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NFL Power Rankings Week 2: Experts continue to buy the Steelers as top contenders

Behind the Steel Curtain - 1 hour 46 min ago

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 and experts continue to be buyers on the Black-and-gold so far in the 2017 regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of just a handful of NFL teams who have started the year off 2-0 and, by accomplishing this feat, the team has been bumped up in most NFL Power Rankings as Week 3 is set to kickoff this Thursday night.

So let’s take a look at the weekly rankings by several media outlets to see just where the Black-and-gold rank after beating the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 and the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2.

I realize Power Rankings are completely meaningless—just someone’s overall opinion of how good or bad teams are in any given week, but if they’re good for anything, it’s debate about the “expert” selections.

Without further ado, it’s time to wrap your heads around this week’s Power Rankings:

ESPN

1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Le'Veon Bell might be off to a slow start, but the other Steeler B's aren't. Ben Roethlisberger has completed 21 passes for 16 yards per catch to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant this season. Pittsburgh is off to a 2-0 start for the second straight year.”
4. New England Patriots
5. Oakland Raiders
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Denver Broncos
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Baltimore Ravens

CBS Sports

1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Here's another team that hasn't been as good as expected on offense. Maybe Le'Veon Bell missing the preseason matters now.”
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. New England Patriots
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Oakland Raiders
7. Denver Broncos
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Detroit Lions

NFL.com

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Oakland Raiders
3. New England Patriots
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Ben Roethlisberger at home is a different guy. Perhaps when he spoke of the "Heinz Field" mystique, he was having some kind of Freudian slip -- because the Steelers' franchise quarterback often slips on the road. But on Sunday, Roethlisberger was efficient, capitalizing on a couple of early opportunities in the red zone and not turning the football over on a day when his defense was not exactly challenged by Vikings backup Case Keenum. Meanwhile, Lumbergh caught Le'Veon Bell before he got out of the facility this week. The Steelers need the shifty back, who logged just 91 yards on 31 touches, to start coming in on Sundays.”
6. Denver Broncos
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Detroit Lions
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

SB Nation

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Denver Broncos
3. Oakland Raiders
4. Baltimore Ravens
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7. Detroit Lions
8. Pittsburgh Steelers
9. New England Patriots
10. Miami Dolphins
(These are SB Nation’s “hope” rankings)

'Tomlin's Takes' on turnovers, Hilton & more

Steelers.com News - 2 hours 11 min ago
Coach Mike Tomlin talks about a variety of topics leading into the Bears game.

Mike Tomlin’s explanation for James Harrison not playing in Week 2 provides more questions than answers

Behind the Steel Curtain - 2 hours 55 min ago

The Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader didn’t play a snap vs. Minnesota, and Mike Tomlin’s explanation didn’t provide much clarity to the situation.

Let me start by saying I love Mike Tomlin. If you are on the “Fire Tomlin” bandwagon, then I am on the “Keep Tomlin” bandwagon, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of the head coach I wish were better. Tuesday, during his weekly press conference, would be one of those occasions.

Tomlin is a wordsmith, and is one of the reasons I enjoy listening to him talk to media about his team and upcoming matchups. However, there are occasions when his long and winding answers leave us all scratching our heads. For a man who can be very succinct and to the point regarding some aspects of his job, others he talks about everything except the question at hand.

I get it. This is what coaches do. “Coach speak” has become as common in the NFL as the forward pass, but when the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader doesn’t play a snap when the starter, T.J. Watt, leaves the game with injury, there should be a clear answer.

Here is what Tomlin said Tuesday:

“Is he dropping or are other guys ascending,” said Tomlin when asked if Harrison fell down the depth chart. “Bud (Dupree) missed some time in Week 1 and Chickillo was able to start. Chickillo produced two sacks. We respect those contributions. T.J. got hurt Week 2 and we wanted to leave the hot hand in there with Chickillo being the hot hand.”

Wait, what?

Ascending and descending?

If Anthony Chickillo has become the new swing linebacker, and James Harrison isn’t even worthy of a few snaps on a day the man ahead of him on the depth chart leaves the game with a groin injury, why give him a helmet on game day?

Oh, but there was more...

“We appreciate James and we know what James is capable of,” Tomlin said. “James will ready himself. There will be a time in the season where we will call on his services and he will deliver and he will deliver in a big way. Much like he did in the latter part of 2016.”

