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Steelers Injury Report: T.J. Watt questionable for Sunday’s game

Behind the Steel Curtain - 2 hours 24 min ago
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

After practicing in a limited capacity every day this week, Watt’’s availability will be determined on Sunday while 3 players have already been ruled out.

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished up their Week 3 preparation as they are set to host the Cincinnati Bengals in the first AFC North matchup of the season this Sunday. In the final injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, three players have been ruled out for Sunday’s game with T.J. Watt being listed as questionable.

Steelers PR Department

After exiting their Week 2 game in the second quarter with a groin injury, T.J. Watt has been limited in practice every day this week. Getting in some work has been a positive, but Watt needs to be able to go all out in order to get on the field Sunday. He is officially listed as questionable for the game and will see if his injury allows him to play prior to kickoff.

Ben Roethlisberger returned as a full participant in practice on Friday after being limited on Thursday with a pectoral injury. Since he was a full participant in practice, Roethlisberger carries no injury status for Sunday and is fully expected to be the Steelers starter when they face the Bengals at 1 PM at Heinz Field.

Three players have been ruled out for the game on Sunday. Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith did not practice all week due to a groin injury and will not play. With T.J. Watt also being questionable, it will be Melvin Ingram, Jamir Jones, and possibly as many as two players from the practice squad called up into duty for Sunday’s game.

Wide receiver Diontae Johnson has also been ruled out for this Sunday’s matchup either the Bengals. The Steelers leading receiver, Johnson’s snaps will likely go to James Washington.

The final player who has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game is defensive tackle Carlos Davis. Missing last week with a knee injury, this will be the second straight week of Davis being sidelined with his injury.

As for all the other players who have been on the injury report earlier this week due to injury, all practiced on Friday and do not carry an injury designation. This includes Joe Haden, Devin Bush, Justin Layne, and Marcus Allen.

As for the Bengals’ injury report, you can see the names below courtesy of Steelers.com. The Bengals have three players listed as doubtful, including wide receiver Tee Higgins. Former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton landed on Friday’s injury report with a chest injury, but he carries no injury designation.

Cincinnati Bengals Participation/Injury Report, Week 3

Game Status

WR Tee Higgins (Shoulder) - Doubtful

G Xavier Su’a-Filo (Knee) - Doubtful

CB Trae Waynes (Hamstring) - Doubtful

Friday, September 24

WR Tee Higgins (Shoulder) - Limited

G Xavier Su’a-Filo (Knee) - DNP

DT Josh Tupou (NIR-Personal) - Full

CB Trae Waynes (Hamstring) - Limited

DT Larry Ogunjobi (Groin) - Full

CB Darius Phillips (NIR - Rest) - Full

CB Mike Hilton (Chest) - Limited

Podcast: Looking for bright spots heading into the Week 3 game vs. the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - 3 hours 8 min ago

BTSC’s Jeff Hartman, Bryan Anthony Davis, and Dave Schofield talk news of the day and everything surrounding the Steelers. All of this while mixing in fun and frivolity like only they do.

The Steelers had a dark Week 2 and Steeler Nation is looking for light at the end of the tunnel heading into a home contest in Week 3 against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals. What are the bright spots? This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold and there you have the topic for the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview with Jeff Hartman, Bryan Anthony Davis, and Dave Schofield. Join the triumphant trio as they combine the down all things Steelers and with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the week
  • Previewing Week 3 against Cincinnati
  • Trivia

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

NFL Odds and Predictions: Picking all the Week 3 games against the spread

Behind the Steel Curtain - 4 hours 38 min ago
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Several of the BTSC staff pick all the NFL games both against the spread and over/under point totals

The 2021 NFL season is moving along as teams now have more than a one-game sample size in order to better predict how their upcoming matchup may play out. Even with two games under their belts, there are a number of teams, the Steelers included, that are really difficult to gauge what to expect in Week 3. Even though it may be difficult, picks still need to be made.

For the 2021 NFL season, our “Excellent 8” of BTSC staff will be picking every game against the spread and the over/under point totals. We are keeping up with the changes we made last year and including the Thursday games. Please remember we are not experts on betting or any kind of sports gamblers, and if you need to be reminded of this simple look at our records. We are just a group of Steelers’ fans saying who we think will come through each week.

We are using the same program as last year called Tallysight It allows us to show picks in a much more “friendly to the eye” manner. To understand how it works, the default tab is for our picks against the spread. To see the over/under picks, click the “O/U” tab in the upper left. Also, make sure you scroll on the graphic to see all the picks.

Last week, mediocrity was king as the best records were merely 8-8. Four people led the way in picking against the spread at 8-8 in myself, Shannon, Michael, and Bryan coming out just ahead of Mark at 8-7, who locked in the Bengals against the Bears early enough to get the push before the line moved. Bringing up the rear was both Jeff and Geoffrey at 4-12. For the year, it’s Mark leading the way against the spread at 15-15 a half game ahead of Michael and Bryan at 15-16.

In the over/under, there were three leading the way with myself, Michael, and Jeff coming in at 8-8 followed closely by Bryan and Mark at 7-9. It is once again Mark leading the way overall at 17-15 with three others lurking two games back.

So here are the picks for the games for Week 3 of the NFL season. Please feel free to list your choices in the comment section below and play along!

Putting a fullback on the field may not give the Steelers a boost in their running game

Behind the Steel Curtain - 5 hours 38 min ago
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers may not get the numbers advantage may fans think comes with lining up a fullback to help run the ball.

It seems like Pittsburgh Steelers fans are dealing with the same story that came across in the second half of the 2020 season: The team is just unable to run the football. With a revamped offensive line and a shiny new running back, it’s hard to say when everything will come together for the Steelers to find at least some success in the running game. With things not currently showing effective results, fans have their own ideas of some other things the Steelers can try in order to get the job done.

The number one thing many Steelers’ fans believe they should do to improve their running game is to actually use the second-highest paid fullback in the NFL who is on their roster. After not seeing much from Derek Watt in 2020, partially due to injury, fans want to know what the Steelers invested in to bring the middle Watt brother into town. So far in 2021, Watt has barely been seen in the offense. Perhaps just throwing the fullback out onto the field in various formations will give the Steelers the advantage that they need.

But is using the full back really an advantage in the running game, particularly with this Pittsburgh Steelers team?

Right now, the biggest issue the Steelers are facing in the running game is that teams are actually taking it away. One would think that if the Steelers are struggling to run the ball the teams with simply focus on shutting down the pass and make the Steelers unable to do anything on offense. In fact, it’s been more of the opposite. Teams are stacking the box in order to shut down the running game and help in the short passing game.

So wouldn’t putting Derek Watt into the game help the situation? Let’s actually look at Watt’s utilization in 2021 and see how teams react to him being on the field and what the Steelers can do in order to run the ball better.

In two games so far in the 2021 season, Derek Watt has played exactly four offensive snaps, all of which came against the Buffalo Bills. Surprisingly, three of these four snaps were when the Steelers were taking a knee. That’s right, Derek Watt has been on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers for one meaningful offensive play.

Since that’s the case, this isn’t going to take long to see what defenses do.

When Derek Watt comes onto the field, it’s not in place of the Steelers running back but in conjunction with, in this case, Najee Harris. While fans may expect White to come on in place of one of the wide receivers, his single offense of play this season actually came in place of the tight end. The Steelers ran a 20 personnel grouping, meaning they had two running backs, no tight ends, and three wide receivers on the field. Because of this, the Buffalo Bills were in there nickel defense to have the same number of cornerbacks as the Steelers had wide receivers.

On this play, seen in the picture below, Ben Roethlisberger is in shotgun with Derek Watt to his right and Najee Harris to his left. There are two wide receivers to the left side of the formation and one wide receiver to the right side as the Steelers were on the right hash mark. The three cornerbacks are each lined up in what appears to be man-to-man coverage on the three wide receivers. The Bills have four defensive lineman and two linebackers on the field. As for the two safeties, the Bills play a single high safety not seen on the screen and walk their strong safety up to pretty much be playing the other linebacker position.

Even with three wide receivers, the Steelers are simply outnumbered in running the football in this case. There are seven players that need blocked while the Steelers have five offensive lineman and one fullback to block them. Based on the alignment, it’s not wise to simply leave one of the defensive ends unblocked and hope they can’t run down the play unless they are running outside the other tackle. So even if the Steelers block every player perfectly, there is still one extra player there to make the tackle.

Note, the stacked box came regardless of the Steelers being in shotgun. Had the Steelers lined up with Ben Roethlisberger under center and an “I” formation with Derek Watt in front of Najee Harris, the Bills had already stacked the box and the Steelers aren’t even telegraphing a run play.

So what do the Steelers do for this play? Check out the video below:

That’s correct. With this play being a run-pass option (RPO), Roethlisberger makes the wise decision and throws the ball to Chase Claypool for a 9-yard gain. It doesn’t make sense to run the ball in the situation, so it’s actually a better look to complete the pass.

