You are here

Links

Steelers Eli Rogers suspended the first week of the 2018 season due to substance abuse violation

Behind the Steel Curtain - 6 hours 19 min ago

The Steelers WR who is battling back from a torn ACL will have to sit out the first week of the regular season no matter what.

Just when you thought the Pittsburgh Steelers sent the player they had on their roster with a substance abuse problem to the Oakland Raiders, Eli Rogers finds himself suspended for the first week of the 2018 regular season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Here is a statement from General Manager Kevin Colbert, via the Steelers official website:

We are disappointed that Eli Rogers has been suspended for Week 1 of the regular season as part of the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

The suspension will begin following the final roster cutdown on September 1. He will be allowed to continue his rehabilitation and attend meetings at team’s headquarters, but he will not be permitted to practice with the team during his suspension or attend the Week 1 game.

This was the released statement from the NFL regarding Rogers’ suspension:

Eli Rogers of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been suspended without pay for the first game of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

Rogers will be eligible to return to the Steelers’ active roster on Monday, September 10 following the team’s September 9 game against the Cleveland Browns.

Rogers is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and games.

While disappointing, there is no guarantee Rogers would have been healthy enough to play in Week 1, as he is still nursing a torn ACL and is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but there is no guarantee Rogers would even make the team with the new talent blossoming at the wide receiver position.

The Steelers have options with Rogers being on the PUP list, and don’t have to act anytime soon. There is a strong possibility Rogers would remain on the list until near midseason when the team would be forced to activate him to the 53-man roster.

Stay tuned as more details of this story are released...

When it comes to safety in the game of football, you truly have to pick your poison

Behind the Steel Curtain - 8 hours 29 min ago

Make the game safer, but decrease the quality of the product. There is no right answer in this scenario.

The Greek hero Odysseus faced his share of challenges in getting home. He succeeded where others failed in sailing between the monster Scylla while still evading the whirlpool Charybdis. Every summer, and happily, often in late December, the Steelers find themselves trying to pick their poison: Fail to truly prepare for what’s ahead, or get hurt trying to prepare.

Over the course of just a few weeks we have had injury scares from the Steelers’ two biggest stars. Antonio Brown, depending on whom you ask, either did or didn’t limp off the field as practice ended, and Ben Roethlisberger certainly ended his practice early with what was thought to be a potential concussion — thankfully it wasn’t.

These are both dodged bullets, but they highlight the struggle.

Much was made last season about the drop off in blocking across the league. The presumed culprit? The Collective Bargaining Agreement, and its strong limitations on padded practices. No pads means no hitting. No hitting means less learning. Less learning can easily translate into more franchise faces on the IR.

A critical injury to just one player can derail an entire season. Ask the Texans. On the other hand, an atmosphere that treats all players, or even just some, with kid gloves can create a perennial loser. Ask Todd Haley. All of this cashes out in real games, whether early in the season, where Le’Veon Bell shows rust, or late in the season when coaches are forced to consider the implications of sitting stars when playoff positioning is set, or nearly so.

All of this, though, is just a smaller manifestation of the bigger issue facing the NFL, the looming battle between player safety and the product on the field. I think it likely that my children’s grandchildren may grow up in a football-less world, that they will look back at our sport the way we look back at boxing before Queensbury.

All attempts to have football be football and football be safe are delusional. You can not have your cake and eat it too. Either the monster of mayhem will destroy brave men, or the whirlpool of safety will make shipwreck of the game.

I don’t pretend to know the solution. I only know that pretending is no solution. I know that I fear to look too deeply into my conscience, because I know what I want. I want to watch the real game, the way it once was. At the same time, like many professionals who play it, I want to watch the real game that I would not allow my children to play.

There is a reason the Romans had gladiatorial games. The reason is that the Romans, like us, liked bloody and violent sport. There are distinctions to be sure. The object of our game is to hit pay dirt. But stadiums, like the Roman Coliseum, erupt when our guy brings down their guy hard. My living room erupts in the same way, and for the same reasons. As a boy I loved watching the grace of Lynn Swann but I wanted to be Donnie Shell. There is storage space in my brain for the memory of Swann falling like a feather, cradling the ball in Super Bowl X. But that scene where Shell took out Earl Campbell on Monday Night Football, that is stored in my brain in high def, complete with the crunch of breaking ribs in surround sound.

My plan is to enjoy it while it lasts, and pray for the health of my heroes.

Ben Roethlisberger confirms he did not suffer a concussion but unsure how much he will play against Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - 10 hours 39 min ago

Cleared from concussion protocols, Ben Roethlisberger is keen to get his first snaps of the preseason, even though he knows they will be limited

The third preseason game of the year is generally the one in which most of the starters will receive a significant amount of playing time, but that might not necessarily be the case for all of the Pittsburgh Steelers starters on Saturday when they play the Tennessee Titans.

When speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, Ben Roethlisberger seemed unsure how many snaps he would see at Heinz Field on the weekend.

“I am not really sure. I haven’t spoken to Coach (Mike Tomlin) on it.”

The Steelers star quarterback has already been cleared from concussion protocols and Roethlisberger confirmed that he hadn’t actually suffered a concussion at all when discussing the hit with the reporters at team facilities.

“You don’t expect to get hit, and then to get hit from the blind side, Gil [Marcus Gilbert] just happened to be pushing the guy around and caught me just right. It knocked the wind out of me a little bit too.”

Despite appearing to holding his head for a while on the ground after the hit, it seems Roethlisberger was always confident the knock was nothing to worry about, as he told reporters when asked how long it took him to realise he was okay.

“Pretty quick, I think the scary thing is the verbiage, concussion protocol. I think what a lot of people don’t realize, players included, that doesn’t mean you have a concussion. You go into a protocol system to get tested for a concussion. Right away no symptoms. I took thee test when I got back to the facility, then when we got back here and everything came back perfect. I think everyone, because of the reporting and lack of knowledge, assumed I had a concussion but I never did. That was the good thing.”

“Hopefully the hardest hit I take all year is from Gilbert and then we can laugh about it at the end of the year.”

Ben Roethlisberger talks about his concussion scare from last week:https://t.co/3CI5drRE0f

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 21, 2018

With the coaching staff keen to give their younger quarterbacks as much playing time as possible, it would not be a surprise to see Roethlisberger’s snaps severely limited on Saturday, but he is just looking forward to getting back onto the field with his teammates.

“I am excited to get out there. I am sure there will be some jitters and rust. It will be good to get out there with the guys.”

That being said, it does not sound like Roethlisberger is asking for that many snaps if everything is clicking on offense.

“Obviously, that would be ideal to just get out there. I think usually the amount of plays determines how we do series-wise, are you going three-and-out, are you sustaining drives, stuff like that. Obviously, this is the first time we all will be on the field at the same time, so it would be nice to put together a couple drives and then find a way to finish them off and stay healthy.”

