After two consecutive weeks of distractions where either Martavis Bryant or someone from his camp complained about playing time and made his request to be traded known, the Steelers have told Bryant that he will be inactive for the game against the Lions Sunday night.
Bryant has been unhappy with his playing time and doubled down on his request to be traded on a social media rant Sunday night after the Steelers beat the Bengals. The Steelers said they have no plans to trade Bryant, but head coach Mike Tomlin said he will "rain down" his judgment on Bryant's decision to air his feelings on social media.
It is not known if Bryant will be punished beyond missing the Lions game.
"He was out of bounds with some of his actions in terms of the things he said on social media," Tomlin said.
Bryant spoke to reporters Wednesday after practice. He was asked directly about his future with the Steelers.
"I'm not going to speak on it," he said. "I'm going to play football. I'm going to move on. What's done is done."
Part of the reason the Steelers are so upset with Bryant is he threw teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster under the bus while responding to a critic on social media. Smith-Schuster said he and Bryant remain friends, and Bryant said he has no issues with anyone on the roster.
"I'm a great teammate," he said. "I don't have no beef with nobody in here. I love everybody in here."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Bryant's unhappiness is surprising to him because his behavior on the practice field and in games has been unselfish.
"You never hear him complain," Roethlisberger said. "I don't hear him on the field, crying, complaining, wanting the ball, throwing his hands up, not running hard. You see him blocking when other guys catch the ball or during runs. I grab him on the sideline and talk to him about the pictures like I do with a lot of guys, and he's very engaging so that's why all this is kind of a shock to me."
Bryant is unhappy with his usage. He was targeted just twice against Cincinnati and had one catch for three yards. Roethlisberger said small details are preventing them from being more productive.
"We need to get lots of footballs to him, to everybody because we need to score points to win football games," he said. "There are opportunities there. We've had opportunities. We had some deep balls that were missed. Whether it's me overthrowing him, the Chicago game where he kind of slows down a little bit, this past game where he doesn't see the ball out of my hands. ... The plays are there to be had. We just have to make them."
The good news for the Steelers Wednesday was that Smith-Schuster did practice and is out of concussion protocol. He will be able to play against the Lions if there are not any setbacks.
Bryant's absence does mean Eli Rogers and Justin Hunter will be more involved in the game plan this week. Rogers has seen his reps decrease this season because of Smith-Schuster's arrival, but Roethlisberger said he can help the offense if called upon.
Rogers had 48 receptions last season, but he has just seven in the first seven games this season.
"He always works hard," Roethlisberger said of Rogers. "He has continued to work hard. I've enjoyed seeing the resurgence. I think we'll see some stuff this week as well."
Hunter has only been active for two games and has two catches.
The receivers could be a big part of the game plan this week. The Lions are ranked 22nd in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 244 passing yards per game.
This is an important game for the Steelers. They'd love to get to their off week and the halfway point of the season with a 6-2 record. That would have them on course for a 12-4 record and would remain in contention for the top seed in the AFC.
Plus, the Steelers have five of their final eight games at home while the Patriots, their chief competition for the top seed, have five of their final eight on the road, including a December matchup against the Steelers at Heinz Field.
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 16-14-1. Steelers have won eight of the past nine in the series, including the past four. Steelers are 5-12 in Detroit, but they have won three of the past five there, including a 28-20 victory at Ford Field in 2009.
The Steelers are 5-2 and atop the AFC North, but they've done it without being very good in the red zone. They're 30th in the NFL in red-zone offense and 26th in red-zone defense.
The Steelers offense was 1 for 6 in the red zone against the Bengals and the defense gave up two touchdowns the only two times the Bengals reached the red zone.
The offensive struggles inside the 20-yard line are surprising considering the talented players the Steelers possess. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did throw a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown in the red zone Sunday, but he hasn't been able to develop a chemistry with 6-foot-5 receiver Martavis Bryant in the red zone nor any of his tight ends.
"We have to do a better job of putting those guys in position to be successful and they have to do a better job at being successful," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "We really have to analyze what we're doing and do a better job of it."
Tomlin sounded more disappointed with the red-zone defense. The Steelers are No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense, No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense. The struggles stopping teams near the goal line is bothersome to Tomlin. He said the volume of red-zone possessions on offense have disguised the problem as have the lack of opportunities teams have had in the Steelers' red zone.
"We are one of the worst teams in the NFL in the red zone on defense as well," he said. "Thankfully, in both instances, offensively we've gotten down there a bunch and I feel it hadn't been highlighted because we are getting down there a lot and (Chris) Boswell is kicking field goals.
"Defensively, we are losing too many of them but we have not let a lot of people down there. So the percentage did not necessarily impact in terms of the game, but we have to get better in offense and defense in that area."
The Steelers return to the scene of their Super Bowl XL victory. In February of 2006, the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, at Ford Field to secure their fifth Super Bowl victory.
Only Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison remain from that team. The Steelers have only played there once during the regular season since the Super Bowl. In 2009, the Steelers beat the Lions, 28-20.
"Before the game there will be a lot of great memories, thoughts walking out there, driving up to the stadium," Roethlisberger said. "Once the game starts it's solely focused on this game and the Lions. Obviously, there will be some fond memories pulling in."
NOTES: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is out of concussion protocol and took part in Wednesday's practice. He should be able to play against the Lions barring any setbacks this week. ... DE Stephon Tuitt, who missed the Bengals game with a back injury, did not practice, but he remains hopeful to play in the Lions game Sunday night. ... T Marcus Gilbert, who missed the Bengals game with a hamstring injury, did not practice. Gilbert has missed four of the past five games due to the hamstring injury. ... TE Vance McDonald, who bruised a knee against the Bengals, did not practice Wednesday.