PITTSBURGH -- Ramon Foster was talking about the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line when the starting left guard suddenly took a step toward his locker.

“Let me knock on wood here,” Foster said Wednesday while doing just that after the Steelers’ first practice of the week. “We’ve got to keep everybody healthy.”

Good health up front is one of the main reasons why the Steelers’ offense has taken off and is leading the team’s push for its first playoff berth since 2011.

The Steelers lead the NFL in a handful of categories, including total offense (424.9 yards), and just as significant as the balance they have struck offensively is the stability they have enjoyed along their offensive line.

Through 14 games the Steelers have had as many starting combinations (three) on their offensive line as they had centers who started at least one game last season.

Their five starting offensive linemen have missed a total of six games, and right tackle Marcus Gilbert expects to return to the lineup Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs after missing the last three games because of a high-ankle sprain.

“It feels good to have the guys we started with in there and the guys that have come in have done a real good job too,” said Foster, who missed two games earlier this season because of an ankle injury. “It’s time to make a run and we understand that too. We’ve always said depending on our health as an o-line is how far we’ll go.”

No player epitomizes how different the offensive line is this season because of good fortune and health than center Maurkice Pouncey.

Pouncey tore his ACL early in the 2013 season opener, setting the tone for that game and yet another season in which the Steelers’ offensive line was consistently scrambled by injuries.

The fifth-year veteran has made a full recovery and the athleticism and leadership be provides in the middle of the line is why Pouncey will likely make his fourth Pro Bowl when the teams are announced next week.

“He’s the best center in the league,” Gilbert said. “For him to come out and play the way he’s been playing this year after major knee surgery it’s just unbelievable to see him move around. He holds this line together and he’s the best out there.”

Pouncey, Glbert, right guard David DeCastro and Mike Adams, who has started four games at right tackle this season, were all first- and second-round draft picks by the Steelers from 2010-12.

The Steelers stole starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum in seventh round of the 2012 draft and Foster, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009, is the elder statesman of a young group that is both talented and tighter than frost on a windshield.

“I knew what we had up front, how good we could be, how much they would gel together,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “They feed off each other and the key was just staying healthy. Knock on wood, they can keep staying healthy.”

Foster already took care of that.
video

ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown discusses a potential issue Pittsburgh may have on defense, which is getting enough snaps for everyone on a linebacking corps that is getting healthier.
video

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Kansas City at Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison and right tackle Marcus Gilbert practiced Wednesday and each expects to play Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

Gilbert
Harrison
Harrison
Gilbert has missed the past three games because of ankle and knee injuries, while Harrison has been sidelined the past two weeks because of a knee injury.

"Right now I probably feel as good as I ever felt all year," Harrison said following the Steelers' first practice of the week.

Gilbert said he also feels good after missing three games because of a high ankle sprain. Gilbert was injured when he collided with left guard Ramon Foster in practice and he called it a "freak injury."

Gilbert is expected to start against the Chiefs if he is healthy.

Cornerback Ike Taylor practiced on a limited basis Wednesday after missing the Steelers' 27-20 win against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday because of shoulder and forearm injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) was also limited in drills.

Free safety Mike Mitchell (groin), strong safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and tight end Matt Spaeth (elbow) were held out of practice Wednesday because of injuries.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller, cornerback William Gay and nose tackle Steve McLendon were given the day off.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won't criticize officials for a questionable and potential game-changing penalty that went against Jason Worilds last Sunday.

Jones
But outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said there is concern among Steelers defensive players after a quarterback hit that looked like a textbook one drew a roughing-the-passer penalty that helped the Atlanta Falcons get back into the game.

"We talked about what's legal because at the end of the day if that's a personal foul Jason is going to get fined and is going to be paying for money, something that shouldn't have happened like that," Jones said. "Jason is spending $25,000, $30,000 dollars on something he didn't do and that's coming out of your pocket."

It will be a shock if Worilds is fined for his hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the second quarter of the Steelers' 27-20 win. The fifth-year outside linebacker clearly hit Ryan below the neck.

But the reality for pass rushers in today's NFL is this: The speed of the game and the league's emphasis on protecting quarterbacks can lead to the kind of penalty that wiped what would have been Worilds' fifth-and-a-half sack of the season and led to Atlanta's first touchdown of the game.