Tomlin is due to speak with the media at the end of practice on Tuesday and once he has revealed his plans for the quarterback rotation against Tennessee, we will sure to bring you that news.

How the Steelers’ WR corps in 2018 will be better than last year with Martavis Bryant

Behind the Steel Curtain - 12 hours 4 sec ago

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some new faces in their receiving corps, and despite the absence of Martavis Bryant, they should be even better in 2018.

If you’re like me, when you were watching the 2018 NFL Draft and saw news of the Pittsburgh Steelers sending Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders, you had mixed emotions.

First, you were happy to see the Steelers get something of value for the troubled receiver — but then you wondered who would fill his shoes in the offense this season. Shame on me for questioning Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert when it comes to drafting wide-receiver talent, but I know I wasn’t alone in these concerns.

Even though rookie James Washington has had a tremendous rookie preseason, you have to wonder if he’ll be able to do what Bryant did last year, and in previous years. That was to take defenders’ eyes off of Antonio Brown and take the top off of a defense.

While Washington has shown during training camp and the preseason he’s got the skill to make people say, “Martavis who?” I asked Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders what he thought of the Steelers’ 2018 wide-receiving corps, and he thinks they’ll be even better next season.

I think the receiving corps will actually be better in 2018. Smith-Schuster was better than Bryant in essentially every way in 2017, so that already bodes well. He had taken Bryant’s role as the secondary target by the end of last season, and there’s no reason to expect any issues there in 2018. The question is how quickly Washington can rise to fill the third receiver role.

Our Playmaker Projection had Washington as the ninth-best receiver in this year’s draft, despite his nation-leading receiving yards last season. He has limited experience with a full route tree and he isn’t as smooth a pass-catcher as some receivers. That matters a lot less when defenses have to worry about Brown and JuJu first and foremost. I like Washington a lot better as a WR3 than as a WR2, because the Steelers can just play to Washington’s many strengths, rather than need him to be The Guy in the offense right away. He’ll be a deep threat and stretch the defense, allowing everyone else to work underneath. Last year, Smith-Schuster and Bryant combined for 108 catches and 1,520 yards. I expect Smith-Schuster and Washington to surpass those totals, if everyone stays healthy.

Some solid analysis, and statistics, to back up the belief that Smith-Schuster and Washington will do enough in 2018 to beat the numbers put up by Smith-Schuster and Bryant last season. But what do you think? Do you think the Steelers’ wide receivers will be just fine, or will they miss the man they called “The Alien”?

Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald is starting to look like an unreliable player

Behind the Steel Curtain - 14 hours 2 min ago

It’s late summer and Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald is dealing with yet another injury. This raises the question of whether his constant physical setbacks make him an unreliable player.

Ever notice how some NFL players just seem so talented and physically gifted, you can’t stop gushing about them or heaping tons of praise and ever-greater expectations upon them? Like a lot of other people this spring and summer, I thought it was a sexy idea to predict tight end Vance McDonald, with his size, speed and athleticism, would be a difference-maker for the Steelers’ already potent offense in 2018.

And he still might be when all is said and done. After all, we’re talking about a player who came into the league as a second-round pick by the 49ers in 2013, a man who was the fourth-rated tight end in that year’s draft class, according to McDonald’s Wikipedia page.

We’re also talking about a player that was given a five-year, $35 million contract extension by San Francisco near the end of the 2016 season — an absolute bargain, given his aforementioned attributes.

But with slightly under three weeks to go before the start of the 2018 regular season, let’s just say I’m not all that confident McDonald will be doing anything but missing a lot of games this year.

Only days into the start of Steelers’ training camp last month, McDonald exited practice with a foot injury, and really hasn’t been heard from since. In and of itself, this would not be much of a concern — after all, injuries happen all the time in football. Only problem is — injuries seem to happen all the time to Vance McDonald.

Through five full NFL seasons, McDonald, 28, has yet to play all 16 weeks of a regular season, and he’s missed 22 of a possible 80 career games.

If you examine McDonald’s injury history, courtesy of the site, Sports Injury Predictor, you’ll see a proverbial laundry list of ailments that date all the way back to college, where he had two shoulder surgeries.

McDonald, who missed five games with the Steelers last season, was placed on Injured Reserve twice in the years before he came to Pittsburgh. Will his latest injury send McDonald to the IR for a third time?

That remains to be seen, but even if he beats this latest physical setback, what confidence could anyone possibly have that McDonald will make it all the way through 2018 unscathed?

That’s the thing about confidence. It’s one thing for the fans and the media to lack it in a player, but when his coaches and teammates start to lose confidence, it’s often curtains.

In addition to his injury-prone history, McDonald also carries the reputation of having bad hands. How can McDonald realize his potential if he can’t hold onto the football? And how can he work on his hands if he misses so much time due to injury? And if he can’t hurdle the two greatest obstacles preventing him from reaching his potential, how can McDonald help the Steelers in 2018?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if some fan or writer has lost confidence in Vance McDonald. But the question is, have the Steelers? If they haven’t already, it might not be long before they finally do.

Steelers release an updated depth chart ahead of preseason game against Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - 15 hours 34 min ago

James Washington, Damoun Patterson and Jon Bostic are the most obvious movers on the Steelers’ depth chart after the team made some changes to the list on Monday

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ current depth chart may not reflect the true status of all the players on the roster quite yet, but it’s still interesting to note the changes the team made to the order of some position groups on Monday. While most names remain where they were when the first depth chart of the offseason was released a few weeks ago, one or two players have seen a significant shift in their places in the pecking order after two games.

The most obvious changes on offense are at wide receiver, where rookies James Washington and Damoun Patterson have moved from the bottom of the depth chart. Washington is now listed as the next man up behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, with Patterson listed behind Antonio Brown and Justin Hunter on the other side. For a player like Marcus Tucker, dropping behind the two young wideouts in the listings might not bode well for his future with the team.

Simon Chester Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 depth chart - Offense preseason Week 3

Although relative newcomers to the team such as offensive linemen Oni Omoile and Zach Banner have seen their names slotted ahead of two players who’ve spent most of the offseason with Pittsburgh, this likely is because of their experience in the league, rather than any suggestion they’re necessarily rated higher by the coaching staff.

Running back Jaylen Samuels is one of only two other movers on offense, having jumped up a couple of slots on the list, ahead of Stevan Ridley and James Summers. Wide receiver Trey Griffey, also has leapfrogged Tevin Jones.

Perhaps the most noticeable changes to the depth chart have come on defense where Jon Bostic has been listed as the starter alongside Vince Williams, and there has been a reshuffling of the safety positions. Morgan Burnett, Terrell Edmunds and Malik Golden are now listed at strong safety, while Sean Davis, Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield move to free safety.

With the exception of inside linebacker Matthew Thomas, who has moved ahead of Matt Galambos on this updated depth chart, the rest of the players on defense and special teams are unchanged from the positions they held prior to Week 1 of the preseason.

