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Ray-Ray McCloud comes off the COVID-19 List, Joe Haeg goes on

Behind the Steel Curtain - 43 min 11 sec ago
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to deal with COVID positive cases as they prepare for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting one player back from the Reserve/COVID-19 List while having to place another player on the list. Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud has come off the Covid list while tackle/guard Joe Haeg has been placed on the list.

We have activated WR Ray-Ray McCloud from the Reserve/COVID list and placed OL Joe Haeg on the Reserve/COVID list.https://t.co/RDxGokKVzZ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2021

Ray-Ray McCloud missed the Steelers Week 12 matchup with a Cincinnati Bengals which was the first game he has missed with Pittsburgh since joining the team in 2020. On the season, McCloud has 19 receptions for 141 yards along with two carries for 15 yards. Being the Steelers primary punt and kick returner, McCloud has 503 kick return yards on 21 returns and 194 punt return yards on 22 returns. During his absence last Sunday, Anthony McFarland returned kickoffs for the Steelers while Cameron Sutton took over the punt return duties.

Joe Haeg is now set to miss his first game since joining the Steelers in the 2021 offseason. Haeg started one game for the Steelers at tackle in Week 4 against Green Bay and has seen playing time off the bench at guard in both Week 10 and Week 11.

With only four days between now and Sunday, Haeg will not be able to move through the Covid protocol in time as it was reported by ESPN’s Kimberley Martin that Haeg received a positive test.

Per source: #Steelers had another COVID positive test today

— KimberlEY A. Martin (@ByKimberleyA) December 1, 2021

Joe Haeg joins outside linebacker T.J. Watt as the two players on the Steelers currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday at 4:25 PM at Heinz Field.

Podcast: Fantasy Football “Hot or Not” for Week 13

Behind the Steel Curtain - 1 hour 21 min ago

Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers, your draft and for success in any of your leagues.

The regular season in most fantasy leagues is winding down, each and every week is more crucial for players. Most likely, the main contest that you, the reader or listener, will be paying attention to is the Steelers contest in B-More against the Ravens. Big Ben is strugglin but could get still be a good fantasy option? Is the offensive line strong enough to open holes for Najee Harris with the possibility with a patchwork offensive line? Is the Steeler defense a bad option after surrendering 41 points the last two games. not to mention all of the missing pieces? Get those answers and more as BTSC continues with the new weekly show surrounding all aspects of the world of fantasy football with a black-and-gold twist. Welcome to the Steelers Fantasy Football Fix. Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers and for success in any of your leagues.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Previewing the Steelers vs. Ravens for any of your fantasy leagues.
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeremy Betz of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers in the landscape of Fantasy Football and then some.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers Vertex: Is Devin Bush the biggest problem with the Steelers run defense?

Behind the Steel Curtain - 2 hours 21 min ago
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

While there are many things going wrong with the Steelers defense, is it the former first-round pick that deserves most of the blame?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled for several weeks to stop the run. One component of the problem has been the play of the middle linebackers, particularly former 10th overall draft pick Devin Bush. After missing most of the 2020 season due to an ACL injury, Bush has been a shadow of his former self this season. So what has specifically been his problem with defending the run? That is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

When it comes to the statistics, it is difficult to break it down to look specifically at the stats in defending the run. While there are plenty of advanced stats about pass coverage, it’s difficult otherwise to say exactly how a player is defending the run other than looking at film.

With this in mind, here are some statistics for Devin Bush for the 2021 season. In 10 games started, Bush has 50 tackles on the season and 2.0 sacks according to Pro Football Reference. Devin Bush missed the Steelers Week 2 match up with the Las Vegas Raiders while he was nursing a groin injury. Returning in Week 3, the only other significant time Bush missed was in Week 5 when he left the game against the Denver Broncos and only played 42% of the defensive snaps.

Since there are not a lot of other statistics, I will outline Bush’s scores according to Pro Football Focus. Remember, the scores are open to interpretation and can be a good starting points for determining someone’s play but not the ultimate determination.

One thing that has not been a problem at Bush for most of the 2021 season is his tackling. With only four missed tackles on the season, Bush scored well in the tackling department according to PFF in most of his games. Scoring above a 73.0 in seven of the 10 contests, the only real outlier was a very poor tackling score against the Seattle Seahawks where he had two of his four missed tackles.

While Bush’s scores in tackling haven’t been terrible, his coverage scores have been average to just below average for most of the season. Where things get in trouble is the scores for run defense. Having poor scores through his first three games, Bush had his best game of the season by far against the Broncos before leaving with injury. After that point, the scores when it came to run defense saw four of the next six games being awful as they were under 30.0 points with one other game being at 35.9 against the Lions.

It should be noted that Devin Bush was having an outstanding game against the Denver Broncos with an 80.1 overall score and a 70.8 run defense score before leaving with an injury. Since that time, Bush hasn’t come anywhere close to the play that he was giving forth in Week 5.

So is it the ACL injury from 2020 which is bothering Bush? Has he not truly recovered from the leg injury he suffered in Week 5 against the Broncos? Did the leg injury shake his confidence? The cause is difficult to determine, but the film will likely give a better picture of what Bush is struggling with.

The Film Line:

Devin Bush hasn’t been playing well this season, and has become the focus of a lot of attention as the run defense has struggled so much the past few weeks. The run defense was terrible against Cincinnati, and Devin Bush is being talked about again. Let’s look at what happened in the Bengals game and how it is different from the much more succesful run defense Bush was a part of in 2020.

The Bengals came out in the first quarter with double tight end sets, running right at the Steelers defense, looking to exploit the same defensive line depth issues the Lions and Chargers exploited.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 14:29.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker in between the hashes.

Cameron Heyward is playing nose for the Steelers on this play, and he’s not a nose tackle. He slows the center down but can’t keep him from getting to Devin Bush, and Bush only gets one arm on Joe Mixon, barely slowing him down at all. Notice Henry Mondeaux (#99) trying to control the outside lineman, but he gets driven out of the play and Mixon goes right past him.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 13:07.

Devin Bush (#55) is on the line, to the top of the screen.

A little over a minute later the Steelers have adjusted to their struggles inside by putting T.J. Watt in the middle to blow up the center. That puts Devin Bush outside as the edge defender, where he is blocked out of the play by Tyler Boyd. Bush, once he gets off the block is being outrun by Joe Mixon. Bush was being run at, and wasn’t able to do anything about it.

That’s why two minutes into the game Devin Bush had been benched in favor of Robert Spillane.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 12:52.

Robert Spillane is the linebacker on the hashmarks to the top of the screen.

Spillane or Bush, it doesn’t matter here. The Bengals double team Cameron Heyward and run away from him, the rest of the line gets beaten and Spillane has a lineman in his face as the Bengals convert the short yardage run.

We are so used to this in 2021 that I think it is worth going back to Week 6 of 2020, when the Steelers faced the Browns in the game Devin Bush was injured.

2020 Week 6, Steelers v Browns, 3rd quarter, 05:59.

With two tight ends for the Browns, the Steelers put T.J. Watt in the middle. This is the same look as the Bengals run. The results are very different. Look at the defensive line, Cameron Heyward (#97, far left on the line) defeats his double team, holding the edge. Stephon Tuitt (#91) takes on a double team, going low and holding the line of scrimmage. Tyson Alualu is double teamed as well, and falls forward across the line of scrimmage. End result? Neither linebacker is touched, there is nowhere to run, and T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward make the tackle for no gain.

The Steelers front 5 beat the Browns talented offensive line as well as two tight ends to stuff the run without the inside linebackers even getting involved.

That’s how the Steelers defense stuffed the run in the past two years. It wasn’t inside linebackers beating lineman to make big stops, it was the D-line beating double teams, dominating 1v1 matchups and keeping the linebackers clean to run down anything that got outside the defensive front.

But even back then Devin Bush still had to take on lineman from time to time.

2020 Week 6, Steelers v Browns, 1st quarter, 08:58.

Bush starts 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and he beats the center to the run lane, getting square to the lineman as the center hustles to meet Bush. This gives Bush leverage that he can use to hold the line while Cameron Heyward (#97, right side) absolutely dominates his 1v1 matchup and comes across the formation to make the tackle.