Yes, this is only a one place sample. But right now, it’s all we’ve got of Derek Watt. If the defenses match up against the Steelers to simply have one player more in the box that with the Steelers have blockers, there’s not really anything they can do that benefits having a fullback on the field. Derek Watt is used in this case to kick out the one defensive end which appears to be his responsibility whether Roethlisberger would have handed the ball to Najee Harris or chose to throw the ball like he did.

So if this is how teams are going to defend the Steelers, why not have the fullback out there to block. Let’s look at an almost identical play but with the Steelers in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers) where is Pat Freiermuth is in the game rather than Derek Watt. Freiermuth is not lined up in the backfield like Watt, but it’s not on the line of scrimmage either as it’s in the H-back position on the right side of the formation. The only other difference in this play is the two wide receivers are to the right of the formation because that is the wide side of the field in this case. Also note this play occurred before the previous one outlined as it was the first play of the third quarter while the other was with about five minutes remaining in the third.

As you can see in this picture, the only real difference in how the Bills have defended this play is that the strong safety is not in the screen. Because the Steelers have a tight end who is quite the receiving threat, the safeties are basically playing two deep rather than the single high safety in the previous example. In other words, there are only six players in the box, excluding the cornerback who may be inching inside a little bit while matched up with JuJu Smith-Schuster.

So what did the Steelers do on this play as it is also an RPO? Let’s see what happens:

There it is, Steelers fans: A 9-yard run. Freiermuth came across the formation to block a plyer on the left side just as Watt did. But in this case, the strong safety was not a part of the play like he would have been in the previous example as he doesn’t even show up in the screen until the end of the run.

In two plays that are basically running the same thing with the RPO, the Steelers ran the ball without the fullback, but passed the ball when the fullback was in the game. Why did they do so? It’s because there were too many defenders to block with a fullback on the field.

The Steelers are already facing too many stacked boxes when it comes to attempting to run the football. While many fans want the Steelers to just bring in a full back and lineup and run it right down the oppositions throat, if you’re having to ask one player to try to block two people, that’s a hard enough task when players are struggling to even block one. Putting the full back on the field to run the ball is simply bringing more defenders closer to the play… for now.

Before I get into how I would utilize a fullback, a natural question would be how the defense would respond if the Steelers had 21 personnel where instead of having three wide receivers they would have a tight end with two receivers and two running backs. In these exact same plays, the only thing I would expect to be different would be the defense responding in their base package and have one less cornerback on the field and instead have a linebacker or strong safety lined up over wherever the tight end would be set up. So instead of six blockers taking on seven players in the box, it would be seven blockers taking on eight players in the box. The Steelers would still be one person short.

If the Steelers are going to utilize a fullback to run the football, they’re going to have to get creative. How can they do that? My most favorite example would be to run 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, and one wide receiver). Let’s say the Steelers have Najee Harris, Derek Watt, Pat Freiermuth, Eric Ebron, and Chase Claypool as their eligible receivers. With this personal grouping, chances are teams are going to either stay in their base defense, or even bring in more of a “jumbo” package to match the size the Steelers are putting out there as it appears to be more of a running personnel group. If that is what teams do, the Steelers should make them pay. The Steelers could definitely go shotgun with only Derek Watt next to Ben Roethlisberger and put Najee Harris out as a receiver. Now the Steelers have four receiving options going up against a very run-heavy defense. This is now a situation where the defense should pay the price.

If the Steelers start setting up teams by using this personnel package, they may have to adjust and try to keep more pass defenders on the field. As soon as that’s the case, Ben Roethlisberger should move up under center and put Najee Harris back in the backfield for the Steelers to have the advantage running the ball right down their opponent’s throats.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is the Steelers need to start utilizing the fullback in the passing game in order for it to pay off in the running game. Much like what the Steelers need to do to get the run going in general, until the passing game gets the defense from stacking the box, running the ball is going to be a challenge. It’s not that the Steelers can’t use the fullback, they’re just going to have to get creative and not telegraph their intentions.

Podcast: Pants Poopin’ Doom & Gloom

Behind the Steel Curtain - 6 hours 8 min ago

Join BTSC’s newest podcast, What Yinz Talkin ‘Bout for a fun look at the Steelers in the sea of social media.

What Yinz Talkin’ Bout is the conversation about the Steelers social media conversation. It’s nothing but Doom and Gloom on Steelers twitter this week, and no one is safe. Not Tomlin, not Ben, not Colbert, not even Styx! Your hosts Kyle Chrise (@KyleChrise) & Greg Benevent (@GregBenevent) provide a reality check for Steelers nation. Plus we talk to Brian “Soups” Campbell (@BrianCampbell1_) about his viral tweet that trolled all of Cleveland & even duped ESPN. Take a deep dive into the world of Steelers social media from a yinzer perspective. Join Kyle and Greg for their black-and-gold breakdown of everything “Stillers” on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and so much more.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • This week with the Steelers and social media
  • and MUCH MORE!

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Rooting Guide: Who Steelers fans may want to root for in other games in Week 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - 7 hours 8 min ago
Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Steelers fans know who to root against week in and week out. They usually know to root against Baltimore, Cleveland and New England. But sometimes, you have to look at the bigger picture—the playoff picture. Here are potential teams to put on your foam finger for.

Each game that the Steelers take the field for, it’s about winning and not losing. That doesn’t always occur, but with the goal always being the playoffs... the other games become about seeding and matchups. Even though it's not the Black-and-gold playing, other contests matter to Steelers Nation. Thus, the Rooting Guide. Sure, the Steelers have to win to be contenders, but it’s never to early to try to get an early advantage on the competition in the AFC. Here’s a guide to other significant matchups, and whose losses the Steelers would benefit from more.

Here are the current AFC Power Rankings (ESPN)

  1. Kansas City Chiefs 1-1 (Last Week: 1 - No change)
  2. Buffalo Bills 1-1 (Last Week: 2 - No change)
  3. Baltimore Ravens 1-1 (Last Week: 3 - No change)
  4. Cleveland Browns 1-1 (Last Week: 4 - No change)
  5. Las Vegas Raiders 2-0 (Last Week: 11 - Up 6 spots)
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1 (Last Week: 4 - Down 2 spots)
  7. Denver Broncos 2-0 (Last Week: 12 - Up 5 spots)
  8. Tennessee Titans 1-1 (Last Week: 10 - Up 2 spots)
  9. Los Angeles Chargers 1-1 (Last Week: 6 - Down 3 spots)
  10. New England Patriots 1-1 (Last Week: 9 - Down 1 spot)
  11. Miami Dolphins 1-1 (Last Week: 7 - Down 4 spots)
  12. Indianapolis Colts 0-2 (Last Week: 8 - Down 4 spots)
  13. Cincinnati Bengals 1-1 (Last Week: 13 - No change)
  14. Houston Texans 1-1 (Last Week: 14 - No change)
  15. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-2 (Last Week: 16 - Up 1 spot)
  16. New York Jets: 0-2 (Last Week: 15 - Down 1 spot)
WEEK 3 Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans - Thursday 8:20 PM (NFLN)

Who to root for: Carolina Panthers

This game is pretty much inconsequential to the Steelers. I’m rooting for Carolina because I really like Sam Darnold and what he’s doing there. But also, Houston has the same record as the Men of Steel. It’s unlikely that Davis Mills and the Texans catch fire, but you never know.

(The Panthers were victorious on Thursday night, beating the Texans 24-9.)

Washington Football Team at Buffalo Bills - Sunday 1 PM (FOX)

Who to root for: Washington Football Team

I was confident that Buffalo would rebound from their loss to the Steelers and they did so in a definitive fashion, beating Miami 35-0. This is a wagon that could start rolling away. It would be helpful to have the Football Team bounce Buffalo. It would be an extra bonus if they were to do it at Orchard Park and send Bills Mafia home again somber.

Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns - Sunday 1 PM (FOX)

Who to root for: Chicago Bears

I don’t really need to explain the rooting guide here. When it’s brown, flush it down. They dodged the bullet with Baker last week. This is a resilient bunch that needs grounded. I’m not sure that the friendly ghosts of Monsters of the Midway past are the ones to do it. But one can dare to dream.

Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions - Sunday 1 PM (CBS)

Who to root for: Detroit Lions

The Ravens gained back a ton of momentum and swagger by coming back to stop the Chiefs in Week 2. All of Steelers Nation knows who to cheer against here in this particular matchup and, since the Lions are kind of a train wreck, you gotta hope that the sun shines on a dog’s butt this weekend.

Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars - Sunday 1 PM (FOX)

Who to root for: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Cardinals are starting off the 2021 season strong. The Jags are too, but it’s with a strong odor. Not much Steelers consequence here, but I shudder to think about Jacksonville having the No. 1 overall pick again. So, Go Jags!