Simon Chester Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 depth chart - Defense and Special Teams preseason Week 3

Watch Steelers’ highlights from the Family Fest practice at Heinz Field on Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - 16 hours 37 min ago

The Pittsburgh Steelers showed off for their fans, and we have some video of the event.

A large majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base doesn’t live in the 412 area code, but that doesn’t make them any less fans. For those who never get to Saint Vincent College to see training camp, or to the Family Fest practice at Heinz Field, we try to take you there — no matter where you live.

I personally didn’t attend the Sunday evening practice at Heinz Field, but one of our social media coordinators was on the scene. He was able to post some video on our Facebook page, and I just knew our readers would love to dissect the practice footage.

He has video from the ‘7 Shots’ segment of practice, as well as from the 2-minute drill to end the practice. Check out the video, and if you didn’t already know, you can follow us on Facebook by clicking HERE!

HERE WE GO!!

Were the Steelers’ 2017 sack totals a sign of things to come? Or just smoke and mirrors?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 2:33pm

I was able to talk with Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders to talk all things Steelers for the upcoming season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense might not have been the second-coming off the Steel Curtain, but they did something which hadn’t been done since sacks were a current statistic in the NFL.

In 2017, the team’s 56 sacks set a new franchise record for the black-and-gold. Not too shabby, right? Some chalk it up to playing sub-par quarterbacks, but a sack is still a sack. After all, the defense doesn’t hand pick who they play and what quarterback is lining up opposite them. Their job is to seek and destroy.

Regardless of their 2017 statistics, I was able to ask Football Outsider’s Bryan Knowles some questions all surrounding the black-and-gold. The first question I asked was about the pass rush. Were the sack totals in 2017 a sign of things to come? Or was it simply just happenstance for the Steelers?

The Steelers had a pressure rate of 34.3% last season, fourth-highest in the league. I guess you could say that means their league-leading sack rate was higher than it should have been, but I’d stop short of calling it smoke and mirrors. It’s just not coming from the edge rushers. Heyward and Tuitt led the Steelers in quarterback knockdowns last season, and Vince Williams and Mike Hilton finished ahead of Bud Dupree.

Dupree and T.J. Watt combined for just 22 knockdowns and 46 pass pressures last season. Dupree actually had the fifth-worst pass stop rate among qualified edge rushers last season, though his QB hurries jumped from eight to 26.5 last season. Each player had success elsewhere – Dupree was one of the best run-stopping edge rushers in the league last season, and we’ll get to Watt in a second – but neither are really the pass-rushing terror which would bump the defense to the next level.

Knowles brings up some good points regarding the scheme of the Steelers’ defense, and how it can impact where the pressure comes from. This would explain why both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree aren’t asked to rush the passer as pure 3-4 outside linebackers, but are asked to drop into coverage and utilize their athleticism.

What do you think? Do you think the 2018 Steelers will again be near the franchise mark regarding sacks in a season, or will they fall back down to earth? Let us know in the comment section below!

Packers RB believes a tackle by Vince Williams was ‘most definitely’ a dirty play

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 11:48am

Green Bay running back Jamaal Williams considers a tackle by Vince Williams that injured his ankle on Thursday was “very unnecessary”

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams arrived at training camp with a renewed sense of purpose this offseason, but it would appear that not everyone in the league is a fan of his efforts on game day. After facing Williams in Green Bay on Thursday night, one member of the Packers roster had some harsh words to say about the play of the Pittsburgh linebacker.

Speaking to the media on Sunday, running back Jamaal Williams accused his namesake on the Steelers’ roster of intentionally trying to hurt him during a play in the second quarter of the game. As reported by Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Packers’ running back would describe a tackle by Williams as “most definitely” a dirty play, adding that it was “very unnecessary” to twist his ankle.

“He could’ve stopped and let go of my leg a long time before.”

Here's the play where #Packers RB Jamaal Williams got hurt. Vince Williams does appear to twist his ankle awkwardly at the end. pic.twitter.com/tHgsL8I9V3

— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) August 20, 2018

While the running back would return to the huddle after the play and remain on the field for the next few snaps, he has missed time at practice since the game with an ankle injury as confirmed by the Packers on Friday.

RB Jamaal Williams has an ankle injury #PITvsGB

— Green Bay Packers (@packers) August 17, 2018

Through five years in the league, no one has ever labelled Vince Williams as a dirty player as far as I am aware, and those of us who have seen every game he has played since arriving in the NFL would be hard pressed to think of a play that stood out as being dirty.

There can be little question that the Steelers’ linebacker is a physical, aggressive player, but always within the rules of the game. Acknowledging an obvious level of bias in his favor as a Pittsburgh fan, nothing in that tackle seems to suggest an intent to injure the player.

With the Steelers on a day off on Monday, the local media will have to wait until Tuesday until they can ask Williams for his response to the accusation. However, given the gif he posted without comment earlier in the day that has since been deleted, the Steelers’ linebacker doesn’t appear to take the claim too seriously.

For those wondering about the timestamp, that is U.K time.

Film Room: Steelers “Match Game” on defense shows sophistication of Keith Butler’s scheme

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 11:23am

Man coverage or zone coverage? How about a combination of both.

“The Steelers need to play more man coverage!” “The zone defense gets picked apart by good QB’s.” Sound familiar? Seems like those have been the refrain of Steeler fans ever since Keith Butler took over as Defensive Coordinator (DC) for the Steelers in 2015. But, as Nick Saban points out, “...when you can’t play zone, what do you do next? You play Man (cover 1), but if their men are better than your men, you can’t play cover 1. “

Nick Saban was the DC of the Cleveland Browns from 1991-1994. He described the dilemma he faced when the Steelers would run pass patterns that could not be defended by the Cover 3 zone that Saban preferred. “...Pittsburgh would run ‘Seattle’ on us, four streaks. Then they would run two streaks and two out routes, what I call ‘pole’ route from 2x2. “ Below are illustrations of exactly what Saban was describing (courtesy of MGOBlog):

So Cover 3 wouldn’t work. As Saban stated earlier, he didn’t have the personnel to play man coverage. What was the answer then?

Saban’s dilemma in Cleveland was the impetus for creating his “Rip/Liz match.” The concept is a pattern matching defense. Simply put, pattern matching has defenders covering certain receivers based on the patterns they run. They don’t drop to a spot, as in a traditional zone defense. The defenders also are not necessarily assigned to cover one receiver all over the field, as they do in man coverage. Pattern match coverages are also referred to as “match up zone,” as they are a combination of man and zone coverage. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the fundamentals of pattern match defenses. For those interested, the article linked above breaks down Saban’s Rip/Liz concept and some of its variations. What we will focus on is a pattern match concept the Steelers use frequently. It showed up in their recent preseason game vs Green Bay.

