And the veteran quarterback has no problem with it, especially after throwing for 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
“You (say) who's a starter, well I guess it depends on what personnel group we start the game in,” Roethlisberger said. “There's no way of telling until we start the game what group is going to start.”
Antonio Brown is the Steelers' No. 1 wide receiver but the order after that depends on the situation. The emergence of rookie Martavis Bryant has given the Steelers the flexibility to mix and match, to go tall or go small and they have used all five of their wide receivers who have been active the last two games.
“As long as each guy wires in on what he's doing on his particular plays and groupings then we can keep rolling,” Roethlisberger said.
Against the Colts, the Steelers wide receivers caught 23 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns. They will show the Ravens, who visit Heinz Field on Sunday, a lot more different looks than when the two teams met on Sept. 11 in Baltimore. In that 26-6 loss to the Ravens, the Steelers primarily played only three wide receivers.
And Justin Brown, the No. 3 wide receiver in that game, isn't expected to dress against the Ravens after falling down the depth chart.
A couple of notes:
- The rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers has been one of the best and most contentious ones in the NFL. Part of the reason for that is the teams are so similar, starting with their approach to building their teams. Sure enough, the Steelers and Ravens each used their first-round draft pick in May on an inside linebacker. The Steelers took Ohio State's Ryan Shazier No. 15 overall. Two picks later the Ravens selected Alabama's C.J. Mosley. Each is starting and Mosely, who leads the Ravens with 73 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, has emerged as a strong candidate for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. When asked by Baltimore reporters why the Steelers picked Shazier over Mosley, Mike Tomlin said the Steelers felt more comfortable taking Shazier. “We had a close, personal relationship with his program, with their defensive coaches, specifically,” the eighth-year coach said. “So, it was more about that relationship and knowing the system in which he played and the parallels to ours.”
- Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked Roethlisberger 16 1/2 times, including playoff games, and the outspoken veteran has long been one of the central antagonists in the rivalry as well as lightning rod for Steelers' fans. Suggs said he welcomes any and all boos that fans rain down on him Sunday night at Heinz Field. “I love it because they put so much energy into hating you,” Suggs said. “You obviously are doing something, so it's kind of flattering. I take it as a sign of respect.”
And the reality is the Steelers have been a middling defense for the last couple of seasons after playing it at an absurdly high level for the better part of a decade
There are numerous reasons why the unit has fallen off. One James Harrison won't entertain is that age has caught up with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turned 77 in early September.
Harrison is doing his part to defend LeBeau's reputation as well as restore the intimidation factor to a defense that has too often lacked it recently.
Harrison recorded his 15th multi-sack game while with the Steelers in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, though it didn't become official until Wednesday -- three days after Pittsburgh's victory.
Harrison had been credited with a sack of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Elias Sports gave the 36-year-old Harrison a second sack on Wednesday, taking one that had been credited to strong safety Troy Polamalu.
"That's messed up," Polamalu said.
Then he laughed and conceded that Elias had been correct in crediting Harrison with both of the sacks that the Steelers managed against the Colts.
It seemed like old times in the Steelers' locker room on Wednesday with Polamalu and Harrison joking around. Moments like the one the two longtime teammates shared after practice almost didn't happen.
Harrison was content to walk away from the game when he officially retired in early September. When Jarvis Jones went down with a dislocated wrist a couple of weeks later and the Steelers needed immediate help at outside linebacker, Polamalu was among those who helped coax Harrison out of retirement.
Harrison said he would not have returned for any other team -- and that he would not have done so had his two sons been against it.
Even more than a month after coming out of retirement, Harrison still seems a little conflicted about having to put on hold his promise to spend more time with his sons.
"The big thing is not having that time with my kids like now. If I'm lucky I may get a few hours a week," Harrison said. "Being back right now it's still kind of hard because you're missing that time with them, you're missing those moments that you can't get back."
What Harrison has been getting back is his legs after not doing any football-related drills for more than nine months and it is showing.
Harrison, who is sharing snaps with Arthur Moats at right outside linebacker, helped the Steelers put consistent pressure on Luck last Sunday. That and the number of times that the Steelers hit Luck could bode well for the defense in the second half of the season.
"I like the direction we're going in," Harrison said. "We still have a lot of things we need to get better at."
History suggests you shouldn't write off the Ravens so easily.
In 15 meetings with the Ravens, Roethlisberger has one 300-yard passing game (2011) and has thrown more than two touchdowns in a game once (2007).
But it looks like the Ravens are the ones who have had Roethlisberger's number lately. The Ravens have beaten him in four of the last five meetings, recording as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns allowed (five). His passer rating against the the Ravens since 2011 is an extremely mediocre 78.2.