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs - Sunday 1 PM (CBS)

Who to root for: Los Angeles Chargers

C’mon Andy Reid. I think you do stuff on purpose to frustrate other NFL tams, especially Pittsburgh. All you had to do was beat the Ravens, but your team got cocky and blew it. Now the ratbirds have belief and momentum is forming. Just on principle, this team needs to lose. But this is text book rooting guide to cheer for a team that is still the AFC favorites in the AFC.

New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots - Sunday 1 PM (FOX)

Who to root for: New Orleans Saints

The Patriots will win some and lose some, but they don’t seem like a legitimate playoff threat. But it’s a Bill Belichick-coached team, so they always have the potential to make something out of nothing. Even if they don’t have a true chance, hate ‘em cause you ain’t ‘em.

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans - Sunday 1 PM (CBS)

Who to root for: Indianapolis Colts

I really didn’t forecast the Colts to be winless at 0-2, but they’ve run into two pretty good teams from possibly the finest conference in the league, the NFC West. I don’t think that Frank Reich’s team is dead in the water. As for the Titans, they rebounded after a stinker in the opener against another NFC West team, Arizona. Right now, the Titans are the bigger threat and their wake-up call last week could signal a run. The Colts can help the Steelers and the AFC by tripping them up.

New York Jets at Denver Broncos - Sunday 4:05 PM (CBS)

Who to root for: New York Jets

Denver has a pretty good defense and Teddy Bridgewater has found a way to revive the offense. I thought that they would be good, but I didn’t know that the former Viking, Saint and Panther was going to be the magic maker. For Steelers sake, a Denver defeat would be beneficial.

Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders - Sunday 4:05 PM (CBS)

Who to root for: Miami Dolphins

More disturbing than the Steelers’ disappointing loss against Las Vegas was the fear that Jon Gruden’s crimson, round melon was going to explode on national television. I have never been a fan of Gruden. He kind of reminds me of Mr. Harbaugh in the Charm City. The Raiders don’t need to lose for my personal satisfaction, after two games they are basically two games ahead of the Steelers in the AFC. So Vegas needs to crap out this week.

Who do you like in these games for yinzer’s sake? Let us know in the comment section in this article or on BTSC social media. If you want more explanation to these picks check out the new Rooting Guide podcast below:

Expert Picks: Experts like the Steelers over the Bengals, but not by much

Behind the Steel Curtain - 8 hours 8 min ago
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Time to check in and see who the experts like in Steelers vs. Bengals this Sunday in Week 3.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are slated to face off in Week 3 of the 2021 regular season, and there are a lot of narratives between these two AFC North division rivals. For the Bengals, they have the look of a vastly improved team, while the Steelers are a team who are trying to forge a new identity as they look to right the ship after losing to the Las Vegas Raiders in their home opener in Week 2.

At this point, it is time to check in and see who the pundits who call themselves experts like in this showdown at Heinz Field this Sunday.

For those new to this article, there are two types of experts, when it comes to NFL picks. There are those who just pick the overall winner, and those who expound on their picks and give a reason for their prediction.

As for the former of the above types of experts, there is a resounding feel the Steelers are going to roll in this game. According to experts at ESPN, Sports Illustrated and many other sites, they see this game as a slam dunk. Another win for the Steelers, and another win for Ben Roethlisberger over a team which resides in Ohio.

As for the experts who expound on their predictions, and give an explanation for why they made the pick, let’s take a look at how Pete Prisco of CBS Sports thinks this game will go down.

The Bengals are on the road for a second straight week after losing at Chicago. They get a Steelers team that looked bad in losing to the Raiders, but the Bengals have struggled against the Steelers in recent years. That will continue here as the Steelers bounce back with a good defensive showing.

Pick: Steelers 27, Bengals 13

The Sporting News is another outlet which gives an explanation to their picks, and they too like the Steelers to advance their record to 2-1 on the 2021 regular season.

There is no love lost between these AFC North rivals. Joe Burrow has taken nine sacks through two games, but Pittsburgh averages just 57 rushing yards per game. The Bengals haven’t won at Heinz Field since 2015. That won’t change in Week 3.

Pick: Steelers 23, Bengals 19

But it isn’t as if every site which makes picks is all-in on the Steelers. In fact, the folks over at The Pro Football Network think it will be the Bengals who leave Heinz Field victorious in Week 3.

The Bengals were oh-so-close to starting the 2021 season 2-0 and leading the AFC North. However, Joe Burrow struggled against a good Bears defense. The Steelers have yet to look convincing through two weeks and could be there for the taking if the Bengals can perform consistently on offense in Week 3.

Prediction: Bengals 23, Steelers 20

These are just a few sites who make weekly NFL picks. When you think about all those sites not listed above, this is when we turn to our friends at NFL Pick Watch, a site dedicated to tracking NFL expert picks by the week. They take all expert picks and put them into an easy-to-read graph for fans to enjoy. When it comes to the Steelers vs. Bengals game, a whopping 81% of NFL experts like the Steelers to hold serve at home Sunday.

What do you think about the upcoming game? Will the experts have it right? Or are they way off? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Bengals in Week 3.

FILM ROOM: Why hasn’t Najee Harris fixed the Steelers run game?

Behind the Steel Curtain - 9 hours 8 min ago
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers spent a first-round pick on a running back, why is the run game still terrible?

Through 5 games of the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked ninth in the NFL with 684 rushing yards, averaging 136.8 yards per game. The rest of the 2020 season the Steelers would rush for 667 yards, 60.6 yards per game, bad enough to finish the season ranked last in the NFL.

What happened? Two big things. First, the offensive line play declined with nagging injuries and age, and second, teams stopped respecting the Steelers deep passing game and started running single high safety against them, allowing them to have 1 more defender in the box than the Steelers had blockers.

In 2021 the Steelers have rushed for 114 yards, the worst mark in the NFL, an average of 57 yards per game.

The reason? For that we’ll go to the film.

I want to be clear that offensive line blocking is one of the hardest parts of the game to break down, I asked BTSC deputy editor Michael Beck if he was going to do any offensive line breakdowns after he was hired as a college offensive line coach, and he said he couldn’t do it without knowing the assignments each player had.

I want to give that disclaimer because I don’t know the assignments, all I can do is tell you what I’m seeing on the film and make assumptions based on that. I am going to try to stick to what the results are of the blocking and how the results affect the play as best I can.

Dan Moore Jr. is the left tackle, Kendrick Green (#53) is the center.

This is a nice toss play, and the initial blocks are well done. But Najee Harris only gains 2 yards. Why? Because Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green both go after the same player, the deep safety on the play side (#27). Green gets hands on #24, but barely even pushes him before moving on to the safety. Meanwhile #42, the middle linebacker comes in behind Green and makes the tackle.

Najee Harris evades the tackle of #24, but it forces him inside where the middle linebacker wraps him up. Harris had two blockers going for the safety, setting up for him to make a long run outside. But #24 was able to force Harris back inside with that diving tackle attempt. If Green gets a good block on #24, Harris has a head of steam and options, instead he’s off balance and stumbles into the rest of the defense.

Trai Turner is the right guard. Kendrick Green is the center.

Trai Turner and Chukwuma Okorafor are working a combo block on Raiders DL #77, Turner is trying to get off that block and get to the middle linebacker (#52, starts the clip on the edge of the logo by the blue hypocycloid). Turner can’t get to the linebacker, and the linebacker makes the play.

Kendrick Green is blocking 340 lb. DT Johnathan Hankins (#90). Hankins drives Green back, disrupting the play design. The play looks like Najee Harris is supposed to follow Kevin Dotson, but Green is driven into that gap. You can see Green recover enough to drive his man out of that lane to the outside, but with Turner unable to reach the linebacker, it’s irrelevant at that point. If one of those two makes their designed blocks this run gains yards, if both are able to it gains more. Instead Najee Harris is fighting just to get close to the line of scrimmage.

But not every run was bad.

That’s a 14-yard run on second and ten. The Raiders are in single high safety, but the formation has the Raiders corner to the top of the screen as the guy the Steelers aren’t going to worry about blocking. It’s a nice design to negate the +1 defender from running single high safety. Every single player lands their blocks, the formation and defensive adjustment to it took the +1 defender out of the play and it is the free safety who comes up and makes the tackle after a 14 yard gain.

When the Steelers blockers execute the scheme at a high level of success, Najee Harris is going to be a really successful back.

The execution doesn’t have to be perfect either.

Watch #65 Dan Moore Jr. here. He needs to slow down the DT enough to let Kendrick Green get control of him, then give a little seal to slow down the edge rusher in backside pursuit. He does neither.

Kendrick Green can’t get the defensive tackle without successful help, but he is able to get enough of him to let the handoff succeed and Harris get past the lineman. Not perfect, but good enough.