Let’s look at a similar play from after Robert Spillane’s injury forced Devin Bush back into the game.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 2:17.

Devin Bush is the linebacker in between the hashes.

Bush starts this play 6 yards off the line of scrimmage, but look at the difference in how quickly he gets to the play, the center gets free and meets Bush 3 yards downfield with leverage on his side. This isn’t a difference in strength or power, it’s a difference in speed that used to put Bush in position to win despite his size, to being slow enough to lose the battle from the start.

The Point:

I’d love to say Devin Bush is the problem, that it’s an issue of effort or mental lapses, but I don’t see that on film. I see a slower version of Devin Bush that is giving up yards in a game of inches because of his lost speed. But I see a lot more than that. I see a defensive line that a year ago could whip any offensive line in the NFL, and now the only player able to beat a 1v1 against a marginal offensive lineman is Cameron Heyward.

When a player is well below the 100% he was just over a year ago, and he is being put in a more difficult position, it is a recipe for disaster. With Bush not attacking like he was in 2020 and the players in front of him not chewing up the blocks like the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front has been known for in the past, the resulting inadequacies are magnified exponentially.

Devin Bush is a liability. He is. Joe Schobert doesn’t look very good either. But the run defense problems go well beyond Devin Bush.

History holds remedies for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - 3 hours 21 min ago

In the wake of yet another debacle, the Black-and-Gold must reclaim the core principles that once made them the premier NFL franchise.

"Pressure is something you feel when you don't know what you're doing." (Chuck Noll)

In January 1969, five months before my high school graduation, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired a young, unflappable coach named Chuck Noll to take the reins of a team whose history was distinguished mainly by 35 years of utter futility on the gridiron. During the course of that disastrous 1-13 season, the rookie coach made it clear to several of the team's veteran players that they simply weren't good enough to compete at the professional level. Noll even sat down with Steelers linebacker Andy Russell -- widely considered one of the team's best players at that time -- to tell him he didn't like the way he was playing his position. While Noll recognized No. 34's talent, he audaciously informed Russell that he intended to teach him techniques that would make him a better player.

Noll's ability to promptly analyze and address his team's needs via the NFL Draft began to bear fruit in the 1970 season when the Steelers’ record improved to 5-9, and the progress continued in 1971 when they posted a 6-8 record. By the end of the 1972 season, the Steelers were 11-3 divisional champs, narrowly losing to the undefeated Miami Dolphins 21-17 in the AFC Championship.

As they say, “The rest is history.” Pittsburgh dominated the 1970s, winning an unprecedented four NFL championships within the span of only six years. Within only a 3-year period, Noll had transformed a perennial NFL doormat into a perennial Super Bowl contender.

In their most recent three games with the Lions, Chargers and Bengals -- each one offering an opportunity to gain ground in the playoff race -- the 2021 Steelers have fallen flat. The 41-10 drubbing in Cincinnati was a convergence of every shortcoming Steelers Nation has fretted about since training camp. With six games remaining in the regular season, and the Steelers still not showing the slightest trace of resurgence, it's difficult to escape the conclusion this season will be a turning point for the organization.

The Pittsburgh Steelers team taking the field this season simply is not competitive. The franchise has reached a low point, the depths of which perhaps haven't been seen since the late 1960s. Considering Ben Roethlisberger's impending departure, finding another franchise QB is just one of many issues the organization needs to address. As they enter the stretch run of the season, instead of seeing their young players improving in preparation for the playoffs, the Steelers find themselves with even more serious personnel issues today than they had in Week 1.

That’s why two basic elements of Chuck Noll's monumental success take on new relevance. First and foremost, Noll possessed an excellent grasp of football strategy and a deep understanding of how to exploit opponents' weaknesses offensively or defensively. This ability to analyze the NFL as a whole and design a team from scratch that not only could compete but dominate was Coach Noll’s greatest accomplishment.

Secondly, Noll recognized that, without the requisite level of talent on Pittsburgh's roster, it would be impossible to implement his strategic plan. He wasted no time in culling deadwood from the team he inherited from his predecessor Bill Austin. Noll used the NFL Draft effectively, not only to find marquee players like Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris, but also to sign lesser-known college players possessing the raw talent to be molded into Hall of Fame players. To name only a few notable examples, Donnie Shell was undrafted, John Stallworth was a fourth-round pick and 9-time Pro Bowler Mike Webster was a fifth-round pick.

Of course, plenty has changed in the NFL during the more than five decades years since Noll assembled his juggernaut teams. But to build an NFL champion today, the right combination of overall scheme and player talent is equally essential. Noll valued his players principally to the extent that they facilitated his grand design. He didn't care how talented a player might be; he expected them to conform to the requirements of his larger scheme.

Whenever Noll was caught on camera red-faced and hollering at one of his players on the sideline, it almost always was because that player had ignored Noll's guidance regarding how to play his position. Noll sometimes was described as a "my way or the highway" coach. He communicated very clearly what was expected and he would go to considerable lengths to explain the desired schemes and techniques. But he never tolerated carelessness in a player or repeated lapses of discipline.

The Steelers continue to be mostly successful with their higher-round draft picks, but legitimate questions persist about their ability to find players in the lower rounds who can develop into future stars or reliable backups. Of course, Coach Noll operated in an era prior to free agency when there was more time for players to grow into their roles. But these days, hypercritical fans and media often pass judgment on new players before they've accumulated very much experience.

Regardless of these important distinctions, the must-have elements for NFL success that Pittsburgh achieved in the 1970s haven't changed. Talent-wise and assuming the Steelers succeed in finding the right quarterback, their rebuilding process looks to be moving forward no matter how this season turns out. Talented youngsters such as Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth and Chase Claypool should form the nucleus of the Steelers offense for years to come.

But a larger question has persisted ever since the Steelers' Super Bowl loss to the Packers on February 6, 2011. That question is whether, 30 years after Noll's retirement, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization still knows what it's doing in terms of developing a winning, overall scheme. The NFL undoubtedly has changed but it’s still possible to specify and acquire the qualities necessary for a team to compete and win.

Currently, the Steelers appear stuck in the same vicious cycle as a number of other NFL teams who continue to draft talented athletes each year without ever reaching the top of the mountain. But Steelers history shows the solution to this conundrum begins with a complete, accurate vision of the kind of team the organization is trying to build — plus a firm commitment to making it happen. Any team can draft talented players but the true test is how well those players complement an effective strategic plan. This visionary aspect of coaching is the area where Charles Henry Noll had few peers.

Looking around today's parity NFL, the only teams implementing consistent, coherent strategic schemes are Tampa Bay (with Tom Brady filling a dual role as QB and OC), Green Bay (with similar contributions from Aaron Rodgers) and Bill Belichick's surprising New England Patriots. Nearly every other NFL team these days has been running hot or cold from week to week.

As for the Steelers, their 2021 season appears to be imploding. Ben Roethlisberger's hope for making his final NFL season memorable appears to have crashed and burned. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh now has a rare-if-undesirable opportunity to begin the task of making sweeping changes similar to those Chuck Noll made after his first year as head coach. Like Noll’s 1969 Steelers, Pittsburgh's current roster clearly includes too many players simply not good enough for a team with championship aspirations. Not only do these players need to go, but the Steelers must find replacements who can become more than temporary placeholders.

Obviously, Mike Tomlin and his team will try to win as many remaining games as possible. But given the increasing likelihood we’re watching a late-season collapse similar to the one last year, probably the best expectation is for December football to serve as an early, more intensive version of training camp/preseason. This approach surely won’t excite the Steelers’ fan base but it's a crucial step in the team's recovery process. And there's no time like the present to begin.

As Noll's quote suggests, the pressure being felt by Coach Tomlin and his staff today won't relent until we see some clear indications the Steelers have developed a master plan that’s working. Ever since Noll first put Pittsburgh on the NFL’s radar screen, the organization's mantra has been "The standard is the standard." Noll was the architect of that standard and the roadmap to success he created is perhaps his greatest legacy. The challenge today is to keep that standard alive.