It’s a 3rd and 11 for the Packers. The Steelers are in their nickel defense (2 DL, 2 OLB, 2 ILB, 3 CB, 2 S). Here is how it looked just a fraction of a second before the snap:

The Steelers were attempting to disguise their look as a single high safety coverage. We can see Terrell Edmunds beginning to rotate from the middle of the field (MOF) to provide help over the top for LCB Coty Sensabaugh (#24). Morgan Burnett is also heading toward the line of scrimmage (LOS) on a blitz. I’m not concerned with Edmunds or Burnett for the sake of this discussion. We will concentrate on the 4 defenders to the trips (3 receiver) side.

The Steelers are essentially playing a form of Quarters coverage to one side of the field. An introduction to quarters coverage basics can be found here:

  • Artie Burns (RCB) has #1 on vertical and out routes. If #1 runs an in route, Artie will help on #2 vertical.
  • Cam Sutton backpedals to play “safety.” He has #2 vertical. Cam will also help on #1 or #3 if #2 goes flat or under.
  • Bud Dupree buzzes out to Cover #2 to the flat. If #1 goes under (inside), Bud will pick up #1. Essentially, the under route by #1 makes him the “new #2 receiver.” So Bud still has #2. It’s just that it’s a different receiver now.
  • Jon Bostic has to carry #3 vertical. Bostic should maintain inside leverage as he has potential help to the outside from Sutton.

Those are the basic assignments of the 4 defenders. Now let’s look at how they reacted to the route development a couple seconds into the play:

  • The #1 receiver runs an in cut. Artie can be seen pointing toward #1. Although we can’t hear audio, it is likely that Burns also called out, “Under!” “Under!” This would alert Dupree to pick up #1.
  • Bud had run toward the flat with #2. He must now react to Burns “under call.”
  • Sutton is in his backpedal, looking to help on any vertical.
  • Bostic is maintaining inside leverage on #3 running vertical

Let’s watch the whole play and see the result:

Bud re-routes #2 to the outside. This makes it easier for Burns to help vertical. Bud then picks up #1 on the under route. With Sutton in position to take away any throw to #’s 2 or 3 vertical, the QB has no other option but to attempt a throw to #1. It appears that the receiver stopped his feet for a second, with Kizer expecting him to break back outside. Either way, the execution of the defensive call was excellent.

A few things of note:

Communication

This has been a topic of conversation all off season. Communication is integral to pattern match coverages. If each and every defender is not on the same page, seeing and hearing the same thing, the result is usually wide open receivers. As well as the calls that occur during the play, pre-snap calls are just as important. The “rules” for each defender often change when the offense shifts to a different alignment. If the flat defender, for instance, does not hear and/or misinterprets the “check” call when the offense shifts from a 2X2 to a 3X1, a receiver is likely to be running free.

Versatility

Cam Sutton (and Mike Hilton) have received snaps at safety during training camp. While either CB may only be used at safety in an emergency situation, their practice time there has other benefits. The view point of the field from the safety position is vastly different from that of a CB. Getting used to adjusting to routes from that position can be more difficult than one might think. Having their slot CB’s comfortable playing safety gives the Steelers the ability to use more disguise in their coverages, such as the one we looked at here.

The Steelers used a similar call with Mike Hilton in the slot, vs the Vikings in Week 2 of 2017:

This play resulted in a Bud Dupree sack. Another instance of the Steelers utilizing pattern matching, with their slot CB dropping back to safety, came in Week 11 of 2017. This early 1st quarter play of the Thursday Night game is one many may remember:

Hilton intercepted the overthrown pass of Mariota.

The assignments on these two plays are slightly different than our first play. The point is, however, that Hilton has safety responsibilities in these pattern match calls. It’s clear the Steelers like to utilize the versatility of their players in order to vary and disguise their coverages.

It’s not purely “man” vs “zone” anymore. With the sophistication of modern offenses, the dilemma that Nick Saban faced more than 20-years ago has only been magnified. Pattern match schemes are one way to combat those. The Steelers incorporate them as part of their defensive repertoire. Combined with disguise, these coverages have led to success for the defense. I hope you’ve enjoyed our brief look at pattern matching. Something else to be on the look out for when watching the games. Let me know when you spot it.

Why I’m excited about the Steelers this season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 10:10am

The Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for another season, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about 2018.

Maybe it is human nature, but it sure seems the majority of fans who root for the Pittsburgh Steelers focus more on the negative than the positive.

For instance, the entire preseason has been spent talking about the perceived deficiencies on the defensive side of the football, and not much about the amazing potential the offense possesses.

So, while some have a negative outlook on the 2018 Steelers season, I am excited about what lies ahead for the boys in black-and-gold.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room.

The defense.

This unit certainly has their warts, but so did the 2017 unit, and they still did some pretty special things. You know, like setting a new franchise record for sacks in a season. I feel the defense will be better in 2018, and while this might not be a ringing endorsement for success it doesn’t mean all is lost on that side of the defense.

Pittsburgh’s secondary might be the best fans have seen in a long time, and combine that with a defensive front who has proven they can put pressure on the quarterback and there is certainly reason to be optimistic. Sure, the inside linebacker position remains a question mark, but if the Steelers’ defense makes significant improvement in any area this upcoming which will mask a lot of issues, it is in the turnover category. Take the football away, giving it to the offense more, and those warts on the defense might become less and less noticeable.

Let’s be honest though, the real reason for optimism this season is the team’s offense. Martavis Bryant is gone, but it looks as if James Washington is more than capable of helping out alongside Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Ben Roethlisberger has had a tremendous training camp, and Le’Veon Bell will eventually return and be the player everyone expects of him in his likely final season in Pittsburgh.

All of this behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The Steelers have been stock piling players on offense for years, and outside of a few pieces, this entire unit, which has been together for an extended period of time, is in the prime of their careers. Time to put up, or shut up, for this offense.

The offense might be the cornerstone, but in my opinion there is a lot to be excited about for black-and-gold fans this season. This Steelers team, if everyone remains healthy, should be a major contender in the AFC, and across the league. Some talk about the Super Bowl ‘window’ closing, and if this is true you might as well sit back and enjoy it while it is still open.

Cheer up Steelers fans! There is going to be a lot to celebrate this season!

Steelers’ emphasis on tackling this offseason showing little impact on game day

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 8:49am

Given the extra time spent during training camp on tackling fundamentals, the defense’s sub-par performance so far during the preseason suggests the problem might extend to coaching or player recruitment.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ identity as one of the NFL’s most successful franchises was built on the back of some of the finest defenses the league has ever seen. Tough, physical teams that were almost impossible to run the ball on. In an era when the running game was still king, Pittsburgh would often go weeks, months or even years without giving up 100 yards rushing to an opponent.

Sadly, that’s far from the case with the current version of the Steelers’ defense, and the group that will take the field in the 2018 regular season is still struggling to grasp a fundamental skill crucial to the unit’s overall success — the ability to tackle.

