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Numero Uni: Of the 25 most prolific Steelers jersey numbers of all time, which is ranked 15th?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Steelers have had a plethora of great players representing one number over the years. Find out which one number is ranked 11th.

BTSC continues to rank the best numbers in team history on a standpoint of thriving over time throughout multiple players. It seems there are a few numbers which are always represented with quality play in Steelers lore. One BTSC author has wondered aloud “what is the most accomplished number in Steelers history?” Through player and jersey value rankings found in Pro Football Reference, we have ranked the most successful numbers in Steelers history worn by multiple players. You won’t see numbers like 12, 58, 75, 31, 32, 52, 59, 36 and 47 as it would be basically ranking an individual player over the other and not the cumulative effort. In today’s submission, we take a look at those ranked 11th. Enjoy.

11 No. 56 Photo by Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images

Most Notable: LaMarr Woodley 2007-2013 (pictured above), Chukky Okobi 2001-2006, Mike Vrabel 1998-2000, Robin Cole 1977-1987, Ray Mansfield 1968-1976

Current Wearer: Alex Highsmith

The number 56 had some greats to don the digits. While it’s hard to deem the greatest of the stable, here are the most memorable.

Mike Vrabel? Yep, that Mike Vrabel. Before the Titans Head Coach and Patriots Super Bowl champ made a big name for himself, the two-time Big 10 Defensive Lineman of the year was a third round selection for the Steelers in 1997. The special teams phenom and linebacker claims that he learned a lot about leadership in Pittsburgh, playing under Bill Cowher and alongside Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon and Levon Kirkland. In his rookie season, Vrabel helped clinch a 7-6 victory over New England in the AFC Divisional Game with a sack and forced fumble on Drew Bledsoe that was recovered by Gildon. With all of those linebackers in the fold, Vrabel left via free agency in 2000 and the rest is history.

Chuwunweze Okobi was drafted in the fifth round by the Steelers in 2001. Known as Chukky, the center out of Purdue only started seven games for the Steelers in his six seasons but he was a valuable reserve to Jeff Hartings during his tenure. Okobi, born in Pittsburgh, played his final NFL season for the Cardinals in 2007 with an attempt to play for the Texans in 2008 being unsuccessful. The winner of a Super Bowl XL ring, Okobi was awarded workmen’s compensation in 2015 for injuries sustained to his neck and back with the Steelers to the tune of $779 a week.

Ray Mansfield was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1963 and joined the Steelers a year later. The man known as “Ranger” during his playing days started his career with the Steelers as a defensive tackle. Mansfield, who could place-kick also, was best known as a center during his 13-year Steelers tenure. The two-time All-Pro was a Super Bowl IX and X champion and played in 182 consecutive games for the Steelers. Ray passed away at the young age of 55 when he suffered a heart attack while hiking the Grand Canyon in 1996.

Robin Cole was the only first round pick out of this particular group. The All American from New Mexico came to the Steel City in 1977 and eventually replaced Andy Russell on that great linebacking unit alongside Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. In eleven seasons, Cole started 131 of 166 games and amassed 19.5 sacks and 15 fumble recoveries. Cole was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 1984 and won two rings with the Steelers for Super Bowl’s XIII and XIV. His performance in the latter championship netted him a Super Bowl MVP Runner-Up honor. Cole was a great Steeler sometimes lost in the shuffle among legends on the Steel Curtain defense.

LaMarr Woodley could have been an all-time great in Pittsburgh, but injuries shortened his career. The time he did spend in Pittsburgh though was memorable. A second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007, the unanimous All American was issued No. 55 and then switched to No. 56 when the aforementioned Chukky Okobi was released. A force to be reckoned with almost immediately, Woodley became a starter in his second season of 2008 and sacked quarterbacks 11.5 times in that Super Bowl season. His two sacks of Kurt Warner in XLVII, including one to clinch the win with five seconds remaining, extended his streak to four playoff games with a sack. In fact, Woodley racked-up 11 sacks in eight career playoff games and ranks 7 all-time in team sacks with 57. After the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers signed the big backer to a 6-year/$61 million contract. However, the rash of injuries commenced and Woodley was cut in 2014. LaMarr spent a year with the Raiders and the Cardinals before calling it quits after the 2015 season. Despite only seven seasons in black-and-gold, LaMarr Woodley is still considered a recent great in some minds.

Check back soon for the 10th best jersey in BTSC’s countdown of the most prolific jersey number stables in Steelers history. But first, a recap of the countdown so far.

Honorable Mention: No. 51, No. 93, No. 27 and No. 33
25) No. 24
24) No. 43
23) No. 83
22) No. 67
21) No. 53
20) No. 10
19) No. 20
18) No. 63
17) No. 50
16) No. 34
15) No. 78
14) No. 98
13) No. 68
12) No. 77

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Dewayne Hendrix

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:30pm
Carl Juste/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Moving along to part 39 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at former XFL turned Steelers linebacker:

Dewayne Hendrix

Position: OLB/DE
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 265 lbs
College: Pittsburgh
Draft: UDFA in 2019 (Dolphins)

2019 stats

NFL
Member on the Dolphins, Bears, and Jaguars practice roster

XFL
4 Tackles
1 Sack
1 QB Hit
1 TFL

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021
$610,000 salary cap number (0.30% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$610,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Slim-chance. Obviously T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Alex Highsmith are making this team atop the OLB depth chart. Tuzar Skipper and Ola Adeniyi are next on the list. That already makes 5 outside linebackers and the team usually just carries 9 total linebackers on he active roster.

Hendrix has also been rumored to kick inside and play the 3-4 DE spot. The same challenges await him in the interior however, as Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, and Tyson Alualu will immediately be above him on the depth chart.

Hendrix best shot at the team would be at outside backer, but even then the odds are not in his favor.

2020 projection

I don't foresee Hendrix being available for all 16 games this season. I think he does in fact end up back on the practice roster but will get the call up at some point during the season. One of these XFL guys has to be good, right!?

Projected stats:

2 Games played
2 Tackles

Summary

The Steelers defensive unit is so talented that it’s going to be a challenge for anyone who wasn't already on the roster in 2020 to make the team. Hendrix has a mountain to climb to make this team at linebacker or defensive end, but this is one of the rare cases where I think someone can. The only thing is, the Pitt alum will have to be really good in camp.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden
J.C. Hassenauer
Quadree Henderson

The Steelers are one of 15 NFL teams yet to sign any 2020 draft picks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:15am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

With limited in-person contact due to the global pandemic, the NFL enters July with nearly half their teams unable to sign any draft picks.

In the anything-but-normal NFL offseason of 2020, one issue being held up with many teams is the signing of their 2020 draft picks. The Steelers, although it appears they are lagging behind in this department, are in the same boat is almost half the teams in the NFL as they have yet to sign any of their selections according to NFLtraderumors.co.

To show how out of the ordinary this action is, the Steelers signed all of their 2019 draft picks in the month of May last year. As we all know, 2020 has been different in so many ways with both the NFL and life in general. Were the Steelers to be the only team to not sign in either draft picks it would be concerning, or if there was one specific player who was not signed. But like many NFL teams, it appears the Steelers just haven’t been able to go through the proper procedures.

This is not been the case for every NFL team. There are three teams who have signed all of their 2020 draft picks: The Buffalo Bills, the Indianapolis Colts, and the New England Patriots.

As for the AFC North specifically, both the Steelers and Bengals have not signed any of their 2020 selections. The Cleveland Browns have come to terms with three of their seven draft picks. Leading the way is the Baltimore Ravens who have seven of their ten 2020 draft selections under contract.

The division leading the way in the NFL is the AFC East with two teams, the Bills and Patriots, signing all of their draft picks. The Miami Dolphins are closing in with nine out of eleven selections under contract with the New York Jets coming to terms with three of their nine draft picks. The only other division in the NFL where every team has signed some of their draft selections is the AFC South.

