Week 3 Blog: News and Notes

Friday, September 22

Being gap sound: The defense came through on Monday night with splash play after splash play in the win over the Cleveland Browns, including two defensive touchdowns, one by Alex Highsmith on the first play of the game and the other by T.J. Watt.

Whether the defense can keep that pace up is yet to be seen, but if it’s up to Watt, they will.

“We’re going to try and keep impacting the game any way we can and hope the run game doesn’t keep going the way it’s going, stopping the run,” said Watt. “We just want to continue to make plays and provide the offense with opportunities where we are holding teams to turnovers or field goals.”

From the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers have had their struggles against the run in the first two games, including giving up big runs. In Week 1, 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey had a 65-yard run, while last week Browns running back Jerome Ford had a 69-yard run.

“It’s being gap sound, everybody doing their job and at the end of the day, just tackling,” said Watt. “That’s been a big issue for us. We have guys to the ball. It’s just a matter of getting them down to the ground.”

Raiders running back Josh Jacobs has the same type of potential to break a big run and stopping him is going to be a focus. When the two teams met in 2022 in Week 16, the Steelers held Jacobs to 44 yards. Doing that again will be a tough task.

“It was just playing gap sound football and tackling,” said Watt of stopping him last year. “I feel like those long runs, especially last week we had him bottled up and he gets out. It’s just a matter of getting the guy on the ground. We’ve had tough challenges every week with good runners. This week is no different.”

Stepping up the PT: While his playing time isn’t extensive yet, cornerback Joey Porter Jr. did see an uptick in it from Week 1 to Week 2.

In Week 1, the team’s second round pick played just seven defensive snaps, two on special teams. In Week 2, he doubled the defensive snaps to 14, with six on special teams.

He understands the plan for him but is always hoping to see more time on the field.

“I always try to go into each week wishing for more time, hoping, but at the end of the day it’s not up to me,” said Porter. “I just have to keep showing up to work every day and keep gaining their trust and keep gaining confidence.”

Porter had a nice pass defense on a third-down play in the third quarter against the Browns on Monday Night Football, always knowing what he can do and just needing to show it on a regular basis.

“I got confidence every time I step on the field, especially running with the guys we have on the field,” said Porter. “It does nothing but boost my confidence. Hopefully I keep putting out more tape to get the coaches more at ease.”

While he knows he has to keep doing more, he was satisfied with what he did with his limited number of snaps. 

“I feel like I did okay,” said Porter. “I could have ended up with a pick, I could have played the last play better. Overall, I feel like I did a pretty good job of making opportunities of the plays I have.”

Helping to slow it down: Linebacker T.J. Watt already has four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown this season.

And it’s only two games in.

His efforts never go unnoticed by his teammates, who not only appreciate what he does, but learn from him.

“He is just an incredible player,” said third-year defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk. “His instincts are tremendous. Just the way he sees the game is on a different level than anybody else, in practice, in meetings, things he will bring up in meetings to tell us are things I would be watching and never think about. He will bring it up and I will be like, there is that.”

Loudermilk said the combination of Watt and Cameron Heyward have helped slow the game down for him, giving him the extra edge.

“Between him and Cam, people who see the game like that, the game has slowed down for them,” said Loudermilk. “For a lot of the young guys, the game is really fast. Getting their perspective slows it down for me because they do see a lot of things I wouldn’t see. Having those guys in the room helps me a lot.”

It’s also Watt’s leadership that rubs off on players like Loudermilk, who rely on his guidance and his voice in meetings and on the field.   

“I definitely think he has taken on that role as the guy on the team, meetings, things like that,” said Loudermilk. “He is vocal, steps up and will help anybody with anything. Having him there is like having another teacher in the room and it definitely helps.”

Focused on the run: One after another, Steelers defenders stressed the same point this week.

They have to shut down the run.

And this week, that means shutting down Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, the latest in a trio of physical running backs the team will face. 