Their problems in this area aren’t new and have been well documented during the past few years. Anyone looking for an example of the Steelers’ deficiencies in this respect need only study video of the Steelers’ recent playoff defeat at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars. According to Pro Football Focus, Pittsburgh missed 16.1 percent of their tackles against the run in 2017, a number that ranked them 31st in the league.

Coaches and players alike have been open in acknowledging this issue, but little seems to have changed through two preseason games, despite added focus on tackling during training camp this year. Joe Haden confirmed this in an interview with Teresa Varley for Steelers.com:

“A lot of it is ‘want to.’ We do a lot of drills in individuals, wrapping up, keeping our eyes up, hands around, wrap tackle. Not just dive at peoples legs. We drive it out a lot. In our 11-on-11s, we make sure we end with it. Even if you are not going to take him to the ground, get in position, back hip, get yourself in position to make the tackle. We always finish at the ball. When we do individuals, we are doing five, maybe six individual drills making sure we wrap up, keep eyes up and make sure we are using proper technique.”

While some might wonder how so many players on one defense could have made it to the professional level without learning this basic skill, the veterans on the roster like Haden hope their own efforts in camp might inspire the younger players.

“We are staying on people. The thing with me, Cam, guys like that we have to lead by example. All of the drill work we are doing, I am making sure I am at the front of the line, finishing all of the tackle drills, making sure I am wrapping, making sure I am using the proper technique. In 11-on-11, making sure I am running to the ball, tagging off on the low hip. When we have the live tackling you have to get him on the ground and show him what you can do. They put us in a lot of different positions to make plays. You practice it and make sure you get in position.”

It had been hoped that the addition of veterans like Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic would provide a little more consistency, but it’s been disappointing to see Bostic struggling with his tackling as well.

Having emphasized the problem throughout the offseason — so far seemingly with no effect — it’s fair to wonder how much the reduced practice time a team has with its players is to blame for the breakdown in this fundamental skill. It could be argued the desire to limit physical contact at both the collegiate and professional levels has prevented the younger players from developing their tackling abilities.

Nevertheless, the tackling issue is more pronounced for Pittsburgh than for other NFL teams, and it might be fair to question the traits the team looks for in their draft picks to see whether that has any bearing on their predicament. The coaching staff is far from blameless in this matter as well, especially when you consider how long this issue has persisted.

It sometimes feels like the Steelers are — to paraphrase Albert Einstein — insanely doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But if time spent in practice isn’t producing the desired results, perhaps it’s time to consider some further changes either to the coaching staff or player personnel on defense.

Ben Roethlisberger’s play at home vs. on the road needs to improve in 2018

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 6:43am

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ signal caller is two completely different people at Heinz Field vs. elsewhere.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the fortunate NFL franchises that’s retained the services of a franchise quarterback since 2004. Other teams, like the Cleveland Browns for example, would kill to have a QB as the rock of their franchise for that many years.

But that doesn’t mean Ben Roethlisberger’s game is complete or perfect. Roethlisberger’s interceptions have always been a talking point, but one facet of his game which certainly has been under the microscope the past few years has been the difference in his play at Heinz Field vs. on the road.

To put it mildly, Ben doesn’t travel well.

Check out the numbers per Pro Football Focus (PFF):

Looking at the last 2 seasons, Big Ben has certainly performed better at Heinz Field.

2016-
Home PFF Grade: 85.9
Away PFF Grade: 64.9

2017-
Home PFF Grade: 87.0
Away PFF Grade: 79.7

His passer rating has also been higher at home both seasons. https://t.co/sXa74Tjv2b

— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) August 6, 2018

While 2017 was a step up from 2016, you still have to wonder why there’s been a drop-off in production from year to year away from home. Sure, at home you have the luxury of a relatively quiet home crowd during Steelers’ possessions, improved ability to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, plus the comfort of playing on your home field.

Nonetheless, for a 15-year veteran in the league, you’d expect those home vs. away numbers to be closer to even. And this isn’t about PFF’s grading system. If you looked at Roethlisberger’s average passer rating at home vs. on the road the past two seasons, you’d find a discrepancy there too.

In 2016, Roethlisberger’s average passer rating at Heinz Field was 113.6. Compare that to his average rating away from home, which was 81.3. In 2017, Roethlisberger’s average passer rating at home was 98.8, compared to his road average of 92.3.

Just use the eyeball test. Roethlisberger hasn’t looked as comfortable on the road during the past few seasons, and his play — along with his statistical averages — reflects that.

Many are talking about the Steelers’ defense, and how the unit will be the ultimate deciding factor in the success or failure of the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers. But a case could also be made for the factor of Roethlisberger’s consistency from week to week — regardless of which stadium they’re playing in any given week.

There’s a reason why, in the NFL, quarterbacks yell, “Show me the money!”

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 5:38am

Why do NFL starting quarterbacks always have the largest contracts with the most guaranteed money? Simple supply and demand.

An item’s true value is what someone is willing to pay for it. This value can fluctuate due to emotional bonds or varying degrees of perceived importance. But one rule always remains true — the more difficulty there is in locating or creating an item, the more valuable it is.

Common items are often referred to as being “a dime a dozen,” while a unique item can be “one in a million.”

That’s why NFL quarterbacks make the big bucks. There are precious few athletes on the planet who possess the unique skill set required to play the position at the highest level.

Any individual who grew up playing competitive sports, even at the high school level, can tell stories of exceptional athletes they either played with or against. Young men blessed with the strength, balance, vision, speed, etc. to compete at the next level, but for one reason or another, their playing days went no further.

Some struggled in the classroom and couldn't make the grades. Others lacked the work ethic and discipline to hone their skills. Many rebelled against authority and took the path of least resistance. Maybe they didn't have a support system available. Whatever the reasons, history is filled with sad stories of wasted talent.

One need not be a rocket scientist to excel at most positions on a football field. Like the Forrest Gump character from the movie, just hand him the ball and yell "Run, Forrest, Run!" Or maybe the Bobby Boucher character from the Waterboy movie "Whoever has the ball, tackle him." Some very successful players aren't necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed. Just look at former Redskins’ great Dexter Manley, or Jalen Ramsey's recent bonehead remarks regarding many current quarterbacks in the league.

The quarterback is another animal entirely. QBs have to possess the requisite height, arm strength, mechanics, and laser-like focus required to play the position. But what makes a quarterback truly special are his abilities above the shoulders. Unlike any other position on the field, a quarterback must be able to process a massive amount of data accurately within a minuscule span of time. Most of this processing happens pre-snap. He must quickly diagnose the defense, check out of a bad play if necessary, call out any required protection changes, and signal any hot reads to his receivers. All of this must be done against constantly evolving defenses specifically designed to disguise coverages and cause confusion.

Then the ball is snapped, and the crap really hits the fan. The defense will often mask the coverage, only to reveal it the instant the ball is snapped. This is more data that the signal-caller must quickly process — all while a sea of humanity is rapidly closing in around him, accompanied by a wave of deafening chaos.