FILM ROOM: Steelers are struggling at the line of scrimmage, and it’s likely to stay that way

Behind the Steel Curtain - 4 hours 21 min ago
Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are losing at the point of attack, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.

The Steelers were embarrassed by the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday, losing 41-10 in a game that wasn’t even that close. They are on a three-game winless streak at present, with a narrow decision over the lowly Bears their lone victory in November.

At 5-5-1 on the season, the math says they remain in playoff contention. Reality suggests otherwise. Counting the final six games of 2020, Pittsburgh is 6-10-1 over their last 17 games. With a brutal closing stretch to this year’s schedule, 6-10-1 seems a harbinger of things to come.

The culprits for their current state are many. Injuries have ravaged the team at several positions, and their lack of roster depth has thrust back-ups into roles for which they are not prepared. The quarterback is old and immobile. The receiving corps, once thought to be a strength, has not developed as anticipated. The tackling on defense has been, in a word, atrocious.

Nothing has hurt the Steelers more, however, than their inability to control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. Put simply, Pittsburgh is getting dominated in the trenches. This was true on Sunday, where they rushed for just 51 yards while yielding 198 to the Bengals. It was true the week before against the Chargers, when they ran for 55 yards while giving up 159. They’ve been outgained on the ground 724-356 the past four weeks, a ratio of more than 2:1.

It’s not just the run game. Their failure to protect Ben Roethlisberger is so pronounced the Steelers have resorted to a passing attack consisting almost exclusively of receiver screens, underneath routes and jump-balls. In other words, throws Roethlisberger can release quickly before getting hit.

I’m 51 years old and have been a Steelers’ fan since the mid-1970s. While my memory is far from infallible, I cannot remember a time when they were this bad at the line of scrimmage. Even in the dying days of the Chuck Noll era, when the team retreated to mediocrity, they were decent up front. They had solid linemen, like Craig Wolfley, Tunch Ilkin and Keith Willis. Their downfall was at the skill positions. Along the line, they held their own.

That’s not the case now. While they've been bad up front all season, what we saw in Cincinnati was a low-point. The Bengals thrashed the Steelers in the same fashion the Steelers have hammered Cincinnati so many times over the years. They simply out-muscled Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, Pittsburgh fell behind so fast they didn’t have much of an opportunity to establish the run. When they did try, the young, inexperienced line was again overwhelmed by stacked boxes and a more aggressive foe.

Here’s a play that typified their run game. The Steelers aligned in a 21 personnel set with Anthony McFarland as a tight slot. Cincinnati played man coverage and put eight defenders in the box. The Steelers used jet motion to remove one of those defenders but still faced a 6-on-7 disadvantage. They ran Benny Snell on a mid-zone play to the right. Tackle Chuks Okorafor could not hold the edge, though. Rather than uncoil his hips and get chest-to-chest on the block, Okorafor resorted to pushing like a junior high player. The end disengaged. Meanwhile, there was no blocker to account for the rolled-up safety. Snell gained one yard:

The Steelers got better looks to run the ball when they went 12 personnel. Here, out of a tackles-over look that put Dan Moore and Okorafor on the right side of the formation and tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry on the left, they faced a seven-man box with two high safeties protecting against the four-verticals route. Pittsburgh ran the ball on a zone concept to Najee Harris. The jet motion from Chase Claypool coupled with Freiermuth coming across the formation to kick the back-side end created a split-flow that was meant to slow the linebackers. It worked, to a degree. Harris found a small hole created by a decent turn-out block from Gentry on the end. He squeezed through it for a modest three-yard gain. Astoundingly, it was his second-longest run of the afternoon:

That play, in a nutshell, summarizes the state of the run game. Even when the Steelers get a favorable box, they have to scheme creatively just to make three yards.

In the passing game, Cincinnati showed no fear of Pittsburgh’s receivers, practically daring them to win one-on-one. Rather than run crossing routes, which are tough on defenders in man-coverage, the Steelers relied almost exclusively on jump balls up the sideline, which are low percentage throws that require precise execution. Roethlisberger managed to hit one of these — a 41 yarder to Claypool — but he missed on several others, including an interception on Pittsburgh’s opening drive when he and Claypool miscommunicated. Most ended like the one below, with Claypool unable to gain separation and the throw falling incomplete. Claypool was targeted 8 times on the day, but managed just 3 receptions.

The reliance on these vertical fades, and the refusal to attack horizontally, is all about protection. Horizontal routes take time to develop. The Steelers’ line is incapable of providing that time. Even on the throw above, which Roethlisberger released as soon as he hit the back of his drop, there was pressure in his face. That pressure, which has been a constant for two seasons now, has begun to take a toll. Roethlisberger is now anticipating it, even when it’s not there, and his willingness to hang in the pocket has all but disappeared.

Watch him on the following drop-back. With six defenders crowding the ball in the pre-snap picture, Roethlisberger likely anticipated pressure. Cincinnati’s linebackers peeled off into coverage, though, and with Najee Harris staying in to help with protection, the Steelers had six blockers to handle just four pass-rushers. The pocket they created was secure, but Roethlisberger, rather than stand tall and work through his progression, immediately bailed and ran himself into a sack:

It’s hard to blame him, given how quickly he’s often under duress. Still, Roethlisberger’s unwillingness to hang in the pocket, coupled with his immobility, leaves the Steelers with few options in the passing game.

Defensively, the thrashing in Cincinnati was largely the product of a front that has been decimated by injury. Minus Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers have been handicapped along the line all season. While Chris Wormley has been an adequate replacement, the team has struggled to find a reliable third lineman for their base defense. Henry Mondeaux, Isaiahh Loudermilk and Daniel Archibong all took reps in that spot on Sunday, with none distinguishing themselves. Mondeaux and Archibong are undrafted free agents while Loudermilk is a rookie 5th Round draft pick. With those options, it’s not surprising the front has struggled.

An additional problem exists at linebacker where Devin Bush, a former 1st Round pick the Steelers traded up to acquire, has regressed significantly since suffering the ACL injury that derailed his 2020 season. Bush lacks explosiveness and quickness, both of which were evident on Cincinnati’s second play from scrimmage when Joe Mixon took a simple inside zone run for 25 yards.

The Steelers were relatively sound on the play. Cam Heyward and Mondeaux both gave some ground, but neither vacated their play-side gap. Alex Highsmith was up the field a bit on the edge, but Joe Schobert’s scrape provided compensation. The only open gap on the play was the one Bush should have filled. Aligned on the back side, he was too slow to beat the guard as he chipped off of his double-team on Heyward. Had Bush arrived a half-step sooner, he could have ripped through the block into the hole. Instead, he caught the block in the chest:

With the Steelers in a single-high look, there was no safety to lend immediate run support. So, once Mixon cleared the hole, he had plenty of space before Minkah Fitzpatrick was able to come from the deep middle to corral him. In this defense, with this coverage call, Bush had to make that play.

Bush played 57 snaps against the Bengals and registered just 4 tackles. That’s an incredibly low percentage for an off-ball backer in the Steelers’ scheme. Before the knee injury, it looked like he’d be a fixture at the position for the next decade. Now, it seems increasingly likely the Steelers will let him walk when his rookie contract expires after next season.

Bush wasn’t the only culprit for Pittsburgh’s run-woes on defense. Another factor was their inability to hold the line of scrimmage. On this play, Heyward and Archibong (61) both got driven into Bush’s lap by Cincinnati’s offensive line. This cluttered Bush’s ability to read the play and allowed Mixon to cut back into a gaping hole:

The surge on the next play was even worse, as the entire Steelers’ front was knocked off the ball both vertically and horizontally. Mixon wasn’t touched until he was six yards down the field. The contrast between this run and most of the runs by Najee Harris, who has routinely been contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage this season, is striking.

We can nit pick about the scheme if we want. The Steelers were in nickel against 11 personnel, with Minkah Fitzpatrick lined up over the tight end to the right of Cincinnati’s formation. While Fitzpatrick made the tackle, he did so after being driven five yards deep. Why ask Fitzpatrick to run-fit at the line, where he had to engage a tight end who outweighed him by 50 pounds?