“In the meanwhile, we are going to continue to roll people and play guys who we see fit and not do a real good job of describing our mindset or outlining our attentions because part of it is gamesmanship and part of it is because it will define itself as we move forward,” Tomlin said.

I didn’t think I could be more confused after an answer to a question, but I truly feel I have zero grasp on how the team is deploying their outside linebackers. To be honest, I wonder if they even have any clue how they are deploying this position group.

This isn’t a knock on Chickillo. Chickillo has earned his stripes, and has proven to be a player they like both on defense and special teams, but to say his two sacks against the Browns in Week 1 is the reason you are playing him in Week 2 doesn’t add up to me. I wonder how many sacks Harrison would have registered in Week 1 had he played more than one series?

To make matters even more foggy, Ben Roethlisberger was asked about this situation on his weekly radio show on 93.7 the Fan in Pittsburgh, and he essentially said he spoke with Harrison, but no one really knows what is going on with the situation.

Harrison is 39 years old, and fans have been wanting to find the heir apparent to the outside linebacker throne, and it looks as though Watt will be able to fill that role when healthy. Nonetheless, if Harrison is going to be on the active roster, why not use him? Why not let Harrison get used to the game speed of the regular season again, you know, in case the team needs him down the stretch?

What exactly is the plan here?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone really knows.

In the meantime, let’s hope Watt is healthy enough to play in Week 3, and if he isn’t, maybe Harrison will at least get a chance to show what he can still do, and not simply be a spectator from the sideline for the third straight week.

Tomlin explains 'Chickillo over Harrison'

Steelers.com News - 3 hours 21 min ago
Coach Mike Tomlin addressed why it was Anthony Chickillo at ROLB after T.J. Watt's injury.

Tomlin: 'We improved in some areas'

Steelers.com Videos - 3 hours 32 min ago
Coach Mike Tomlin on the win over the Vikings and the upcoming game against the Bears.

Anthony Chickillo's 'hot hand' kept James Harrison on the bench

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - 3 hours 34 min ago

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said outside linebacker James Harrison did not play against the Vikings because he wanted to “leave the hot hand in there” after Anthony Chickillo had two sacks in the season opener.

Mike Tomlin says injured Steelers have a chance to play Sunday vs. Bears

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - 3 hours 41 min ago

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday all injured players, including right tackle Marcus Gilbert, rookie linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, have a chance to play Sunday against the winless Chicago Bears.

4 unheralded players in Steelers 26-9 win over Vikings in Week 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - 4 hours 41 min ago

After a win, there are certain players who deserve credit for their performances but don’t get the publicity of other bigger name players.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were big winners over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, and after their 26-9 win over their NFC North opponents, some players deserve credit who might not receive it otherwise.

These are what I call the unheralded players after a win. You won’t see Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant or even Bud Dupree in this article, but instead focusing on the players who flew under the radar, but made a big impact in the game.

Time for the unheralded players of Week 2...

Tyson Alualu

Some fans just overlooked the signing of Alualu in free-agency this off-season, but if you looked close enough, you saw a tremendous player who was stuck on an awful team his entire career. You can’t blame Alualu for being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he’s thriving as a backup in Pittsburgh.

Against the Vikings, Alualu got the start and contributed with three tackles and a quarterback hit. Not mind-blowing stats, but Alualu has filled in well for Stephon Tuitt in his absence. Quality depth is hard to come by and the defensive line should rest a bit easier knowing Alualu is there if needed.

Eli Rogers

Rogers is slowly becoming a nice third-down safety blanket for Ben Roethlisberger, and the offense sure could use a quality third-down possession receiver. Rogers runs extremely clean and crisp routes, and is usually very trustworthy when the ball is headed his direction.

Rogers finished Week 2 with 4 catches for 43 yards, but he was targeted 7 times. Although technically his third year, Rogers is essentially in his second year with significant playing time. You can see he and Roethlisberger still aren’t on the same page all the time, but like the rest of the offense, this will improve. With the offensive weapons around him naturally drawing a lot of attention, Rogers could thrive on his one-on-one matchups down the stretch.

The Kickers

Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry have both been tremendous this season, and Week 2 was no different. Berry averaged 38.6 yards per punt, with two downed inside the 20-yard line. Distance isn’t the full story with punting, with direction and hang time almost equally important. The downed punt inside the 1-yard line was a thing of beauty.

From the placekicking side of things, Boswell has been perfect. Sure, he missed the 51-yard field goal he attempted which was nullified by a penalty, but we will just call that an early season mulligan. One aspect of Boswell’s game which has certainly improved are his kickoffs. In 2016, his first year, there were times fans wondered if he had the leg to consistently kick touchbacks and not surrender a return. He has proven he is more than capable of doing that in 2017 with regularity.