He must ignore the pass rush so he can keep his eyes focused downfield, but his gaze can't be too locked onto his intended receiver, as he might need to look-off a safety. After all this, he must still deliver the pass accurately and with precision timing into small and rapidly closing windows at the NFL level.

If he executes his responsibilities properly, then the play is successful and he gets to do it all over again. If not, the play is unsuccessful or, heaven forbid, he throws an interception. In that case, a stadium full of know-it-alls and thousands of armchair QBs sitting at home will be yelling "Why did he do that?"

There’s not another position in all of sports that carries the immense pressure and unrealistic expectations that an NFL quarterback endures. That’s why they make the big bucks, and always will.

I love me some Killer B's, but let's be real.

Le’Veon Bell goes down, the Steelers can still win. They have before and they will again. Same applies to Antonio Brown. It won't be easy, but they could adjust.

Ben Roethlisberger goes down for any extended amount of time — season’s over. Better start preparing for the next one.

Watch Ryan Shazier walk out of the tunnel with the linebackers at Steelers Family Fest

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 7:00pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers are holding their now annual Family Fest practice tonight, and those in attendance received a special treat at the start.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their annual Family Fest practice at Heinz Field Sunday night, and those who were in attendance were given a special treat when the public address announcer didn’t just name off all of the linebackers, but also No. 50 Ryan Shazier.

Shazier walked out of the tunnel with his teammates, without assistance and again without his cane. Check out what turned out to be a really cool moment...

Ryan Shazier coming out of the tunnel with the rest of the linebackers at Heinz Field. #Steelers #dkps pic.twitter.com/pqdTyhcGWS

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 19, 2018

Ryan Shazier comes into the field with the rest of the linebackers for the Family Fest practice for Steelers at Heinz Field pic.twitter.com/WmYHVd2Ufl

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 19, 2018

Ryan Shazier enters the field with the linebackers before the Steelers practice at Heinz Field. pic.twitter.com/XExYjRFkDy

— Lauren Kirschman (@laurenkirschman) August 19, 2018

While the above videos don’t give a truly great representation of Shazier’s current status, the video below by Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley shows just how far Shazier has come since that fateful night in Cincinnati.

Every step is a step in the right direction for @RyanShazier. We #Shalieve. @steelers #FamilyFest pic.twitter.com/fApBR8TJQo

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 19, 2018

While his gait is far from normal, it is as close to normal as it has been since he was partially paralyzed on Monday Night Football.

To think about how far Shazier has come, from paralysis in December to walking onto the field with his teammates in August is downright amazing. At this point the discussion shouldn’t be the future for Shazier, but celebrating his current accomplishments.

KEEP SHALIEVING!

It’s only preseason, so it’s not time to panic about the Steelers’ defense — or is it?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 12:55pm

It was only the second preseason game, and so many of the starters were being rested, but the performance of the Steelers’ defense in their 51-34 loss to the Packers on Thursday night looked an awful lot like so many performances in 2017.

“For all these crybabies if not for 2 pick 6’s thrown by our offense we only lost by 3 points they defense played no better than ours we scored 34 points and plus the starters didn’t even play the whole first quarter wtf call yourselves steeler fans you guys really are pessimistic judging our whole season off practice games and if you a real fan you would know this the years we lose all or most of our preseason games we have awesome seasons that year.”

Run-on sentence/no punctuation guy from the Steelers’ official Facebook page had some fair points following the Steelers’ alarming 51-34 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field in preseason game No. 2 on Thursday night.

It was just a preseason game; also, you take away those two pick-6’s, and things were actually a lot closer than the 17-point deficit indicated.

And like he said, so many starters — players the Steelers will be counting on in Week 1, such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, Vance McDonald (in theory), T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton and Sean Davis didn’t see any action.

But I don’t think Run-on sentence/no punctuation guy was really thinking things through as to what took place on Thursday night. While nobody is really sweating Pittsburgh’s offensive prowess as the team prepares for a highly-anticipated 2018 regular season, the softness of the defense is still a concern.

Let’s face it, whether you want to admit it or not, what took place on Thursday night with all of those defensive starters sitting on the bench looked eerily similar to what took place against an injury-riddled Packers’ team late in the 2017 regular season at Heinz Field — a game in which Aaron Rodgers didn’t even play, while Ryan Shazier did.

It wasn’t so much the yardage the Steelers allowed or the Packers’ third-down efficiency. It wasn’t even so much that the Packers had scored 27 points before they were forced to punt.

Once again, there were so many missed tackles, so many bad angles to ball carriers. And in the middle of the field, it looked like Pittsburgh defenders had placed some of those South Side lawn-chairs between the seams because they knew Green Bay’s offensive players were going to want to park in their spots all night long.

Tyler Matakevich didn’t look like the answer at inside linebacker. As for Jon Bostic, maybe there was a reason he bounced among so many teams after entering the league in 2013.

L.J. Fort seems like he might have the answers if given the chance, but he’s been around here long enough that, if he truly did, we wouldn’t still be asking these questions.

The defense did hold Green Bay to 77 yards rushing, but why run the ball when your four quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers and three other guys with much thinner resumes — can combine to throw for 280 yards and three touchdowns?

I did like what I saw from the veteran Morgan Burnett, along with the youngster, Terrell Edmunds. Unfortunately, while Edmunds appeared to do everything in his power while trying to cover tight end Jimmy Graham, he still looked like a boy next to a grown man during that first quarter touchdown pass from Rodgers (Willie Gay likely feels your pain, kiddo).

So while I don’t normally put much stock in preseason action, when a defense performs a lot like it did down the stretch and into the playoffs of the previous season — and that defense doesn’t seem to have found a way to compensate for the loss of its most indispensable player — I’m going to be a little concerned about the Steelers’ prospects in 2018.

But at least it’s still early.

Steelers Stock Report: See whose stock is rising, and falling, after preseason Game No. 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 9:56am

In the wake of a Wisconsin performance that failed to meet any reasonable Steelers fan’s expectations, this week’s Stock Report has been thrown a bit out of whack.

The following cursed image is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Steelers, courtesy of their 34-51 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night; viewer discretion is advised:

Those are Green Bay’s passing statistics, and the fella at the top of that chart is the very same DeShone Kizer who, during his rookie season in 2017, committed 31 turnovers while guiding the Cleveland Browns to an 0-16 record. Is the fact that Kizer torched Pittsburgh’s secondary in a preseason game quite as distressing as, say, putting mayonnaise between two Pop-Tarts or watching Sonic the Hedgehog pornography? Probably not, but it’s uncomfortably close.

In last week’s edition of the Stock Report, I said this:

Let the record reflect that preseason football is delusive, inherently boring, and generally unwatchable and that sitting through an entire preseason game — like many of us probably just did — is the kind of masochistic activity that should require a safe-word and a post-game cigarette. Let the record also reflect that, oftentimes, any events that transpire during a preseason game don’t portend a significant (or even tangible) paradigm-shift in the natural order of things.”

