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A level-headed news-discussion site with a sense of history and community https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/community_logos/47293/steel_curtain_fave.png 2018-02-25T10:36:01-05:00
Updated: 1 min 47 sec ago

The Steelers’ consistency since 2001 evident in their ongoing NFL Draft position

2 hours 4 sec ago

How consistent have the Pittsburgh Steelers been as an organization since 2001? These numbers tell the story.

For those that don’t know, the more successful you are as an organization, the further back you pick in the annual NFL Draft process. So, the more you draft towards the end of every round, the better you are.

The system is built to help the teams who struggle get better talent added to their roster by picking earlier than those who were more successful the prior season. What teams do with those picks, hello Browns, depends on whether they climb out of the basement, or take up residence there.

For the Steelers, since 2001 they have been the model of consistency, and this is evident by where they have drafted since the turn of the new millennium.

This from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler:

Model of consistency: The Steelers are the NFL’s only team without a top-10 NFL draft pick since 2001. Twenty-nine NFL teams have had multiple top-10 picks. Pittsburgh selected Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick in 2000. The Colts and Broncos have had one top-10 pick apiece during that span. (Numbers verified by ESPN Stats and Information).

Those numbers are ridiculous when you think about it. For the Steelers to be the only NFL team to not draft in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft since 2000 is remarkable. A true testament to how consistent the team has been throughout this time.

Now, those who follow the team closely know everything hasn’t always been swell during this stretch of time. In 2003, the Bill Cowher lead team stumbled to a 6-10 season, the dud of a season provided them the 11th overall pick, and some guy named Ben Roethlisberger.

Since that 2003 season, 8-8 has been the worst the team has done.

I think about this and am amazed, proud and realize how lucky we all are to root for a football team who is relevant far more than they aren’t. Sit back and enjoy it Steelers fans...we are spoiled.

Why I hope Baker Mayfield isn’t on the Steelers radar from Day 1

4 hours 1 min ago

One player I hope isn’t even on the Pittsburgh Steelers draft board: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield

First of all, let me say I love the NFL Draft! It’s akin to having Christmas in April! You never know what new talent will be added to your favorite team. They could draft another fast, shiny toy for Ben Roethlisberger to throw to, or maybe it will be a big strong behemoth needed to prevent the defense from being plowed through by the opposition. Nobody really knows how the chips will fall, and which players will still be available when the Steelers turn to pick comes around, but it sure is fun to speculate.

The draft is one of the things that helps us get through a long off-season without football. We watch the combine with bated breath, all the while imagining how each participant could improve the team on the field. However, each new addition’s impact will also be felt inside the locker room, and in the community.

After the NFL Scouting Combine, a player’s draft status is given after seemingly every imaginable bit of personal information and measurables are obtained about them. This in-depth process causes the status of many players to rise, or fall, in the weeks leading up to the draft and can result in some big surprises on draft night. Some teams will completely remove a player from their draft board over health concerns, or run-ins with law enforcement.

Every year, there seems to be at least one player with a first-round grade that ends up being drafted much later than expected due to off-the-field baggage, and I always fear they’ll fall all the way to whenever the Steelers pick. I worry each year because the Steelers adhere to the “best player available” principle. So what if the player seems too good to pass up? Therefore, I hope some players are not even on the Steelers’ radar, so to speak.

Last year that player for me was RB Joe Mixon from Oklahoma. I had watched him play multiple times and knew he was pretty good, but once that video surfaced of him knocking out a young lady, I didn’t want him anywhere near my favorite team. I know we aren’t talking about choir boys here, and no one’s perfect, but there are certain lines which shouldn’t be crossed. He obviously didn’t want to discuss the incident prior to the draft, but finally conceded to a half-hearted apology when he realized it was inevitable. Mixon eventually apologized, but he definitely did not seem like a Steelers-type player.

Fittingly, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ironically, this year, that player is also from Oklahoma, QB Baker Mayfield. I know what you’re thinking, “What’s not to like? On the field, the kid is nothing but a winner! He even won the Heisman for Pete’s sake. He appears to be an enthusiastic team leader whose teammates rally behind him. He plays with the proverbial chip on his shoulder, after being under-recruited out of high school and having to walk on at Texas Tech. He proceeded to win the starting job there before transferring to OU where he ended his college career a Heisman Trophy winner and All American.”