Really good blocking on this play from Kevin Dotson, Pat Freiermuth, Chukwuma Okorafor, and from the receivers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool.

But Geoffrey, I hear you asking, can’t any running back have that kind of success when the blocking works?

Well I’m glad you asked.

Benny Snell is the running back.

Look at the top of the screen, Benny Snell gets past the DT and has Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green leading the way. Snell promptly cuts inside where there are two more defenders than blockers. Look at Kendrick Green’s reaction to the play. That’s all you need to know.

Chukwuma Okorafor is the right tackle, second from the bottom of the screen.

Okorafor’s job on this play is to seal the defensive tackle to his side, doesn’t have to drive him back or even hold him in place, just don’t let him get more than 2 yards upfield or to the play side. You can see the run lane between Okorafor and tight end Zack Gentry, you can see Kendrick Green and Trai Turner leading the way in that gap. You also can see #92 slip past Okorafor and right into Harris’s path, forcing Harris outside where the angle of Turner’s block prevents him from stopping #34 from getting to Najee Harris.

Watch the defensive tackle to the top of the screen, #77.

This run play has a double pull as well, and Trai Turner handles the play side defensive tackle perfectly. The problem here is Kendrick Green can’t keep #77 from moving laterally and closing off the run lane. If #77 isn’t there Najee Harris is likely bursting through a small hole and into open grass with Chukwuma Okorafor giving him help upfield. Instead Najee Harris is again fighting to gain a few yards on a play that gave him none.

The run game wasn’t working, but it also isn’t that far off from working. Every rushing attack has blown blocks, the Steelers problem right now is too many lineman messing up too many times each game, meaning only a few run plays each game have high end execution.

You can see teams are concerned about Najee Harris as a runner by how much attention he gets, and while he isn’t getting much in the way of yards, he is opening up options for other players.

Najee Harris is the running back.

This play action pass is a gorgeous play design and it shows off how much the Raiders were focusing on stopping Harris. The entire defense is thinking run defense and the Steelers have multiple open receivers because of it. Shocking to see Ben Roethlisberger actually run a play action pass here, after all the people saying he refused to run it. . .

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the wingback that comes in jet motion.

Man JuJu Smith-Schuster made that touchdown run look easier than the milk crate challenge. It wasn’t easy, but Smith-Schuster isn’t going down to one hand grabs from Maxx Crosby, and that safety didn’t even slow him down. I love how low Smith-Schuster got bending that corner, he’s the lower man and the safety has no chance. Maybe it’s a new TikTok dance move or something. . .

The Steelers run game is atrocious right now. But it also isn’t very far off from being good. With Najee Harris greatly improving the running back side of the equation, getting the Steelers young offensive line to execute even a little bit more reliably will make a lot of difference in the Steelers offense.

At this point all we can do is hope.

Start’ em and Sit ‘em: Who to play in Steelers vs. Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - 10 hours 8 min ago
Sam Greene, Cincinnati Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3, here is who you should start, or sit, in the upcoming matchup.

After a crazy beginning to the NFL season, the fantasy football landscape is finally beginning to take shape, but there are still some difficult start and sit decisions. Do you have Steelers or Bengals players on your fantasy team and unsure about which ones you should start? If that is you, you have to come to the right place.

Each week during the NFL season, I, Andrew Wilbar, and BTSC podcast personality Jeremy Betz will co-author a Steelers ‘start and sit’ article. It will include only players from the Steelers and from the team the Steelers are facing that week. This week, I will be breaking down the starts and sits and running back, tight end, and defense, while Jeremy will cover the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and kickers. We will alternate who covers those positions every week.

If you have thoughts on which players are good starts in the Steelers vs. Bengals, let us know in the comment section below. But without further adieu, here are your Steelers and Bengals starts and sits for Week 3.

Starts Jeremy Betz: WR: Diontae Johnson, PIT

In 2 games this season, DJ has 22 targets and a 14/141/1 stat line. Over a full season, that amounts to a 119/1,200/8 line and 287 PPR pts. That would have made him the WR5 in 2020. He’s the clear target leader in what has proven once again to be a pass-happy offense so far. If Johnson continues to earn more deep targets like week 2, his value should only go up. Health is a concern this week, so keep an eye on that injury report, but Johnson is a consistent WR2 with weekly upside for more. If he’s a go on Sunday, he should be a go in your fantasy lineup.

WR: Chase Claypool, PIT

I got burned on this pick last week, but I’m riding the Maple-train again for Week 3. Look, at some point Claypool is going to go off, and this could definitely be the week for it. Especially if Diontae Johnson’s knee injury keeps him out this week, Claypool’s big play ability and Red Zone skill make him a weekly flex option. I’d put him there again this week and expect solid to spectacular results.

K: Chris Boswell, PIT

He’s been a solid performer through two weeks and that shouldn’t change in a good matchup against the Bengals. The Wizard of Boz is a great streaming option again this week.

Andrew Wilbar: RB: Joe Mixon, CIN

The matchup looks bad on paper, but the absences of both Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu make things much easier for Mixon. The loss of Josh Jacobs forced the Raiders to rely on the passing game, but Devin Singletary was able to exploit the Steelers defense in Week 1. Cincinnati’s offensive line is still a work in progress, but Mixon seems to be in better health this season and is looking much more explosive than the past couple seasons. I do not love the upside this week, but there are only so many good options to start at running back. Unless you are absolutely stacked at running back, you cannot afford to bench Mixon.

RB: Najee Harris, PIT

The Bengals have been more stout against the run than what I had anticipated coming into the season, but after surrendering 123 rushing yards to Chicago last week, I see Najee as a start as well. The Steelers began to get him more involved in the passing game last week, and if that becomes the trend, he will be a consistent starting-caliber running back in PPR leagues. While his value is slightly lower in non-PPR due to the struggling offensive line, I still think that the price fantasy owners paid for Najee makes him a guy you have to start barring any strange occurrences.

SITS Jeremy Betz: QB: Joe Burrow, CIN

I know Derek Carr put up good fantasy numbers against this Steelers D in week 2, but that is an aberration not a trend, specifically because half of the Steelers defensive starters were out due to injury. The offensive line in Cincy isn’t great and allows a lot of pressure on a weekly basis, and this matchup amplifies that problem even more than usual. Even thought his weapons are really dynamic, it won’t matter much if Joey B has no time to get them the ball. Burrow isn't a great start most weeks anyway, but against what should be a much healthier Steelers team, he’s a sit for me.

WR: Ja’Marr Chase, CIN

The 20th ranked fantasy WR through 2 weeks, Chase has shaken off a horrible preseason narrative and been an effective and efficient fantasy asset. I think this is the week that production hits a wall though. It’s the theme so far, but a hopefully healthy Steelers D makes this a rough matchup for Burrow’s LSU teammate. I understand if you can’t fully bench Ja’Marr Chase, but definitely lower expectations and, if you have other options, let him sit a week.

K: Evan McPherson, CIN

I don’t think the Bengals will have many scoring opportunities this week, so I’d fade McPherson against the Steelers. You can find better streaming options and any established top level Kicker is a better play for sure.

Andrew Wilbar: TE: Eric Ebron, PIT

If you are an Eric Ebron owner, you should be concerned about the trust Ben Roethlisberger has already shown in Pat Freiermuth. Injuries are also affecting Ebron, but regardless of how healthy he is, the Bengals give up the fifth fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Consider all tight ends in the matchup risky starting options.

D/ST: Bengals

I do not know why you would own the Bengals defense in the first place, but if you are in a 32 team league and you have the Bengals as your defense, learn to draft a defense a little sooner. But seriously, unless you are in 16-team leagues or larger, do not mess with the Bengals defense.

If you haven’t listened already, make sure you check out Jeremy’s weekly podcast, The Steelers Fantasy Football Fix, which is available each and every Wednesday. You can listen to his latest episode in the player below.

Who do you think are the best starts in the Steelers/Bengals matchup? Are both Joe Mixon and Najee Harris safe starts? Will Joe Burrow bounce back this week? Let us know you thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for all the news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Taunting is just the latest NFL rule that could ruin a Steelers game for absolutely no reason

Behind the Steel Curtain - 11 hours 8 min ago
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Taunting is one of the points of emphasis for NFL officials in 2021, but it probably shouldn’t be.

Football is a rough and physical sport that includes big athletes often doing really mean things to one another during the course of an average game.

In fact, I believe that could be the job description of your typical football player. Football is such a physical sport, these players have been known to do really weird things to psyche themselves up before games. They paint their faces. They let out guttural screams as they run through tunnels. They headbutt their teammates. They dent their lockers. They expose their abs. They find players on the opposite team and let them know it’s going to be a long day for them.

Simply put: they become different people.

Even the nicest guys off the field can turn into absolute animals on it—I believe Troy Polamalu would fit that description.

