STEEL­ERS (6-2)

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - LEADING OFF - Zack Jack­son

De­spite their road strug­gles, the Steel­ers have the tal­ent to get to the Su­per Bowl. The de­fense has been stel­lar, and prob­a­bly bet­ter than any­one out­side the Steel­ers’ locker room ex­pected it to be. DE Camer

on Hey­ward is back af­ter a torn pec­toral cost him the sec­ond half of last sea­son. Hey­ward and LB Ryan Shazier lead a unit that ranked sec­ond in the NFL in fewest points al­lowed head­ing to the bye week.

Of­fen­sively, the Steel­ers have dis­cov­ered an iden­tity with a power run game and RB Le’Veon Bell do­ing the heavy lift­ing. QB

Ben Roeth­lis­berger can still throw the ball deep down the field, and WR An­to­nio

Brown re­mains ar­guably the league’s best at his po­si­tion. Af­ter Bell shook the rust of a train­ing camp hold­out and the vet­eran line got some live reps, both the run game and the of­fense as a whole took a big step for­ward.

The Steel­ers are hop­ing their shift to a run-first at­tack and the emer­gence of rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schus­ter will help Brown draw less de­fen­sive at­ten­tion, even if it comes at the ex­pense of his num­bers. Bell can still score at any­time, as he can turn rou­tine short throws into big gains.

The Steel­ers have the op­por­tu­nity to se­cure a first-round bye and possibly home-field ad­van­tage in the AFC play­offs. The team’s re­main­ing sched­ule make both vi­able goals. Player to watch: Smith-Schus­ter has adapted to the NFL game and the rookie has bro­ken the NFL record for most touch­downs by a player be­fore his 21st birth­day. It’s about pro­duc­tion, not age, and as the Steel­ers move Brown to the slot on oc­ca­sion to try to get him free, Smith-Schus­ter should con­tinue to see sin­gle cov­er­age as well as op­por­tu­ni­ties to make big plays.

Num­ber crunch­ing: 5. The Steel­ers’ leader in sacks last sea­son was ageless vet­eran OLB James Har­ri­son with five. An edge-rush up­grade was needed, and rookie OLB T.J. Watt al­ready has four sacks. Hey­ward and LB Vince Wil­liams have also been ac­tive in op­pos­ing back­fields, and the of­fense pro­vides the de­fense plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to play with the lead and tee off on op­pos­ing passers.

Up next: Nov 12 at In­di­anapo­lis. The Steel­ers should be able to jog to the AFC North crown, so the sec­ond-half goal will be se­cur­ing a first-round bye and home­field ad­van­tage in the play­offs. The of­fense thinks it can con­tinue to im­prove, and it will be fac­ing a de­fense that leads the NFL with 30.8 points al­lowed per game. QB An­drew Luck doesn’t ap­pear close to re­turn­ing, ei­ther.

Steel­ers’JuJu Smith-Schus­ter CHARLES LECLAIRE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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