Even after all that, there will be some who still question his long term potential due to his lack of height, and his playing style. He has vowed to prove all the doubters wrong and that he will play anywhere, even Cleveland.

You kind of have to admire that, I guess.

So what is it about him that concerns me? I really can’t put my finger on it just yet. I just don’t like the guy, I guess. Maybe he just seems too cocky to me, a little too entitled for my taste. Maybe it was him pleading not guilty to his well publicized arrest last year even though the whole thing was recorded by a officer’s body cam. Then he appeared to have a callous attitude toward the whole incident, much like Mixon the year prior.

Mayfield might turn out to be the best thing since sliced bread, but he just doesn’t feel like a Steelers-type player to me. He does remind me of a Patriots-type player for some reason. Who knows, he might be the second coming of Tom Brady? But even if I knew he was, I’d still want the Steelers to pass on him. Winning isn’t everything, or at least not the only thing to me. How you win and how you represent your team, your community, and your fan base all matter. If you don’t feel that way, don’t worry, it’s okay. You can always be a Bengals or a Patriots fan!

Blake Bortles gets paid, and should send a ‘Thank You’ card to the Steelers

5 hours 16 min ago

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles just got a brand-spanking-new deal, and he should be sending the Steelers a big ‘Thank You’ card.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars twice last season, the black-and-gold fan base kept saying the same thing repeatedly.

“The Steelers just lost the Blake Bortles and the Jaguars...twice.”

It wasn’t how the Steelers lost the Jacksonville twice, but the fact the man who was benched for poor play midway through the season somehow came into Heinz Field and did more than enough to win, especially in the playoffs.

Bortles beat the Steelers in a variety of ways. In the first meeting, in Week 5, Bortles used his legs to convert several key third downs when it mattered most, and in the playoffs Bortles could do whatever he wanted — pass or throw.

I would go as far as saying if Bortles and the Jaguars would have lost to the Steelers in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs, he would be looking for a new home next season. Instead, Bortles big game against the Steelers which propelled the team to the AFC Championship game vs. the New England Patriots has earned him a new contract.

Jacksonville’s three-year, $54 million deal with Blake Bortles essentially serves as a bridge for both:

It allows Bortles time to shine and try to earn another lucrative extension - or for the team to have added time to find another QB.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 25, 2018

While Jacksonville did break the bank to lock up Bortles for the next three seasons, Bortles should be sending a nice large ‘Thank You’ card to the 412 area code.

In the meantime, Steelers fans will continue to mutter under their breathe...

“I can’t believe they lost to Blake Bortles...”

Which questions do you want asked at this year’s scouting combine?

6 hours 29 min ago

You, the reader, gets a chance to have your questions asked to NFL hopeful players, coaches and general managers at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine.

The Super Bowl is in the rear-view mirror as all eyes are set on the 2018 season. Preparing for a new season starts in the offseason with the recruiting process. All-Star games like the Shriner and Senior games, followed by the NFL Scouting Combine, which takes place in Indianapolis. A total of 336 college players are expected to be present for the workouts, trying to convince the teams at hand to invest one of the precious draft selections in them. After that, pro days lead into pre-draft visits and eventually the 2018 NFL Draft.

During the upcoming combine, which takes place February 27th to March 5th, it gives members of the media a chance to talk to the NFL hopefuls – and SB Nation will be on site to ask questions. This, in turn, gives us the opportunity to ask you which questions you want to be asked? The questions can be specific – i.e. intended for a certain player – or rather generic for a group of future rookies (or the NFL personnel at sight holding press conference as well).

Just comment below and our crew in Indianapolis will try to get as many of the best questions answered as possible.

Eli Rogers proclaims he will be ready for Steelers training camp after knee injury

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 2:03pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers slot receiver Eli Rogers is progressing well after his ACL tear in the team’s playoff defeat.

The term ‘adding insult to injury’ certainly applies to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers. In the team’s final game of the 2017-2018 season, a playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Rogers left the game with a knee injury which would soon be diagnosed as a torn ACL.

A torn ACL injury usually results in a minimum 6-month recovery period, but Rogers has proclaimed he will be back for the Steelers Training Camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

“I should be ready by (training) camp,” Rogers told Steelers.com. “I keep seeing progress. When I come in here to the facility, (head athletic trainer) John Norwig knows I am going to work and I like working. I am always trying to reach a point. I ask him when people normally bend a knee 90 degrees out of surgery. He will tell me, and my goal is to be a week or two ahead of that. I am always trying to be better. I listen to them and go from there. The first phase they said don’t bend your knee or walk on it. Now I can bend it and put pressure on it. I have goals. Things I can succeed and grow in.”