I’ll maintain that the preseason, for the most part, tells us nothing. But Thursday night’s contest definitely was neither boring nor unwatchable, as it featured a pair of defensive touchdowns, a bunch of big plays, and a handful of impressive individual performances. So if you turned the game off in favor of Property Brothers or Madden — which I briefly considered doing after watching Mason Rudolph haplessly worm-dog his way through the first half — your stock is down. Way to go. At least you weren’t tired for work. Let’s check on everyone else:

Stock up: Guys named James

James Conner only carried the ball five times, but managed to amass nearly 60 yards and a touchdown, which resulted from a particularly nifty 26-yard foray on which he showcased the kind of patience, ball-carrier vision, speed, and tackle-breaking ability befitting a bona fide, starting running back (naturally, Conner’s performance precipitated a vast bevy of “Le’Veon Bell successor” takes, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment). James Washington, meanwhile, looked somewhat like a pint-sized Terrell Owens, snagging five passes for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Unlike Conner, who’s not likely to factor into Pittsburgh’s offensive game plan so long as Bell remains healthy, Washington could wind up being one of the Steelers’ most significant role players, especially if he continues to run good routes, make contested catches, and smoke defensive backs one-on-one.

Stock up: Bud Dupree

Dupree managed only one sack against the Packers, but he spent a decent chunk of his evening in the general vicinity of Green Bay’s quarterbacks, generating a handful of hurries and pressures, several of which came while he was matched up with David Bakhtiari, one of the best left tackles in the entire NFL. It’s too early to say how much fruit — if any — Dupree’s switch to left outside linebacker will bear this season, but I think it’s fair to say he’s off to a promising start. He’ll definitely be someone to keep an eye on during Pittsburgh’s next two preseason games.

Stock down: Defensive role players

Look, I guess if you had the inclination to do so, you could summarily dismiss Thursday’s substandard defensive performance as the result of shoddy game-planning or depleted personnel (a handful of starters didn’t play, including Mike Hilton, Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden, and T.J. Watt) — or even simply it being the preseason. But the Steelers allowed the Packers’ offense to score 27 points in the first half. Yikes! And it wasn’t like Rodgers, Kizer, and Hundley were burning a bunch of scrubs. Artie Burns played. Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds both played. Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, and Stephon Tuitt all played. So I think it’s fair to be concerned about the state of the defense at this point.

Thus far, bad tackling remains perhaps the foremost prevailing hallmark of these Steelers, but they’ve also been flatly inept in defending the middle of the field. Opposing tight ends have had virtually no issues finding expansive swathes of open turf, and their quarterbacks have had no issues finding them. We’ve yet to see an unheralded “Mike Hilton” type of player step in who looks even close to something resembling a functional NFL player, but there are still two games left, so we’ll see what happens.

The Dobbs/Rudolph Scale

Rudolph and Dobbs began their respective evenings by immediately throwing pick-6 interceptions, but where Rudolph’s performance only got worse from there (he fumbled again, bringing his preseason total to three, and completed just five of 12 passes for 47 yards), Dobbs balled out, completing 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was clearly the better quarterback Thursday night, which complicates things considerably.

There’s no getting around the fact that Rudolph will undoubtedly be on the Steelers’ roster this season. The Steelers maintain their scouting department put a first-round grade on Rudolph in the run-up to the 2018 NFL Draft, so even if his game is trash moving forward, he’ll be on the roster. Dobbs wasn’t — and probably still isn’t — as highly regarded as Rudolph, but if he balls out against against Tennessee and/or Carolina, he too will be worthy of a spot on the final 53. Keeping two quarterback “projects” is just fine, but the Steelers already have a superstar and a capable backup (he says, ducking tomatoes). Right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if Pittsburgh ultimately kept four quarterbacks on the active roster, even if doing so means making another position group marginally weaker.

If fans were angry about the Steelers’ defense, the players feel the same way

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 8:49am

Steelers fans are deeply concerned about the team’s defense, and while the players might not exactly be hitting the panic button, they certainly aren’t happy.

Run into any Pittsburgh Steelers fan who watched the Week-2 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers — the one where the Black-and-gold surrendered 51 points — and ask them what they thought. You’ll likely hear something like this:

“Boy, this defense sucks.”

“Offense better put up almost 40 points a game this year.”

“Mike Tomlin is supposed to be a defensive coach, how is the defense this bad?”

“Keith Butler has to go.”

You get my drift. Needless to say, the fan base’s confidence in the defense is wearing thin —if not already gone. So while a large portion of the fan base screams the sky is falling, they might find comfort knowing the players aren’t exactly ecstatic with their most recent performance either.

“Shoot, I’m going to be honest with you, 50 points is not something you ever want to give up,” Cameron Heyward told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “no matter who is out there.”

The statement by Heyward is something which clearly reverberated through the locker room. Even though starters like Heyward, Joe Haden, T.J. Watt, Mike Hilton and Sean Davis didn’t play Thursday night, the expectation doesn’t change.

“Whoever is out there — and I’m not trying to make excuses — has to make those plays,” said cornerback Joe Haden. “At the same time, we’re not too worried about it. We still have to tighten up on the tackles and have better communication.

“Myself, Cam and the guys not out there, we’d be able to help out a little bit, but we still can be a lot better.”

It’s easy to cry over spilled milk, but what exactly went wrong with the defense in Green Bay? Mike Tomlin gave his personal opinion immediately after the game.

“We lost leverage too much in coverage, particularly on possession downs,” Tomlin said. “You can’t do that. Leverage is a big element of football. I thought we didn’t do a good enough job there. I didn’t think we did a good enough job of pressuring and containing the quarterback. I thought that was significant early on possession downs.”

“A lot of it was technical mistakes,” Heyward said. “If we don’t do that, we’re not going to get beat like that, whether it’s angles to the ball, being in man and not keeping your leverage or not tackling well. Those are things that contribute to a loss.

“When I watch a game, I don’t want to look at the points. I look at why we did it. What can we do to get better? Is it something we can correct? If you can’t correct it, you shouldn’t be out there.”

Clearly, no one’s happy with the team’s most recent defensive performance but, at the same time, it comes down to what Tomlin said after the game. How the team responds to the performance vs. the Packers will tell him more than the performance itself. In other words, the performance was awful, but if they rectify those issues on Saturday when the Tennessee Titans come to Heinz Field, all is not lost.

The beauty of the preseason is the games don’t count. So no matter how good or bad a team plays, the goal is to constantly improve. Luckily for the Steelers’ defense, there’s plenty to improve on.

Young Steelers fan teases J.J. Watt by asking him to sign a T.J. Watt jersey

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 6:56am

There was a time when J.J. Watt was the only Watt brother who counted in the NFL, but that was before T.J. joined the Steelers (sorry Derek).

