Steel­ers back on track

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Will Graves The Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin likens the sea­son to a mov­ing train that stops for no one. Not even his tal­ented if enig­matic team.

Af­ter a month tee­ter­ing on the brink of get­ting left be­hind, the Steel­ers ap­pear to be primed for an­other late play­off push. Their clin­i­cal 28-7 vic­tory over In­di­anapo­lis on Thanks­giv­ing night vaulted Pittsburgh (6-5) back over .500 and at least briefly atop the AFC North.

“It lets us set the stage of what we know we can do,” said run­ning back Le’Veon Bell.

Par­tic­u­larly when Bell, quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger and wide

re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown are work­ing in rhythm and the de­fense is freed to be ag­gres­sive. Bell ran for 120 yards and a touch­down, while Roeth­lis­berger and Brown hooked up for three scores against the un­der­manned Colts. The de­fense picked up three sacks to give the Steel­ers 11 in a span of five days af­ter get­ting just 13 over the first nine weeks. It added a pair of goal-line stands to avoid the kind of road melt­down that’s plagued them far too of­ten in re­cent years.

“Guys are def­i­nitely try­ing to make plays,” line­backer Ryan Shazier said. “Try­ing to be around the ball a lot more. Try­ing to be more phys­i­cal and force the

peo­ple to do what we want them to do.”

Those were things Pittsburgh failed to do dur­ing a four-game los­ing streak that sapped the Steel­ers of the swag­ger that car­ried them to a 4-1 start. They weren’t quite as flashy while stop­ping Cleve­land and me­thod­i­cally dis­man­tling An­drew Luck-less In­di­anapo­lis, but that might not nec­es­sar­ily be a bad thing.

Three early scores Thurs­day night gave them plenty of breath­ing room, and while they didn’t quite over­whelm backup Scott Tolzien, the Colts never re­ally threat­ened the rest of the way.

Yet the typ­i­cally brash Brown isn’t quite ready to say his team’s mid­sea­son swoon is firmly in the rearview mir­ror. Asked af­ter the first three-touch­down game of his ca­reer if the Steel­ers have fi­nally found their iden­tity, he shrugged his shoul­ders and said sim­ply it’s “to be de­ter­mined.”

Maybe, but the blue­print might have been laid over eight quar­ters span­ning barely over 100 hours. With de­fen­sive end Cam Hey­ward out for the sea­son with a torn pec­toral mus­cle, Pittsburgh has ditched the no-hud­dle of­fense and re­lied heav­ily on Bell to carry the load and run the clock

to keep the de­fense off the field.

Bell touched the ball 63 times (51 car­ries, 12 re­cep­tions) for 345 to­tal yards against the Browns and Colts. The Steel­ers are 9-2 in Bell’s ca­reer when he goes over 100 yards rush­ing, in­clud­ing 3-0 this sea­son.

Cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey said ear­lier in the week any of­fen­sive line­men needs to do some se­ri­ous self-ex­am­i­na­tion ev­ery game its run­ning back fails to reach the cen­tury mark on the ground. Pouncey, guards Ramon Fos­ter and David DeCas­tro and tack­les Mar­cus Gil­bert and Ale­jan­dro Vil­la­neuva then went out and backed it up, giv­ing Bell plenty of room to do his thing while keep Roeth­lis­berger from be­ing sacked for the sec­ond straight game.

“I don’t think Ben was re­ally un­der duress too much, and I wasn’t hit in the back­field too many times,” Bell said. “So those guys did a great job. They were hun­gry. They love run­ning the ball. They love hit­ting peo­ple.”

Some­thing the Steel­ers will need to con­tinue to do as they gird for a three­game stretch that in­cludes a visit from the streak­ing New York Giants on Dec. 4. Then come trips to Buf­falo and Cincin­nati, places where the weather can be a fac­tor as the cal­en­dar creeps to­ward Christ­mas.

Pittsburgh heads in that di­rec­tion with some­thing akin to mo­men­tum.

“We know it’s time,” Brown said. “It’s time for us to roll our sleeves up, show our iden­tity, put our will on dis­play and find a way to do what we de­sire to do.”

MICHAEL CON­ROY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pittsburgh Steel­ers’ An­to­nio Brown cel­e­brates af­ter catch­ing a 22-yard touch­down pass against the In­di­anapo­lis Colts on Thurs­day.

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