Tyler Matakevich

The man they call “Dirty Red” is a special breed. The kind who thrives on special teams and just goes about his business. Matakevich has made tremendous special teams plays in the first two games of the season. First, his blocked punt in Week 1 led to the first touchdown of the 2017 regular season, and his heads up play on the fake punt against the Vikings stopped what could have been a momentum-swinging play by the visiting team. Matakevich has the look, and play, of a special teams captain in the future.

The Steelers defense, not the offense, the key to victory thru 2 weeks of NFL action

Behind the Steel Curtain - 5 hours 55 min ago

The Black-and-gold defense ignored distractions and kept its focus on the job at hand on Sunday at Heinz Field.

When you’ve prepared all week long to face a particular quarterback, only to see that quarterback declared out of the lineup just a short time before kickoff, it’s not always an easy adjustment to make. But that’s precisely the situation the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing on Sunday when it was announced that the injury-plagued Sam Bradford was unable to participate for the Minnesota Vikings. Understandably, the initial reaction of many sports pundits was, “Oh great, there goes all of my pre-game forecasts!” But as things turned out, some of the keys to this matchup held up pretty well despite the shell game that Minnesota had been playing during the past week with their first-string quarterback, when they probably knew he was a long shot to see the field in Pittsburgh.

For the second consecutive week, Pittsburgh’s gritty defense upstaged Big Ben and company, making it impossible for the Vikings to seriously threaten to leave town with a win. Stopping Minnesota’s running game and pressuring the quarterback were going to be priorities whether or not Bradford played. And on both counts, the Steelers’ defense rose to the occasion, rarely allowing either Viking ball carriers or backup quarterback Case Keenum enough breathing room to move the Vikings within striking distance.

Dalvin Cook, the Vikings’ impressive rookie RB, was practically shut out for the entire first half, finishing the game with 12 carries for only 64 yards including one 25-yard burst in the second half to set up Minnesota’s lone TD. Besides stuffing the run, the Steelers’ defense applied unmerciful pressure on Keenum for four quarters, holding Minnesota to only 167 yards passing. As a good indication of the Vikings’ aerial woes, their leading receiver for the game was tight end Kyle Rudolph who had four catches totaling only 45 yards.

While Pittsburgh’s offense turned in a better overall performance than the previous week in Cleveland, it still hasn’t reached the point where it’s balancing the contributions of the defense. For its part, the Minnesota defense did a much better job limiting Antonio Brown than Cleveland was able to do the previous week. Perhaps the most intriguing statistic from this game is that, despite being targeted 11 times compared to only four times for Martavis Bryant, Brown finished the game with 62 receiving yards versus 91 yards for Bryant. In terms of the Steelers’ upcoming games, however, Bryant’s breakout performance probably will help Brown because opposing defenses are on notice that they’ll no longer be able to focus strictly on limiting the heroics of No. 84, as some were able to do last season. It’s always disheartening for a defense when you stop the guy that you’re supposed to stop, only to watch his sidekick beat you. And lest we forget, the contributions of Eli Rogers (43 yards) and Jesse James (27 yards) also were important in this moderately improved outing for Pittsburgh’s offense.

But we’re still seeing a bit of a hangover from 2016, in terms of Ben Roethlisberger’s level of comfort and coordination with his receivers. On a few occasions, it seemed obvious that Ben was peeved because his receivers didn’t run their routes exactly as the plays were drawn up. On a couple of other occasions, Ben threw catchable passes that apparently were too hot for receivers to handle. But we can chalk up these misfires to an offense still refining its choreography following a preseason in which its starting roster scarcely played together.

Thanks to personnel woes of various descriptions, the first three Steelers’ opponents of the 2017 regular season are currently led by inexperienced, or struggling, NFL quarterbacks, including their upcoming Week 3 opponent, the Chicago Bears. In fact, after the Bears dropped their second game of the season on Sunday to the Tampa Bay Bucs by the lopsided score of 29-7, more fans were seen poised upon the building ledge at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron than you’d encounter here at BTSC following a dreaded trap-game loss by the black-and-gold.