There can be little question that J.J. is the most famous of the three Watt brothers, but ever since T.J. entered the NFL, he’s had to share a bit more of the spotlight than he ever had to do with brother Derek when it comes to the family name.

Even on his home turf, J.J. is no longer the only Watt brother who counts to some fans and respect is clearly due to a young Pittsburgh Steelers fan who attended the Houston Texans training camp on Wednesday. Given the opportunity to get an autograph from the former NFL player of the year, the young man opted to have a little fun at J.J.’s expense when he offered him his youngest brother’s jersey to sign.

Lol. JJ Watt signs a TJ Watt #Steelers jersey with a smirk #Texans pic.twitter.com/OT6gAFU7gU

— David Nuño (@DavidNunoABC13) August 15, 2018

Shaking his head as signed the shirt, J.J. appears to be writing more than just his signature on the jersey, and it turns out he had included a notable observation for the young man.

JJ Watt put Wrong Brother on @_TJWatt Jersey, but still signed it. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/NWIXQfrJzs

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) August 16, 2018

In the world of unique sports memorabilia, a T.J. Watt jersey signed by J.J. Watt will probably have some real value in the years to come, especially if T.J. goes on to have a career like his brother. Although, if the young fan really just wants T.J.’s autograph on his jersey, it doesn’t look like it would be too difficult to change that J.J. signature in to a T.J. one with a cloth and some detergent.

Steelers great Mike Webster gave his all every time he put on a helmet, but at what cost?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 5:54am

Ryan Shazier may be the modern-day poster child for the NFL’s renewed focus on player safety, but CTE awareness initially arose from the tragic story of Mike Webster.

In real life, not every hero gets to ride off into the sunset. Sometimes they have to sacrifice their own well-being for that of others. They stand in harm’s way to protect what they hold dear.

Heroic acts occur around us everyday, oftentimes going completely unnoticed. Some are easy to spot — like firefighters, first-responders and members of our military. Others occur in anonymity, such as random acts of kindness by a stranger or the personal sacrifices of a family member. We only witness the end results, but never the sacrifices made to get there.

One definition of hero is a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character. Another description describes an individual with great strength or abilities.

I feel any of these descriptions could be used to describe former Steelers’ great Mike Webster.

Webster played center for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1988, and he played his final two years for the Kansas City Chiefs — a period of time I’ve tried to forget. He was the greatest center to ever step onto a football field, and his accomplishments are too numerous to mention — but here are a few. Four-time Super Bowl champion, nine-time Pro Bowl player, seven-time first team All-Pro, 1970s and 1980s All Decade teams, and a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team.

His nickname was “Iron Mike” because he was as tough as steel and, not only did he epitomize the Steelers’ hard-nosed reputation, but he personified the Steel City itself. He was a gladiator who imposed his will on the opposition, making large men go in directions they didn’t want to go, all by shear force. He wasn’t the biggest linemen or the heaviest, but was renowned for his tremendous strength and determination.

Webster had a laser-like focus on the task at hand. He was all business on a team that liked to celebrate their on-field accomplishments during the game — much like our present-day Steelers squad. I can vividly recall Webster sitting on the sidelines after a Steelers’ drive, helmet off, covered in sweat and blood, trying to recover before the next offensive possession.

He never seemed like he was having all that much fun — it was almost like he was out there doing the grunt work so his teammates could make plays and bask in the glory. He didn’t have time for fun, he had a job to do. He was the leader of the offensive line on a power-running football team. That meant an afternoon full of repetitive collisions in the trenches with little to no recognition unless there was a penalty or a negative play. Then you better believe somebody would be looking to him for some answers. Better to remain out of sight and out of mind.

The old saying states you don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Even though the Steelers amazingly transitioned from Webster to another All Pro center in Dermontti Dawson, Mike’s legacy has been impossible to ignore.

Webster was enshrined in the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, and it seemed then that it was time for him to move on with his life’s work, as Coach Noll always said. It appeared his impact on the NFL had run it’s course but, tragically that wouldn’t be the case.

I wasn’t aware of Webster’s financial issues or his behavioral difficulties arising after his playing days were over. The next time I recall seeing Webster was extremely disturbing, to say the least.

I’m not sure of the exact year, but I believe it was in the late ‘90s. I turned on the TV to watch the Pittsburgh talk-show Sportsbeat, hosted by Stan Savran and Guy Junker. They went to a live interview at Steelers’ practice and, to my surprise, there was Mike Webster, microphone in hand, asking the questions.

Mike definitely didn't look well — he kept slurring his words and he seemed incredibly fidgety. He repeatedly apologized as he struggled through the interview. I even jokingly asked my wife if he appeared to be as “high” to her as he did to me. I assumed they were doing him a favor by giving him an opportunity for which he didn't seem well suited, mainly because of what he still meant to the city and Steelers Nation.

I only saw him on the show a couple more times and his performance wasn't getting any better. The last live interview he did for Sportsbeat was a disaster. He stopped talking in mid-sentence and stared off into the distance like a deer caught in headlights. Then suddenly, he just walked away without saying a word. That's when you knew something was terribly wrong with Iron Mike.

After that, you would hear rumors that he was struggling or that he was missing, but that was about all until the report aired that he’d suffered a heart attack. The next day we learned he had passed away at the age of 50. It was a heartbreaking day to be a Steelers fan.

I admit when the movie Concussion came out starring Will Smith, I didn't watch it for a few years. So often, they only focus on one side of the story and I feared the movie would portray the Steelers in a bad light or somehow damage Webster's legacy.

I finally decided to watch the movie, and I don't feel it had any negative effect on Mike or the Steelers. But it definitely brought the debilitating effects of CTE front and center in the public's consciousness.

Lately, whenever the new helmet rule is discussed, somebody will always state, "They knew what they were signing up for going in!" I beg to differ on that opinion.

Mike Webster was an intelligent individual. He was aware that football was a dangerous occupation. He accepted the broken bones and bruises, along with the pain and surgeries that came with the job. He knew there was going to be arthritis and limited mobility after his playing days were over. He did it to make a better life for his family and because of his love for the team, the city and the game itself.

But do you really think he had any inkling that the damage sustained during his playing days would rob him of his mind, torment his being, destroy his family and, ultimately, claim his life at such a young age? How could he have known this without a crystal ball?

Someone always has to be the first high-profile case that brings awareness and leads to change. Mike Webster is the Lou Gehrig of football. He will forever be linked to the CTE issue. Hopefully his tragic story will continue to positively impact the way the game is played at every level of competition and help to protect the long-term health of all it's participants.

If a return to proper tackling techniques, coupled with advancements in helmet technology, can improve player safety, then the league must proceed accordingly.

Mike Webster may be gone, but his legacy — both on an off the field — is immortal.

Pages

Subscribe to Steelers Fans of Minnesota aggregator