Worilds hit Ryan so hard that the latter's head snapped back. For a referee who has to make a judgment call in real time -- as opposed to having the benefit of replay -- it is easy to see how the ferocity of the hit of coupled with the shrinking target area on quarterbacks led to the flag.

That doesn't make it easy to take for those who make their living rushing quarterbacks.

"On that play I think Jason did a great job of getting his head out of the way," Jones said, "and I don't know what angle the referee was standing at but everyone in the stands knew it wasn't a foul."

Ryan Shazier may be needed to neutralize Travis Kelce

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
10:00
AM ET
video
ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown discusses the possibility of extended duty for Ryan Shazier.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is on pace for 131 catches and 1,712 yards.

Wallace
Brown
To put that production into perspective consider that Brown also is on pace for more catches and receiving yards than the Kansas City Chiefs' wide receivers.

Yes, all of them.

The Chiefs, who visit Heinz Field this Sunday, have gotten 110 receptions for 1,370 yards from the seven wide receivers who have caught at least one pass for them this season.

Brown has caught 115 passes for 1,498 yards, both of which lead the NFL.

He also has 11 touchdown receptions while the Chiefs' wideouts have yet to catch a scoring pass 14 games into the season.

Brown has been the most consistent offensive player on the Steelers even though opposing defenses have thrown all manner of coverages at the two-time Pro Bowler.

“You name it, they’ve tried it,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “But it’s a testament to him [and] not only just him but the balance that we’ve been able to strike with our offense. I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ve said repeatedly, we seek balance. Because balance will allow us to utilize the strengths of our high-profile players like A.B. and like [running back] Le’Veon [Bell]. We’re striking that balance that we desired all season.”

A couple of notes:
  • The Steelers stayed at No. 10 in the ESPN NFL Power Rankings after beating the Atlanta Falcons, 27-20, on Sunday. The top three AFC North teams are as bunched together in the rankings as they are in the division. The Steelers are followed in the rankings by the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs are No. 13, right after the three AFC North teams.
  • The Steelers lost another player from their practice squad Monday when the New York Giants signed guard Adam Gettis to provide depth on their offensive line. The Steelers previously lost defensive ends Josh Mauro and Nick Williams from their practice squad. Mauro signed with the Arizona Cardinals and Williams signed with the Chiefs.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a finalist for the NFL FedEx Air Player of the Week after throwing for 360 yards against the Falcons. Roethlisberger won the award last week. Click here to vote.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a unique position for roughly half the players on their 53-man roster.

They will play meaningful games in late December -- or at least ones where they don't need a ton of help to get in the playoffs.

The Steelers will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Heinz Field. That makes this stretch run unique for young players such as running back Le'Veon Bell, left tackle Kelvin Beachum, right guard David DeCastro and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

They are among the players who joined the Steelers after 2011, the last time Pittsburgh made the playoffs. More than 20 players on the Steelers' roster have never participated in a playoff game. Only 18 players on the roster have played in a postseason contest for Pittsburgh.

That dynamic in a locker room once brimming with veterans who knew what it took to prepare for and play in games in which the stakes are considerable is not lost on Mike Tomlin.

“I acknowledge it’s been a number of years since we’ve been in a significant chase with a number of our young guys,” the eighth-year Steelers coach said Tuesday. “We’ve got a number of young guys who have played quite a bit of football for us and are playing significant roles for us. Guys like Bell, guys like Kelvin Beachum, guys like Jarvis Jones that haven’t been in this position a bunch.

So I’m watching those guys and watching them closely, and I like the way they’re wearing the urgency of these moments. They’re utilizing it for good. They’re not being consumed by it. They’re staying singularly focused at the task at hand as they should.”

What's interesting to note is that the AFC playoff field could be filled after this week’s games.

The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts have already won their respective divisions.

The Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are also in, according to ESPN Stats & Information, if the Steelers beat the Chiefs, the Bengals beat the Broncos, the Ravens beat the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers beat the San Diego Chargers.
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t worried about the mumps stalling his team’s push for the playoffs.