Just how far have some players gone to get themselves ready for the physical rigors of an NFL game? Just watch this clip of former Jaguars defensive lineman John Henderson asking the team trainer to repeatedly slap him in the face before running out onto the field to do battle.

Henderson seemed to really enjoy the one slap that drew blood.

Anyway, football players are big, tough and scary. They’re human beings, sure, but they’re trained to endure a lot of physical punishment.

So, why are they suddenly ill-equipped to put up with mean and/or disrespectful gestures during games? That’s right, the NFL, the league that can never truly get out of its own way for five minutes, is emphasizing yet another rule that just looks ridiculous to the naked eye and is putting the integrity of its own product in jeopardy.

I’m talking about taunting. The NFL just won’t allow it in 2021. Why? I do not know, but it got in the way of a lot of games in Week 2. Players around the NFL were penalized 15 yards for spinning footballs after catches, flexing muscles after pass breakups and, I’m sure, pointing fingers in a menacing fashion.

Again, I must ask what brought about this point of emphasis when the competition committee met this past offseason? Do they take bets every other spring on how to ruin games in convoluted ways?

I still don’t understand why the NFL spent many years forcing receivers to practically take a football home with them in order to complete a catch, but the Catch Rule sure did ruin many games.

As for that pass interference replay fiasco of 2019? At least the league’s heart was in the right place; coming on the heels of the very egregious non-penalty at the end of the 2018 NFC title game, exposing pass interference calls (or non-calls) to the replay review system seemed like a good idea in theory. In application, however? Not so much.

Thankfully, the NFL quickly realized it was a horrible idea and scrapped it well before the 2019 campaign came to a close (but not before possibly screwing the Steelers out of an early-season win in the process).

You’d think the league would have learned a valuable lesson from the pass interference thing or certainly the Catch Rule.

And if the NFL didn’t learn from those examples, it should go back and examine the twerking era of 2016 when players were penalized for, well, twerking and other such celebrations that didn’t have anything to do with playing an actual game but still could have ruined one.

But, nope.

Has taunting ever really been a major issue for the NFL? Has it caused fights in the past? Sure, but football has also caused a lot of fights over the years. It’s football; again, that’s almost the job.

This might be a dumb question to ask because I know how many feel about this sort of thing, but do fans even care when they see taunting during an NFL game? Isn’t taunting in the eye of the beholder, anyway? I know a lot of people who consider touchdown celebrations to be a form of taunting (at least my mom does when she sees a Steelers’ opponent perform one).

Many call the NFL the No Fun League, but that’s partly the fans' fault for often bemoaning the fact that these celebrations take place and saying things like, “Act like you’ve been there before.” In fact, if Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, in many ways, the godfather of the modern touchdown celebration, were playing today, his name would be Billy “Diva” “Cancer” “Toxic” “Selfish” “POS” “White Shoes” Johnson.

Even if you truly despise touchdown celebrations and taunting, do you want them to interfere with the outcome of a game? Do you want to be Tweeting #MuthDidn’tTauntHim years after some taunting call leads to a Steelers’ loss and hurts their championship aspirations?

I know I don’t.

Of all the people who shouldn’t want that, those in charge of the National Football League should be at the top of the list.

Is taunting really that big a deal, NFL? It’s not too late to rethink your curious emphasis on it in 2021.

How to watch Steelers vs. Bengals: Time, TV Schedule, and game information

Behind the Steel Curtain - 11 hours 38 min ago
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

All the information needed to watch, listen, or follow the Steelers game on Sunday against the Bengals.

The 2021 regular season is chugging on. The Pittsburgh Steelers, as well ans their fans, had a bit of a reality check in Week 2 where some of the unanswered question going into the season were magnified with multiple players sustaining injuries. But the Steelers must learn from their loss and move on as they have their first AFC North matchup of the season this Sunday.

Will the Steelers have their key players available this week? Can the offensive line keep their quarterback off the ground (and at least help him up if they don’t)? Will the defense get back to the dominant force they showed in Buffalo?

This Sunday will hopefully answer all these questions as the Steelers look to get their 2021 season back on track. Make sure you get all the information you need below so you can enjoy the Week 3 showdown:

Week 3:

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Date: Sunday, September 26th

Kickoff: 1:00 P.M. ET

Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA

Weather: Live weather update

TV Channel: Broadcast locally on KDKA-CBS with Kevin Harlan and Trent Green as commentators and Melanie Collins as the sideline reporter. Check the national broadcast map to see if the game is on in your area.

Online: NFL.com Game Pass offers live games for international viewers and replays of every game upon conclusion with a paid subscription. A subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket gives access to stream games as well. fuboTV also allows you to stream NFL games online with a subscription. NFL Game Center will update the action on a play-by-play basis. The game is also available on the Yahoo! Sports App in some areas.

Radio: Steeler Nation Radio with Bill Hillgrove, Craig Wolfley, and Max Starks. The broadcast will be live on WDVE 102.5 FM and WBGG 970 AM in the Pittsburgh area or check the list of Steelers Radio Affiliates. Viewers can listen anywhere in the world online via Steelers.com, but the Steelers Official Mobile App does have geographical restrictions. The Steelers broadcast is also available on Westwood One radio, XM Radio in channel 231, and Sirius Radio on channel 106.

You can also follow Behind the Steel Curtain on Twitter or in the game thread article to catch all of the highlights. Be sure to check back with BTSC after the game for our post-match roundup, and subscribe to BTSC Steelers Radio on YouTube to catch The Steelers Post Game Show with Jeff Hartman.

Podcast: What the Steelers need to do to defeat the Bengals in Week 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - 12 hours 38 min ago

Jeff Hartman leads the way with his AM studio show on the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers won unemphatically in Week 1 and lost emphatically in Week 2. Therefore, the 1-1 Steelers need to win in Week 3 to not fall behind the pace in the division and conference. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC senior editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Note
  • Keys to victory vs. Cincy
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers Injury Report: Ben Roethlisberger returns to practice on Thursday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 3:12pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers quarterback returned in a limited role in the second practice of the week.

The Pittsburgh Steelers continued with their Week 3 preparation as they host the Cincinnati Bengals in the first AFC North matchup of the season. In the second injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, one new player was added to the list while many others are holding steady.

Steelers PR Department

As is typically the case, Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday, but this time it was due to a left pectoral injury. Knowing the real test was going to be Roethlisberger’s involvement on Thursday and beyond, he returned in a limited fashion and was seen throwing. If the pectoral injury doesn’t worsen after throwing, hopefully Roethlisberger will be ready to go on Friday and beyond.

Devin Bush returned to practice on Wednesday as a full participant after missing Sunday’s game with a groin injury. On Thursday, Bush was back again as a full participant and is on track to return this week.

Another positive from Wednesday’s injury report was Joe Haden and T.J. Watt participated in a limited basis in practice with their groin injuries. On Thursday, T.J. Watt continued in a limited role while Joe Haden was a full participant. By participating two days in a row, both players should still be good possibilities to suit up on Sunday.

Another player who was limited in practice on Wednesday was cornerback Justin Layne with an Achilles injury. Dialing it back from the previous day, Layne did not practice on Thursday and his availability for Sunday is even more in question.

The one player who did land on the list on Wednesday as a coaches decision was tight end Eric Ebron. As expected, Ebron returned as a full participant Thursday.

The Steelers had three other players who did not practice at all on Wednesday. Carlos Davis, who did not play in Sunday’s game, as well as Diontae Johnson, who is injured on the final play of Sunday’s game, both sat out with knee injuries. Additionally, Alex Highsmith’s groin injury, which first surfaced prior to Week 1. In one of the more discouraging parts of the injury report, none of these three players returned to action for the second practice of the week and things are not looking good for their availability on Sunday.

The new player added to the list on Thursday was linebacker Marcus Allen who did not practice with an abdomen injury. Unsure of exactly what is going on with Allen, Friday’s practice will tell the story with the extent of his injury.

As for the Bengals’ injury report, you can see the names below when available.

Podcast: Getting acquainted with the Steelers’ Week 3 enemy, the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 2:00pm

Learn about the Steelers upcoming opponent with the return of BTSC’s Know Your Enemy. Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict break down all the news you need to know surrounding the

It’s time once again to become a scout for the Steelers before their latest game. This time around the Steelers take on their long-time enemies, the fellow 1-1 Cincinnati Bengals, are the chief focus in the latest edition of Know Your Enemy. It’s the show where Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict break down the upcoming opponent for the Black-and-Gold. This week, Mike and Geoff welcome James Rapien of Locked on Bengals. So much insight will be uncovered on the latest episode of the BTSC family of podcasts. As always, it is a good time to talk everything Steelers.

  • News and Notes
  • A look at the Cincinnati Bengals
  • Guest James Rapien of Locked on Bengals

Michael and Geoffrey walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Stifling the Bengals’ super sophomore is the Steelers key of the week

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Stopping Joe Burrow can win the Steelers this divisional game.