So perhaps Steelers Nation ought simply to revel in this early-season run of good fortune which affords the so-far-inconsistent Steelers’ offense the luxury of honing its craft versus teams stuck playing the awkward game of musical quarterbacks. As long as the Steelers’ defense continues to improve week by week in its capacity to stifle opposing offenses, Ben Roethlisberger and company apparently can well afford to continue their ongoing development while anticipating the crucial games later this season which will determine how far they can go in 2017 and beyond.

Post-Gazette stock watch: JuJu Smith-Schuster channels Hines Ward, James Harrison dropping off radar

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - 6 hours 31 min ago

Welcome to the Post-Gazette stock watch, a weekly look at who’s up and who’s down in the local sports scene. This week, a Steelers rookie hits like a veteran, and Pitt’s coach raises more questions than he answers.

Steelers Stock Report: Whose stock is rising or falling after the team’s win over the Vikings

Behind the Steel Curtain - 7 hours 21 min ago

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 and it’s time to check the market to see whose stock is rising or falling after Week 2.

Following a strange, almost frustrating 26-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0. That means the Steelers are right where they were expected to be, at least according to the vast majority of the football-cognizant populace. Let’s take a gander at some of the particulars:

The Front Seven - Stock Up

The Steelers, following a seven-sack performance against the Browns in Week 1, swore fealty to the blitz yet again in Week 2. The Vikings surrendered only a pair of sacks, though this was attributable mainly to Case Keenum’s innate ability to launch directionless passes in the general vicinity of his receivers. The Steelers hit Keenum at least seven times and routinely forced him to hurry his throws, which prevented the journeyman from establishing any tangible continuity with his receiving corps. Cam Heyward, who didn’t register a sack, had arguably one of his best performances as a professional, amassing six tackles, two quarterback hits and a team-high two tackles for losses. It was a performance imbued with dominance and one that underscored Heyward’s Pro Bowl pedigree. Bud Dupree was similarly disruptive, collecting his first sack of the season (and his sixth in his last five regular season games, dating back to Week 14 of last season), thus ensuring that Mike Remmers will receive his fair share of negative feedback in film study.

This strong showing by the front-seven was made all the more impressive by the fact that Stephon Tuitt, perhaps the most physically-imposing member of this unit, was inactive for Sunday’s game. Furthermore, James Harrison, elder statesman and resident cyborg of Pittsburgh’s front-seven, is presumably being housed in storage until later this season, at which point he will be unleashed on unsuspecting quarterbacks like a shape-shifting clown monster. In other words, we still haven’t seen what this unit is capable of at full strength.

The Offense at Large - Stock slightly trending Up

The Steelers scored 26 points against what is objectively an extremely talented defense (the Vikings ranked third in total defense in 2016 and sent five players to the Pro Bowl), which is a praiseworthy achievement. On Sunday, it was clear that Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin had two primary objectives in mind: throw the ball deep and force-feed Le’Veon Bell. Roethlisberger attempted, in my estimation, seven deep passes, completing one to Martavis Bryant for 51 yards and drawing a pair of 40-ish-yard pass interference penalties, which are just as effective as completions. The deep ball is very much a hallmark of Pittsburgh’s offense, so the implementation of this strategy comes as no surprise. But it was interesting that the Steelers were so hellbent on testing Xavier Rhodes, who is one of the three best cornerbacks (if not the best) that they will face this season. Then again, Tomlin is famously opposed to living in his fears, so we can likely expect more of the same in the weeks ahead.

Bell, meanwhile, finished Sunday’s game with a respectable 87 rushing yards, but he needed 27 carries to reach that milestone. Through two games, the two-time All-Pro is currently averaging 3.2 yards per carry (YPC)—well below his career average of 4.4 YPC. He has yet to orchestrate any characteristically gorgeous forays through the line of scrimmage and, most troublingly, has been a non-factor as a receiver, essentially stripping Pittsburgh’s offense of a dimension that previously had distinguished it as one of the league’s most effective.

It should be noted, though, that Minnesota is quite adept at stopping the run, boasting one of the league’s best defensive lines along with a trio of monolithic linebackers and a pair of hard-hitting safeties who thrive near the line of scrimmage. There’s little doubt that the running game will sort itself out eventually. Bell and his offensive linemen are simply too talented to remain this ineffective for the duration of the season.