The issue isn’t really about scheme, though. It’s about talent. The Steelers don’t have enough of it. Heyward has been a stalwart, but even he was not immune to being manhandled on Sunday. Wormley is ideally a rotational player or a back-up. Loudermilk needs time to develop. Isaiah Buggs was a healthy scratch for the Cincy game, which, given Pittsburgh’s lack of depth at the position, speaks volumes about his play these days. Archibong, meanwhile, is the latest piece of spaghetti the Steelers have flung against the wall in hopes of finding a defensive lineman who will stick. While it’s unfair to write the young man off after just two games in Pittsburgh, it’s also unfair to expect him to quickly become a difference-maker, something the team needs desperately right now.

At linebacker, Schobert is solid in pass coverage but struggles against the run. Bush has become a liability in both areas. Robert Spillane took just eight snaps against Cincinnati before exiting with a knee injury. Ulysses Gilbert III is yet to show he’s a viable option. Buddy Johnson is yet to play a snap. If Vince Williams could be coaxed out of retirement, he’d probably be Pittsburgh’s best option right now.

The injuries have hurt, no doubt about it. But injuries are a part of the game. The roster that remains just isn’t that talented.

So, the Steelers are struggling at the line of scrimmage, and it’s having a huge impact on their ability to win football games. With the trade deadline gone, and with no better options available, the unfortunate reality is that, for the rest of the season, things are likely to stay this way.

12 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin during Tuesday’s press conference

Behind the Steel Curtain - 5 hours 21 min ago
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers head coach held his weekly press conference with the Pittsburgh media on Tuesday heading into Week 13.

The 2021 NFL regular season is rolling into December and teams are used to their routine with what occurs during a typical game week. After coming out of a rough game on Sunday, the Steelers are once again on a regular week of preparation as head coach Mike Tomlin held his typical Tuesday press conference. With many players discussed, it’s time for another players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.

T.J. Watt & Alex Highsmith

One of the takeaways from Coach Tomlin‘s press conference was that he talked about being open to potential changes going into the next game. Coach Tomlin was asked if the changes were what the Steelers would be doing or the players in which they would be doing it with. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned a situation from last season with T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Bud Dupree.

“I think it’s both. It might be the repositioning of people or it might be the leaning on depth as a strength. I made a point this morning in a discussion. Last year, we went up there and played those guys and it was a big football game and we felt really good about our quality depth at outside linebacker. So in that game, we played a lot of three outside linebacker defense with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and Alex Highsmith. We don’t over-complicate things, but we are open to change when change produces or has a chance to produce a desired outcome. When you have red paint, you paint your barn red. That’s kind of a motto or a cliche that we live by at times. That’s what I mean when I’m saying we’re open to change. Is it people and insertion of people? Yes, if it potentially makes us better, but not for the sole purpose of change. It may just mean the alignment or configuration of people in an effort to highlight areas maybe where we have depth and maybe minimize some areas where we don’t.”

Tomlin was later asked at what point in the Covid protocol T.J. Watt was on Tuesday and if he was symptomatic.

“I don’t delve into the specifics. I just acknowledge that he’s in the protocol. Just like I don’t expose specifics regarding the concussion protocol.”

Stephon Tuitt

After not being asked for several weeks, Stephon Tuitt and his availability came up once again. Coach Tomlin was asked if he’s assuming that Tuitt will not be back this year.

“I’m not, and to be honest with you, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. I don’t have a six week perspective. I have a Ravens week perspective. He won’t be available to us this week, and so the people that have my attention are those that will be. We’ll continue to monitor his progress, and when he gets close I’ll have an update for you guys.”

Ben Roethlisberger

When it comes to changing up things for the game and practice, a point many are constantly going to bring up is Ben Roethlisberger‘s participation throughout the week. Coach Tomlin was asked if Roethlisberger might be doing more in practice.

“It’s more work for certain players based on what it is that they need. Some people need physical work, some people need mental work, some people need to get well. We don’t paint with a broad brush. We make individual decisions that are based on the individual men that put us in position to carry the strongest unit into a stadium on weekends, and that philosophical approach will not change.”

Devin Bush

Coach Tomlin also talked about some players needing more mental reps while others need more physical reps during practice. Coach Tomlin was asked about which type of reps Devin Bush would need as he struggles after coming back from his ACL surgery from last season.

“It’s both because he’s an extremely young guy. He’s still very much growing in terms of awareness and the things that come with playing inside linebacker in the National Football League. And obviously, he needs physical work because there’s a lack of volume of plays on his career resume. He’s a guy that probably falls into both categories, like a lot of people.”

Isaiah Buggs & Henry Mondeaux

The Steelers have seen a number of players utilized on defense this year who many did not expect to see significant playing time. Coach Tomlin was asked if there may be a different game plan based off the players he has available. In his response, Coach Tomlin talked about utilizing players last season such as Isaiah Buggs and Henry Mondeaux.

“I was looking at some of the game tape from last year when we played them up there, the first time we played them in Baltimore a year ago. I saw a lot of Isaiah Buggs, I saw a lot of Henry Mondeaux on that tape. I think adversity is a component of football. I think we all face adversity. I think, at times, you miss people and particularly, maybe people at a similar position. You’ve got to close ranks and make necessary adjustments. Although we’re in it right now and it feels specific, we’ve faced that type of adversity a lot over the years. The guys that are on the field are the guys that have my attention, and those are the guys that we’re focused on preparing to play and putting together a winning formula and getting our desired result. We don’t waste a lot of time comparing our current state to our past state and who’s available or not available. We’re focused on the collection of people that we have available to us and the task at hand as it relates to this week.”

Najee Harris

On Sunday the Steelers saw their running game take a step in the wrong direction. Coach Tomlin was asked about Najee Harris in the run game and if it was something that the Bengals were doing or if there was a problem with how the Steelers were executing.

“It was both. It was what they were doing, what we were not doing. It was also the nature in which the game was unfolding. We were down a significant number of points and we had to change the pace and the mode in which we were operating in an effort to pursue victory.”

James Pierre

Another young player who struggled on Sunday was cornerback James Pierre. Coach Tomlin was asked if he saw that Pierre wasn’t able to put some of his mistakes behind him as the game went on.

“Yes.”

Coach Tomlin was asked a follow-up question if that was something he was concerned about that.

“I was in the stadium, and that’s why we made the changes that we did. We’ll see where this week leads us.”

Carlos Davis & Montravius Adams

The Steelers have a couple options they could use this week to give them a different look on the defensive line. Coach Tomlin was asked if Carlos Davis could be coming back to the roster this week or if newly signed Montravius Adams would be able to fit in right away.

“Both guys are capable. Adams has a few more hurdles to clear because learning what to do is a component of it. Carlos has been practicing, and so we’ll continue to monitor his progress and the quality of that work and let that be our guide in terms of his potential inclusion.”

Chase Claypool

On Monday, second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool answered a question to the media and he suggested playing music during practice to help the players have more fun. Coach Tomlin was asked if he was going to oblige his request.

“Well, Claypool plays wideout and I’ll let him do that. I’ll formulate the practice approach. And I think that division of labor is probably appropriate.”

For more information on Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the podcast below:

If you want to watch Mike Tomlin’s press conference, you can do so below:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Ravens. https://t.co/Q75ExuKm83

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 30, 2021

I guess bulletin board material doesn’t matter in Steelers games after all

Behind the Steel Curtain - 6 hours 21 min ago
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

I guess bulletin board material doesn’t matter if you stink as a football team.

“When you have the two best teams in football going at it, you’re going to get that kind of game.” That quote, a quote that isn’t an exact one, was from former Oakland Raiders head coach, John Madden, following his team’s last-second win over the two-time Super Bowl-winning Dolphins in the divisional round of the 1974 AFC playoffs.

Madden was referring to the Sea of Hands game, a classic, one that was supposed to propel Oakland to the Super Bowl and then to the Lombardi trophy.

If only Madden hadn’t angered Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, who reportedly got so gosh darn mad at Madden’s quote that he used it to motivate his players during a team meeting in the lead up to Pittsburgh’s clash with the Raiders in the AFC title game. According to several legendary Steelers players on hand for this meeting, including Mean Joe Greene, Noll said, “The Raiders act like they won the damn Super Bowl yesterday. Well, let me tell you, the Super Bowl is in a few weeks, and the best damn team in football is in this room!”