The Steelers report to camp at the end of July, which is about 6.5 months after his injury occurred in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs. Rogers being in camp, and healthy, will be huge for former Louisville product who is about to enter a contract year with the black-and-gold.

Rogers recalls the feeling while laying on the Heinz Field turf after suffering his injury:

“I was down on the field and telling the athletic trainers, ‘Come on guys pick me up, I am on TV right now. I can’t be down here this long,’” said Rogers, laughing that he didn’t want to look weak by being down too long. “I was down, and I got up, and I could feel it. But I was like just get me off the field. I started walking and couldn’t put pressure on it. I thought something might be wrong, but I was like I am good.”

”I didn’t know it was torn. I didn’t think anything was that wrong.”

Rogers’ 2017-2018 season saw a decreased amount of playing time with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he will be a valuable piece of the Steelers’ offensive puzzle if healthy. Rogers not only knows how to work the slot within the offense, but has also become a viable option as a return man.

Rogers is a restricted free agent (RFA) once the new league year begins, and he says his rehab is going “great” up this point. While Rogers may have an uphill battle to get back on the field physically, he also has an uphill battle to see more playing time within new offensive coordinator Randy Fitchtner’s new offense.

Is the NFL morphing into the National Flag Football League?

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 11:59am

NFFL stands for “National Flag Football League.” I fear this is the next logical step in the evolution of the NFL and the sport we have all come to love.

I understand that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but football is truly a beautiful game.

At its highest level it can be breathtaking to witness. Two opponents trying to impose their will upon the other by relying on their speed, power, and intelligence. Teamwork is imperative for success. A player must trust his teammates to maintain their assignments while he works to achieve his own. Any breakdown in a team’s execution can be game-changing. That’s why every play matters! Football is a game of momentum, but you never know which play will cause it to shift, or when this will happen. This sheer excitement is what causes fans to be emotionally invested.

Football can either make your day or ruin your week.

Either way, you’ll have something to talk about standing around the water cooler.

Football is a lot of things to a lot of people, but one inherent truth has always remained the same, it’s a physically demanding sport. You have to be tough to play football because it’s a game that requires repetitive, intentional collisions. This simple truth is unavoidable. Trying to change the physicality of the game will change the game forever. I for one pray this never happens, but a shift in participation nationwide suggests it might already have started to happen.

Growing up, we all heard mothers everywhere say “My baby ain’t never playing football!”, but now you hear more and more fathers echoing that statement. Maybe not the “baby” part but you know what I mean. Many children who show above-average athleticism are foregoing football to focus on soccer, basketball, baseball, etc., and who can blame them? Sometimes football isn’t all fun and games. Any player who’s had to endure the rigors of a football camp in the sweltering heat of summer knows what I’m referring to. Another added bonus is less wear and tear on their bodies even at a younger age can lead to fewer injuries and allow them to play multiple sports with overlapping seasons which affords additional opportunities for individual recognition and exposure to potential college suitors. What parent of a child with the potential to be a professional athlete wouldn’t steer or advise that child to participate in one of the other major sports where the average yearly salary is much higher (with mostly guaranteed contracts), and the average career is substantially longer due to fewer career-altering injuries and violent collisions?

So why should we be concerned about any of this? Because football as we know it may become a thing of the past, and I believe that may have already started. What happens if fewer and fewer young people decide to play football? The product itself suffers. The quality of play slowly starts to deteriorate. Many schools and communities have been forced to drop their football programs due to financial hardships and simply not having enough support or players available to participate. This creates a significantly smaller talent pool for college programs to draw from, and far too many of the players being recruited haven’t received adequate coaching. When you take into account the limited practice schedule imposed by the NCAA it’s no wonder why so many rookies come into the league raw, lacking basic positional technique.

Many of today’s generational talents will instead be playing other sports. The next great All-American tight end or defensive end will end up being an NBA power forward or a MLB slugger. The All-Pro wideout or corner will end up playing center field for the Yankees.

