Steelers’ players are no doubt disappointed about Sunday night’s 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, which put them two games behind in the division, but there is no time to dwell on it with two AFC North games in the upcoming weeks.
“Everybody is positive about moving forward,” said cornerback Keenan Lewis. “We can’t get down on one game, even though it was a significant game. We have to push through. We have more games to come.
“We know we can’t get too far behind those guys. We’ve got to try to win this division. That will help us in the playoff race. We know that. They are two games up right now and we have to win out.”
They will attempt to start doing that this Sunday on the road against the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are 2-8 overall and 1-3 in the division, but Lewis knows the Browns will bring their “A” game this week.
“It’s real important to win this division game,” said Lewis. “Those guys have been playing extremely hard and well even though their record doesn’t match up. They are a great football team and we know that. They are going to come out and give everything they have and we have to be ready to go.”
That shouldn’t be hard for Lewis, whose play has continually picked up since he became a starter at the beginning of the season.
“I am starting to see my play get better,” said Lewis. “Having an opportunity to be out there more and recognize different schemes and adjust to the speed of different offenses has helped me out this year a lot.”
Lewis’ development showed against the Ravens, when he finished with 10 tackles, one for a loss, and broke up two passes.
“Each week is definitely a new learning experience,” said Lewis. “You are going against a new offense and new coordinators and they like to do different things with different schemes. Every week I have to watch film and try to get better.”
One area Lewis knows improvement is needed to be in the mix in the division is creating turnovers. Despite holding the Ravens offense scoreless, limiting Ray Rice to only 40 yards rushing and Joe Flacco to 164 yards passing, the defense didn’t create any turnovers.
“We know we have to create turnovers,” said Lewis. “We have to try to find a way to put points on the board in games like that, when it’s close in a race like that. We have to find a way to not let them put points on the board, even if it’s field goals. We have to get turnovers.”
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Lewis made a donation to Martin Behrman Charter School Academy of Creative Arts & Sciences to help the school’s cheerleading team, after learning about the need from his mother, Muriel Lewis, a seventh grade teacher at the school.
“They asked if I could help,” said Lewis. “I never thought twice about it. Whenever I have an opportunity to help out I do. I love the kids. That is my passion, to see them live out their dream.
“I always try to give back to the kids, give them a chance to live their dream, especially the kids who can’t always participate in afterschool activities. I was able to participate and I want them to have the same opportunity.”
Lewis spends time in New Orleans during the offseason, and when he is there visits the area schools, including his alma mater O. Perry Walker High School, talking to the kids and providing much needed encouragement.
“Keenan is genuinely looked up to by these students, many of which desire to walk in his footsteps as a professional athlete,” said his mother. “If he ever calls me while I am in class and I happen to answer, my students beg me to place the phone on speaker so they can greet him.”
And when he is there in person, he makes sure he takes the time to talk to the kid’s one on one and as a group.
“I let them know they can make it the same way I did,” said Lewis. “The kids know me and look up to me so I go back as much as I can and try to be the best role model I can on and off the field.”
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The Steelers have had success in Cincinnati, winning nine of their last 10 regular season games there. But by no means is there a comfort level as they take on the Bengals this week at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
“I don’t think that matters,” said safety Ryan Clark. “I think Cincinnati is a totally different team now that you’re talking about an Andy Dalton led team, an A.J. Green led team. On the other side of that, we’re also a different team. I was counting the other day which guys had two Super Bowls, it’s not many. I think it’s 10 out of the 53 that are on the roster.
“It’s not the same teams that have gone through these battles, that have been through these trials, have been through these tribulations. It’s a different squad. So, we have to make our way. It has nothing to do with what’s happened in the history of this series. It’s about Sunday night.”
It will be players like Dalton, Green, tight end Jermaine Gresham and receiver Andrew Hawkins that the Steelers defense will have to deal with if they want to continue with their success in Cincinnati on Sunday.
“We’re going to play our game,” said Clark. “We just need to play it better. We have a corner who we feel matches up well with him (A.J.) athletically on both sides. Keenan (Lewis) and Ike (Taylor) are tall, long, rangy guys. The thing about A.J. Green is, you could have him covered, but he just makes the catch. He’s got extreme body control, great hands, and he’s definitely one of the top five receivers in the league already.”
Green, 6-4, 207, has 43 receptions for 628 yards so far this season, first in the NFL in yardage and tying him for third in the league in receptions.