In the AFC West, none of their four teams have signed any of the draft picks they made in 2020. Not far ahead is the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers have signed one of their seven selections and is the only signing in the division. The team with the most work to be done is the Minnesota Vikings as they have 15 draftees, none of which are under contract.

When it comes to the Steelers, it appears getting the deals done with their six 2020 draft picks is something they just haven’t focused on yet. With contracts basically having their totals set by draft position, the only real negotiation comes in to how the contract is broken up. Chances are, when the Steelers get rolling with signing their draft picks, it may not be very long from when they begin until all of them are under contract.

How would Steelers fans react if T.J. Watt had a significant drop off in sacks in 2020?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

What are the minimum stats needed for Steelers star players before perception shifts on them?

Fan perception of players can change directions faster than a roller coaster at Kennywood. Just take JuJu Smith-Schuster. At the beginning of the 2019 season JuJu was coming off a 1426 yard, 111 reception, 7 touchdown season, and was the Steelers team MVP. Then the franchise quarterback got injured, the Steelers offense changed philosophy, Smith-Schuster experienced the toughest matchups of his career and he battled injuries of his own. Even with all the outside factors, Steelers fans would not give the USC alum a break.

So this got me thinking, what would be the bare minimum stats that Steelers star players achieved before the fan base turned on them.

In this first addition we’re going to dive into a player many fans thought would take home the 2019 defensive player of the year award:

T.J. Watt Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Obviously for an outside linebacker, sacks are king. Watt could only put up 30 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, and no picks. But Steelers fans would still love T.J. all the same if he put up a dozen sacks on top of everything.

Even if the youngest Watt brother had just 8 sacks I don't think Steelers fans would turn their backs on T.J. very easily. Now if Watt only put up 6 sacks, I think fan perception would likely start to change. Smart fans, however, would realize T.J. would still have 40.5 sacks in hist first 4 seasons and he would likely still get a pass.

Granted, how these sack, or lack thereof, came about would mean a lot as context is key. If T.J. is drawing a lot of double and triple teams and it is allowing others to get just as many, of not more, sacks than last season it could go a long way for the fanbase who recognizes the effort.

T.J. Watt also found a new forté of punching out the football, forcing 6 fumbles in 2018, and 8 in 2019. I think the only way fans don't notice this level of output is either if T.J. doesn't force any or if Watt forces less than 3 fumbles and the rest of the defense doesn't pick up that slack.

All things considered, I believe the lowest possible stat line, that T.J. Watt could have before the fans base turned on him would look like the following:

45 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 5 TFLs, and 1 Pass defensed

T.J. will have a long leash if he were to take a step back in 2020. His dominant three-year stretch has warranted it. However, no player can hide from an angry Steelers Nation.

What do you think? What stat line do you expect from T.J. in 2020 and what stat line would you say is his absolute bottom before you thought differently of the player? Let us know in the comments below!

Film Room: The ups and downs of James Washington’s roller-coaster 2019 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 7:45am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A deeper look at the Steelers leading receiver in 2019

James Washington led the Steelers in receiving yards in 2019, but it wasn’t a typical team-leading season. Most of his receiving yards came in a 6 game stretch in the middle of the season, and in other games he was third or even fourth in yards.

Here’s James Washington’s production with the season divided into 3 sections, the start of the season through the Miami game (he missed Week 6), the Colts game through the Arizona game, and the last 3 games of the season.

James Washington was targeted pretty consistently throughout 2019, but the results were drastically different in the middle of the season. In Weeks 9 through 14, 37.5% of his games played he recorded 38.8% of his targets, 54.5% of his receptions, 61.2% of yards and all 3 of his touchdowns for the season.

This film room is going to look at the tape from all throughout the 2019 season to try to find what led to the increase in production and what caused him to drop back down to early season levels of production at the end of the year.

A slow start

James Washington was drafted in the second round because in college he had been a really productive deep threat. The reason he wasn’t drafted higher was because at 5’11” and running a 4.5 forty-yard dash at the combine, he didn’t fit the normal height and speed combo teams look for in deep threats.

Week 1, 2nd quarter, 2:20.

James Washington shows one of his best attributes here, winning the initial hand battle, twice keeping the cornerback’s left hand off of him. If the corner gets that left hand in Washington’s chest, he can use it to limit the route. If the defender tries to slow him down with his right hand, he will end up reaching across his own body, and it will draw a flag almost every time.

After he gets free of the corner’s hands, Washington stacks his defender, stepping in front of him so that he has no chance of interfering with the route legally.

The ball is thrown a bit too far, and this is where James Washington’s size/speed limitations show up. A true burner of a deep threat would accelerate to this ball and have a shot at catching it, a really tall receiver might have the reach to pull it in. James Washington presents a smaller window for this pass because of his height and speed.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 13:27.

Washington has a good release, wins the hand fight, then keeps his lane through a bump, and makes an easy catch on the pass. He reliably wins physical one-on-one matchups, and has good hands. Washington just also requires a more accurate pass than a lot of deep threats.

Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for a lot of yards with receivers that are fast or tall, Plaxico Burress, Nate Washington, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant, and Sammie Coates all found success with Roethlisberger throwing to them. So far Roethlisberger’s connection with James Washington hasn’t led to similar results.

Mason Rudolph took over in Week 2, and despite having an incredibly productive connection with James Washington in college, Rudolph would only target Washington on 7 of his 74 passes in his first 3 games.

Mason Rudolph was plagued with accuracy and timing issues through the first half of the season, and it shows up in James Washington’s film.

Week 8, 1st quarter, 7:39. James Washington is the receiver to the far left of the screen at the snap.

James Washington gets open across the middle, but the ball is throws well behind him and he can barely get his fingers on it. This throw was 4 feet off target. Very few receivers would have caught it.

Week 8, 1st quarter, 8:31. James Washington is the WR to the bottom of the screen.

This is a 30-yard out route. It isn’t a terrible throw, it’s good placement considering where the defenders are, but it isn’t an easy catch with a defender on his back. James Washington drops it, and it was almost an interception.

When the passes aren’t great and the receiver isn’t making tough catches, you aren’t going to put up stats. This was the end of Washington’s slow start, as things would start to turn around in Week 9 against the Colts.

James Washington rises to dominance

Take a last look at the 2 clips above from the Miami game before continuing.

Week 9, 2nd quarter, 11:20, James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

Mason Rudolph hits James Washington for a quick gain through a small gap in the defense. Look at the catch James Washington made.

A few inches closer than the one in Miami, and Washington pulls it in. Making a big catch boosts confidence in both the receiver and the quarterback.

Week 9, 1st quarter, 5:12.

In Week 8, Washington dropped a similar ball for a near interception. This time he recovers and makes an incredible second-effort catch to give the Steelers a first down. Mason Rudolph was improving, but this is mostly James Washington making tough catches he missed the week before.

In Week 10, the Steelers faced the Los Angeles Rams, and while Mason Rudolph played the whole game, he was a different quarterback.

Week 10, 1st quarter, 0:40, James Washington is the receiver to the top of the screen.

This is who James Washington is, the guy who wins contested catches. This was not an easy catch, but Rudolph places it well, and Washington comes down with it.

Week 10, 4th quarter, 6:45, James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

Washington wasn’t the best route runner coming out of college, and he still doesn’t make the sharpest cuts, but on this route he makes a perfect cut. Mason Rudolph throws with anticipation and the ball is on target and in rhythm. This is how you make plays easy, good execution from both the quarterback and the receiver.

In Week 11 the Steelers faced a Cleveland team who had answers for both the Steelers defense and offense, and Mason Rudolph would have a nightmare of a game. The next week in Cincinnati, he was hesitant and inaccurate, and would end up being replaced by Devlin Hodges.

Week 12, 2nd quarter, 1:37, James Washington is the receiver to the top of the screen.