Tomlint
Tomlin
Tomlin, in fact, didn’t even know that several Pittsburgh Penguins players have been sidelined by mumps, including star center Sidney Crosby, when a reporter asked the eighth-year coach if the Steelers are taking any precautions.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I’ve kind of been in a cocoon the last 48 hours or so.”

The Steelers have won two games in a row to improve to 9-5. If they beat the visiting Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday they will clinch their first playoff berth since 2011.

The Penguins, meanwhile, have been testing their players and staff members since Crosby was diagnosed with mumps last weekend. Crosby is past the infectious stage, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has said, and he could return to the ice later this week.

Forward Beau Bennett, however, has been quarantined after showing symptoms of mumps.
PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin has not heard from the NFL about a questionable roughing the passer penalty called on outside linebacker Jason Worilds last Sunday.

Nor is the Pittsburgh Steelers coach waiting by his phone.

“I don’t have time to wait for calls from New York,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “We’ve got a big game this week and we’re moving on.”

Worilds made what appeared to be a textbook sack of Matt Ryan in the Steelers’ 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

He drilled Ryan in the chest in the second quarter but did not hit the Falcons quarterback in the neck or head. The ferocity of the hit caused Ryan’s head to snap back. The seventh-year veteran stayed down for a little bit and was visibly woozy when he got up.

Worilds was flagged for roughing the passer, negating what would have been his third sack of the season. The call gave the Falcons a first down and three plays later Ryan threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester to cut the Steelers’ lead to 13-7.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward said the call was “horrendous” after the Steelers improved to 9-5. Worilds declined to comment and the Steelers were generally tight-lipped about the call.

Later that day, a roughing the passer penalty called against the San Francisco 49ers loomed large in their 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The NFL has since admitted that 49ers linebacker Nick Moody should not have been penalized on the play in which he sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Tomlin said all teams have to deal with the reality that such calls are going to be made with the NFL intent on protecting quarterbacks.

“You can waste a lot of time crying about it. I want to play within the rules, our group wants to play within the rules because when we do it increases or chances of winning,” Tomlin said. “When we wear negativity and not move past plays like that it hampers our effort so that’s all you’re ever going to get from me regardless of my opinion regarding those plays.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting healthy as they make a push for an AFC North title and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

 Coach Mike Tomlin said it looks “positive” that outside linebacker James Harrison, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and cornerback Ike Taylor play Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

Gilbert has missed the past three games because of ankle and knee injuries while Harrison has been out the past two weeks because of a knee injury.

Taylor did not play in the Steelers’ 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

“We’ll work with those guys and evaluate as we prepare.” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Gilbert practiced last week and had been listed as probable for the Falcons game. The Steelers de-activated the fourth-year veteran, Tomlin said, because he simply wasn’t healthy enough to play in Atlanta.

“We’d been getting quality work from Mike Adams, who is healthy, so we decided to go with the healthy hand,” Tomlin said. “We’ll go through the same process this week.”

Two Steelers players will be monitored this week as they work through injuries.

Tight end Matt Spaeth hyperextended his elbow against the Falcons, while free safety Mike Mitchell strained his groin in the Steelers’ ninth win of the season.

If Mitchell is unable to play against the Chiefs, Will Allen will likely start at free safety, Tomlin said.

The Steelers will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Chiefs.

QB snapshot: Ben Roethlisberger

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how he played in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger did not throw a touchdown pass in a game for only the second time this season, but he turned in one of his better outings in throwing for 360 yards and completing just more than his 77 percent of his passes.

The poise and patience Roethlisberger showed against the Falcons, who blitzed him on 40 percent of his pass attempts, will serve the 11th-year veteran well when the Steelers try to clinch a playoff berth Sunday by beating the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs are No. 2 in the NFL in passing defense, allowing 199 yards per game, but they are also one of the least opportunistic defenses in the league. Kansas City has intercepted just four passes, the fewest in the NFL, and Roethlisberger has not been picked off in the Steelers' past two games.

He has thrown 107 consecutive passes without an interception, but the Chiefs could employ a strategy that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns used earlier this season when they generally eschewed blitzing Roethlisberger and dropped extra players into coverage.