“Jacobs, he is a baller,” said linebacker Kwon Alexander. “He is a dawg too. We have been facing some nice running backs over the last couple of weeks. They all have the same game, nice balance, cuts, know how to make you miss. We have to get it together, get ready to hit and take the ball away like we did last week.”

Alexander said the defense is keying on stopping the run this week, especially after giving up 386 yards on the ground in two games. 

“We have to go stop the run,” said Alexander. “That is our main focus this week, stopping the run. That is our main goal.”

And doing that is all about the tackling.

“Just finishing tackles,” said Alexander. “We are getting to the ball. The goal is finishing tackles. That is what we are going to do.”

Bringing you the action: For fans who don’t want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more – all in one place. Start your free trial today here.

Thursday, September 21

Making a splash: It was a big week for linebacker Alex Highsmith, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week, selected as a Nike athlete, and scored his first touchdown since his Pop Warner playing days.

But the most important thing in Highsmith’s mind is going out and getting a win on Sunday night against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The first step in doing that will be shutting down the run. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs is off to a slow start this season but is the third elite running back in a row the Steelers will face.

“We have to be sound. We have to tackle,” said Highsmith. “Josh Jacobs is one of the best backs in the league. He runs hard, he runs physical, so we have to be physical with him. It starts with getting off blocks, staying in gaps, staying disciplined. Once we get to that point, we have to wrap him up and make a tackle. He is a hard guy to bring down.

“It’s the little details. We all have to be disciplined, stay in our gaps, in our fits. There are times we can be better at tackling. Josh Jacobs is a physical back, so we have to be able to get him down. It starts with getting off blocks and everyone doing their job. If we all do our job and communicate well, we can be a very good defense.”

The defense is hoping to come up with more splash plays this week after Highsmith had an interception on the first play from scrimmage against the Browns and then had a sack and forced fumble that T.J. Watt recovered and took in for a touchdown.

“Just coming out, making splash plays is something we always desire,” said Highsmith. “When we do, it adds a lot of juice. I know when we do the crowd definitely gets into it. I know the crowd was into it a lot on Monday, having a lot of guys punching the ball out, making big plays. It was huge for us.

“I love going to work with these guys every week. There are a lot of ways we can get better. We can clean up the run defense. I am looking forward to getting better this week.”

One player in particular Highsmith enjoys going to work with is Watt. The two have become a tandem that is tough to deal with and they are only getting better.

“I am just blessed to go to war with that guy every week,” said Highsmith. “He makes me better. To see his process, what he does. There is a reason he is who he is. He is the best in the world at what he does. Just to go to battle with him every week is awesome.

“Just trying to provide splash on defense. That is the goal. When we get splash plays on defense, that adds a lot of juice. We want to come out and make those splash plays week in and week out.”

No ill will: Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made it clear on Thursday.

In no way did he mean any ‘ill will’ when he tackled Browns running back Nick Chubb on Monday Night Football, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“It was very unfortunate. It’s a tough, tough injury,” said Fitzpatrick. “I know people think I had ill will behind the tackle. That’s not the case whatsoever. I am a guy that is competitive, that’s going to go out there and play the game. I am not a dirty player. I know the type of player I am. Chubb knows the type of player I am. I have played against him for the past five years, two times a year. I love competing against him. He brings out the best in me. I bring out the best in him.

“No chance I would ever try and purposely injure somebody.

“I am praying for Chubb. I talked to him briefly as he was on the ground. Just let him know that it wasn’t intentional. I was just trying to tackle him, make a football play.”

Fitzpatrick himself is dealing with a chest injury he described as a ‘bruise’ and when asked how he provided a positive outlook.

“Good,” said Fitzpatrick. “I just got bruised. That’s it.

“I couldn’t breathe. I had the wind knocked out of me.”

While he is still dealing with the injury, the Steelers are going to need him this week against the Las Vegas Raiders, who are looking to get their ground game going. Josh Jacobs has just 46 yards on 28 carries in two games, including -2 yards rushing last week against the Buffalo Bills.