Washington runs a solid route here, selling enough of an outside route to buy room, but you can see how small the window still is on this route. The deep safety and the corner are right behind Washington. Rudolph is right to lead him to the end zone, but Washington isn’t a burner so he isn’t gong to run it down.

Week 12, 3rd quarter, 11:22, James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

Devlin Hodges takes over for Mason Rudolph, and his third pass of the game is the longest play of the season. A fantastic 45 yard throw by Hodges hits Washington in stride and a stiff-arm later Washington gives the Steelers the lead. Washington had 55 yards on 8 targets in Week 11 and 12 from Mason Rudolph. Devlin Hodges’ first completion to James Washington gained 79 yards, turned the tide of the game, and made James Washington the leading receiver for Week 12. Hodges and Washington were just getting started.

Devlin Hodges wasn’t ready to be an NFL starter in 2019, but he came in throwing accurate balls all over the field and James Washington’s production took off.

Hodges was chosen as the starter for Week 13, and through the first 23 minutes, the offense was on training wheels with the rookie free agent quarterback.

Then Sheldon Richardson jumped off-sides on a 3rd and 9 play and Hodges just chucked a ball in James Washington’s direction on a free play.

Week 13, 2nd quarter, 6:53, James Washington is the receiver to the top of the screen.

You don’t throw this pass on a normal play. James Washington isn’t open. But on a free play it doesn’t matter.

Check out the catch Washington makes, especially his right foot getting down just in bounds.

Hodges drops the ball in the perfect spot, and Washington makes the catch in bounds. This play was huge as the Steelers were trailing 10-0 and looking for anything to get their offense going.

James Washington would catch 2 more long passes, including the tying TD, and the catch below against Denzel Ward that would help set up the go ahead TD.

Week 13, 3rd quarter, 13:01, James Washington is the WR on the line to the top of the screen.

Devlin Hodges sees James Washington in one-on-one coverage and lets the ball fly. Washington wins the release, the route, and the ball. The Steelers would win the game behind James Washington’s 111 yards and 1 TD on 4 targets.

James Washington’s contested catch ability led the Steelers to their best offensive game of the season, with three 60+ yard scoring drives, all involving a 30+ yard reception from Washington.

It took a rookie in way over his head leading an offense that couldn’t move the ball to take these gambles, but the Steelers were desperate. Devlin Hodges was throwing deep balls with accuracy, and James Washington was winning battles with corners.

Coming back down to Earth

In Week 14 the Steelers never trailed, Diontae Johnson made big plays with the ball, and James Washington was only targeted 4 times, catching all 4, but for a total of 33 yards. A lack of desperation gave no cause to attempt a repeat of Week 13.

Against the Bills in Week 15, there would be plenty of desperation.

Week 15, 1st quarter, 8:57, James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

The key to this play is when Devlin Hodges throws the ball. He throws it as soon as James Washington commits to going outside of Tre’davious White. It’s already on the way when Washington cuts back inside and White is effectively running the route Hodges throws.

This play is won when Tre’davious White takes away the outside route for Washington, leading him to go back inside.

This is great defense, and it reveals the limitation Washington’s speed puts on his ceiling. Top tier athletes at corner can stay in front of Washington without engaging him and just play the ball. A true number one corner like White is more than a match for James Washington.

Week 15, 2nd quarter, 14:17, James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

James Washington ends up with just a safety trying to cover him, and James Washington wins another contested catch.

Week 15, 4th quarter, 3:10.

Another defender that isn’t a match for James Washington leads to Washington’s last deep reception of the season.

Facing the Bills, the Steelers receivers were James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Tevin Jones, Deion Cain, Nick Vannett and Zach Gentry. Only two of those six players even had a catch in 2018, when James Washington and Nick Vannett combined for 486 yards.

This is not an NFL offense. The Steelers defense gave up some big plays on miscommunications in this game, and it was still a one-score game. James Washington accounted for 36% of the Steelers team yards gained, and he didn’t have a great game.

The Jets would destroy the Steelers offense by playing off James Washington, similarly to how Tre’davious White defended Washington and cheating the safety to that side to help while they threw disguised defenses and blitzes at Devlin Hodges.

Week 16, 2nd quarter, 12:11. James Washington is the WR to the bottom of the screen.

Playing off to take away the deep ball had a few weaknesses, the first is quick out routes.

Hodges was struggling to read the Jets defense and keep track of Jamal Adams, but he could still throw accurate passes and James Washington was still making catches.

Perfect timing and great placement on the pass. James Washington keeps control of the ball through a horse-collar tackle.

Week 16, 2nd quarter, 0:14, James Washington is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

The second weakness of playing that far off is the corner forfeits the right to physically direct the route. This play results in a penalty for illegal contact by the cornerback.

If you don’t initiate contact in the first five yards, you run the risk of getting called for this. This penalty would set up the Steelers only TD of the game.

Week 17 the Ravens blitzed Hodges relentlessly and the Steelers offense crashed head on into Devlin Hodges’ rookie wall.

Conclusion

James Washington burst onto the scene in 2019 when Mason Rudolph started throwing better passes, really took off when Devlin Hodges took over at quarterback, and desperation led the offense to rely on James Washington winning one-on-one matchups downfield.

James Washington showed his worth in 2019 as a player that is capable of consistently winning against the majority of corner backs in the NFL. He isn’t an elite deep threat, but he is a constant threat to make a big catch.

When the top three wide receivers were Juju Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Diontae Johnson, they most frequently lined up with Diontae Johnson by himself at the X and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot with James Washington outside Smith-Schuster. I expect the 2020 offense to start off with those three playing those same roles. In this alignment, James Washington is going to get a lot of one-on-one matchups. If he can develop chemistry and timing with Ben Roethlisberger on the field like he had with Devlin Hodges in 2019, he will be a tough matchup for any defense facing the Steelers.

The battle for the Steelers right tackle spot is not a popularity contest

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 6:30am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Who will win the starting right tackle competition between Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner? It’s hard to say, but it won’t be based on charm and personality, that’s for sure.

The Twitter account Blitzburgh recently conducted a poll asking fans who they thought would win the competition for the Steelers starting right tackle spot between Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner, a position battle that was created when head coach Mike Tomlin announced last week that incumbent starter Matt Feiler would begin training camp at left guard.

The results—67.6 percent to 32.4—were overwhelmingly in Banner’s favor. That just didn’t make sense. If this was a poll asking fans who they thought should be the Steelers offensive coordinator—Randy Fichtner or a bar of Dove soap—yeah, sure, I could see those numbers. But when it comes to any battle between Okorafor, a 2018 third-round pick out of Western Michigan, and Banner, a 2017 fourth-round pick out of USC who came to the Steelers in 2018 via the Colts and Browns, the voting probably should be closer to 50-50.

But then when I thought about it, I realized the numbers had more to do with Banner’s incredibly charming and likable personality than they had to do with what fans thought he could physically bring to the table vs. Okorafor in the battle for the right tackle spot.

It’s like in The Merger episode of The Office, where Andy Bernard says, “I’ll be the number two guy here in Scranton in six weeks. How? Name repetition, personality mirroring and never breaking off a handshake.” Later on in that episode, Michael Scott, Andy’s new boss, talks about how there’s just something really likable about that Andy Bernard fellow.

I can personally attest to the effect of Banner’s personality. Last Saturday morning, as I watched the BTSC exclusive interview Banner had with Dave Schofield, Bryan Anthony Davis and Michael Beck from last Friday, I felt myself smiling from ear-to-ear. Ever catch yourself smiling like that and not realizing it? Yeah, that was me, and if I would have voted in that aforementioned poll right then and there, there is no question who I would have picked to be Pittsburgh’s next starting right tackle.

Unfortunately for Banner, the battle for the Steelers right tackle spot won’t be based on personality—at least not on the charming parts of Banner’s that he shows off so well and so often.

The job will be won on merit.

So who has the inside track?