Perhaps the Ravens' recent success comes from the fact that they respect him so much.
"Every quarterback is unique. And Ben is very unique, I'd guess you say," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's big. He's very strong, very hard to bring down. Nobody does the extended play thing better than Ben."
And nobody plays Roethlisberger better in those scrambling situations than the Ravens. Since 2011, Roethlisberger has a 75.5 rating when throwing outside the pocket against the Ravens with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Against the rest of the NFL, he has a 115.1 rating outside the pocket with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Harbaugh said the Ravens defense always practice scramble drills, but "there's emphasis when you play the guy that might be the best at it in the league."
The fact that Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns last Sunday doesn't change how the Ravens approach the Steelers.
"It's always been to stop 7 [Roethlisberger's number]," cornerback Lardarius Webb said of the game plan against the Steelers. "That's always been our thing. If we can stop 7, we can win the game. The front seven guys will take care of the run. We have to take care of 7, however we can do that with pressure. We have to affect 7 if we can to win this game."
The Ravens will be without two of their top three cornerbacks when they play in Pittsburgh. Jimmy Smith is out with a sprained foot, and Asa Jackson is on short-term injured reserve with a toe injury.
There are three healthy cornerbacks on the roster (Webb, Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown), and the team can move safety Anthony Levine to corner as well.
"Every team faces some kind of a situation at some position, and we've had injuries all year in different positions," Harbaugh said. "It's not something we talk about. We don't make a big deal about it. It's not a point of emphasis for us. It's just we're the team, and whoever is a part of it goest out there and does their best."
McLendon has missed the last two games because of a shoulder injury. Gilbert did not play in the Steelers' 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday because of a concussion.
Strong safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) also practiced fully, and the second-year man is expected to return against the Ravens after missing the last three games.
Tight end Matt Spaeth (hamstring) and safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) were the only Steelers players who did not practice because of injuries.
Ventrone, who has flashed on special teams while playing in place of Thomas, is not expected to play against the Ravens.
Cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) practiced on a limited basis and safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell and defensive end Brett Keisel were given veteran's days off.
A handful of Ravens players did not practice Wednesday, including defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shin) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (neck).
Also sitting out practice because of injuries were running back Justin Forsett (ankle) -- whose 571 rushing yards are fourth-most in the NFL -- guard Marshal Yanda (knee) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh).
Cornerback Lardarius Webb was given a veteran's day off and tight end Owen Daniels (knee) practiced on a limited basis.
It did not get him out of his household chores the following day.
That he pulled diaper duty less than 24 hours after throwing for 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-34 romp over the Indianapolis Colts reinforced to Roethlisberger that even moments for the ages pass.
As such, Roethlisberger said he has moved on from the Colts game even if he received reminders of his sublime performance as recently as Wednesday, when the NFL named Big Ben its AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
"That was last Sunday's game and it's in the rearview mirror," Roethlisberger said. "It was a fun win but it's Baltimore time and that's what the focus went to Monday morning."
It better have considering the game against the Ravens comes close to a must-win for the Steelers if they have designs on capturing the AFC North title. A loss to the Ravens would force the Steelers to sweep the Cincinnati Bengals just to finish .500 in the division.
Even if they did that they would still probably fall short in the tiebreaker that could well decide the AFC North championship.
The Steelers are unlikely to come close to matching the offensive outburst that carried them past the Colts though Lance Moore said Wednesday, "Why can't we do it more times?"
"Things kind of all have to come together for that to happen," the veteran wide receiver said. "Offensive line has to protect, the pass catchers have to catch the ball, the quarterback has to be on target and on time and the coordinator has to call the right plays. A lot of things have to happen for that to happen but we've seen it once and I think we've got the guys that can do it again."
Roethlisberger, who last Sunday joined Y.A. Tittle as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in a game, said he is only concerned with one number when the Steelers try to avenge an earlier 26-6 loss to the Ravens.
"I don't care what are stats are as long at the end of the game we've got more points than the other team," Roethlisberger said. "Just win."
The Steelers moved up just one spot to No. 14 after routing the Indianapolis Colts, 51-34, last Sunday at Heinz Field. The Colts had been No. 4 in the power rankings before the Steelers halted their five-week winning streak behind a record-setting performance from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Colts dropped to No. 9, and not far behind them is a cluster of AFC North teams. The Cincinnati Bengals are No. 12 followed by the Baltimore Ravens and the Steelers.