Wow, I have chills just reading that quote. Anyway, as per Mean Joe, who reportedly rose up out of his chair and began to clap after hearing his coach’s rhetoric, the Raiders didn’t stand a chance the following Sunday; it didn’t matter where or when the AFC Championship Game was being played, it was going to be the Steelers’ day.

The AFC title game was played in Oakland, and the Steelers were so gosh darn fired up for that game, they only allowed the Raiders to lead by a touchdown going into the fourth quarter before going on to victory.

Anyway...Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster did his best Madden impression last year by dancing on the logos of opposing teams for the purposes of TikTok videos and making his opponents so gosh darn mad, they were fired up enough to beat Pittsburgh.

The most famous examples of the Steelers comeuppance thanks to their TikToking receiver occurred in Buffalo and then in Cincinnati where, just moments after dancing on the Bengals logo before a Monday Night Game at Paul Brown Stadium in December, Smith-Schuster was knocked into the following week by Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell, who smacked Smith-Schuster so hard, he forced him to fumble the football away.

If only Smith-Schuster could have kept his dancing feet to himself, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never would have thrown him that little crossing pass which put No. 19 in position to be rocked by an extra-motivated Bell, a player that likely wouldn’t have tackled with as much velocity had he also not been protecting his team’s shield.

Anyway...the Steelers were supposed to be super motivated heading into Sunday’s clash at Cincinnati thanks to receiver Tyler Boyd’s assertion that they “gave up” at the end of a 24-10 loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field in Week 3.

Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes he did!

Do you think Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin played Boyd’s quote on a continuous loop? Do you think he at least mentioned it at some point during the week? I’m guessing he at least mentioned it. I mean, you can’t let an opposing player, especially an opposing player who grew up in Pittsburgh, disrespect your team, your brand, your shield, your logo.

Just how fired up were the Steelers thanks to Boyd’s smear campaign weeks earlier? So fired up, they allowed Cincinnati to jump out to a 41-3 on the way to a 41-10 win.

Just imagine if Pittsburgh wasn’t so motivated by Boyd’s bulletin board material.

What’s my overall point? Bulletin board material is pointless. It comes down to technique. It comes down to talent. It comes down to schematics. It’s nice to say that stuff matters, but for every ex-player who says it does, there is one who says it doesn’t—Jack Ham comes to mind when it comes to the latter. Heck, Noll once said that motivation doesn’t come from the mouth; it comes from showing someone how to get the job done.

All the smack talk in the world isn’t going to help a team win a football game if it doesn’t have the talent and/or readiness to do so.

The Steelers aren’t the best damn football team in any room right now, and it’s going to take a lot more than bulletin board material to help them play better over the final six weeks of the 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Are we talking about practice? Really? Practice?

Behind the Steel Curtain - 7 hours 51 min ago

BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman presents his AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers are underachieving on the field lately and are winless in there last three games. The black and gold need something. But it might not be music at practice as Chase Claypool suggests. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the flagship morning show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • The Live Mailbag
  • Much More!

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

BTSC Survivor Pool Update: Week 12 results

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 4:30pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

We are down to the final three contestants!

The Behind The Steel Curtain survivor pool continued on in Week 12 this past weekend as the choices get harder after many top teams have already been used. With four leagues completely filled with 100 entries, the fifth league finished with 46 participants. While technically there are 446 total entries, I had one entry in each league as the commissioner so there were 442 different contestants. Hundreds have entered, but only one can go home with the autographed Joe Haden Football.

The most common selection for Week 12 was the Philadelphia Eagles over the New York Giants. The Giants kept the Eagles offense in check the entire game, giving up only a fourth-quarter touchdown and upsetting Philadelphia which knocked out three of the remaining eight contestants.

The next most popular picks were the Dallas Cowboys over the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving and the Baltimore Ravens over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night. The Raiders got the best of the Cowboys in overtime which eliminated two contestants while the Ravens came out on top of an ugly game against the Browns and sent two people through to Week 13.

The only other game which was chosen in Week 12 was the Atlanta Falcons over the Jacksonville Jaguars which sent one final contestant through to Week 13.

With only three contestants left, I feel they deserve some recognition. First, I have a small consolation prize (and I mean small, but it’s at least something) for the two remaining contestants who do not win the grand prize. The screen names of those remaining in their leagues are:

Mattc212
Yinzer.
leisto
And... we’re back
Bruce%20M
joe mudd
Joshua’s Primo Pick Set
SteelSun

So after twelve weeks, now only 0.67% of the entries still remain. If you are still alive, make sure you enter your pick early so you don’t get knocked out due to a lack of selection. This is your reminder, so go make your pick now! Even though you are the only contestant remaining in your league, make sure you make the pick in order to stay in the competition for the overall title.

Weekly Update: Upcoming Week 13 Games of Note:
  • Most heavily favored: L.A. Rams (-12.5) at home over Jacksonville
  • Closest match up: Las Vegas (-2.5) at home over Washington
  • The Steelers match up: Pittsburgh (+3) at home against Baltimore

Byes: Panthers, Browns,Packers, Titans

(all lines are courtesy of DraftKings.com as of 11/30)

So there you have it! Make sure you check back at Behind The Steel Curtain to stay updated on the contest. Even if you did not enter or have already been eliminated, feel free to check in and see how you would have fared each week.

Should the Steelers have committed to a rebuild sooner?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 2:05pm
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hindsight is 20/20, but the writing was on the wall.

The Pittsburgh Steelers season has gone off the tracks, and the team is trending towards its first losing season in nearly two decades. This despite some savvy personnel moves in the offseason which made a lot of us remain believers in the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, as we sit here today, this team has folded like a cheap lawn chair and are playing some of the worst football I have ever seen them play. So, where did it go so wrong, and have the Steelers dug themselves an even deeper hole to climb out of obscurity?

First of all, the defining moment of this past offseason was the decision to bring back Ben Roethlisberger. From that moment on the Steelers were committed to gunning for another title before their old cowboy rode off into the sunset. But, if you recall, all the reports surrounding the situation noted there were two notable parties at work here. The group that wanted to ride with Big Ben, and the other side that was ready to go in another direction. From the moment the Steelers signed Roethlisberger to his reduced contract they made moves to try to ready the team to go on a run.

These moves included adding void years to the contracts of Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron, Trai Turner, and Melvin Ingram, as well as restructuring the deal of Stephon Tuitt. Pushing tons of cash into the coming seasons knowing what would become of these contracts, three players on Injured Reserve (IR) and a demanded trade, the Steelers were much better off making none of these moves and just eating the remaining salary on Roethlisberger’s deal. With the retirements of Maurkice Pouncey, Vance McDonald, and the departures of Mike Hilton, David DeCastro, Steven Nelson, Matt Feiler, James Conner, and Alejandro Villanueva the Steelers probably should have seen the writing on the wall and used their assets on the future.

Another pivotal moment of the offseason was drafting Najee Harris in the first round. Drafting a running back with your first pick will always go down as a polarizing decision as you typically only see 3-5 healthy years out of the position before they fall off entirely. The Steelers made the pick with the mindset Harris would push them over the top, and while he is arguably the offense’s best player, by the time the rest of the offense catches up to his current skill level we will likely be talking about Harris on the down turn of his career. While Harris is clearly one of the best rookies in the league, the odds of it being a vanity pick that doesn't push the playoff needle is growing increasingly likely.

It now looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers delayed the inevitable rebuild a single offseason. Toiling in mediocrity for a year before actually remodeling this team. With limited draft picks and less money they would have had this year to boot, they haven't done themselves any favors. With an entire offensive line, quarterback, and most of the team’s depth being mega-issues, fixing this team will probably last more than one year anyway. So yes, the Steelers should have ripped this band aid off following the Wild Card loss to the Browns.

But what do you think? Do you wish the Steelers took a more future thinking approach to the 2021 offseason? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

For a more detailed look at this topic, take a listen to my “Live Mike” podcast below. There I detail who is to blame for the Steelers’ current issues:

Podcast: The postseason road for the Steelers got harder to find on the map in Cincy

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 2:00pm

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White look at the week that was and the Steelers going forward.