Every level of football seems to have taken notice of these developments, from youth leagues all the way to the NFL. They have vowed to make the game safer through the “Heads Up” program and also by consistently implementing new rules to make the game less physical. While all of these efforts are commendable, the reality is it’s impossible to make the sport totally safe while still maintaining the integrity of the game.

I fear we are headed to more of a flag-football type of situation if something doesn’t change soon. We were given a glimpse of this possible reality before the NFL Pro Bowl game in Orlando. All the best regional flag football teams were there and they showed the championship game on television. Both teams were excellent and very talented. It actually was quite entertaining, but it just wasn’t the same, if you know what I mean.

Ranking the Steelers’ Top-10 game-changers of all time

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 9:45am

In the eyes of Steelers Nation, championships are the only goals that matter. The franchise has a league-best six Lombardi trophies on display in their front office mainly due to the consistently superior efforts of game-changing players.

Given the laser focus of Steelers Nation on seeing the Black-and-gold punch another ticket to the Super Bowl, it’s instructive to take a look at some past and present players who have played central roles in cementing the team’s winning tradition. Talent is one thing, but the qualities which define the Steelers’ most storied players extend well beyond sheer athletic ability. Pittsburgh’s unparalleled pro football history has been built on exceptional players who’ve consistently showcased outstanding efforts at key points in crucial games. With the clock now ticking down on the amazing career of Ben Roethliberger, these celebrated game-changers reflect both the tangible and intangible qualities necessary for an NFL team poised on the threshold of greatness to take the final triumphant steps.

So without further ado, here are my selections for the Top-10 game-changers in Steelers history:

No. 1 — Terry Bradshaw

No matter what pundits or fans have said or written about him, and regardless of his sometimes mind-boggling critiques of past or present Steelers’ players or coaches, No. 12 was the player chiefly responsible for Pittsburgh’s incredible run to four NFL championships during the 1970s. Former Raiders head coach John Madden once referred to Bradshaw as the best quarterback he’d ever seen in terms of his ability to convert broken plays into game-winning plays. While Bradshaw has attained a legendary and almost mythical status among Steelers fans too young to have seen him play, many of those old enough to have watched Bradshaw throughout his career find it difficult to imagine Pittsburgh having any of its first four Lombardi trophies without the Blonde Bomber at the helm. And when you consider the extended championship drought that followed Bradshaw’s retirement, this underscores the huge challenge this team will face when Big Ben decides to call it quits.

No. 2 — Franco Harris

While Bradshaw was the player most responsible for putting Pittsburgh over the top in four championship seasons, the Steelers were well-known as a run-first team throughout his career, despite the heroics of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Harris was the player who kept opposing defenses back on their heels during the game and enabled the Steelers to consistently dominate time of possession. He was also the player most responsible for extending key scoring drives that paved the way to championships. As the prototypical fullback of his day, Franco’s most-storied Immaculate Reception play was certainly an oddity. But it was also a play that revealed No. 32’s exceptional headiness on the field and burning desire to win — essential qualities for players who lead the way to championships.

No. 3 — Joe Greene

During the 1970s era when he played, there was no more athletic or physical defensive tackle in the NFL than “Mean Joe.” As the heart and soul of the Steel Curtain, Greene played the game with such raging energy that periodically, in the heat of a game, Coach Noll had to sit him down on the bench to cool his jets.

With Greene anchoring the middle of the Steelers’ defensive line, opponents found it nearly impossible to run the ball up the middle. Throughout his career, he was practically impossible for offensive linemen to block.

No. 4 — Jack Lambert

More than any other single player, “Jack Splat” personified the incredible Steel Curtain defense and its 1970s NFL reign of terror. If you ignore the psychological aspect of pro football, then you might choose the technically-flawless Jack Ham as the Steelers’ greatest-ever linebacker. But Lambert was the player who struck genuine fear into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks and their offenses.

Jack was the growling, toothless face of the greatest defense in NFL history. While he was on the field, there was never anything tentative about his play, and he rarely missed a tackle under any circumstances. Win or lose, Lambert delivered consistent, 100-percent efforts. He also famously played the role of nasty big-brother on the field, zealously defending his kickers and other, smaller teammates who occasionally were bullied by opponents. With four Super Bowl rings in his collection, No. 58 epitomized the type of player you need to win a Lombardi Trophy.