In the first two installments of the Steelers key of the week, we looked at a pair of receiving targets that could take games over by themselves. This week we look at the engine itself and how roughing up Joe Burrow (again) is how the Steelers can claim victory at Heinz Field. The first time the Pittsburgh Steelers battled against the Burrow led-Bengals they punished him with four sacks and a list of quarterback hits. Burrow was limited to just 21/40, 213 yards, and a touchdown in that matchup, and replicating another day like that one is exactly what the Steelers need to claim victory on Sunday.

In 2020 the Steelers defense made Joe Burrow play his worst game, and possibly the worst game of his entire football career. They did it by hitting him over and over again and he genuinely looked scared on the field of play. The Steelers will rely on its front seven to rattle Burrow’s cage yet again, and on paper the Steelers should be able to do it even better than they did in 2020. Getting T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith healthy from their groin injuries is of the utmost importance for this game. Being without either player will drastically limit the teams ability to live in the Bengals backfield.

Bengals’ tackles Riley Reiff and Jonah Williams have played really well so far in 2021 protecting Joe Burrow and his surgically repaired knee. So sending just four men at the Bengals quarterback, like they did against the Bills, shouldn't be the game plan again. I would expect coach Keith Butler to dial up the blitz’s and stunts along the defensive front to confuse and keep the Bengals offensive line on their toes. The Bengals offensive line is deceptively good because of how bad they were a year ago. But Williams came back healthy, they signed Reiff, and they drafted Jackson Carman and made him a guard. Quickly this unit got better over night and teams have to be ready for it.

Hitting Joe Burrow —like how teams have hit Ben Roethlisberger— is the big stat to watch here. If they can get to him 10+ times I’m certain they can transition that into creating turnovers. Look for the Steelers front seven to come up big this week, but if they look like how they did when T.J. Watt exited the Raiders game it could be a long afternoon for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But what do you think? Can the Steelers make Joe Burrow’s second trip to Pittsburgh as rough as his first one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Despite how it may appear, the Steelers’ defense performed well against the Raiders

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 11:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Carr thrived amidst tight coverage and good reads, not because of errant plays.

Fresh off of their 23-16 victory against the Bills in Buffalo, it felt as if the Steelers were already on top of the mountain. Consequently, a trip back home to Pittsburgh would culminate in a win against the Las Vegas Raiders, right?

Not so fast.

On Sunday, Jon Gruden got the better of his former assistant thanks to a 26-17 upstaging of the Steelers, improving to 2-0. For Mike Tomlin, what seemed like coasting had hit a major detour.

There’s simply no way to properly characterize Pittsburgh’s loss in Week 2 other than to attribute credit to Gruden, Carr and the Raiders. On both sides of the ball, the Steelers were fundamentally outplayed; in terms of injuries, each team was without several major starters and cogs.

Las Vegas’ defense is certainly worthy of acclaim. Maxx Crosby continued what could conclude as a Pro Bowl-caliber year by wreaking havoc upon the Steelers’ offensive line—and possibly even injuring Ben Roethlisberger—and Casey Hayward broke up numerous chunk plays, especially those targeted to Chase Claypool.

Enough about Gus Bradley’s unit, though. Let’s pivot to the real story: Las Vegas’ offense.

Against the Steelers, Derek Carr was flat out exceptional. In fact, his 382 passing yards are a number unlike any compiled against the Steel Curtain in over a decade.

Derek Carr's 382 passing yards are the most the #Steelers have allowed since Aaron Rodgers threw for 383 yards against Pittsburgh in 2009.

Not sure you can blame anyone on defense for this outcome. Carr was simply phenomenal.

— Bradley Locker (@Bradley_Locker) September 19, 2021

Simply put, Carr looked like not just a top 10 quarterback, but possibly even one of the five best in the game. His performance has generated buzz to the extent that some have already labeled him the MVP frontrunner.

Given Carr’s exceptional outing, one would assume that Keith Butler’s defense didn’t play up to snuff—however, that’s not the case.

Unequivocally, the Raiders’ go-to guy on offense is Darren Waller. One of the foremost tight ends in the NFL, Waller is tied with Kansas City’s Travis Kelce for the fifth-most targets in the league last two seasons. Effectively, opposing defenses are keenly aware that the ball will be thrown to Waller yet largely cannot curtail his success whatsoever.

Yet Butler’s grouping was able to change the tide. In fact, in the first half, Waller was held without a target. The 2020 Pro Bowl selection ultimately finished Sunday afternoon’s contest with six catches for 65 yards, numbers that are pedestrian compared to his 10 receptions and 105 yards against Baltimore in Week 1.

The reason the Steelers (somewhat) mitigated Waller? Minkah Fitzpatrick was largely watching Waller all game, and the defensive back was thrown at just twice. In and of itself, neutralizing Waller can be viewed as a micro-victory for Tomlin’s defense.

Furthermore, the Steelers completely stonewalled the Raiders’ rushing attack. Without Josh Jacobs, this is an accomplishment worth far less allure, but it’s still noteworthy when a team averages less than 2.1 yards per carry. Kenyan Drake was wondering what’s next and if he had any friends in the industry (I hope you get the puns) after posting just nine yards on seven carries.

Even when something fell in Pittsburgh’s favor, the Steelers didn’t obtain much of an edge—largely because of the efficacy showcased by Carr & Co.

Just as Pittsburgh was starting to climb back in and build momentum, the air was sapped out of Heinz Field via a 61-yard touchdown pass from Carr to 2020 first-rounder Henry Ruggs III. Ironically enough, the defender most directly responsible for the score was recently acquired cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who saw action on just four plays.

In the clip below, ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky and Ryan Clark very eloquently describe how the play unfolded. In particular, Clark—a former Steeler, no less—explains how Fitzpatrick is at no fault whatsoever for roaming over towards Waller.

@danorlovsky7 @Realrclark25 This was pic.twitter.com/9nSaOBec91

— JCorn4949 (@jcorneli49) September 21, 2021

Carr and the Raiders executed their game plan so terrifically that even when Fitzpatrick made a sound read, it still wasn’t good enough to get a stop.

A play with a similar tenor is this touchdown pass to Foster Moreau. In man coverage, Joe Schobert is step-for-step with Moreau, yet Carr places the ball perfectly towards the back left of the end zone so that Schobert can’t get a hand on it.

Lead = Extended@derekcarrqb X @fhmoreau#LVvsPIT is live on CBS pic.twitter.com/E1n3toIRbr

— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 19, 2021

By no means am I positing that the Steelers’ defense was as flawless as it was in Week 1 in which it held Josh Allen to just 270 passing yards. At times, Pittsburgh struggled to get off the field on 3rd down, resulting in several elongated drives—including a Las Vegas series that ticked 6:23 off the clock. Also, the Steelers did not have a takeaway after forcing one in Buffalo.

All in all, though, I don’t think the Steelers’ defense can assume much blame for their disappointing Week 2 outcome, especially given that Carr had one of the best games of his career—his 126.2 passer rating was his second best since 2018. Frankly, this game doesn’t tell us much about Pittsburgh’s defense, especially without T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Devin Bush and Joe Haden. I expect most, if not all, to play against the Bengals, so the Steel Curtain should have far fewer wrinkles this Sunday and is poised to dominate once again.

The offense, well, is a whole different story.

Podcast: On the line, are the Steelers even anywhere close to fine?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 11:00am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room.

The Steelers run game and passing attack has a dynamic young runner and an aging future Hall of Famer respectively leading the way. But with their offensive line woes, Najee Harris has no holes in which to run and Ben Roethlisberger is running for his life. Is the line fine, or even in the same area code as fine? As always, BTSC’s Matt Peverell will attempt to discuss what hasn’t been discussed yet on BTSC. Join Matty P. for his solo show as he looks at possible future Steelers and examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the BTSC’s Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matty in The War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • The Steelers ‘Rookie Report’ to Steelers War Room, covering the performance of the Steelers Rookies in Week 2
  • Preview of what to look out for from the Bengals’ Rookies
  • Preview of top quality and HBCU prospects to look out for on the O-line and defensive line, given the Steelers clearly need help and have major holes in a season or two’s time.

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

2021 Steelers Rookie Review: Week 2 Raiders Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 10:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

A weekly review of the 2021 Steelers rookies performances each week, based on personal observations.

The thrill of victory, followed by the agony of defeat. The Steelers Week 1 surprising victory over the Buffalo Bills had to feel like a dream sequence for the 8 rookies who actually dressed for the game. However, the "lived happily ever after" ending sure was short lived.

Sunday's disappointing follow up loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in the home opener at Heinz Field more closely resembled a Nightmare on Elm Street remake, starring Derek Carr as Freddy Krueger. He slashed and gashed the Steelers defense throughout the game, especially after the injury bug reared it's ugly head and knocked Tyson Alualu and T.J. Watt out of the game.