The Secondary - Stock Up

Say what you will about the aptitude of the quarterbacks it has faced thus far, but Pittsburgh’s secondary looks like a formidable group. Artie Burns, whose rambunctious nature in coverage customarily draws a greater-than-normal number of penalties, has played well, indicating that his up-and-down, but mostly successful rookie campaign was no fluke. The same is true for Joe Haden, who’s enjoying somewhat of a career revival following back-to-back-to-back injury-plagued and mostly unsuccessful seasons in Cleveland. Intriguingly, Keith Butler has exhibited some admirable creativity with respect to Haden’s deployment. Haden, who for many years was widely regarded as a lock-down defender, is now being used to rush the passer and he’s doing so with great success. From 2010 through 2016, Haden was credited with only two sacks. But against Minnesota, Haden came within half-step of collecting his second sack in as many games with the Steelers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also call attention to former camp darling Mike Hilton, who’s become an actual Tasmanian devil. Hilton led the team in tackles and, much like Haden, just missed out on a sack. The Burns-Haden-Hilton lineup certainly isn’t what we envisioned at the onset of training camp, but this group is going to significantly influence the outcomes of games this season.

Alejandro Villanueva - Stock Down

Villanueva, tasked with preventing 275 pounds of screaming chaos from liquefying Ben Roethlisberger’s internal organs, had a rough day at the office. Everson Griffen, the aforementioned chaos, dusted Villanueva on an absolutely goofy inside spin move that was lifted directly from the Dwight Freeney Textbook of Quarterback-Murder Techniques. Villanueva would later leave the game with “heat-related issues.” Fortunately, he won’t face many pass rushers who are better than Griffen, and as for the hot playing conditions, Pittsburgh does tend to get chilly later in the year.

Chris Boswell - Stock Up

Over the course of his career so far, Boswell has converted 88.5 percent of his field goal attempts. If Boswell qualified for the all-time list, which he does not because kickers need at least 100 career attempts to qualify, he would be the third most accurate kicker in NFL history—a remarkable achievement considering the barren moonscape on which he plays half of his games. He converted all four of his field goal attempts on Sunday, demonstrating that a kicker with laser precision can alleviate the frustrations presented by stalled drives.

The Receiving Corps - Stock Up

Pittsburgh’s receiving corps is essentially the Elder Wand that makes one the master of accumulating yards and scoring touchdowns. They have a supremely talented, do-everything receiver who runs one or two routes that are literally impossible to defend. They’ve got a pair of sure-handed security outlets, one large and one small. They have a hyper-athletic outside receiver who’s part red-zone threat and part deep threat. The multidimensionality of Pittsburgh’s passing attack was on display at Heinz Field on Sunday, and this was only a small sampling of things to come.

(Another) New weekly feature - The game ball

James Conner. Conner only had one carry for nine yards, but it caused the home crowd to completely lose their minds. He didn’t play the remainder of the game, but it was a pretty awesome moment.

The Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Index

Despite the Steelers currently sitting at 2-0, I’m actually slightly inclined to bump the BRR Index up this week, and let me explain why. First, Roethlisberger was frequently interrupted by unwelcome backfield pressure, which is almost a foreign concept to him given how solid his offensive line has been over the past two seasons. He’s not likely to be sacked on a boat or on the golf course.

The second thing that might be directly influencing Roethlisberger’s retirement decision is the fact that his receivers keep dropping passes (though this definitely needs an asterisk, because a distinction must be made between run-of-the-mill drops and drops that occur when a screaming fastball caroms off of a receiver’s fingertips; Ben clearly is a disciple of the “if it touches your hands, you catch it” faith). Eli Rogers dropped a pass in Sunday’s game, and Ben flashed a trademark Roethlisberger grimace. You know the one:

Beautiful.

Anyway, we’ll set the BRR Index at a 7 for this week. Ben is still all-in for a Super Bowl run, but much like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, he’s getting too old for this [poo emoji].

'Call of Duty: WWII' features Le'Veon Bell and Alejandro Villanueva. Here's what they think about that.

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - 7 hours 23 min ago

If you’re a Steelers fan and a “Call of Duty” fan, congratulations.

Steelers vs. Vikings Week 2: Grading the Steelers after their Week 2 win over Minnesota

Behind the Steel Curtain - 8 hours 31 min ago

BTSC doles out grades for the Steelers 26-9 win over Minnesota

The Steelers improved to 2-0 with a nice 26-9 victory over the Vikings of Minnesota Sunday. As always, the faculty and staff at BTSC take a red pen to the effort. So stick here to see our grades because there definitely are more smiley-face stickers than the dreaded red X.