The Chiefs are certainly aware that Roethlisberger completed 60.3 percent of his passes and averaged 250.5 passing yards in those two games -- ones in which the Steelers struggled to beat Jacksonville on the road and suffered an embarrassing loss in Cleveland.

Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston is tied for the NFL lead with 17 sacks and Tamba Hali can generate pressure from the other side even though the four-time Pro Bowler has only six sacks this season.

Roethlisberger has shown great patience in the Steelers' past two wins.

He will probably have to do the same Sunday at Heinz Field with the Chiefs likely to rely on four players to pressure Roethlisberger while disguising coverages to try to confuse and frustrate the NFL's second-leading passer.
Join us Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) for ESPN NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast, as episode No. 36 will cover the latest from the NFL.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Pat McManamon (Cleveland Browns reporter) as he talks Johnny Manziel, who was more Johnny Rotten than Johnny Football in his NFL starting debut.

Also, Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) stops by to discuss Tom Brady's slow-motion run that sent a message, while Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) opines on whether Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is on the Bucs’ radar should they get the No. 1 overall pick.

Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) will break down Aaron Rodgers' subpar showing in Buffalo and how it might affect not only the Pack’s shot at landing home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs but also Rodgers’ MVP candidacy. And Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter) will have the latest on Ryan Lindley's shot at pulling the upset in Seattle and solidifying the Cardinals’ standing as the NFC’s top seed, while Gutierrez will break down the latest with the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh’s future.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

2014 NFL Week 16 playoff scenarios

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
10:05
AM ET
The possible playoff-clinching scenarios entering Week 16 | Playoff Machine | Playoff Schedule:

AFC

CLINCHED
Denver: AFC West
Indianapolis: AFC South
New England: AFC East

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (at New York Jets)

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:

1) NE win + DEN loss

New England clinches a first-round bye with:

1) NE win OR
2) NE tie + IND loss or tie OR
3) IND loss + CIN loss or tie + PIT loss or tie + BAL loss or tie

DENVER BRONCOS (at Cincinnati)

Denver clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DEN win OR
2) DEN tie + IND loss or tie

CINCINNATI BENGALS (vs. Denver)

Cincinnati clinches AFC North division with:

1) CIN win + PIT loss + BAL loss or tie

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:

1) CIN win OR
2) CIN tie + BAL loss OR
3) CIN tie + KC loss or tie + SD loss or tie OR
4) KC loss + SD loss + BUF loss or tie

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (vs. Kansas City)

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot with:

1) PIT win

BALTIMORE RAVENS (at Houston)

Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:

1) BAL win + PIT loss + CIN loss OR
2) BAL win + KC loss or tie + SD loss or tie OR
3) BAL tie + KC loss + SD loss + BUF loss or tie


NFC

CLINCHED
Arizona: playoff spot

ARIZONA CARDINALS (vs. Seattle)

Arizona clinches NFC West division and home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:

1) ARI win

DETROIT LIONS (at Chicago)

Detroit clinches NFC North division with:

1) DET win + GB loss

Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:

1) DET win + GB loss + DAL loss

Detroit clinches a playoff spot with:

1) DET win OR
2) DET tie + PHI loss or tie OR
3) PHI loss

DALLAS COWBOYS (vs. Indianapolis)

Dallas clinches NFC East division with:

1) DAL win + PHI loss or tie OR
2) DAL tie + PHI loss

Dallas clinches a playoff spot with:

1) DAL win + GB loss or tie + DET loss or tie as long as both don't tie

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (at Arizona)

Seattle clinches a playoff spot with:

1) SEA win + PHI loss or tie OR
2) SEA win + DET loss or tie OR
3) SEA win + GB loss or tie OR
4) SEA tie + PHI loss OR
5) SEA tie + DET loss + GB loss OR
6) PHI loss + DAL win or tie

GREEN BAY PACKERS (at Tampa Bay)

Green Bay clinches a playoff spot with:

1) GB win + PHI loss or tie OR
2) GB win + DAL win or tie OR
3) GB tie + PHI loss OR
4) GB tie + PHI tie + DAL win or tie OR
5) PHI loss + DAL win or tie

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (vs. Atlanta)

New Orleans clinches NFC South division with:

1) NO win + CAR loss

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