“They flow through that run game,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s definitely going to be a part of their agenda to get the run game going. Josh is a great player, a tough player. Just because he had a slow start, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try and feed him. He is a guy who is going to always keep fighting, keep chugging no matter what they are going to try and definitely try and get it going.”

And with the Steelers run defense ranked 30th in the NFL, stopping the run, especially long runs, is a must.

“You have to tackle people when you get your hands on them,” said Fitzpatrick. “The one this week we had two or three guys touch him behind the line of scrimmage. We just have to bottle them up. They had way too many yards this week and last week. Way too many yards after the first contact. Once we get hands on them.”

Major shout out to the #Steelers equipment staff during 'National Equipment Managers Week.' These guys work their tails off every day to make things go for the team. They are the best in the business. https://t.co/9gT3OgVcbh

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) September 21, 2023

Bringing you the action: For fans who don’t want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more – all in one place. Start your free trial today here.

Raiders week pic.twitter.com/nnqFKQmONz

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 20, 2023

Wednesday, September 20

Still searching for it: The Steelers first team offense were almost unstoppable in the preseason, but through the first two weeks of the regular season they are nowhere near where they want to be.

The offense is ranked 27th overall in the NFL and tied for last with the Minnesota Vikings on the ground.

It’s no secret they want to turn things around, and they know they can.

“The way our defense is playing now, we have to find a way to run the ball, get that time of possession in our hands,” said center Mason Cole. “Our defense is playing lights out right now. We have to help them out.

“The big part is running the ball, which obviously we haven’t done the first two weeks. It will be the point of emphasis now and going forward.”

The ground game has amassed only 96 yards through two games, a number that isn’t going to help them with time of possession. At the end of the 2022 season, when the Steelers turned things around, it was the ground game that picked up. Now, it’s time to find that identity again.

“Every year is different,” said Cole. “We haven’t found our identity yet. We are still searching for it. Hopefully we find it sooner than last year.”

Cole said the expectation going into the 2023 season was not how things have panned out. He admits you can’t read a lot into the preseason because teams don’t game plan, don’t prepare the same way.

“We know it can be better,” said Cole. “We’re just not executing. It’s not schematics. It’s not play calling. We’re not blocking the guys. We’re not making the throws. We’re not making the reads. We’re just not executing at a high level, especially early in the games.”

Hitting the ground running: Newly signed running back Godwin Igwebuike hit the ground running on Wednesday, his first in the black and gold.

Igwebuike said in the locker room before practice that he didn’t get much sleep last night as he headed from Atlanta, where he was on the Falcons practice squad, to join the Steelers active roster.

Sleep or no sleep, he was pumped up and ready to go.

“I am excited to be here, to be in the building with the guys,” said Igwebuike.

Igwebuike has appeared in 30 career games, with one start, since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. He kicked off his career at the safety spot, but made the change to running back when he arrived in Detroit, playing in 17 games for the Lions in 2021.

He has 21 carries for 122 rushing yards and one touchdown. He also has returned 39 kicks for 1,006 yards.

“I like to consider myself a full package, definitely hard runner, going to hit the hole, have the ability to make guys miss and then finish with speed,” said Igwebuike. “I am excited to be here. special teams as well. Contribute being a core four guy. Kickoff returns as well. Wherever they have me.”

'He is a freak of nature.'

'He is one of one.'

'He has freakish athleticism.'

Above is how George Pickens teammates describe him.

And what does Pickens say about himself?

'I think I am just okay.'

️: https://t.co/Qm11wboC6o pic.twitter.com/aPKKs0OQkk

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) September 20, 2023

Next man up: Defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko was signed this offseason as an unrestricted free agent to help bolster the team’s line.

Now he has his chance.

Fehoko was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster on Wednesday and is ready to help along with the others on the line on Sunday night against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Fehoko has played in 23 games, starting 12, and has 36 career tackles, including 15 solo tackles while with the Los Angeles Chargers.

He finished the 2022 season with 23 tackles, 10 of them solo stops, with one tackle for a loss in nine games, including one start, after spending time early in the year on the practice squad. He added three tackles in the AFC Wild Card game against Jacksonville.