Offense: A-

The game plan seemed much more inspired than last week. Mike Zimmer defenses play the Steelers tough, but Todd Haley and the Steelers responded. Stats are jaded here due to the 70-plus pass interference yards that likely would have been catches and thus included in the stats for AB, Big Ben and Martavis. I thought AB played a decent game against Pro Bowler Xavier Rhodes, and I found Le’Veon Bell to be very close to finding his true self. Wrinkles still need ironed out but Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers played a nice game with six scoring drives. Scoring only two touchdowns, though, keeps this from being a higher A.

Valedictorian: Martavis Bryant

Honor Roll: JuJu Smith Schuster, Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger

Detention: None

Defense: A-

The defense gave up a touchdown and a field goal. True there was no Sam Bradford on the field for Mike Zimmer's crew and this wasn't an A+ performance...but the pressure was there, the coverage was there and the hits were there. Cam Heyward is the true field general of this unit and Ryan Shazier is his colonel. Bud Dupree's presence was a glaring plus, T.J. Watt (though he didn't play even a full half) isn’t a 1-game wonder and Tyson Alualu understudied for Stephon Tuitt quite well. The team played with much more discipline than a week ago. This wasn't a shutout and it was a backup quarterback, but the defense played inspired. I'll take holding a team to nine points most weeks of the season.

Valedictorian: Cameron Heyward

Honor Roll: Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell, Mike Hilton, Vince Williams

Detention: Nobody

Special Teams: B-

Coverage was good once again and Boswell capped drives with points four times. However, the return game was just okay and Jordan Berry has punted better. But this unit was still more of a plus than a minus.

Honor Roll: Chris Boswell, Danny Smith Jr. and Tyler Matakevich

Detention: Jordan Berry

Overall: A-

This wasn't a perfect game, but the result was pretty one-sided and was never really in doubt. The level of discipline was much improved. Overall, there’s room to improve, but it definitely was a pretty solid effort. I like the direction this team is headed and I feel this letter grade reflects that.

Podcast: More questions arise as the Steelers continue to win

Behind the Steel Curtain - 10 hours 6 min ago

As the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to win football games, more questions arise for the Black-and-gold. We discuss on the latest episode of “Fact or Fiction.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 and you literally cannot do better than that at this juncture of the season. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of questions to be discussed and answered, as the team heads into their Week 3 matchup against the Chicago Bears.

Check out the latest episode of the BTSC podcast Fact or Fiction with hosts Zach Parnes and Brian Hamlin as they run down all things Black-and-gold related.

Here is the quick rundown:

  • Taking a look at Sunday's win against the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Was Sean Davis the defensive MVP?
  • Is Le’Veon Bell still a little slow out of the gate?
  • Our opinions and MUCH more!

If you missed the live show, you can hear it in a multitude of ways. Use the player above, head on over to our BlogTalkRadio page, on iTunes by searching “The Standard is the Standard” or via various podcast platforms for Android users.

...

The show is sponsored by Frank Walker Law, the top criminal defense firm to call in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and home to one of the nation's top-100 ranked trial attorneys in Frank Walker. For his PA office, call 412-212-3878 or to reach his WV office call 304-712-2089. You should also checkout his website frankwalkerlaw.com to see how he can help you in your time of need. Frank Walker Law: Real Talk, Real Experience, Real Results.

Asked and Answered: Sept. 19

Steelers.com News - 10 hours 41 min ago
Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

Ron Cook: It appears the Steelers made the right decision on inside linebacker Vince Williams

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - 10 hours 41 min ago

On a day when Lawrence Timmons’ consecutive-games starting streak ended at 101 under bizarre circumstances and when Dont’a Hightower missed a New England Patriots game against New Orleans because of a reoccurring knee injury, I paid extra attention Sunday to Vince Williams in the Steelers-Minnesota Vikings game at Heinz Field.

Happy Birthday, Brett

Steelers.com Videos - 10 hours 42 min ago
Celebrate Brett Keisel's birthday with his nifty pick-6 in Tampa Bay from 2010.

Steelers Playback: Polamalu takes flight

Steelers.com Videos - 10 hours 43 min ago
Troy Polamalu hurdled the line of scrimmage to stop Kerry Collins a the 1-yard line in 2010.

Steelers News: Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell exemplify the team’s overall offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - 11 hours 11 min ago

Brimming with potential, the Steelers are slowly rounding into form after two weeks of regular-season play.

Must be nice to have the luxury that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has. You know, the opportunity for players who still haven’t reached their potential—likely due to lack of preseason repetitions—to gradually round into shape while the team is still winning.