You could say Okorafor does, since he’s a guy the Steelers drafted and did so with the idea that he’d ultimately ascend to a starter at one of the tackle spots. In fact, the 6’6”, 320-pounder, who was born in Nigeria and whose family immigrated to the United States in 2010, has already started four games over his first two years. Last season, when Ramon Foster was injured, Okorafor was the man Tomlin chose to play right tackle when he decided to move Feiler over to left guard in a game against the Rams as a means of dealing with their very formidable interior defensive line led by one Aaron Donald.

But you could also make a strong case for Banner, who bounced between the Colts, the team that drafted him, and Browns for a season before winding up in Pittsburgh in 2018.

Banner grew in popularity last season when he began to draw applause from the fans at Heinz Field any time he was announced as an eligible receiver in jumbo packages. Perhaps it’s no surprise this came about after his waistline began to shrink, as he dropped from 420 pounds down to a trim for him 340. What really stood out to me during Banner’s interview with Dave and the guys was his revelation the techniques which have improved his play as an offensive lineman were taught to him after he came to the Steelers. That’s a credit to Mike Munchak, Banner’s first offensive line coach as a Steeler, and Shaun Sarrett, his current offensive line coach.

But it’s all mostly a credit to Banner who, at 6’8”, has an even bigger frame than the incredibly large Okorafor.

You have two guys with similar draft pedigrees and size. They’ve both put in the work to improve their play. They have fairly similar playing-time and experience if you count Banner’s many appearances as a crowd-pleasing jumbo tight end.

The question is, who will the coaches pick? If they were anything like the fans, they’d pick Banner. But have you seen coaches? They seem allergic to fun. Have you ever seen Tomlin “chuckle” at his or someone else’s joke at one of his press conferences? Talk about forced laughter.

Popularity won’t play a role in who wins the right tackle competition this summer.

It will be won based on performance.

Podcast: What is the biggest missing piece on the Steelers roster?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold from the week that was.

If the Steelers remain healthy, the 2020 roster could be strong enough to make a long run this season. But with depth being an issue, there may be holes that can hinder the process. Do the Steelers have missing pieces on their squad or are they in good shape in that arena? If there are missing pieces, what are they? This inquiry and more will be pondered on the latest episode in the BTSC family of podcasts. As always, it is a good time to talk everything Steelers.

Take a look or listen to the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this week’s show, Lance Williams welcomes BTSC’s Michael Beck into the mix to break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • What is the biggest missing piece on the Steelers roster?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Lance and Mike walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold on the flagship show.

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:

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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.

Black and Gold Links: The Steelers quarterback situation is better than last season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/02/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Unable to attend most player pro days and participating in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the Steelers keep pushing forward toward a return to football activities. Just because the NFL has cancelled the 2020 Hall of Fame Game and cut the preseason games down to two doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at the Steelers quarterback room this season compared to 2019.

Let’s get to the news:

  • In what ways is the Steelers quarterback situation better in 2020?

Steelers better equipped at QB compared to 2019

By: Jeff Hartman, DK Pittsburgh Sports

2019 wasn’t a good year for quarterbacks who donned the black-and-gold. Whether it was Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow failing him in Week 2 vs. the Seahawks, Mason Rudolph’s tumultuous season which included an ugly concussion and the brawl vs. the Browns, or Devlin Hodges failing when it mattered most, last season was one to forget.

Could the Steelers’ depth at the quarterback position be better in 2020 compared to 2019? How could it be? It didn’t even change.

But it could be better, and I think it will be better, based on one thing, experience.

The primary names on the depth chart haven’t changed, but a few have been added. Players like Paxton Lynch, a former first round pick who was signed last season to be QB3 on the depth chart, and J.T. Barrett show up on the list of names, but few are giving them a chance to make an impact this season.

Let’s be honest here, this entire discussion hinges solely on one thing, and that is the health of Roethlisberger’s elbow. Mike Tomlin was asked about Roethlisberger’s elbow during his virtual press conference last Tuesday, and this is what he had to say.

“I will say this, it is hearsay because I have not witnessed his workouts. I have communicated with him consistently throughout. He is comfortable and pleased with where he is. Some of the people that have had the opportunity to work out with him have been impressed and pleased with where he is. The medical experts are comfortable with where he is in the rehabilitation process and his overall readiness for 2020. All of those things being said, I am comfortable with where he is.”

This isn’t to suggest Tomlin would ever publicly state of Roethlisberger suffered a setback, or the organization isn’t confident in his ability to return to full health, but everything said about Roethlisberger’s road to recovery has been positive. And this is paramount not just when talking about the quarterback depth chart, but the overall success of the team.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Bill Cowher reportedly confirmed his illness in March was coronavirus

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher reportedly tests positive for coronavirus antibodies

By: Zach Brendza, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Bill Cowher likely had coronavirus, according to The Athletic.

The former Pittsburgh Steelers coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee told the outlet that he and his wife Veronica Stigeler had experienced coronavirus-like symptoms in March.

Cowher and Stigeler weren’t tested when they had symptoms, according to The Athletic, but they tested positive for antibodies in April. Antibody tests gauge whether someone has the antibodies associated with the virus, meaning they have had it or have been exposed to it.

“The NFL Today” analyst believes they might have had coronavirus because they were “under the weather” for a time.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Countdown to 2020: The Texans

By: Mike Prisuta, Steelers.com

Date: Sept 27
Time: 1 p.m.
Venue: Heinz Field
All-Time Regular-Season Series: Steelers lead, 4-2.

Last Meeting: The Steelers enjoyed a Merry Christmas in Texas when they traveled to Houston and beat the Texans, 34-6, on Dec. 25, 2017, at NRG Stadium. The visitors led 20-0 at halftime and 27-0 after three quarters. The defense registered seven sacks against two Houston quarterbacks (T.J. Yates six times, Taylor Heinicke once), including three by CB Mike Hilton.

Last Season: Houston went 10-6 and finished first in the AFC South. The Texans ranked 13th in total offense (ninth rushing, 15th passing) and 28th in total defense (25th rushing, 29th passing). Houston beat Buffalo in an AFC Wild Card game, 22-19, in overtime, and lost to Kansas City in an AFC Divisional Round game, 51-31, both at home. The Texans had a 24-0 lead before being outscored, 51-7, in the final two-and-a-half quarters of their playoff loss to the Chiefs.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

Who is the Steelers biggest rival for the 2020 season?

The NFL has reduced the number of preseason games down to two

Zach Banner is betting on himself this season

Dr. Fauci says he’s not qualified to decide if sports can be played

On Canada Day, highlighting Canadians to who wore the Black and Gold

  • Social Media Madness

#️⃣7️⃣@_BigBen7 | #BensDay pic.twitter.com/lFQMsA88Qs

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 1, 2020

Happy #CanadaDay to the members of #SteelersNation north of the border! pic.twitter.com/7Y6Bvyfpsm

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 1, 2020

Registration is now OPEN for the VIRTUAL #SteelersRunWalk this summer! Proceeds will benefit the Art Rooney Memorial Scholarship Fund and Chuck Noll Foundation.

Register now: https://t.co/CtRplCNGaB | @Gatorade pic.twitter.com/hKQ9U7UqnE

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 1, 2020

Report: NFL shortens the 2020 preseason format to 2 games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 3:44pm

According to ProFootballTalk, the Steelers will have even less on-field time to prepare for the NFL season.

Last week the Pro Football Hall of Fame postponed the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies and the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton Ohio. The Hall of Fame game was the traditional first preseason game of each NFL year. This week the NFL has reportedly cancelled 2 weeks of preseason games for each team, leaving the teams with only 2 games to get their roster ready for the regular season and to decide which players to keep and which ones to cut.

Week One and Week Four will be the preseason weeks that are scrapped, per source.

— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 1, 2020

The Steelers will now be short 3 preseason games, with their appearance in the Hall of Fame game postponed until 2021.