An NFL season is a series of twist and turns. The Steelers got lost in September, but found their way the following month. Then November came around and the GPS stopped working altogether, after getting derailed by the score of 41-10 in Cincinnati. The postseason is starting to seem much farther away now. In this show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran trio as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show

  • News and Notes
  • The postseason seems out of reach to the Steelers

and MUCH MORE!

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Part 1

Part 2

Former Steelers sound off about the current state of the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Former Steelers are talking about the current state of the team.

Things are not good inside the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. In fact, it is downright ugly. After the team’s 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12 at Paul Brown Stadium, fans are livid. As it turns out, it isn’t just the fan base who is upset with how things are playing out for the 2021 team.

Leading into the Week 13 game vs. the Baltimore Ravens, former Steelers players are sounding off about the team. None was more vocal, and spot on, than former safety Ryan Clark. This is what he said on ESPN:

Clark was a part of the Steelers historic early 2000s defenses, but he wasn’t alone feeling as if there was something amiss. Beloved member of the 1970s Steelers, and United State Army veteran, Rocky Bleier also gave his opinion on his recent podcast. You can listen to that in the link below:

One Man’s Opinion NFL Week 12.
Bengals beat us for the second time this season.

Lack of Pride and Self-esteem….

Ben says “We Need To Play Better”
…. I say …… NO SH*T! So Why Don’t You?https://t.co/ODscX0n5JS

— Rocky Bleier (@RockyBleier) November 30, 2021

At this point, these former players, who lived and breathed Steelers during at least a portion of their tenures with the team, are more than frustrated with the state of the organization. It should be noted it isn’t just the players, but the organization from top to bottom.

During his press conference Tuesday, Mike Tomlin was asked about some of these former players and their opinions on the current Steelers team. Tomlin said he didn’t know what exactly the media member was referring to, but said he would probably agree with their opinions/statements.

These statements by former players like Clark and Bleier are salt in the wound of the Steelers current state. The team is leaking oil in a bad way, and these comments, although poignant, are far from what the team needs. If Ryan Clark going on ESPN fires up the group, that’s great, but think about that statement in and of itself. If a player needs Clark, or Bleier even, to motivate them, there are bigger issues at hand.

As I mentioned in a previous article, there is no quick and easy fix for this Steelers team. Sure, changes will be made, but few will be proven to be fruitful. This isn’t to suggest the Steelers are destined to lose the remainder of their games, although that could happen, but means the change will have to come from each individual player being better.

Will these former player rants help? Only time will tell. In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.

Steelers injuries heading into Week 13 are at positions with very little depth

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 11:34am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with critical injuries to positions which they can ill afford missing any players.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12, and awaiting them at Heinz Field this Sunday are the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13. It doesn’t get any easier for the Steelers in the final six games of the regular season, and the team will need all hands on deck to right the ship and start winning games again.

Tuesday, Mike Tomlin met with media to talk about the state of the Steelers, and talked about the status of injured players heading into the Ravens game.

The first player mentioned by Tomlin was the injury to inside linebacker Robert Spillane. Spillane left the game Sunday with a knee injury, and Tomlin clarified the injury as a knee sprain. Spillane’s injury will likely have him out of practice this week, and, as Tomlin said, less than available to the team this week.

After his touchdown reception, Pat Freiermuth left the game and was said to be evaluated after the game. Tuesday Tomlin confirmed Freiermuth is officially in the NFL’s concussion protocol. This doesn’t mean Freiermuth won’t play this Sunday, but he will have to get over several hurdles before he clears that protocol.

The other injury which occurred during the game was a hip injury to long snapper Christian Kuntz. Tomlin said the injury could limit Kuntz’s work in the early portions of the week, with his overall availability on game day being dictated by what he can, or cannot, do during practice this week.

The team is hopeful to get cornerback Joe Haden (foot) back, and the Steelers head coach stated Haden is hopefully working his way back this week after missing the past two games with what was labeled as a mid-foot sprain.

Obviously, the team announced Monday how All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt is now in the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 protocol. The team will adhere to that protocol, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Watt will miss the game this Sunday, it is just highly unlikely.

Tomlin was asked about an update on defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (knee), and if it is safe to assume Tuitt won’t be returning to the team this season. Tomlin said he hadn’t thought about it, as it doesn’t think six weeks in advance, but knows Tuitt won’t be available to the team this week preparing for the Ravens.

Tomlin said Carlos Davis (knee), as he continues to progress back off the Injured Reserve (IR) list, could be an option to return to the team this week. He also added the recently signed Montravius Adams could contribute, although he did note Adams has more of a hurdle to clear considering he is new to the system.

Needless to say, the Steelers’ first reported practice, Wednesday, will make things extremely interesting with these injuries at key positions. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Ravens this Sunday at Heinz Field for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff.

Podcast: Is this Rock Bottom or a new Steeler standard?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 11:00am

Join BTSC’s newest podcast, From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor for weekly study of team and individual play.

The Steelers are not looking good at all as of late. Have they hit rock bottom and is this what to expect from the franchise from this point forward as a new Steeler standard. Welcome to From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor. Join BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict for weekly player analysis as it pertains to the Men of Steel.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Is this Rock Bottom or a new Steeler standard?
  • and MUCH MORE!

Geoffrey walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Minkah Fitzpatrick tops the Steelers defensive Week 12 PFF grades

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 10:00am
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the grades provided by PFF, Fitzpatrick had his highest score in more than a year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were dominated by the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. Falling by a score of 41-10 with the Steelers only touchdown coming late in the game, this one was out of reach not long after it started. Between the defense not being able to stop drives and the offense not being able to sustain them, it was truly a team loss with plenty of blame to go around.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their Week 12 performance. These scores are just from Sunday’s game and not for the entire season. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. Next up is the defense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 68 snaps on defense in Week 12.

Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 89.9 (65 snap)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 83.9 (15 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 76.8 (27 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 75.8 (8 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 75.3 (45 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Robert Spillane: 46.1 (8 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 41.8 (58 snaps)
DT Daniel Arhibong: 32.3 (5 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 31.0 (66 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 27.4 (57 snaps)

Defensive Front Seven

OLB Derrek Tuszka: 83.9 (15 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 76.8 (27 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 75.3 (45 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 68.4 (54 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 65.2 (48 snaps)
OLB Taco Charlton: 64.3 (18 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 64.0 (19 snaps)
OLB T.J. Watt: 56.1 (55 snaps)
DT Daniel Arhibong: 32.3 (5 snaps)

Seeing Derrek Tuszka the top of the list for this position group was quite a surprise, followed with rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk next in line coming back to the lineup. It was Tuszka‘s run defense score of 83.2 which had him at the top of the list. According to PFF, Cam Heyward once again had more of an average performance and T.J. Watt found himself almost at the very bottom of the list. For Watt, it was his worst score since Week 4 when the Steelers played the Green Bay Packers and he was, once again, returning to the lineup from injury.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Robert Spillane: 46.1 (8 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 31.0 (66 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 27.4 (57 snaps)

These players kept the same order again, but this time they all landed in the bottom five. As bad as Devin Bush scored last week he scored even lower against the Bengals. While this position group is constantly getting low scores, one does have to ask if the guys in front of them are allowing the blockers to get to them too easily, or if they simply aren’t getting the job done. Bush continues to have a decent tackling score (77.7) but is lacking in all the other categories, particularly run defense (27.6).

Defensive Backs

S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 89.9 (65 snap)
S Tre Norwood: 75.8 (8 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 71.7 (68 snaps)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon: 69.2 (15 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 60.4 (68 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 53.9 (49 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 41.8 (58 snaps)

It was great to see Minkah Fitzpatrick with the highest score on the entire team. It was his highest score since the Steelers first matchup with the Cleveland Browns in 2020. With the return of Fitzpatrick, Tre Norwood was able to return to his sub package roll and therefore scored much better than the previous week. James Pierre struggled throughout the game as indicated by his overall score as well as having scores in the 40s for all three categories of run defense (49.4), tackling (43.9) and coverage (47.7) .

So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.