Fans may bemoan the offense’s lack of consistency, but the team has back-to-back victories under their belts to start the regular season. The offense is starting to take shape, and the same can be said for two Steelers’ stars, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, who will figure prominently in the team’s performance this season .

These two stars, though improving, still haven’t reached the level of play that fans have come to expect from them on a regular basis. Realizing that better days are ahead for Bell and Bryant, you can just imagine the offensive boost when Bell starts hitting holes like he did in 2016 and when Bryant is taking the top off of opposing defenses and, in the process, opening up huge opportunities for Antonio Brown and company.

Gets me excited just thinking about it.

Time to check out the news surrounding the Black-and-gold beyond the walls of BTSC:

Le'Veon Bell averaged 157 yards from scrimmage per game last season. Through two games this season, Bell hasn't reached that figure yet.

That's OK, though, Bell said after the Steelers' 26-9 win against Minnesota in their home opener on Sunday. In Week 2, Bell was enjoying himself.

"You have more fun when you get the ball a lot," Bell said after 31 touches against the Vikings. "If I'm getting the ball, if it's coming to me three times in a row, it's fun, instead of going three possessions (not getting it)."

Bell's voice tailed off. Though he never went three consecutive possessions without a touch in a season-opening win at Cleveland, Bell didn’t get a carry or a target on three separate drives. Bell went the entire first quarter without a touch.

It was quickly apparent that this wasn’t going to happen again versus the Vikings. The Steelers opened in their "big" package with a fullback, a tight end and a tackle lined up as a second tight end. They also gave Bell the ball on the first two plays.

"We let them know, with our big guys, that we were gonna run it," Bell said. "That's the mentality we had."

Bell also was the ball carrier on each of the first two plays of the Steelers' second drive. He had six carries on a drive that lasted almost six minutes, resulting in the game's first touchdown.

In all, Bell carried the ball on the first play of nine of the Steelers' 11 possessions.

"It was nice to get him all those touches like that, to get him in the groove, to get him back used to running the football every play like that," center Maurkice Pouncey said.

For Martavis Bryant, it's all about read, react and roll the dice.

Bryant got the play call, saw the safety playing high, got inside on Minnesota Vikings cornerback Terence Newman and turned Ben Roethlisberger's slant pass into a 27-yard touchdown.

It was Bryant's first trip to pay dirt in 20 months, since the win over the Bengals in the 2016 playoffs.

No wonder he celebrated by mimicking a craps game.

“When you score a touchdown, it's always an accomplishment,” Bryant said. “It felt great, but I want more. I'm not just going to settle for one. I've got a long season, so I'm looking for more.”

After a season-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Bryant had a breakout game in the Steelers' 26-9 victory over the Vikings on Sunday at Heinz Field. He had team bests in receiving yards (91) and scrimmage yards (98) while also drawing a 49-yard pass-interference penalty.

The scary part?

“He's going to continue to get better,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “What you saw wasn't a finished product.”

That's great news for a Steelers offense that seemed out of sync in the season opener at Cleveland but found its footing thanks to the impact Bryant made by forcing opposing defensive backs to pick their poison.

They can try to cover him deep, but covering the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder often leads either to a big pass play or a costly penalty, something Roethlisberger sees as an opportunity for the Steelers to make major gains.

“When he's behind people, DBs panic a little bit, which they did,” Roethlisberger said. “You either grab him, or he catches it. I told him, ‘Hey, we love the penalty and moving down, but we'll also take the catch.' He wants those yards, and we'll all take the stats on offense, but it's a big play. …

“Those are risk-reward things we'll take our chances with.”

The reward also has been beneficial for All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, who is drawing less double- and triple-teams because of Bryant. Where Bryant had only two catches for 14 yards at Cleveland, Brown had 11 catches for 182 yards. Against the Vikings, Bryant had three catches for 91 yards, Brown had five for 62 yards and Le'Veon Bell rushed for 87 yards on 27 carries.

“It opens up more of the offense,” Bell said. “I think you can't really just take a guy like (Brown) out of the game. You can't just take our run game out. So you have to have a guy on the other side making plays. I think Martavis is putting it back on film. He's a guy that can be consistent, go out there and make plays.”

The Steelers believed their offense could average 30 points per game, but they’ve fallen far short of that mark through the first two weeks of the season. They only scored 21 points against the Browns last week and 26 against the Vikings on Sunday for an average of only 23.5 points per game.

That’s quite a difference from the offensive output that most envisioned for the Steelers given all the weapons they have. The Steelers have the best trio of quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the NFL. They have one of the best No. 2 receivers in the NFL in Martavis Bryant plus an offensive line that’s among the best in the league.