The Steelers and Ravens meet Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Other midday notes:
- Roethlisberger won his 10th career AFC Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 522 yards and six touchdowns against the Colts. Roethlisberger, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 500 yards in a game more than once, last won player of the week honors last November after throwing for 367 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Detroit Lions.
- A pair of Steelers players made MMQB’s midseason All-Pro team, including wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown leads the NFL with 60 catches and is second with 852 receiving yards. Strong safety Troy Polamalu joined him on the team selected by MMQB’s Andy Benoit. Polamalu is second on the Steelers with 47 tackles. The 12th-year veteran also has a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. A pair of former Steelers landed on the MMQB midseason All-Pro team. Arizona Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote made it, while New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis was a second-team pick.
But Taylor will play a key role in the coming weeks as the Pittsburgh Steelers try to fix cornerback Cortez Allen, who has already been demoted twice since signing a five-year, $25 million contract right before the start of the regular season.
Taylor will do his part to help shepherd Allen through the roughest stretch of his career.
He has obvious affection for and belief in the fourth-year cornerback, and no one at Steelers’ headquarters can better relate to what Allen is going through right now than Taylor.
Taylor, after all, experienced the sting of losing his starting job in 2006.
Then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher benched Taylor in late November, and he didn’t start for five consecutive games.
Taylor re-entered the starting lineup for the regular-season finale and then thrived after Tomlin succeeded Cowher in 2007.
If nothing else Taylor can point to himself as an example at football's loneliest position as someone who pulled himself out of a funk by working hard and not getting too down on himself.
Tomlin will also try to keep Allen’s confidence from bottoming out.
When he replaced Allen with Antwon Blake at nickel back last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Tomlin told Allen that he still had great belief in him and that he was simply doing what he needed to do to win the game.
Tomlin said the same thing to Allen after the Steelers’ 51-34 win over the Colts.
“It has no bearing on what I think he’s capable of, largely or in the long term,” Tomlin said of the in-game demotion.
Allen’s inconsistency led to his losing starting job to Brice McCain before the Steelers’ game against the Houston Texans. The 6-1, 196-pounder allowed two touchdown receptions before getting yanked for Blake, who helped preserve the Steelers’ win with a late interception.
Tomlin said Allen and Blake will compete for the job of nickel back this week as the Steelers prepare for a critical game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Reading between the lines, however, it looks like Allen will open the Ravens game as the Steelers’ nickel back -- if he is willing to fight for it in practice.
It also sounds like Allen has to do a better job of fighting for the ball when it gets thrown his way in games.
“Often times he is in position because he does a great job of getting in position but position is just an element of (playing cornerback),” Tomlin said. “You’ve got to finish.”
You should be a little concerned, but there's no need to be in over-the-top panic mode. The blame could definitely be spread around for the Colts' performance.
But the Colts have been in this position before. That’s why there wasn’t a lot of panic inside the Colts’ locker room after the game or from Chuck Pagano and the players that talked on Monday afternoon.
“We didn’t play very good,” Pagano said. “We didn’t play very good and it doesn’t have anything to do with arrogance, cocky, taking the foot off the gas, complacency. We’ve got great veteran leadership in the locker room. We’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t allow that to happen. We ran into a buzz saw, if you will, last night. They played a great football game, and give the Steelers credit in all three phases. Beat us soundly in all three phases.”
The ability to bounce back following a loss is something the Colts have excelled at with Luck.
Luck has lost back-to-back games only once his NFL career, when the Colts dropped games against Denver and Philadelphia in the first two weeks of this season. The Colts will attempt to keep it that way when they play the New York Giants on Monday.
“They have to, and they’ve done it so many times before,” Pagano said. “So I have faith and trust because of history that they will be able to move on, and we have to move on. Just like a great win, you can’t let a loss like this linger. You can’t have a hangover. There’s a team sitting and waiting and licking its chops in New York right now who’s going to be well-rested. They’re well-coached. They’re a really good football team and a great organization and we all know that. They had a week off so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for us. So we better not [let the loss linger] because if we do, then we’re going to be barking up the wrong tree.”