Now the Steelers sit in a four way tie for first in the AFC North, or is it last? It actually all depends on how you choose to look at it I guess. Most educated prognosticators had the Steelers sitting at exactly their current record, only taking a different path to get there.

The Steelers have numerous issues that need dealt with at the moment; ranging from much needed offensive improvement, to figuring out ways to overcome the aforementioned injuries.

The 2021 Steelers rookie class figures prominently in any hopes the team has for making meaningful improvements moving forward. Let's take a look at their performances against the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday afternoon.

RB Najee Harris

Different opponent, similar results for the Steelers talented young runner. Harris hasn't blinked in the face of overwhelming odds through two weeks of the season. Running behind a revamped line and against stacked boxes consistently, Harris has made a habit out of turning two yard losses into two yard gains. It might not sound too impressive, but he has broken numerous tackles and displayed incredible determination for his modest statistics. His nasty stiff arm on Sunday had to be soul crushing for the unfortunate defender.

On the rare occasions that he has had room to roam, Harris has displayed the talent, size, and speed that made him a first round draft pick. He scored his first NFL TD via reception Sunday against the Raiders by breaking yet another tackle attempt and winning a foot race to the goal line, where he twisted his body as he dove across the pylon. It was a beautiful display of desire and athleticism. No doubt the first of many in a Steelers uniform.

TE Pat Freiermuth

Based on what I saw on Sunday against the Raiders, Freiermuth has already earned the TE1 position. He has excellent hands, and is a far superior blocker to Eric Ebron. Sadly few seemed to notice his Herculean effort to drag defenders to the first down marker, prior to Mike Tomlin deciding to punt on 4th and 1. That decision caused many to overlook the fact it took 4 Raiders defenders to stop him a yard short. You have to love this kids moxie.

Similar to Harris, Muth's usage and production must increase substantially moving forward if the Steelers offense is going to show sustainable improvement. I am dying to see a defender try to tackle him one on one in the open field. He definitely has some Kittle and Gronk like run after the catch ability.

C Kendrick Green

I actually felt sorry for Green during the initial drive against the Raiders on Sunday. He was being abused by #90 for the Raiders. A experienced DT named Johnathan Hankins. I had to look his name up honestly, but Green definitely had his hands full. Hankins is listed at 6'3" and 340 lbs., but I feel certain that was before breakfast.

Green was giving away at least 40 lbs. in the matchup, and it showed. He was being driven back into the QB's lap on every play. But something happened on the sidelines during the change of possession. Green looked like a different player for the remainder of the game. His intensity level went up and his competitive nature came out. He was pure nasty after that.

Green remains raw and inexperienced at the position, leading to typical rookie struggles, but you can see him growing and improving each week. He had one slightly off target snap that Ben bobbled, but thankfully was able to recover. So far, so good in that regard.

LT Dan Moore Jr.

Moore has been the Steelers biggest surprise in my opinion. Most observers, myself included, thought he would be a "break glass in case of emergency" backup tackle at best. He has been much more than that; the Steelers best tackle actually.

The Raiders have a solid defensive line and pass rush. Unlike Green, Moore appeared ready from the start. He definitely needs to clean up his technique and footwork, but he overcomes any deficiencies through extra effort and a fighter's spirit. I shutter to think what the Steelers OLine would look like without him. Another fourth round steal of a offensive lineman for the Black and Gold.

ILB Buddy Johnson

Johnson once again got a hat on Sunday, this time due to Devin Bush's absence. Predictably, he didn't see any snaps on defense; but was utilized on special teams, though he failed to crack the stat sheet.

Johnson is a prime candidate for the inactive list if Bush is a full go against the Bengals this week. That shouldn't change anybody's opinion of Johnson's future potential. That's been the plan all along.

DL Isaiahh Loudermilk

Loudermilk went from a healthy scratch against the Bills to being active against the Raiders due to Carlos Davis' injury. He was then forced into duty on defense when Tyson Alualu went down with a broken ankle. Considering it was the first NFL action of his career, he acquitted himself well.

Loudermilk was credited with an assisted tackle, but spent the majority of his time tying up blockers. He struggled to disengage from blockers, which was mentioned prominently in his pre-draft evaluations. That should improve with better technique and experience. All in all, not a bad opening act.

CB Tre Norwood

Once again Norwood saw action on at least 80% of the defensive snaps. He has obviously earned the trust of the coaches, and similar usage seems likely moving forward. He was solid once again, but not as impactful as the week prior.

With Joe Haden out with a groin injury, every corner on the depth chart was moved up a spot. Some were apparently not quite ready for the promotion, but Norwood was thanks to his football IQ and versatility. He wasn't able to play as aggressively as the week prior, due to the numerous starters out injured, but he played his assignments both smart and safe. Hopefully guys like Bush and Haden will return this week.

P Pressley Harvin lll

I will keep this review short and sweet because I already commented on the young man's bounce back performance in the Steelers Stock Report article this week. Needless to say, consider this old Steelers fan impressed.

He was not only booming the ball with exceptional hang time against the Raiders, but showed superior accuracy and control. You have to admire that statement performance.

3 games to watch in Week 3 which give perspective on the Steelers future opponents

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are several NFL games this week which will help get a better understanding of teams the Steelers face later in 2021

With the Pittsburgh Steelers continuing their season on Sunday, there will still be a multitude of games going on at the same time. When the smoke clears and Steelers Nation looks to see what else has gone on around the NFL in Week 3, there are a few matchups either between two teams the Steelers will face later in the season or a team they place in the very near future.

First off, lets check out how the three games from last week ended up. All three games came down to the wire with the largest margin of victory being three points.

Cincinnati Bengals (17) at Chicago Bears (20)

I said last week if the Bengals won this game I didn’t know if it would tell us very much, but if they lost it would mean more. After the Bears got embarrassed by the Rams in Week 1 and the Bengals topped the Vikings, this was Cincinnati’s opportunity to show they were a contender in the AFC North. By falling to the Bears, Cincinnati has to wait until Week 3 against the Steelers to show if they’re going to be in contention.

Tennessee Titans (33) at Seattle Seahawks (30) (OT)

Tennessee was ready to drop to 0–2 on the season and be in real trouble. Instead, they erased a 15-point halftime deficit, mainly thanks to a Seahawks missed extra point, and pulled the game off in overtime. More than how the Titans will stay in the AFC race, this game showed the Steelers Week 6 opponent has the potential to surrender a lead.

Kansas City Chiefs (35) at Baltimore Ravens (36)

Am I surprised the Baltimore Ravens are 1–1 after two weeks of the season? I am not. Am I surprised with the game they lost in the game they won? Yes I am. The Chiefs blew an opportunity to take the lead late and still almost had a shot to make up for it had Baltimore not taken the chance of going for it on fourth down. To say Steelers fans weren’t jealous of the decision would be an understatement.

For Week 3, here are the three games which could give the most perspective on what the Steelers can expect with some of their future opponents:

Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns Sunday at 1:00 PM on FOX

The Steelers face these two teams on back-to-back weeks coming out of there bye. Piecing together Chicago’s win over Cincinnati, how the Steelers play against the Bengals this Sunday, and the results of this game might give an indication as to how close to competition is in the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions Sunday 1:00 PM on CBS

I don’t really look for this to be much of a game, but the Steelers do face both of these opponents later in the season. I fully expect to Baltimore to take care of business in the Motor City. But if they don’t, I’m not sure anyone will know what to think if this Raven’s team.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Sunday at 8:20 PM on NBC

Although the Steelers do not face the San Francisco 49ers this season, the fact that the Steelers’ Week 4 opponent plays in prime time where fans can check out the trajectory of the Packers will give a good indication as to their matchup the following Sunday in Green Bay. After struggling against the Saints, who ended up laying an egg in Week 2, Green Bay defeated a Detroit team who may not be a very formidable opponent. Ultimately, this game will probably give the best picture of what type of team Steelers will face at Lambeau.

So there are the three main matchups which can give Steelers fans an indication as to the quality of upcoming opponents in 2021. As team get more games under their belt, it’s a little easier to establish expectations.

Obviously the Steelers game itself will tell fans the most about the season. But which of these other games will be the most telling as it pertains to the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers? Make sure you vote in the poll and give your thoughts in the comments below.

Scouting Report: 1st downs will be critical for the Steelers offense vs. the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 09/23/2021 - 8:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers will need to perform better on first downs offensively to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3.

The Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday in an AFC North clash that, while it’s early in the season, will give the winner at least a share of the division lead (all four teams are 1-1). Before we get to that game, though, let’s look back at an issue that plagued the offense in last week’s 26-17 home loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

1ST DOWN WOES

While the Steelers were decimated by injuries on defense against Vegas, their offense was the same group that played in Week 1 vs. Buffalo. A solid performance on their part was necessary for Pittsburgh to emerge victorious.