With teams set to open training camps 4 weeks from now on July 28th, the knowledge that there will be half as many warm up games as usual should put added pressure on players to prepare for the regular season, and for all the players on the roster bubble, added pressure to stand out.

While this year’s abbreviated preseason is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL has floated the idea of shortening the preseason to 2 games before. This move would be popular with many season ticket holders who resent paying for games that don’t count, and with veteran players who don’t have as much to gain from those games as younger players.

Many parties inside the NFL will be looking at how this temporary change affects the season. Whether injuries increase or decrease, if the level of play is affected, and how the coaching staffs feel about the change are all important factors which will be played out in this bizarre 2020 NFL season. Here’s hoping the announcements of games being cancelled have reached their end, and the regular season remains unaffected.

As always, stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all your Steelers breaking news.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Quadree Henderson

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Moving onto part 38 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at depth receiver and return specialist:

Quadree Henderson

Position: WR/KR
Height: 5’ 8”
Weight: 190 lbs
College: Pittsburgh
Draft: UDFA in 2019

2019 stats

NFL
N/A — Spent time on the Panthers and Steelers practice squad in 2019

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021
$675,000 salary cap number (0.30% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$675,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Unlikely. The Steelers haven't held a return specialist on roster since the days of Allen Rossum and Stefan Logan. If Henderson wants to make this roster he’ll have to do it as a receiver and will have to beat out the likes of Deon Cain, Ryan Switzer, and Saeed Blacknall.

2020 projection

Maybe if Quadree can take a couple kicks for house calls during the 2020 preseason he can sneak his way onto the roster. He has one more year of practice squad eligibility and a spot on that unit may come down to a battle with Saeed Blacknall.

If he wins the job on the practice squad, Henderson could get called up for a game or two as a depth receiver but would primarily take reps on the return team.

Projected stats:

N/A —Practice squad or cut

Summary

The Steelers have made their stance on returners know during the last few seasons. They have stayed away from the flashy return men and sent out the sure handed returners. The teams philosophy has also leaned toward fair catching the ball at all costs to avoid turnovers. Even All-Pro punt returner Diontae Johnson didn't return kicks the entire season after early muffed punts led to the team putting out more conservative returner Ryan Switzer.

Because they already have an All-Pro on the roster coupled with the team no longer carrying a return specialist, it seams unlikely that Henderson makes this Steelers team.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden
J.C. Hassenauer

For the 2020 season, Steelers tackle Zach Banner is betting on himself

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In an exclusive interview with BTSC, Banner discussed his decision to only sign a one-year deal with the Steelers.

In an exclusive interview last week with Behind The Steel Curtain, Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner opened up about a variety of topics pertaining to his NFL career and things going on with the Pittsburgh Steelers. When asked about signing a one-year contract this past offseason, Banner explained why he chose to only go the route of a single-year deal.

“I think it’s just one of those situations,” Banner stated. “My agent worded it in a very, very powerful way. We’re betting on ourselves.”

With the opportunity to earn a starting job for the 2020 season, Banner is hoping his play on the field could allow him to cash in on a more lucrative contract in a more timely manner. Although there is security in signing a deal for more than one season, believing he will earn a larger salary based on his continued improvement is a risk Banner is willing to take.

Banner went on to discuss more about the logic behind a one-year contract.

“The bottom line is with the Steelers organization, I appreciated the opportunity to possibly sign a couple year deal. But then when you look at it from a strategical standpoint—a strategy standpoint—what if I balled out this year, you know what I mean? What if? That’s the question in the air.”

While hoping he has a stellar 2020 season, Banner could also find himself without a safety net should he be dealing with injury or other issues in the upcoming season. Instead of focusing on the negatives, Banner is choosing to look at the positives of being a free agent following the upcoming season.

“We’re betting on ourselves to have a really, really good year,” Banner continued. “A lot of guys get scared. They think about things that you can’t control like injury and stuff like that. It’s not dissing that. I’m not disrespecting that. I’m not saying that’s the bad route to go. But sometimes if you do that, then you set yourself up for failure later and you have regret. So there will be zero regrets.”

Another issue Banner will be facing is the Pittsburgh Steelers constantly being up against the NFL salary cap. In order to have the biggest payday, Banner may have to hit the free-agent market. But when it comes to where he would prefer to play, Zach still wants to continue to be a part of the Steelers organization.

“The bottom line is I do want to be here in Pittsburgh,” Banner confessed. “I’m really happy that we got it figured out here in Pittsburgh. And more and more opportunities are being given every day. So I’m really, really excited.”

It will be interesting to see how the 2020 season pays off for Banner come the beginning of the next league year. But until then, hopefully Banner can supply some quality play to help lead the Steelers deep into the 2020 playoffs.

The full interview with Zach Banner, in either audio or video form, is available HERE.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I am completely unqualified to tell you whether you can play a sport or not”

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 11:01am
Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dr. Fauci spoke during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday and discussed being treated as the ultimate authority on the functionality of professional sports.

Many NFL fans are continuing to cross their fingers. Whether it be with no fans, some fans, or however the NFL figures out dealing with attendance at games, those following the sport ultimately just want to see football being played.

While there may be some who feel the season should happen regardless, the majority of fans would like to see it done in a manner which is safe to all of those involved. Whether or not this can happen is something which will never really be known until it is attempted. Many have offered opinions, but they are exactly what they are labeled—opinions.

One person whose opinion has been highly regarded during the current global pandemic is Dr. Anthony Fauci. One of the most well-known doctors in the United States when it comes to COVID-19, Dr. Fauci is on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and has often been the spokesperson for the medical community when it comes to answering questions about the virus.

While Dr. Fauci‘s opinions about professional sports have been widespread over the last couple months, his remarks in a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday about the likelihood of sports returning seemed to completely contradict what has continually been reported.

“Sometimes you have to make extrapolations because you’re in a position to where you need to give at least some sort of recommendation,” Dr. Fauci stated.

In Dr. Fauci’s next statement specifically about professional sports, he seemed frustrated over how his recommendations have been spun by various news outlets. I will simply let Dr. Fauci‘s word speak for themselves. The quotes within his quote are added due to Dr. Fauci using “hand quotes” as he was speaking.

“The other thing that I’d like to clarify very briefly is that when things get into the press of what I ‘supposedly’ said, I didn’t say. I never said we can’t play a certain sport. What happens is that people in the sports industry—they could either be people from player’s associations, owners, people involved in the health of the players—asked me opinions regarding certain facts about the spread of the virus; what the dynamics are. I give it, and then it gets interpreted that I’m saying, ‘You can’t play this sport’ or ‘You can’t play that sport.’ I agree with you. I am completely unqualified to tell you whether you can play a sport or not. The only thing that I can do is, to the best of my ability, give you the facts and the evidence associated with what I know about this outbreak.”

Interesting.

So the person in the United States who is regarded as the leading expert on the global pandemic says he is unqualified to determine whether or not sports can be played. Of course, Dr. Fauci made the statement about giving the facts and evidence associated with what he knows about the outbreak.

Of course we understand Dr. Fauci is the leading expert on the topic. But even he is unsure if and how sports can return in the future.

The other thing which needs to be considered is how little we still continue to know about this virus, including Dr. Fauci himself. Why does it not affect children in the same way? What are the biggest factors in someone being asymptomatic? These are things which the medical community has yet to fully understand, and once they do the answers may offer solutions to the current global crisis.

I know many are growing frustrated over the current situation, myself included. More than anything, people just want answers as to how to stay safe and how they can still function in society while maintaining that safety. In doing so, we hang on every word coming from the experts. Because of this, the nations most leading expert seems to be growing frustrated on how every word he speaks is being interpreted.

So how does this affect the sports world? Do leagues cancel their seasons because it is unclear how safe things could be? Or, since it is such an unknown, should leagues such as the NFL continue their preparations in hopes the unknowns fall in their favor?

