The Pittsburgh Steelers have been receiving plenty of extra motivation in the past two weeks as teams in the AFC head into their final games of the 2015 NFL regular season. One of the commandments of football is to never give your opponent ‘bulletin board’ material that could encourage them to prove your statements wrong. Coaches preach it. Players used to guard against it. In Week 14, there was plenty of trash talk on social media from players on both the Steelers and Bengals rosters that got out of hand and led to in-game fights and ugly hits. In Week 15, it has been the Denver Broncos supplying the extracurricular barbs before the game has even begun.
Broncos safety T.J. Ward is the latest to throw down the gauntlet to the Steelers. Denver has the league’s top defense in several statistical categories and has no intention on giving Ben Roethlisberger or his compliment of receivers in Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant an easy go on Sunday. The Steelers have scored 30 or more points in each of their last five games. “They’re hot because they haven’t played us yet,” safety T.J. Ward told The Denver Post. “A lot of teams were hot before they played us.” Ward, formerly with the Cleveland Browns, called the defensive backfield of the Broncos a “no fly zone”.
The Broncos did well in shutting down Raiders receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Crabtree finished with just four catches for 19 yards and Cooper failed to catch any of the balls Derek Carr threw his direction. Denver hasn’t allowed any opponent to score 30 points against them this season, but the Raiders are not the Steelers. Crabtree and Cooper are not the receiving threat that Pittsburgh puts on the field, either.
Brown is currently the number two receiver in the NFL with 100 receptions for 1,397 yards and seven touchdowns. Bryant has 38 receptions for 672 yards and six touchdowns. Rounding out the trafecta is Wheaton who has caught 32 passes for 598 yards and three touchdowns. They receive the ball from Roethlisberger; one of the best deep-ball quarterbacks in the league. Brown, Bryant and Wheaton combined are averaging 16.7 yards per catch and 78.3 yards per game. For yards after the catch, the trio;s average through Week 14 is 290.3. The Steelers offense has 19 receiving plays of 40 yards or more – ranked sixth in the league.
Ward’s statements come just one week removed from those made by Bengals players. Ward was at least not as openly hostile. Cincinnati’s Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones wasn’t just verbal before the game, but added an expletive-laden barb following the loss to Pittsburgh. “I’m sitting here looking at the thing on ESPN. I guess Pittsburgh got all gangsta,” Jones posted to Instagram. “Mike Tomlin needs to tell his team to shut (expletive) up and play football cuz ain’t nothing gonna happen to (Vontaze Burfict) on the field or off it. Dig that, you all wanna go report something so report that (expletive).” It comes across as sour grapes to most after a loss to the Steelers that Jones did not even play in.
Burfict was guilty of a hit on Roethlisberger where he dove into the Steelers quarterback’s lower legs after the ball was released. The NFL is reviewing the play, but Burfict did not receive a fine on Wednesday. The play was also not penalized during the game. Before the game, a war of words that had played out on Twitter between Vince Williams and a handful of Bengals players, including Marquis Flowers who tweeted, “Gameday!!! It’s time to witness a mass murder. I want they (expletive) necks got (expletive). Burfict approached Williams on the field during warmups and a scrum erupted.
While Burfict got off of his infraction, Brown (of the Steelers) will have his Week 14 paycheck docked for a slapping match between himself and Dre Kirkpatrick and what the league determined was an illegal ‘crack back’ block.
Tomlin spoke briefly in his press conference on Tuesday regarding the extra-curricular activities on and off of the field. Tomlin called the actions “childish” and, after speaking to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, that his team needs to move on.
With Ward upping the ante in what was already set to be another tough contest between two teams that want to reach the playoffs, the Steelers may limit their comments; but they’re likely to use the negative feedback again this week as fodder for a higher level of play.