This should be a dominant offense but it isn’t. But this is no time to panic or even to be concerned about it. There’s nothing wrong with the Steelers’ offense that getting a couple more games under their belts won’t solve. The Steelers’ problem right now — and problem is a relative term considering they are 2-0 — is that they’re just not quite in sync yet. Their timing is still a little bit off and that’s held them back from making big plays both in their passing and running games.

Le’Veon Bell was awful last week against the Browns. He looked like a player who hadn’t played the game in a long time. He looked like he wasn’t on the same page as his offensive line. That’s not a surprise to anyone, though, because he missed the entire preseason. It takes a little bit of time for a running back to get back into their rhythm, and he’s way too good of a player not to figure it out.

Sunday against the Vikings, Bell was much improved and much closer to the Bell we’ve all come to expect. He was just a little bit off on a couple of plays that, later in the season, he’ll be hitting for long runs. It was easy to see that he was running with more confidence at Heinz Field and he seemed to have better chemistry with the offensive line.

When asked about the development of the Steelers’ offense, Bell said, “Slowly but surely. Obviously, we’re not there yet. I think we’ll get better at converting more third downs and obviously not hurting ourselves with penalties. We did a good job of protecting the ball, so that’s a plus from last week. Other than that, us putting up points, we still have a ways to go.”

Bell ran the ball 27 times for 87 yards which is an average only 3.2 yards per carry. Again, though, he was close to breaking a few runs for long gains, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s back to form. Some of his troubles can be easily corrected and some were due to the fact that Vikings have a strong front-seven and aren’t easy to run against.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, but he left some big plays on the field. He had a couple of missed opportunities to connect with Bryant and Antonio Brown.

All this is a sign that it’ still early in the season and teams are still working off their rust. As Bryant showed on Sunday, once he and Roethlisberger truly get on the same page, he’ll pose major problems for opposing secondaries. The Vikings have two strong cornerbacks who were able to cover both Brown and Bryant without a lot of help. Yet Brown still had 62 yards receiving for the game plus Bryant’s 91 yards and a touchdown.

Joe Greene, the Steelers’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle, was on hand at Heinz Field to help celebrate the memory of the late Dan Rooney, serving as honorary captain before the game.

For most of the game, the Vikings must have felt as if Greene still was playing for the Steelers. At least, it certainly looked that way every time they tried to block defensive end Cam Heyward.

“Cam makes it happen,” said inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.

“He’s pretty much unstoppable,” added inside linebacker Vince Williams.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” said defensive end Tyson Alualu. “They’re going to have a hard time blocking Cam.”

The Vikings and their rebuilt offensive line couldn’t quite figure out how to control Heyward, especially in the first half when he was putting on a performance that looked quite similar to the way Greene dismantled offensive lines during the 1970s.

Heyward had six tackles before halftime, including two for negative yards, plus another for zero yards and another stop for just 1 yard. That’s four running plays that netted the Vikings a total of minus-6 yards.

On top of that, Heyward had two hurries on Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who was filling in for injured Sam Bradford (knee).

It was a stirring performance on an emotionally stirring day on which the Steelers celebrated the memory of their beloved former chairman.

“I’m always fired up,” said Heyward, the defensive captain. “It’s the season opener, I got to play for Mr. Rooney. He wasn’t here and we missed him out there. I thought we played with energy.”

Martavis Bryant's first game back at Heinz Field since his season-long suspension in 2016 showed what the Steelers have been missing during his absence. His mere presence on the field forces defensive coordinators to make decisions on whether to keep their safeties back to help the cornerbacks cover deep routes, or bring them up to provide run support to stop Le'Veon Bell.

The Vikings chose the latter in the Steelers' 26-9 victory on Sunday, allowing Bryant to burn the secondary throughout the game.

Bryant had three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, but the stat line doesn’t tell the full story. His efforts force cornerbacks in that coverage scheme to win downfield, and a missed tackle on a short pass can be the difference between an 8-yard play and a touchdown.

The Vikings discovered this when the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the game on a slant to Bryant for 27 yards. The Vikings had one high safety—a look they had often presented both before and during this game—and they used zone coverage to try and limit where the Steelers could throw the ball.

Bryant’s slant-route attacks the seam between the high safety and the cornerback, the normal soft spot of a Cover 3 zone scheme. His speed makes him untouchable after the catch when he gets that much room.

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