The bottom line is we are truly dealing with an unknown. Even the experts admit they are unqualified to say whether or not the NFL season can take place. But yet sports media personalities continue to offer definitive answers based on “facts” even the experts are not willing to make.

"They're not going to finish the [NFL] season. I find it so far-fetched. I don't know why more people don't realize this."

@maxkellerman pic.twitter.com/o6sfQfK9B9

— First Take (@FirstTake) June 30, 2020

So regardless of your opinion of the NFL conducting the 2020 season in any capacity, the bottom line is everything is just an opinion. Even the country’s leading expert is merely offering an opinion based on the data he has available. The only way we will ever truly know if and how the NFL season will be held is to make the attempt as safely as possible and examine the results.

The impact of Canadians on the Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:25am
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Canada’s 153 birthday we dive into some Steelers players from the great white north

Canadians seem to be invading Pittsburgh sports these days. There are 9 Canadians on the penguins roster, dual-citizen Jameson Taillon is throwing pitches for the Pirates, Chase Claypool was drafted to the Steelers with their top pick of the 2020 draft, and Matt Canada was named the Steelers QB coach back in January. Okay, well Matt Canada isn't actually Canadian but you get the point.

Even the author of this article hails from the great white north.

So today, on Canada Day I thought it would be fitting to take a look back at some of the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers to call the true-north home.

Roy Gerela Sarrail, Alberta
Kicker, 1971-1978 Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Roy Gerela is a two time Pro Bowler and a three time Super Bowl champ with the Pittsburgh Steelers. To this day, he is still ranks third on the all-time Steelers scoring list. Gerela would make 184 of his 306 career attempts and would retire hitting 60.1% of his field goals.

The Gerela family is routed pretty deep in Canadian football history, as Roy’s brothers, Ted and Metro, played a handful of seasons as kickers in the Canadian football League. Metro Gerela is also a member of the Canadian soccer Hall of Fame.

Mitch Berger Kamloops, British Columbia
Punter, 2008 Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mitch Berger was a one hit wonder for the Steelers back in 2008, but he would play 16 total seasons in the NFL. In his lone season in Pittsburgh, Berger would play in 13 games but would be a tackling machine —as far as punters go. Berger made 5 tackles including 2 in the form of touchdown-savers. In Super Bowl XLIII, Berger had three punts for a 46.3 yard average, including one inside the 20.

Shaun Suisham Wallaceburg, Ontario
Kicker, 2005, 2010-2015 Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Shaun Suisham kicked his career off with the Steelers back in 2005 and would then bounce around the NFL the next 5 years before landing back in the Steel City. In 5 seasons with the Steelers, Suisham knocked through 124 of his 141 field goal attempts along with 274 extra points. Suisham would famously end his career playing in the Hall of Fame Game which sparked a series of unfortunate events which ended when the Steelers signed future Pro Bowler Chris Boswell to the roster.

Chase Claypool Abbotsford, British Columbia
Wide Receiver, 2020-Present Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Chase Claypool hasn't even stepped foot on the Steelers practice field yet but he has already accomplished something no other Canadian has ever done with the Pittsburgh Steelers: Being the highest Canadian draft pick in franchise history. It also won't take long for Claypool to be the best Canadian in franchise history because, the rest of the list is a bunch of kickers.

What do you think. Will Chase Claypool go down as the greatest Canadian in franchise history? What kind of stats would he need to acquire the title? Let us know down in the comments below!

Also shout out Ryan Thelwell and Jamaal Westerman who are also Canadian but only appeared in 1 game in Pittsburgh.

This one goes out to you Canadian Steelers fans. Happy Canada Day and go Steelers!

Who is currently the Pittsburgh Steelers biggest rival?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

With every team in the AFC North feeling the Steelers are their biggest rival, which one, if any, is the feeling replicated?

It’s rivalry week at SB Nation, and when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers it is not necessarily a unanimous decision as to who is actually the teams biggest rival. I know all the other teams in the AFC North look to the Steelers as their biggest rival. And why wouldn’t they? Since the current AFC North format began in 2002, the Steelers have won the division eight times with the Baltimore Ravens having six division championships and the Cincinnati Bengals four. Add in the six Lombardi trophies held by the franchise and the Steelers set the mark for what other teams in the division achieve to accomplish.

So which NFL team is the Steelers biggest rival at this time? While these teams can change from time to time, let’s look back at some of the history of the Steelers biggest rivalries to help determine which one maybe the top spot for the 2020 season.

Dallas Cowboys

Although they were probably never the Steelers biggest rival in the NFL, the championship chases experienced by the Steelers and Cowboys in the 70s make their matchups highly anticipated. The teams actually only faced each other five times in the 70s. With two of the matchups being in the Super Bowl, it’s fair to say the two teams had a bit of a rivalry.

When it comes to owning the matchup, not only with the Steelers 2-0 in the Super Bowl, they were 4-1 against the Cowboys in the 70s with the only loss being in Dallas in 1972.

Oakland Raiders

A bigger rival throughout the 70s for the Pittsburgh Steelers had to be the Oakland Raiders. The team on the losing side of the Immaculate Reception had some great battles with Pittsburgh both in the regular season and playoffs. There were 11 matchups in the 70s, and even though the Steelers only won five of the games they faced against the Raiders, they were victorious in three of the five times the teams faced off the playoffs.

Houston Oilers

When it came to divisional rivals, the team the Steelers were most combative with since joining the AFC in 1970 were the Houston Oilers. From 1970 to 2001 when the teams played in the same division, they faced off a total of 66 times with the Steelers having a record of 40-26. As for the playoffs, the two teams only faced off three times while they were in the same division with twice being in the 70s and once in the 80s. In all three cases, the Steelers were victorious.

Cleveland Browns

Another divisional rival of note in the old AFC Central division were the Cleveland Browns. With a record of 36-23 in the 59 games the two teams squared off from 1970 to 2001, The Steelers owned the Browns through the 70s with a record of 15-5. It was in the 80s were the Browns had the advantage as the Steelers were only 8-12 against Cleveland. The Steelers got back to their dominance of the Browns in the 90s as they waent 10-5 with the team not having a franchise in the 96 through 98 seasons. Since the Browns returned the NFL in 1999, they just haven’t made much noise to live up to any rivalry with Pittsburgh.

With divisional realignment beginning in the 2002 season, who has since become the Pittsburgh Steelers biggest rival? The simple answer is which ever team has given them a challenge within the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns have not won a divisional championship in the history of the AFC North, so even with the recent antics which occurred during the 2019 season, the Browns still don’t bring enough to the table to be the Steelers biggest rival entering the 2020 season.

So who could it be? Does the Steelers biggest rival even belong in their same division?

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have made a splash in the AFC North a few times since its inception. It’s hard to forget the Bengals winning the division in 2005 only to fall in the first round of the playoffs to the Steelers as they made their way to win Super Bowl XL. The Bengals also won the division in 2013 and 2015 with the Steelers sandwiched in between. During these times there were some intense moments and very hard hits which were shared between the two teams. But the Bengals have not been able to sustain a culture of winning for very long to maintain the status of a true rival.

Baltimore Ravens

Only two behind the Steelers, the Ravens have won six AFC North championships. Additionally, they have won two Super Bowls within the last 20 years just like the Steelers. Being a rare occasion where the Ravens were completely out of the running, their continued quality performance gives them the edge as the Steelers biggest rival since 2002. And after winning the last two division championships, they are the team to beat in the AFC North and therefore the Steelers biggest rival.

New England Patriots

It wouldn’t be right to mention recent rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers without throwing up, I guess I mean ‘out,’ the name of the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, this rivalry is much like those in the AFC North where it is more one-sided. Although the Steelers have seen the Patriots as the team to beat in order to get to the Super Bowl, New England has not seemed to hold the same respect back toward Pittsburgh. Being the only other team in the NFL to match the Steelers in Lombardi trophies, the Patriots will always be a team on the Steelers radar in coming years. But with the departure of quarterback Tom Brady and the fact the Steelers do not play the Patriots during the regular season in 2020, this matchup does not carry near the weight it did over the last five seasons.