The Steelers’ response to the 41-10 trouncing by the Bengals will be intriguing to watch

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 9:00am
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

How will the Steelers respond following such a lop-sided defeat in Week 12?

The Pittsburgh Steelers did more than just lose a game to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12. They were embarrassed. To be accurate, embarrassed might be too kind of a word for what fans had to sit through on Sunday.

Nonetheless, this wasn’t a game like the AFC Wild Card performance in 2020 vs. the Cleveland Browns. This game didn’t end the season. Some fans might believe the season is over, and there wouldn’t be many who would argue this fact, but the Steelers still have six games remaining on the regular season docket.

In case you forgot their schedule, here is what lies ahead:

vs. Baltimore Ravens
at Minnesota Vikings (TNF)
vs. Tennessee Titans
at Kansas City Chiefs
vs. Cleveland Browns (MNF)
at Baltimore Ravens

This isn’t to emphasize just how difficult the Steelers’ remaining schedule is, but rather to emphasize how the season is far from over. The thought of watching this team play another game is painful at this time, but seeing how the will respond after such a horrible performance will be intriguing, to say the least.

After the game both coaches and players offered up how this team will prepare and move forward.

“We look at the tape, we make corrections and we make necessary adjustments like we always do.” Mike Tomlin said after the game Sunday. “How this game unfolded really has no bearing on the process for us in terms of transitioning from one week to another.”

The message sent by Tomlin after the game clearly resonated with his team. They echoed similar sentiments.

“You watch the film and make the corrections; we see what went well and try to build on it.” Guard Trai Turner said. “There will be another opponent next week, so we have to get better, and get better fast.”

“It’s tough because we’re getting into crunch time and it’s a divisional opponent.” Ben Roethlisberger said. “You want to come out playing good football and you don’t. It stinks, but we’re going to have to move on, we have another one next week.”

The “other one” Roethlisberger referred to in the previous quote is none other than the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens coming to Heinz Field for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. While hope for this team to bounce back is in short supply at the moment, you have to wonder if it can get any worse than the performance put on the field at Paul Brown Stadium? Is it possible for this team to play as poorly, or more, vs. the Ravens in Week 13?

I would find it hard to believe that is possible, even after the 41-10 game we all can’t erase from our memories. When you’ve reached your lowest, there is only one way to go, and that’s up. Well, I guess they could remain at their lowest too, but that is the intriguing part of this team. The final stretch could be as intriguing as it gets for the Steelers and what their future holds in many ways.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Ravens this Sunday in Week 13.

Stock Report: See whose stock is rising or falling after the loss to the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 8:00am
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Taking a look at what direction Steelers stock is trending after the disgusting loss to the Bengals.

The Cincinnati Bengals destruction of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium was a turning of the page in the AFC North division, the end of an era if you will. Not just because the Bengals have now defeated the Steelers three times in a row, but because of the manner in which the Bengals have beaten the Steelers. They bullied them all over the field.

The Bengals abused the Steelers from pillar to post. They have proven to be the more physical team, with the more talented roster. That is a troubling development, but it gets worse. The Bengals were superior in every conceivable aspect of football; offense, defense, and coaching. To the point that the Rooneys and the Steelers hierarchy need to do some serious soul searching moving forward, because there are no easy solutions for what ails the Steelers currently.

The foundations of any team are the offensive and defensive lines. The Steelers are simply not good enough in either area. This reality is negatively impacting the Steelers ability to both run the football, and stop the run. If you watch the other three teams in the division, the difference is both staggering and undeniable.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a proud franchise, and for good reason. Their sustained success and consistency is without compare in the NFL. The players want to uphold the standards achieved by the legacy of performers that preceded them, but the available talent leaves much to be desired. That statement rings true for the current coaching staff as well.

Only the players and coaches know if they are even capable of being competitive in their remaining games this season, and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to do so.

Steelers Stock Trending Up: Draft positioning

After the most thorough and humiliating Steelers defeat in recent memory, I found myself struggling mightily to think of a single player, coach, or positional group that deserved being mentioned as trending up. That is actually mind blowing for yours truly, a self proclaimed optimist who prides himself on always being able to locate the silver lining in the worst case scenarios.

I considered Cameron Heyward for his QB sack, and Minkah Fitzpatrick after his first interception of the season. However, both players made little impact otherwise. The special teams didn't make any huge errors, and Derek Watt had a huge hit on kick coverage, but nothing worthy of acknowledgement. Yes, the situation was that bad.

My son, in what I believe was a lighthearted effort to help cheer me up, tried to point out a rather humorous bright spot in all this mess. He suggested the very real possibility that we could probably get some great seats on the cheap for one of the remaining home games this season. He gets his sense of humor from me, and we have needed it over the years, seeing how my family and I are long suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fans also.

I finally settled on draft positioning as the most logical answer for what is currently trending up for the Steelers, because if they can't dig deep enough to find the intestinal fortitude necessary to compete far better than they did against the Bengals on Sunday, this team won't win another game this season. With all the parity around the NFL at the moment, that should garner the rebuilding Steelers a top ten selection.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Basically everything else

That was hard to watch, especially for a diehard Steelers fan who is too committed to the team to turn the game off and find something enjoyable to do. There was nothing entertaining nor enjoyable about the Sunday's game. If that wasn't rock bottom for the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers, I don’t want to see what is.

Mike Tomlin recently stated that the Steelers wanted volunteers, not hostages. I couldn't agree more. Now it's up to Tomlin and company to find some. To send a clear and precise message that the Steelers will proceed forward from the debacle against the Bengals by utilizing individuals who care enough to take pride in their performances and the product on the field. That was in short supply on Sunday.

Your individual effort is the only thing any player can control on the football field, and too many participants were found wanting against the Bengals, in both games of the season sweep. A few Bengals players suggested that they sensed the Steelers basically quit in the Bengals Week 3 victory at Heinz Field. That's about as disrespectful as it gets, possibly even worse than being labeled "soft".

If I am being honest, I can't even fathom how a Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Greg Lloyd, or James Harrison would have responded to such an accusation, but I have a sneaky suspicion it wouldn't have been pretty. Probably more than a few penalties and fines from the league after the rematch. So what was the 2021 Steelers response to the quitting accusation? They took it one step further; they didn't even bother to show up.

The Steelers got punched in the face for the third consecutive game against the young and improving Bengals, and this time they didn't even bother trying to get back up for the standing 8 count.

I have heard people suggesting the Steelers have a talent and quality depth issue, and that is definitely true, to a point. I have witnessed far less talented Steelers rosters manage to be far more competitive through hard-nosed determination and intensity. Leadership and coaching should never be overlooked in the process.

So where do the Steelers go from here? Tomlin needs to identify the volunteers, and bench the hostages looking for personal gratification and their paycheck.

Hopefully that will be the last time we ever see Cameron Heyward taking snaps at nose tackle. If sitting Isaiah Buggs and having Heyward take some of those snaps inside was Keith Butler's solution to the Steelers struggles against the run, then he may need to move on to his life's work.

It has become painfully obvious that the Joe Schobert/Devin Bush pairing is a mitigated disaster. Both players are more finesse than physical Mack linebackers. Even worse, Bush plays like he is contact adverse. He shows zero passion or intensity. Maybe a seat on the bench will reignite the fire inside, because apparently his pilot light has went out.

It's time to insert Isaiahh Loudermilk into the starting lineup, and utilize Chris Wormley more situationally. Many depth players eventually struggle as full time starters as teams start to gather film of their weaknesses, and game plans can easily be formulated to exploit them. Wormley can be consistently blocked one on one, and moved off the spot, creating plentiful running lanes.

It's also past time to see what Buddy Johnson has to offer in the equation. He is the only true Buck LB on the roster, and his athleticism and physicality could be a welcome addition. Truthfully, what could it hurt at this point, especially with Robert Spillane currently dealing with a knee injury. Maybe he makes a few inevitable rookie mistakes, but hopefully he would play like he actually wants to be out on the field. Can anybody say that about Devin Bush at this point? While there are no easy fixes for what ails the Steelers, you have to start somewhere.