Here’s a look at each of the Colts’ losses with Luck and how they played in the game following:
Loss: Sept. 9 at Chicago 41-21
Win: Sept. 16 vs. Minnesota 23-20
Loss: Sept. 23 vs. Jacksonville 22-17
Win: Oct. 7 vs. Green Bay 30-27
Loss: Oct. 14 at New York Jets 35-9
Win: Oct. 21 vs. Cleveland 17-13
Loss: Nov. 18 at New England 59-24
Win: Nov. 25 vs. Buffalo 20-13
Loss: Dec. 16 at Houston 29-17
Win: Dec. 23 at Kansas City 20-13
Loss: Sept. 15 vs. Miami 24-20
Win: Sept. 22 at San Francisco 27-7
Loss: Oct. 14 at San Diego 19-9
Win: Oct. 20 vs. Denver 39-33
Loss: Nov. 10 vs. St. Louis 38-8
Win: Nov. 14 at Tennessee 30-27
Loss: Nov. 24 at Arizona 40-11
Win: Dec. 1 vs. Tennessee 22-14
Loss: Dec. 8 at Cincinnati 42-28
Win: Dec. 15 vs. Houston 25-3
Loss: Sept. 7 at Denver 31-24
Loss: Sept. 15 vs. Philadelphia 30-27
Loss: Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh 51-34
???: Nov. 3 at New York Giants
The comparison to J.J. Watt really stood out.
It also provided some insight into a decision Tomlin made three weeks ago in Jacksonville.
The Steelers were leading the Jaguars 17-9 with two minutes left in the game and Jacksonville was out of timeouts. During the two-minute warning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger successfully lobbied Tomlin to throw one more pass even though Big Ben only needed to take three knees to end the game.
Roethlisberger wanted to get Brown another catch so the latter could extend an obscure NFL record for consecutive games with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards. He accomplished that by throwing a swing pass to Brown that netted 16 yards and the Steelers then ran out the clock.
The decision, however, ignited such an outcry in Pittsburgh that you would have thought Mayor Bill Peduto had been videotaped wearing a Baltimore Ravens jersey at City Hall.
Local radio airwaves sizzled with outrage and indignation the day after the Steelers’ narrow win in Jacksonville. Derision was heaped on Tomlin for taking an unnecessary risk and for putting one player ahead of the team. Derision was heaped on the record itself given its lack of significance.
The sacrosanct “Steelers Way” was even questioned as far as whether Tomlin had started the erosion of it in Jacksonville.
Hate the decision to throw a pass with the game already won or not, three weeks later we know why Tomlin agreed to it.
Roethlisberger wanted it for Brown. So did his other offensive teammates who see how hard he works and have already twice voted Brown the Steelers’ season MVP.
If it was important to them and to Brown it was important to Tomlin.
That is how much he respects and appreciates his star wide receiver.
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin may have unwittingly made an argument that Antonio Brown is deserving of serious consideration for the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award at the midpoint of the season when he compared the fifth-year wide receiver to Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the leading candidate to win defensive player of the year.
"Antonio is playing at that type of level at wide receiver, a J.J. Watt-type of level," Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "He's one of the best in the world at what he does and he's mentally and physically on top of his game."
Brown leads the NFL with 60 catches and is second with 852 receiving yards. The former sixth-round draft pick is on pace to catch 120 passes for 1,704 yards, which would set Steelers season records.
Brown set the franchise's season receiving record in 2013 with 1,499 yards and he has been even better this season despite consistently facing double-teams.
"He's a known issue [for opponents] but he still performs," Tomlin said. "We can say similar things about guys like J.J. Watt. We knew what he was capable [of] when we were getting ready to play him but it still doesn't stop the storm from coming."
Brown already has seven touchdown catches, one fewer than he had last season, and last Sunday the two-time Pro Bowler caught 10 passes for 133 yards and two scores in the Steelers' 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Against the Colts, Brown extended his NFL record of consecutive games with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards to 24.
Barring a setback Gilbert will start Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, coach Mike Tomlin said.
But Tomlin did not waver later in saying Gilbert will start against the Ravens if he is healthy.
Tomlin said starting nose tackle Steve McLendon has a good chance of playing Sunday night after missing the last two games because of a shoulder injury. Safety Shamarko Thomas is expected to return after missing the last three games because of a hamstring injury.
Ross Ventrone, who replaced Thomas on special teams, is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for the 8:30 p.m. ET game against the Ravens on Sunday.
Ventrone went down in the Colts game with a hamstring injury, and Tomlin said Thomas will take his place on special teams.
As far as the bruised psyche of cornerback Cortez Allen, Tomlin said he still has confidence in the fourth-year veteran.
Allen lost his starting job last week and against the Colts he was replaced at nickel back by Antwon Blake after giving up a pair of touchdown receptions.
Tomlin said Allen will compete with Blake for the nickel back spot this week in practice.
“He’s got to lick his wounds and roll his sleeves up and come back to work this week,” Tomlin said of Allen. “We’ll watch him closely and expect him to do it and answer the bell that comes with putting bad stuff on tape. I would imagine that Baltimore’s going to work to attack him and he better work to defend himself.”