So who is the Steelers biggest rival going into the 2020 season? Please vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

The cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game isn’t an ominous sign for the upcoming NFL season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 6:30am
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game and its weekend of events shouldn't be considered an ominous sign for the upcoming NFL season. A better barometer is watching the NBA, NHL and MLB and seeing if they actually resume play in about a month.

It was reported last week that the 2020 Hall of Fame Game which was to match the Steelers against the Cowboys on August 6, along with that weekend’s Class of 2020 induction ceremonies, were canceled due to concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Was this a surprise? Not really, especially with recent comments by Ohio governor Mike DeWine who said there was no way he could see the game, or anything involving Hall of Fame Weekend, taking place in front of large crowds. And if there weren’t a lot—or any—people on hand to take in the Hall of Fame Game and the subsequent enshrinement ceremonies that would have immortalized former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Steelers players Donnie Shell and Troy Polamalu, what would have been the point?

You can have a draft without fans around, but a Hall of Fame induction ceremony? Yuck. As for the game, itself, if any preseason game was meant to be played with fans in attendance, it’s that one. It’s a nice little event which kicks off a great weekend. As a fan, you’re not there so much for the game, but the experience.

When it comes to all other preseason games, however, they’re more for evaluating players than they are for entertaining the fans. This might be a mean thing to suggest considering so many fans who don’t normally get to see football in person go to these games. Also, there’s the matter of the ticket price, which up until recent years was the same as a regular-season matchup.

I get all that, but I guess the point I’m trying to make with this article is the chances of the Hall of Fame Game ever happening were pretty slim because fans play an integral part in the whole weekend of events. As for what the cancellation of all things Hall of Fame Weekend means for the start of the 2020 NFL season? I wouldn’t read much into it.

Speaking of chances, the chances of any sporting event taking place with fans in the stands for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year started out pretty slim once the pandemic hit in March, and with the continued surge in Coronavirus cases around the country, it looks like they’ll remain that way for the foreseeable future. The cancellation of the Hall of Fame ceremonies may have been a signal to the NFL that its desire to have games with full stadiums this fall may be a foolish one. In other words, the league may just have to bite the in-stadium revenue bullet and have all of its games without fans in the stands in 2020.

That’s what the other three major professional sports leagues in the United States—the NBA, NHL and MLB—are planning on doing.

Speaking of those other three major professional sports leagues, if you want a true barometer of whether or not there will be an NFL season that starts on time, or at all, watch what happens around the end of July. This is about the time all three leagues are expected to resume play. After months of planning and preparation, if one or all still deem things too unsafe and too risky to continue, you can pretty much bet on the NFL coming to the same conclusion.

As big as the NFL is, it's not so big it can ignore how its competitors are handling the pandemic.

As I've been saying, the NFL has been the one league that's been granted the gift of time. And in time, the NBA, NHL and MLB will tell it how to proceed with its 2020 regular season.

Podcast: What streaks will continue for the 2020 Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest BTSC podcast, our Steelers ‘Stat Geeks’, brothers Dave and Rich Schofield, break down the numbers surrounding the Black-and-Gold.

The Steelers enter 2020 with a number of unique streaks going such as nine straight wins on Mondays, 20 games of not scoring 30 points and 23-straight games of turning the ball over. Some of these stats need to end quickly and some would be awesome to see extended. Join BTSC editor Dave Schofield and his big brother Rich as they discuss the current streaks the Steelers ended the 2019 season with and if they will continue into 2020. This is the question that will be pondered and attempted to be answered on the latest edition in the BTSC family of podcasts.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold and there you have the topic for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Stat Geek. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, stats and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • What streaks will continue for the 2020 Steelers?
  • Stats, stats and more stats
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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.

Black and Gold Links: Since it’s up to each team, the Steelers are hopeful to have fans in the stands for 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 07/01/2020 - 4:30am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Unable to attend most player pro days and participating in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the Steelers keep pushing forward toward a return to football activities. Just because the Steelers are unable to hold their typical OTA’s and the NFL has cancelled the 2020 Hall of Fame Game doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at the Steelers optimism in having fans at Heinz Field this coming season.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers are operating under the assumption their will be fans at home games in 2020

Steelers ‘optimistic’ fans will be in Heinz Field this fall

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers are still holding out hope that they will be able to play home games in front of their fans during the 2020 season.

Last week, The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan wrote that the NFL is going to allow teams an opportunity to work out their own seating volume for home games. He says that the league will not mandate a one-size-fits-all policy for attendance.

The NFL will let teams set different attendance capacity limits when the schedule starts in August with the preseason, meaning some clubs could play in front of full, or nearly full stadiums and some before no fans.

“The league communicated to clubs that they follow local health covid-19 guidelines on social distancing rules, which vary greatly state to state… In other words, as of now, the NFL will not dictate capacity thresholds…

When I asked for a response to that post, Steelers director of communications Burt Lauten emailed me on Monday evening, “We will continue to work with health officials around the state while following the proper protocols and guidelines by the CDC when preparing Heinz Field for the 2020 season. At this time, we remain optimistic we will play our home games as scheduled in front of our fans with the understanding that we will follow the NFL and government regulations to maintain the safety of our fans, players and staff.”

The Steelers’ “optimistic” sense about having fans at home games dovetails with the Pirates’ return to PNC Park for workouts this week. And according to the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, Major League Baseball has the ability to allow fans at some point if the war against the virus starts to turn.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • One Steelers rookie gave the gift of life to a stranger

A life-saving decision by a Steelers rookie

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

When his phone rang, Christian Montano looked at it skeptically, not knowing who was on the other end.

The Steelers rookie, who at the time was a graduate student and the starting center at Tulane, thought the call was coming from New York, but didn’t know the number or who it could be.

Skeptically he answered it, not sure if he was doing the right thing or not, the same reaction many of us have when we answer a call from an unknown number.

He, however, did the right thing.

On the other end was the man whose life he changed forever.

“The guy said is this Christian Montano?” started Montano. “This is Jim Calhoun, I am your bone marrow recipient.

“I was like, wow, I have to talk to him and stop what I am doing. I had just finished my classes and was back at my apartment. At that point I stopped everything and just wanted to talk to him.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Outlining the Steelers December matchup with the Colts at Heinz Field

Steelers 2020 Breakdown: Week 16, Colts

By: Jeff Hartman, DK Pittsburgh Sports

It seems to be a yearly occurrence for the Colts to visit Heinz Field, and it will happen again in 2020. Instead of Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, like it was leading into the 2019 meeting, it will be Philip Rivers under center. Will this be the last time he and Ben Roethlisberger — two quarterbacks from the 2004 draft class — go head-to-head? Time to break down the matchup.

MATCHUP

Opponent: Colts
2019 Record: 7-9
Overall History (W/L): 25-6, for Steelers
Last 4 Games: 4-0, for Steelers
Opening Line: Steelers (-2)
Date: Sunday, Dec. 27
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Location: Pittsburgh

OUTGOING PLAYERS/ FREE-AGENT LOSSES

TE Eric Ebron
CB Pierre Desir
WR Devin Funchess
OT Joe Haeg
QB Brian Hoyer

RETIREMENTS

N/A

FREE-AGENT ADDITIONS

QB Philip Rivers
DT Sheldon Day
CB Xavier Rhodes
CB T.J. Carrie
FB Roosevelt Nix
TE Trey Burton

PLAYERS VIA TRADE

DT DeForest Buckner

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

What is the current state of the Steelers offensive line?

The top 10 families in professional football

Zach Banner has learned a lot since joining the Steelers

2020 predictions for the AFC East

The best Steelers to wear the number 77

  • Social Media Madness

Don't blink @AnttMacc_ pic.twitter.com/LShv5rfRUA

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 1, 2020

High school vs. now pic.twitter.com/TSkn9tL63Q

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 30, 2020

Da Beard Da End Zone @bkeisel99#SteelersJukeBox request by @TweetsFromAlpha! pic.twitter.com/L3e35WaKjl

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 30, 2020

A #SocialMediaDay giveaway for #SteelersNation!