That didn’t happen. The offense stunk. The Steelers generated 331 yards, but a big chunk (130) came in the 4th quarter when they were playing catch-up. For the first three quarters, they largely resembled the unit that limped across the finish line last season. The rushing attack faltered (14 carries, 39 yards), Ben Roethlisberger failed to connect with his receivers on deep balls and they could not sustain drives. On a day when they needed to control the clock and keep the Raiders off the field, they had just one possession that lasted more than four minutes.

Buried beneath these somewhat obvious factors was something subtle yet telling. The Steelers were terrible on 1st down, forcing them to play behind the chains most of the afternoon. “Behind the chains” is a term used to describe inefficient plays that create long-yardage situations. Generally speaking, down-efficiency is perceived as follows: a 1st down play is efficient if it gains 4+ yards; a 2nd down play should generate at least half the yardage necessary for a 1st down; and a 3rd down play should convert the 1st down.

Using that metric as a gauge, the Steelers were efficient on just 41% of their 1st down plays (9 of 22). By contrast, the Raiders had a 63% 1st down efficiency rate (19 for 30). The Raiders averaged 6.4 yards per 1st down play, which often put them in 2nd and short-to-medium situations where they only had to gain a few yards to convert a 1st down or set up a makeable 3rd down.

The Steelers averaged 3.2 yards per play on 1st down. On 12 of their 22 1st downs, they gained two yards or less. This had a trickle-down effect. It consistently forced them into passing situations on 2nd down. Roethlisberger managed to connect with Chase Claypool for 52 yards on one of those snaps, but was just 9-14 for 53 yards and a sack on the others. Subsequently, they found themselves in a lot of 3rd and long situations, where they converted just 5 of 12. Their 1st down inefficiency, then, had them swimming against the tide on most of their drives.

Why were the Steelers bad on 1st down against the Raiders, and what must change this week to be successful against Cincinnati?

Let’s start with Matt Canada. While it’s early in Canada’s tenure as offensive coordinator, he’s already established a tendency he will have to break to prevent opposing defenses from teeing off on his line. When Canada uses long or jet motion from his wide receivers, the Steelers run the football. Period. They did so last year and they are doing so again this season. I know it, many people reading this know it and you can bet the Raiders knew it.

So, on Pittsburgh’s second 1st down snap of the contest last Sunday, when Juju Smith-Schuster ran jet motion from the slot across the formation, Vegas attacked. With no fear of a pass, they rolled their backers to the motion and slanted their front away from it, a classic run-blitz designed to create penetration and muddy blocking schemes. The aggressive get-off from their front put both of Pittsburgh’s rookie linemen, center Kendrick Green and left tackle Dan Moore Jr, on their heels. With nowhere to run, Najee Harris did well just to fight his way back near the line of scrimmage. The Steelers now had 2nd and 11, and the drive faltered as a result.

Canada must break this tendency going forward, especially on 1st downs. 1st down is a great play-action down, especially early in contests when defenses tend to be aggressive. Any sort of flood concept off of the motion above with tight ends Zach Gentry and Eric Ebron running the deep and intermediate routes and Smith-Schuster attacking the flat would have produced at least one open receiver as the Raiders had just two defenders (#34 and #27) to cover them. Canada will have to make this adjustment, or stop using these motions on 1st down, to avoid putting the offense behind the chains.

Canada can fix this first problem immediately. The next one may take a while. The offensive line just isn’t very good right now. That’s not something I expect to be true all season long. They are young, and they haven’t played much together, and they will get better with time. But, until they do, we may see a decent amount of plays like this one:

On this 1st down sweep, there are two problems. First, Vegas’s Maxx Crosby (98), aligned as the left defensive end, beats Gentry’s block and sets a hard edge on the play. Gentry has done a nice job as a blocker so far this season and has earned his way onto the field as a result. But his technique here is bad. He lunges at Crosby, fails to keep his weight underneath him and allows Crosby to slip the block.

Next, right tackle Chuks Okorafor whiffs on his down-block on the 4i defensive tackle. The 4i penetrates and takes away Harris’s cutback lane, forcing him to retreat deeper into the backfield, where he is tracked down for a two-yard loss. Okorafor inexplicably fires out on the tackle as though this is a drive block. On a sweep play, preventing penetration is more important than vertically displacing a down lineman. Okorafor needs to step flatter here to seal his gap. Again, technique dooms this play.

Both Gentry and Okorafor get off the ball aggressively, which has been the mandate of new line coach Adrian Klemm. That aggressiveness is nice to see. But aggression without technique is as ineffective as technique without aggression. The line will have to learn to combine both in order to improve.

Here’s one more clip. On Pittsburgh’s first snap of the second half, they took a deep shot to receiver Chase Claypool. Claypool is aligned to the bottom of the screen in the photo below. The Steelers have a good look for this call, with Vegas in single-high man coverage and the corner to Claypool shading him outside. If Claypool holds his vertical position on the route and does not get pushed inside to the numbers, where the safety can provide help, and Roethlisberger puts the ball on Claypool’s inside shoulder, the big receiver has a good chance to use his body to shield the corner and make a play:

Unfortunately, Roethlisberger misses outside. This is the right call, the right read and a good route from Claypool. It’s just bad location on the throw. This was a missed opportunity that put the Steelers in another 2nd and long situation:

The play above underscores one of the biggest problems that plagued the offense against Vegas. Though it was particularly troublesome on 1st downs, it showed up elsewhere as well. That problem is execution. Whether it was the line not using proper technique, Roethlisberger not locating well or a lapse in concentration that lead to a careless penalty (see Dionate Johnson below), the Steelers have to execute better in general and on 1st down in particular.

This type of penalty, particularly from a receiver, is simply a matter of focus.

Canada can help by scripting 1st down calls that eliminate tendencies and neutralize defenses. Take the following, for example. This may not be the prettiest bootleg you’ve ever seen, but look how the run fake gets the defense flowing, which in turn opens up the middle of the field for Claypool on the crossing route. Roethlisberger throws the out-cut to Johnson but he has Claypool open, too. Attacking the middle of the field off of play-action more often could be an effective 1st down strategy.

The drive from which this play came from was vintage Canada, by the way. The Steelers shifted, motioned, used no-huddle, ran play-action, ran an unbalanced set and ended it with a jet sweep for a touchdown. It was Pittsburgh’s best drive of the day and it was one of the only drives where the Raiders’ defense looked uncomfortable. Oddly, they never returned to this type of attack the rest of the afternoon. Canada should mix in more of these schemes going forward.

Schemes are fun to talk about, of course, but without proper execution they fall flat. How much the Steelers can improve in this regard may decide the football game on Sunday.

3 THOUGHTS ON THE BENGALS
  • Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had a stellar opening week in the Bengals 27-24 overtime win against Minnesota. Burrow hit on 20 of 27 throws for 261 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase was his favorite target, catching 5 balls for 101 yards. Last week, however, the Bears bottled up Burrow and Chase. The young QB was a pedestrian 19-30 for 207 yards and 3 interceptions while Chase was limited to 2 catches for 54 yards.

Burrow was sacked five times in the opener, which may have prompted the Bengals to favor a shorter, quicker passing game last week. Per NextGen stats, here’s Burrow’s pass chart against the Bears:

Even with the shorter passes, the Bears sacked Burrow four times. So, how will Cincinnati attack the Steelers? Deep down the field, where Derek Carr had success last week and where Burrow was more effective in Week 1? Or, with T.J. Watt returning to the lineup, will they opt to dink and dunk again to avoid Burrow being hit?

  • Defensively, the Bengals are doing a good job of getting to the quarterback themselves. They have six sacks through two games and rank 7th in the NFL in pressure percentage (7.1). The sacks have all come from defensive linemen, with five different players responsible. This means Cincinnati is generating pressure from their base 4-3 without having to blitz, a tactic that served the Steelers well against Buffalo. This has helped Cincinnati in coverage, where they are yielding just 209 yards passing per game (9th best in the league). The challenge for the Steelers on offense, then, will be to protect Roethlisberger when Cincinnati rushes four to allow him time to find holes in their coverage.
  • It’s hard to know which Bengals team will show up on Sunday. They looked sharp in their win against Minnesota and then were terrible (on offense) against Chicago. While the final score was 20-17, they trailed the Bears by 17 points with five minutes to play. Only two late touchdowns made the final score respectable.

The same can be said of the Steelers. Pittsburgh looked like a genuine AFC contender against the Bills and like a bottom-dweller against Vegas. Both teams regressed in Week 2. The team that can bounce back, limit its mistakes and take advantage of opportunities will probably come out on top.

PREDICTION: I’m 0-2 so far, so don’t bet the ranch on my prognosticating skills. I don’t see the Steelers losing two in a row at home to open the season, however. I think they’ll pull things together just enough to win a hard-fought, scrappy affair.

Steelers 20, Bengals 16

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