“He is a great guy, one of the best in the business,” said Lewis. “He can do everything. He is a good route runner. When you have someone like that, a guy 6-4 running routes like he is 5-9, it makes Andy Dalton’s job a little bit easier.
“You have to cover him. He is out there. We have to do our job. I pretty much think we can handle it.”
Hawkins, a 5-7, 180 pound, second-year player out of Toledo, might not have Green’s size but makes up for it with speed. He has 25 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yarder.
“He is probably the quickest guy I have ever seen in my life,” said Lewis. “We know we have to deal with him. We have to prepare for him and contain him and not let him do whatever he wants.”
Gresham could give the Steelers fits from a matchup standpoint, at 6-5, 260, but the key with defending him is the same as with anyone else – you have to play physical defense.
“If you look at safeties covering him, we’re not as big as he is,” said Clark. “He can kind of body us and get in between the ball. You think about linebackers out in that space that he is able to play in, it’s a tough cover for them also. He’s an easy guy to create matchup problems with.
“My answer for everything, if people are running, if they are catching passes, put pads on them. That is why they give us pads; that’s why we play the game. That is what makes it different from basketball. When you have a mismatch in basketball he is going to score 30. In football the great equalizer is physicality and want to. We will try to get hands on him, make him work for his catches and once he catches it, get hats on the ball.”
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Among the weapons the Steelers defense has to prepare for this week is a familiar face to the black and gold, Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer.
The Steelers faced Palmer for eight years while he was with the Cincinnati Bengals, and they know what he brings to the table.
“He stays poised in the pocket, he doesn’t let too much stuff rattle him,” said cornerback Keenan Lewis. “He has experience so he knows the throws he wants to make. He can find mismatches real quick so we have to be alert for that.
“We have been watching him a lot. We know what he likes to attack, what they don’t like. We have a feel for him.”
It’s not just Palmer the defense has to be alert for. Running back Darren McFadden brings multiple wrinkles to the Raiders offense, with the ability to hurt a team on the ground or in the air.
“He is a great running back, one of the best in the league,” said Lewis. “He is a fast guy. He can make people miss in space and in closed space as well. You have to have an alert out on that guy. He has soft hands like a wide receiver and runs good routes as well. That can be a problem if we aren’t ready for him.”
McFadden hasn’t had his normal production so far this season, with only 54 yards on 26 carries. He has caught 15 receptions for 105 yards, including 86 yards in the opener against San Diego.
“We know he is an explosive back,” said nose tackle Casey Hampton. “He can go off any time. We are very aware of that. We are not taking it for granted.”
Safety Troy Polamalu, whose status for Sunday’s game has yet to be determined after he didn’t practice for the second straight day, knows the defense has to be on point with the way the Raiders use their running backs.
“You just have to be on your keys,” said Polamalu. “As a safety as good as their play action is they set up screens nicely. We just have to be disciplined in our techniques, our gaps and ready our keys.”
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Cornerback Keenan Lewis continues to compete for the starting left cornerback spot, and feels like he had a good training camp and preseason so far.
“I did all right,” said Lewis. “I have to improve a little bit. We still have two more preseason games to get ready for the season.
“I have to keep doing what I have been doing, stay consistent, not blow any coverage, and try to make plays to help the defense.”
Lewis, who said he would like to play faster, is enjoying the competition with fellow corner Cortez Allen.
“I have been competing my whole life,” said Lewis. “It’s just the nature of playing sports.”
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Keenan Lewis came to camp as one of the top competitors for William Gay’s cornerback spot, but most of the questions coming his way were about his close friend and former high school teammate Mike Wallace.
Wallace has not signed the one-year tender the Steelers offered him and hasn’t reported to camp yet.
Lewis and Wallace worked out together in New Orleans all offseason and while he doesn’t know when Wallace will be there, he said he is optimistic he will be at camp.
“He’s planning on coming to camp. I’m pretty sure he’ll be here,” said Lewis. “He’s a football player. He loves playing the game. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to sit out. He worked this offseason. He’s in shape and ready to go.
“He’s a football player. He loves doing what he does. I’m pretty sure it’s kind of tough not being here with the team. He’ll be here and ready to work. I don’t know where he is, I just know when he comes he will be ready.”
Lewis said he is looking forward to getting on the field and excited about the competition.
“I’m ready for camp,” said Lewis, who arrived in a Smart Car. “Whatever the coaches have planned for me I’m ready to take that next step and go with it.”
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