Steelers offensive PFF grades in Week 12 say the line is not the problem

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In the grades provided by PFF, most of the offensive line landed in the top of the list for the Steelers offense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were dominated by the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. Falling by a score of 41-10 with the Steelers only touchdown coming late in the game, this one was out of reach not long after it started. Between the defense not being able to stop drives and the offense not being able to sustain them, it was truly a team loss with plenty of blame to go around.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their Week 12 performance. These scores are just from Sunday’s game and not for the entire season. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. First up this week is the offense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 62 snaps on offense in Week 12.

Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

WR Diontae Johnson: 79.8 (61 snaps)
OT Chuks Okorafor: 76.3 (62 snaps)
G B.J. Finney: 73.8 (62 snaps)
TE Pat Freiermuth: 69.6 (47 snaps)
G Trai Turner: 69.0 (62 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

WR James Washington: 52.1 (27 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 51.5 (7 snaps)
TE Zach Gentry: 51.1 (22 snaps)
RB Najee Harris: 50.9 (36 snaps)
QB Ben Roethlisberger: 50.0 (62 snaps)

Quarterback

QB Ben Roethlisberger: 50.0 (62 snaps)

According to the grades, Ben Roethlisberger was the worst player on the Steelers offense Sunday. Whether or not you agree with that to be completely true is up to you. Roethlisberger did throw two interceptions and struggled with accuracy at times. It is hard to know exactly who messed up when things don’t come together the way they should, so this one isn’t the score I would argue about. Frankly, I’m surprised the Steelers lowest score score for the offense was a 50.0 on the day.

Running Backs

FB Derek Watt: 58.4 (2 snaps)
RB Anthony McFarland Jr.: 54.7 (12 snaps)
RB Kalen Ballage: 53.4 (8 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 51.5 (7 snaps)
RB Najee Harris: 50.9 (36 snaps)

This is not what Steelers fans want to see with Najee Harris coming in at the bottom of the position list and the next-to-lowest score overall on offense. I wasn’t sure with my initial eye test if the running backs were struggling or if the line just wasn’t blocking well, but the grades being so high for the line and low for the runners has PFF making their decision obvious.

Receivers

WR Diontae Johnson: 79.8 (61 snaps)
TE Pat Freiermuth: 69.6 (47 snaps)
WR Chase Claypool: 57.9 (61 snaps)
WR Anthony Miller: 52.1 (25 snaps)
WR James Washington: 52.1 (27 snaps)
TE Zach Gentry: 51.1 (22 snaps)

It’s not surprising that Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth top of this list as well as land in the top five for the offense. They are the Steelers two most reliable weapons in the passing game right now with Chase Claypool also being highly used yet not always dependable on a play-by-play basis. According to PFF, Johnson only has one drop of the season and that was in the game against Seattle. Remember, drops is not an official NFL statistic and is kept by individual outlets. Pro Football Reference has Johnson with no drops on the season, so it’s been quite a turnaround from the 2020 drop fest for the Steelers young wide receiver. As for the rest of the group, I was surprised to see Anthony Miller with 25 snaps as I didn’t really notice him being on the field other than his one great catch on a terrible throw.

Offensive Line

OT Chuks Okorafor: 76.3 (62 snaps)
G B.J. Finney: 73.8 (62 snaps)
G Trai Turner: 69.0 (62 snaps)
C Kendrick Green: 64.9 (62 snaps)
OT Zach Banner: 60.0 (2 snaps)
OT Dan Moore Jr.: 57.5 (62 snaps)

While many wanted to place the blame for the Steelers offense on the line, PFF shouts “hold the phone” before you jump to the conclusion. The Steelers had three offensive linemen in the top five and all six who saw snaps in the top 10. When looking at the lowest score, it might be the best performance from the weakest link this season. While I was not ready to place all the blame on the offensive line for the Steelers woes on that side of the ball, I also wasn’t ready to exonerate them completely. I still don’t know how I feel about these scores without having to sit through watching the game again. But do I really want to torture myself like that?

So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.

You can’t say one good thing about the Steelers 41-10 loss to the Bengals Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

You can’t say one good thing about the Steelers 41-10 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.

Okay, I lied. I thought the Steelers' defense did a good job of holding Cincinnati’s offense out of the end zone following cornerback Eli Apple’s interception of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and subsequent return to the five on Pittsburgh’s opening possession.

So I guess you can accuse me of clickbait. I realize that’s annoying when it comes to us journalists, but who am I going to complain to for being baited into thinking Pittsburgh would actually put up a fight at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday and not lie down and play dead in a 41-10 loss to the Bengals?

I mean, the defensive stop was nice and all, but the only problem was how easily the unit had just yielded yards and a touchdown to Joe Burrow and Co. on the Bengals’ opening drive of the game just moments earlier.

Despite the goal-line stand, it was still 10-0 nine minutes into the game.

It didn’t get any better. In fact, it got much worse. The Bengals scored on their first four possessions to take a 24-3 lead, and even after safety Minkah Fitzpatrick stymied Cincinnati’s fifth possession with an interception, former Steelers slot corner, Mike Hilton, “possessed” Roethlisberger’s very next pass and returned it for a score to make it 31-3.

Game over...at halftime.

What you were left with over the final 30 minutes of “action” was the realization that this defense isn’t really that great anymore even with T.J. Watt and Fitzpatrick back in action. If you want, you might be able to convince yourself that things will be better when cornerback Joe Haden, who missed his second-straight game, is healthy again. But that’s going to require a lot of convincing considering Haden doesn’t play on the defensive line.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the defensive line, well, the standard really hasn’t been the standard without Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu starting alongside Cam Heyward. The Bengals tallied 198 yards on the ground—including 165 yards on 28 carries by running back Joe Mixon. Pittsburgh’s defense has now yielded 586 rushing yards over the past three games.

But at least the pass coverage was horrible, too. Young cornerback James Pierre, starting in place of Haden, had himself a little “staying in” party and was repeatedly victimized all afternoon.

In other news, the tackling was atrocious. Watt was invisible. Devin Bush again did nothing.

Just a horrible day for a defense that can’t be considered anything but that at this point—horrible.

As for the offense, Roethlisberger played like he did over the first month and seemed hellbent on getting rid of the football as fast as humanly possible on every throw. It didn’t matter if it was a bubble screen, a three-yard out or a 50-yard bomb—Big Ben was getting rid of that sucker like he didn’t trust his offensive line.

Of course, the middle of the field was barely exploited. Speaking of exploited, running back Najee Harris probably didn’t feel like he was being exploited. Why? Because in order to be exploited, you have to be used, and the rookie running back only toted the rock eight times.

Sure, Harris only gained 23 yards, but using him more on the ground couldn’t have produced worse results than what the 39-year old quarterback gave the offense through the air.

It was just an all-around pathetic performance by a football team that should have been playing with more urgency, especially on the road against an AFC North foe. But maybe urgency isn’t the problem with the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers. Maybe it just comes down to talent.

Like I’ve been saying for months, this is a football team equipped with a roster that will finish anywhere between 7-10 and 10-7 depending on how a few critical moments play out over the course of the year (yes, I know the math is different with a tie). Had Pittsburgh been able to make some key plays in the previous two games, Sunday’s beatdown wouldn’t have seemed so discouraging when talking about the immediate future. Every team is on the wrong end of a shellacking every now and then—the Steelers lost to Carson Wentz and the Eagles, 34-3, in Week 3 of the same year that they made it to their last AFC title game—but it just feels different when that shellacking takes place on November 28 and pushes the winless streak to three games.

In their last three games, the Steelers have tied a winless team, lost a heartbreaker after trailing by 17 points and gotten blown out by a team they once owned.

In other words, things have gotten progressively worse at the wrong time of the year.

Not only can’t I find one good thing to say about Sunday’s loss to the Bengals—except for that early goal-line stand, of course—but I can’t think of one good reason why the Steelers will bounce back and do anything positive over their final six weeks.

Podcast: Who’s really to blame for the Pittsburgh Steelers problems

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/30/2021 - 4:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers are falling to pieces and there are many possible scapegoats for this recent collapse. The coaching staff, the aging quarterback, the pourous secondary and the pourous offensive line to name a few. Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through the 2021 season and beyond.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Who’s ultimately to blame for the Steelers’ struggles.
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael Beck of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Men of Steel.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

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