He is ready to contribute any way possible this week to try and get another ‘W’ for the black and gold.

“Just as much as any guy on the defensive line,” said Fehoko. “Be a good teammate. Doing what the coaches expect of not just the other six guys, but myself. Providing depth for the guys who have been going at it for the last couple of weeks and helping the Steelers chalk up another win in the win column.”

#SteelersPets decked out in black & gold ⚫️

Submit your pet photos! ➡️ https://t.co/kkpCAy6qXq pic.twitter.com/ix7ecUkjoE

— SteelersNationUnite (@SteelersUnite) September 20, 2023

Message received: The meaning behind head coach Mike Tomlin’s “we have to get our mojo back” mantra hasn’t been lost in translation.

Tight end Pat Freiermuth maintained he knows where Tomlin is coming from and what Tomlin wants to see from the offense.

“Playing confident again and executing again,” Freiermuth said. “There’s plays all over the field, one little thing goes wrong, that we can easily get back.

“Understand the gameplan and hone in on the fine, little details.”

The offense has accounted for two touchdowns through the Steelers’ first two games.

“Obviously, we just gotta flush it and look for a big game on Sunday night (at Las Vegas),” Freiermuth said. “We can’t really look back. Obviously, you can learn from it but we gotta continue to just move forward and keep grinding.”

Individually and collectively. Freiermuth has accounted for one of the two offensive TDs this season (a 3-yard reception in the Steelers’ 30-7 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 10) but he has just two catches for 5 yards on five targets overall.

“That’s not really up to me,” he said. “That’s up to the coaches to decide. I’m cool whatever the gameplan is, I just want to end up with a win at the end of the day.”

Whether the ball comes his way or not, Freiermuth has been emphasizing and will continue to emphasize the blocking aspect of his game.

“There’s clips that I want back but so far I’ve put in a good sample size of my growth and development in the blocking game, especially inline,” he said. “There’s certain plays I want back, everyone has that. But I think I’ve grown a lot in that realm so far.”

— Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Ready for the runway: Rock Steelers Style, the team’s annual fashion show, features players and their families showing off the latest fashions, with this year’s theme, Gameday – Fashion Edition.

Rock Steelers Style will take place on Friday, October 6 at Stage AE, with the show presented by Neighborhood Ford Store, PNC, UPMC and UPMC Health Plan.

The Steelers announced the co-captains for this year’s high-energy show, with running back Najee Harris and linebacker Alex Highsmith doing the honors.

“It’s cool. I am excited to be able to be a co-captain for the event,” said Highsmith. “I can’t wait to go to it.

“I feel like I have a little bit of fashion. I am not in the top. I am close to the top, but not in the top. We have some guys that dress really nice on this team, guys like Levi (Wallace), Larry (Ogunjobi).

“I am just excited to be a part of this event for a great cause.”

Rock Steelers Style, which will be co-chaired by Art and Greta Rooney and Mike and Kiya Tomlin, benefits the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, Cancer Bridges and the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research.

“It’s so important. Being able to give back to the community is huge,” said Highsmith. “Being a part of that means a lot. We’ve been given this platform to make an impact and give back. That is what it is all about.”

Fans can also get involved with the Rock Steelers Style charity auction, which is live now on Steelers.com and runs through Friday, Oct. 13. The auction includes signed items from former and current Steelers players, Immaculate Reception 50th anniversary painting by local Pittsburgh artist Cody Sabol, a Steelers New Years Eve Getaway for 2 guests, Steelers Pro Shop Family Photoshoot, a chance to design the next Terrible Towel, and many more. Be sure to check Steelers.com for more on the auction.

For more information, visit Rock Steelers Style.

Our Co-Captains for #RockSteelersStyle 2023 are @ohthatsNajee22 & Alex Highsmith!

Don't miss your chance to see them in action on October 6 and check out the auction, presented by @Acrisure, to support some great causes! @PNCBank

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 20, 2023

Bringing you the action: For fans who don’t want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more – all in one place. Start your free trial today here.

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