Steelers Sunday Notebook:

Assertive Ben; Keisel downgraded; special teams notes; Farrior's run defense; and more.

Another of the changes made by the Steelers in last week's about-face, 35-3 stomping of the Oakland Raiders was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's verbal assertiveness.

He went into the game looking to improve in that area, and, according to a couple of young linemen, he reached his goal.

"Yeah he did," said right guard Ramon Foster. "There was a bunch of stuff going on, like stuff after the play, and he really tried to assert himself by getting us back and letting us know we've just got to pound them and keep going. We had to play our game."

Foster said that Roethlisberger called a timeout in the first quarter because the play clock was winding down, but he used the moment to tell his linemen to stop jawing with the Raiders after plays.

"He was definitely more assertive in this game than any other I've played in," Foster said.

"He also called us together on the sideline and said some good stuff," said center Maurkice Pouncey. "He was saying, ‘Get to the huddle, don't fight with them, and let's play football.'"

Pouncey said that Roethlisberger has always talked to him before the first snap of every series.

"Maybe it's just a center-quarterback thing," Pouncey said. "But we always talk football, even when we hang out. Sometimes I come over to the house and hang out with him and stuff, just regular O-line/quarterback stuff."

KEISEL DOWNGRADED Brett Keisel thought he was making progress this week, but on Saturday the defensive end was downgraded to questionable with a calf injury.

Also for the Steelers, rookie receiver Antonio Brown has been ruled out with a minor knee injury and tight end Matt Spaeth is doubtful with a concussion.

Will Allen, the special-teams ace who'd missed the last two games with a concussion, is finally able to play today.

"It just affected me differently than it does other people," said Allen. "I practiced, then didn't practice, then practiced lightly, but I didn't feel good so they didn't want to take a chance."


The Steelers will need Allen to help cover a Bills kickoff return unit that ranked in the NFL's top 10 the last six years and a punt return unit that's ranked in the top 5 in five of the last six years.

The Bills rank 14th in both return averages this season, but the downturn's due in part to injuries. Roscoe Parrish was placed on IR on Nov. 8 and cornerback Terrence McGee is questionable today. Rookie threat C.J. Spiller, though, is expected back this week, although he's listed as questionable.

The Steelers have improved their rankings on both coverage units this season. Last season they ranked 23rd in covering punts and 32nd in opponents' starting position after kickoffs. This year the Steelers are 12th in both categories.

"We've got some good players. We really do," said Steelers gunner Anthony Madison, who's tied with rookie Jason Worilds for the team lead with 12 special-teams tackles.

"He's definitely one of the guys stepping up," Madison said of Worilds. "There's a list of characters out there doing a good job. You know who the veterans are. The young guys are Emmanuel Sanders – he's out there making plays and doing a great job – and we've got (Stevenson) Sylvester and guys like Keenan Lewis jumping in there making some splash plays. When Crez (Butler) has a hat, he's contributing. You've got a cast of characters that's doing a pretty good job, and that's what it's going to take. No one man can carry the unit. It's all got to come together."


Since Aaron Smith was injured in Miami, the Steelers hadn't been tested by a top-flight rushing offense until last Sunday, when the Steelers held the Raiders to 61 yards on 16 carries.

In the last four games, the Steelers have allowed an average of 3.1 yards per carry.

"I don't think we had any questions," said linebacker James Farrior. "You guys might've had more questions than we did. We always feel like we can do a good job against the run. That's something we pride ourselves on. We definitely didn't have any questions, but they sure did come up."

Farrior felt that Smith's replacement, former first-round pick Ziggy Hood, played his best game last Sunday.

"Ziggy did a great job. Ziggy did a heck of a job," Farrior said. "He was making plays all over the field. He was moving around pretty good. I was definitely impressed."

Hood was also responsible for opening a wide gap through which Farrior blitzed for his sack.

"It definitely all goes together," Farrior said. "I thanked him for it."


* Rookie wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, after talking to Mel Blount in the locker room, on whether he'd ever seen a cornerback that big:

"No, and I don't ever want to."

* Bills coach Chan Gailey on his coaching days (1994-97) with the Steelers:

"There were so many great times that we had there. I think three of the four years I was there we were able to go to the AFC Championship game. We just had some great years and we loved living there. My son went to North Allegheny High School and played football and baseball up there. We had a lot of great memories being involved with the Steelers."

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