Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger comes to Haley defense again

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

Ben Roethlisberger became a bit agitated Tuesday while defending yet again his relationship with Todd Haley.

Despite the Steelers' 5-8 record, the quarterback is on pace to break many of his franchise single-season passing records, and Antonio Brown (90 catches) is having one of the best seasons of any Steelers receiver.

“I love where this offense is,” Roethlisberger said during his 93.7 FM radio show. “I think we're getting better every week. Obviously, we're not winning football games, our ultimate goal. But it's hard to argue with the way the offense is playing, the success that we feel like we're having.”

Roethlisberger was responding to a question about a post-game comment Sunday in which he said anyone questioning the second-half play calling should talk to Haley.

• Don't look for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' playing to decrease so rookie Markus Wheaton can play more down the stretch.

Sanders is unsigned past this season and is likely to move to another team, but coach Mike Tomlin said, “We like his contributions, we like his energy, we like his demeanor, we like his playmaking ability.”

Sanders is tied with former teammate Mike Wallace and T.Y. Hilton of Indianapolis for 17th in the AFC with 58 catches, and he has five touchdown catches. While Sanders has five dropped passes, so does tight end Heath Miller. “If I took that approach (benching players who drop passes), I wouldn't be playing with any eligibles,” Tomlin said.

The Steelers' incentive for winning down the stretch? A tougher schedule in 2014.

They already know they'll play the Saints, Falcons, Panthers and Buccaneers of the NFC South, and the Colts, Titans, Jaguars and Texans of the AFC South, plus their three division rivals.

If they finish ahead of Cleveland, their two other AFC opponents are likely to be the Chargers and Jets. If they finish last, they'll likely play the Bills and Raiders.

• Tomlin said it's business as usual as the Steelers wind down the season, despite the lack of playoff implications. “I don't expect the mentality to change,” Tomlin said. “I know mine won't. ... Our goals and mentalities are unchanged.”

• The number of missed tackles this season is glaring, and Tomlin said there's an explanation. “Very rarely are missed tackles purely a function of technically poor tackling approaches,” he said. “Usually it's because someone is out of place because they're not looking at what they're supposed to look at, or they've been tricked or fooled in some way and they're hurrying to catch up.”

• The Steelers-Packers game Dec. 22 will remain a 4:25 p.m. start, but will be bumped by Patriots-Ravens as CBS' national game. NBC flexed out of the AFC Championship Game rematch of last season to pick up Bears-Eagles as its Sunday night game.

• Former Pitt running back Ray Graham was released from the practice squad Tuesday to make room for defensive end Hall Davis, a fifth-round pick by St. Louis in 2010. He played in two games with Cleveland last season. Defensive linemen Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon are currently bothered by injuries.

• Keisel (foot) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) are the only two players who look likely to miss the Bengals game. Otherwise, the Steelers' injury list is the thinnest it's been in weeks. Hood's ankle injury might limit him early in the practice week, as might wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's bruised shoulder.

• Tomlin declined to discuss the likely loss of a draft pick for his sideline misstep in Baltimore, saying, “I acknowledge my shortcomings and accept responsibility for it.”

• The Bengals (9-4) can clinch the AFC North with a win at Heinz Field and a loss by the Ravens (7-6) at Detroit.

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