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Steelers notebook: Backfield may be short-handed for playoff opener

| Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, 8:12 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams is helped off the field after hurting his ankle in the second quarter against the Brown on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stands idle as injured running back DeAngelo Williams is being worked on in the second quarter Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND — Again, the Steelers are facing the possibility of entering the postseason without their No. 1 running back.

DeAngelo Williams, who replaced the injured Le'Veon Bell, left the game early in the second quarter with a right ankle injury after rushing for 8 yards on five carries.

Coach Mike Tomlin said he was uncertain of the severity of Williams' injury. If he's unable to play in the wild-card game at the Bengals, Fitzgerald Toussaint likely will be the starter.

“We'll evaluate (Williams),” said Tomlin, who was without Bell in last year's playoff loss to Baltimore. “We'll put the best group that we can together and go into January football, which is something we're excited about.

“We're not counting DeAngelo out yet. We'll see where it is.”

Williams, who started eight games, entered the regular-season finale needing 101 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. Toussaint rushed for 24 yards on 12 attempts.

Cleaning it up

It has been a tough two weeks for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He tossed two interceptions in each of the past two games.

Also, wide receiver Antonio Brown fumbled after a 15-yard catch, and the Browns capitalized with a Travis Coons 29-yard field goal late in the first quarter.

“We need to be perfect,” said Roethlisberger, who was 24 of 36 for 349 yards and three touchdowns. “We need to be great. We need to be that way as a team.”

Schedule set

The dates won't be released until April, but the Steelers know next season's opponents. In addition to home-and-homes with three AFC North foes, the Steelers will travel to Miami, Buffalo, Washington, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

Dallas, New England, Kansas City and both New York teams will be the non-division teams that play at Heinz Field.

The Steelers' opponents went a combined 101-107 this season.

Blitzburgh is back

The Steelers had a season-high seven sacks — two by Stephon Tuitt — and forced a fumble on one of them.

James Harrison had no sacks but was credited with a quarterback hit. But even when the Steelers did not bring down Austin Davis, it was clear they were rushing him into mistakes.

“Whenever a team's having success bringing pressure and you're not being able to get behind them and make big plays, you have to expect it to keep coming,” Davis said.

The Steelers finished the season with 48 sacks, matching their total from their 2010 AFC championship season; the most recent time they had more was the Super Bowl-winning team of 2008.

Twenty-eight of their sacks came in five games.

Looking for change

The Steelers are feeling good about their chances heading into the playoffs. Admittedly, they are motivated by their recent playoff failures. They haven't won a playoff game since 2010.

“I feel like as long as we play our game … we match up with any team,” linebacker Arthur Moats said.

“We look forward to playing Cincinnati,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “They'll have some tricks up their sleeves, but we'll be ready. We are going to have some familiarity, and we know what they're going to do. They are a good team.”

The Steelers agreed they won't be preoccupied with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was fined for hitting Roethlisberger below the knee.

“That stuff (Burfict) has played out,” Heyward said. “It's too much on the line to be messing around like that.”

Ralph N. Paulk and Chris Adamski are Tribune-Review staff writers.

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