.

Depending on what Osweiler does over the next two games, it’s possible Manning’s health won’t matter.

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List of 25 semifinalists for Pro Football Hall of Fame announced

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

An interesting group of first-time eligible candidates are among the 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which was unveiled tonight.

Quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Terrell Owens are two of the new names on the list, which will be reduced to 15 before a maximum class of five modern-era candidates is voted on the day before the Super Bowl.

While Favre makes a clear case for induction, Owens will create a complex argument, as his raw numbers have to be balanced by the impact he has had on teams.

Owens is second on the all-time receiving yards list (15,934), third in touchdowns (153) and sixth on the all-time receptions list (1,078). But he also played for five teams, and those moves weren’t always based on football or financial reasons.

They will join a list of candidates who carried over from last year’s finalists and a few newcomers.

That list is topped by the players who were finalists last year, but just missed in the final vote from 10 spots to five: Linebacker Kevin Greene, quarterback Kurt Warner, tackle Orlando Pace, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and coach Tony Dungy.

Last year’s finalist who were cut in the vote from 15 to 10 were coaches Don Coryell and Jimmy Johnson, kicker Morten Andersen, running back Terrell Davis and safety John Lynch.

The other semifinalists, in alphabetical order, include: Safety Steve Atwater, tackle Tony Boselli, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, running back Roger Craig, guard Alan Faneca, wide receiver Torry Holt, tackle Joe Jacoby, running back Edgerrin James, tackle Mike Kenn, cornerback Ty Law, center Kevin Mawae, linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and linebacker Sam Mills.

That group will be voted upon along with this year’s senior finalists (quarterback Ken Stabler and guard Dick Stanfel and contributor Edward DeBartolo, Jr. Those three are voted upon separately, and need 80 percent of a yes-no vote to be approved.

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Pettine: Manziel “violated trust,” basically failed a test

Johnny Manziel AP

Browns Coach Mike Pettine said Johnny Manzielviolated the [team’s] trust” during the bye weekend and essentially failed a test by showing up on social media partying during his time off.

The result, as the Browns announced earlier Tuesday, is that Manziel is going from being announced as the team’s starting quarterback last week to No. 3 for next Monday’s game with the Ravens.

Pettine discussed the issue Tuesday night on the Mike Pettine Show, a team-sponsored show that airs on the Browns’ two flagship radio affiliates. The Manziel news had been announced via a team statement Tuesday afternoon.

“His decisions led us to much disappointment and frustration,” Pettine said on the show.

Josh McCown will start vs. the Ravens. A rib injury suffered by McCown Nov. 1 had allowed Manziel to start the team’s previous two games.

Pettine said he’d decided to name Manziel the starter as a result of “very positive conversations” with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell about Manziel’s performance and progress as the Browns entered their bye week. Pettine called the move to demote Manziel “a coaching decision” he said general manager Ray Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam had spoken to Manziel before the bye week about his off-field behavior.

The latest conversations surrounding Tuesday’s move probably weren’t comfortable ones.

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NFL should make all officials available to the media after every game

referees_nfl_g_mp_64011 Getty Images

From time to time, players question the NFL’s policy that requires them to be available for media interrogation immediately after every game. If the players are required to answer face reporters in the aftermath of what has been, for at least some of them, disappointing performances, why shouldn’t the officials be required to do the same thing?

After last night’s blunders from a pair of officials on referee Gene Steratore’s crew, Steratore (and only Steratore) answered questions from one (and only one) designated reporter. Why shouldn’t all of the officials be faced with a swarm of media in their locker room, in the same way that players are?

At a time when the NFL seems to be interested in holding officials more accountable for their mistakes, wouldn’t removing an arbitrary shield from media scrutiny do that? If officials know that they’ll face pointed questions for their errors, maybe that extra incentive to not make mistakes will help minimize mistakes.

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Raiders move on from Ray-Ray Armstrong

Ray-Ray Armstrong AP

The good news? Raiders linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong wasn’t charged for taunting a police dog in Pittsburgh earlier this month.

The bad news? Raiders linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong is no longer a Raider.

The team announced on Tuesday that Armstrong has been waived. The former undrafted free agent joined the Raiders on waivers last October, a day after being released by the Rams.

He appeared in 10 games with two starts this season, but he hadn’t started since Week Two. The Raiders, who announced the move with a one-sentence press release, made no corresponding roster move.

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Seahawks promote Daniels, bring back Bryce Brown

B.J. Daniels AP

The Seahawks announced a host of roster moves Tuesday, including placing Nick Moody on injured reserve and adding two familiar names to the active roster.

Running back Bryce Brown was signed three days after he was cut, and wide receiver B.J. Daniels was promoted from the practice squad. Defensive tackle A.J. Francis was waived.

Brown was cut last weekend so the Seahawks could address another position. Presumably, he’s back because Marshawn Lynch could miss significant time. Lynch was in Philadelphia to see a sports hernia expert Tuesday.

Moody played in three games as a special teamer before being injured last weekend. Daniels is a former quarterback turned receiver; he had 1 catch for 12 yards earlier this season before being released and brought back to the practice squad.

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LaRon Landry suspended indefinitely

LaRon Landry, Jacoby Ford AP

Well, that didn’t take long.

Safety LaRon Landry, the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, PFT has confirmed.

The suspension doesn’t specify the specific policy under which it arises. However, Landry had been reinstated just last week after a 10-game suspension under the PED policy.

Landry played for the Colts in 2014, after spending time with Washington (which drafted him) and the Jets. He had not signed with any team before his 10-game suspension, and there had been no indication that anyone was interested in signing him.

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Report: Amendola has knee sprain, not expected to miss extended time

<> of the New England Patriots of the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Getty Images

The Patriots saw two wide receivers leave Monday night’s victory with injuries and early indications are that Danny Amendola has a better chance of playing this week than Aaron Dobson.

Tom Curran of CSN New England reports that Amendola suffered a knee sprain against the Bills that is not expected to keep him out for an extended period of time. He is expected to be limited at practice during a short week, though, and that means it will likely be a couple of days before his status for Sunday’s game in Denver becomes clearer.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports that X-rays of Dobson’s ankle were negative, but that the team was still waiting for MRI results to determine the extent of the injury. Curran reports that he is expected to miss at least this week’s game with the final diagnosis giving more clarity about how long he’ll be out of the lineup.

Keshawn Martin missed Monday night’s game after being listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, which leaves Brandon LaFell, Chris Harper and special teams stalwart Matthew Slater as healthy players on the depth chart at receiver.

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With Hoyer getting healthy, Texans cut QB from practice squad

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Texans plan to have Brian Hoyer back as their starting quarterback this week, and the release of Zac Dysert from the practice squad Tuesday indicates all is well with Hoyer.

Hoyer suffered a concussion Nov. 16 and missed last week’s game. That made T.J. Yates the starter against the Jets, but Hoyer cleared the league’s concussion protocol on Monday.

The Texans claimed Brandon Weeden on waivers last week instead of promoting Dysert. With Hoyer set to return to practice Wednesday, that probably makes Weeden the scout team quarterback and made Dysert expendable.

Dysert was cut by the Broncos and Bears in the preseason. He was a seventh-round pick of the Broncos in 2013.

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