RT for a chance to win this football signed by @TeamJuJu! pic.twitter.com/t1W8RzAYJ7

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 30, 2020

Podcast: Who is best backup quarterbacks to ever hold the clipboard for the Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/30/2020 - 3:30pm

In the latest episode of “Steelers Q&A” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo rank the best backup quarterbacks in Steelers history.

Through the decades, the Steelers backup quarterback usually is the most popular player on the team. But sometimes the admiration turns when said QB actually gets to play. But there are a few twho stepped up big in Pittsburgh”s times of need. Typically, BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers. In a departure from the present and future, join the duo as they go back in time and discuss the greatest understudies in Steelers lore.

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!

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.

Numero Uni: Of the 25 most prolific Steelers jersey numbers of all time, which is ranked 12th?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/30/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Steelers have had a plethora of great players representing one number over the years. Find out which one number is ranked 12th.

BTSC continues to rank the best numbers in team history on a standpoint of thriving over time throughout multiple players. It seems there are a few numbers which are always represented with quality play in Steelers lore. One BTSC author has wondered aloud “what is the most accomplished number in Steelers history?” Through player and jersey value rankings found in Pro Football Reference, we have ranked the most successful numbers in Steelers history worn by multiple players. You won’t see numbers like 12, 58, 75, 31, 32, 52, 59, 36 and 47 as it would be basically ranking an individual player over the other and not the cumulative effort. In today’s submission, we take a look at those ranked 12th. Enjoy.

12 No. 77 Photo by Kirby Lee/NFLPhotoLibrary

Most Notable: Marcus Gilbert 2011-2018, Marvel Smith 2000-2008, Will Wolford 1996-1998, Carlton Haselrig 1989-1993, Steve Courson 1978-1983, Dan James 1960-1966

Current Wearer: Derwin Gray 2019-Present

The No. 77 for the Pittsburgh Steelers was never rife with superstars, but it clothed solid players over the years. Let’s take a look at six of these Steelers to don double-sevens.

Marvel Smith started 108 games at the tackle position in Pittsburgh. The second-round pick out of Arizona State was valuable as Ben Roethlisberger’s blind-side protector in a career that earned Smith two Super Bowl rings. Marvel started 108 out of 111 games in his Steelers career and went to the Pro Bowl in 2004. After missing the postseason in 2007 and the Super Bowl XLIII season of 2008 due to injury, Smith retired from football after spending his entire nine-year career in black and gold.

Will Wolford didn’t play for the Steelers long, but the long-time Buffalo Bills player was a very important piece of the offensive line in the late 1990s. After a three-year stint in Indianapolis, the three-time Pro Bowl selection and 1992 All-Pro joined the Steelers in 1996 as a free agent. Wolford arrived in the Steel City in the same offseason in which Jerome Bettis did. While Will was no longer in his prime, the guard’s play was a prime factor in “the Bus” rushing for an average of 1,427 from 1996-1998. Wolford played most of ‘98 with a torn chest muscle and chose to end his career. After 13 NFL seasons and three in a Pittsburgh, Will Wolford’s career in the league ended with a solid run as a Steeler.

Carlton Haselrig arrived in Pittsburgh as one of the greatest college athletes of all time, but not as a football player. The six-time NCAA Heavyweight Champion (Both D1 and D2) at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown played football in high school, but was a wrestler at the college without a football program, So the future NCAA Hall of Famer focused on wrestling where one of many highlights was defeating Olympic Champion, WWE legend and Pittsburgh native Kurt Angle on the mat. Not expecting to be drafted, Haselrig was talking to NFL teams who saw potential in his skills as a possible undrafted free agent. The Steelers, however, drafted Carlton in the 12th round in 1989. Haselrig started out as a defensive lineman, but played both ways on the scout team. Realizing his wrestling skills were more suited for the offensive line, Chuck Noll switched “the Rig” to the other side of the line in 1990. By 1992, Haselrig was a Pro Bowler at guard. After injuries mounted and the grappler turned football player missed all of 1994, Haselrig left the team after five seasons for a season with the Jets in 1995. He retired after 11 starts that year with New York. After stints in MMA, Carlton is coaching in his hometown at UPJ.

The Joe Greene Great Performance Award winner in 2011 for the Steelers top rookie was Marcus Gilbert. A second-round pick that season out of Florida, Gilbert beat out Cam Heyward who was picked in the first. The solid right tackle wore the digits for the Steelers until 2019 when he was traded to the Cardinals after two seasons ravaged with injuries. A National Champ for the Gators, along with linemate Maurkice Pouncey, Smith anchored the right side of the line for eight seasons.

Steve Courson came to the Steelers in Round 5 of the 1977 NFL Draft out of South Carolina. He played in Super Bowl XIII and XIV and was a starter in the seasons of 1981 and 1982. After six seasons in Pittsburgh, the Gettysburg HS star played two more years in Tampa after a trade. As a Gamecock, Courson started using steroids and his weight went from 225 to 260 in 45 days. In the pros, Steve could bench press 605 pounds and became ashamed that he wasn’t achieving on his own. The drugs also caused him to need heart surgery and other problems. The offensive lineman became one of the first players to speak out about the drug in Sports Illustrated in 1985. Conducting 100 speeches a year to high school students, Courson allegedly fell out of favor with the league because of his outspokeness of the problem. The former Steeler died at age 50 when a tree he was cutting changed directions from the wind and struck Courson as he was attempting to save his labrador.

Dan James started 91 games for the Steelers from 1960 to 1966 at the right tackle position. James wore the double-fives his first season after coming over from the 49ers as an eighth rounder in 1959. His second season, James switched to No. 77 and held down the right side of the line protecting quarterbacks Bobby Layne, Rudy Bukich, Ed Brown, Ron C. Smith and Bill Nelsen. James passed away in 1987 at the age of 49.

Check back soon for the 11th best jersey in BTSC’s countdown of the most prolific jersey number stables in Steelers history. But first, a recap of the countdown so far.

Honorable Mention: No. 51, No. 93, No. 27 and No. 33
25) No. 24
24) No. 43
23) No. 83
22) No. 67
21) No. 53
20) No. 10
19) No. 20
18) No. 63
17) No. 50
16) No. 34
15) No. 78
14) No. 98
13) No. 68

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: J.C. Hassenauer

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/30/2020 - 12:30pm

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

We are back again with part 37 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at depth offencive lineman:

J.C. Hassenauer

Position: C
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 305 lbs
College: Alabama
Draft: UDFA in 2018 (Falcons)

2019 stats

NFL
N/A — joined the practice squad Week 12; one game on active roster (Week 17)

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021
$610,000 salary cap number (0.30% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$610,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Unlikely. Hassenauer, could land on the Steelers practice squad in 2020. However, with the recent news that Matt Feiler will start the year at guard, it looks like the interior backups are set in stone.

I don't see a world where Hassenauer passes Stefan Wisniewski, or Kevin Dotson on the depth chart. If Wisniewski earns the job a left guard and Matt Feiler goes back to tackle, Hassenauer could squeeze on the roster as a back-up center.

2020 projection

At best Hassenauer squeezes onto the 53-man roster if all the cards fall his way. At worst, the 2020 training camp is his last NFL snaps of his career. The most likely path for Hassenauer would be to land back on the practice squad.

Projected stats:

N/A —Practice squad or cut

Summary

If the Steelers starting guards and center are Feiler, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro and the backups are Wisniewski and Dotson, Then I just don't see a way to fit J.C. Hassenauer onto the team. But if he can stay on the practice squad, Hassenauer could be a candidate to occasionally move up to the active roster with the new roster rules.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden

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