No. 5 — Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis played essentially the same role for the Steelers during his career as Franco Harris had done during the ‘70s. He was the prototypical fullback of his day, combining incredible power with surprising agility and elusiveness for such a large man. The crowning glory of Jerome’s career came in his final pro season when the Steelers captured their fifth league championship in Super Bowl XL, defeating the Seattle Seahawks in his hometown of Detroit.

Undoubtedly, Bettis was a player with the same level of talent and burning desire as Franco. But particularly in 3rd-and-short situations, “The Bus” was virtually unstoppable. His ability to knock tacklers backwards and move the pile was unparalleled during the period when he played. Strictly in terms of championship contributions, however, Franco deserves the higher rank on this list with his 4-to-1 advantage in Super Bowl rings.

No. 6 — Ben Roethlisberger

Just as Bradshaw was the chief catalyst in four Steelers’ championships, without Big Ben taking the snaps for today’s Steelers, it’s doubtful the franchise ever would have notched its NFL-best fifth and sixth league titles. Whatever flaws his critics may have cited, there’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is home to an NFL quarterback who will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

Even in a disappointing defeat in the Steelers’ recent playoff loss to Jacksonville, Ben totally shredded the Jag’s defense, showing the football world that he’s still at the top of his game and one of the most lethal passers in the league. Perhaps the most intriguing similarity between Big Ben and Bradshaw is their shared capability to turn around broken plays. This capability represents a major reason why the faithful of Steelers Nation have had such a thrilling ride extending over so many years.

No. 7 — Hines Ward

Throughout the entire history of the Black-and-gold, there’s never been a player quite like Ward. In terms of sheer “want to” and lust for competition, I’d rank Ward at the very top of this list of superstars. As the ultimate possession receiver, Ward’s specialty was snatching quick flicks from Roethlisberger that moved the sticks and demoralized Steelers’ opponents. But he was also incredibly adept at finding openings in opponents’ secondaries, especially on the many big plays when Ben was flushed out of the pocket. No receiver in the league was more reliable or fearless when catching passes over the middle than No. 86. He certainly absorbed more than his share of physical pounding during his career. Ward’s blocking ability and pure physical toughness were exceptional for an NFL wide receiver of any era.

No. 8 — Antonio Brown

When Hines Ward retired, I considered his NFL career and never-say-die attitude as the epitome of the kind of player you need to win a championship. But these days, No. 84 clearly has entered a category by himself among NFL receivers of all time. While his athleticism obviously is freakish, Brown excels equally because he shares Ward’s dogged, whatever-it-takes approach to the game. As every NFL defense has discovered during his career, there’s simply no way to stop AB on the gridiron. He consistently makes plays that leave both network broadcasters and opponents’ coaches scratching their heads in bewilderment. He brings to the game both a technical mastery of his position and a burning desire to win. He routinely makes game-winning plays in crucial situations — and makes it look easy. Despite his relatively small stature, Brown plays like he’s the biggest receiver on the field.

We can only hope that AB finishes his career in Pittsburgh and does so in possession of one or two Super Bowl rings. But regardless of how things pan out, Brown seems destined to rewrite the record book for receivers, particularly assuming he continues his amazing collaboration with Roethlisberger. And because of the records he’s smashing, no future discussion of the greatest Steelers in history ever will exclude No. 84.

No. 9 — Greg Lloyd

Lloyd’s 11-year NFL career from 1988 to 1998 (including 10 years with the Steelers) unfortunately took place during the Steelers’ extended championship-drought period. But during that era, no NFL team had a better outside linebacker than No. 95. As great as the Steelers’ 1970s linebackers were, Lloyd might have been the only Steelers’ linebacker of his day good enough to have won a starting job on the Steel Curtain defense.

In the 10 years he played for Pittsburgh, Lloyd notched 53.5 sacks and 34 forced fumbles. His durability was equally remarkable, as Lloyd played in at least 14 regular-season games in seven out of the 10 seasons when he wore black-and-gold.

No. 10 — Jack Ham

As someone who watched Ham play throughout his entire career, I can honestly state that I’ve never seen a better overall linebacker on any NFL team than No. 59. In fact, if you’re a young defensive player who wants to know how to play the LB position, I suggest you stock up on all of the grainy game film you can find on this guy. For a low-key perfectionist like Chuck Noll, the even-tempered Ham was the ideal player — nearly always in perfect position on any given play and possessing an uncanny nose for the football.

During his 12 seasons with the Black-and-gold, Ham snatched 32 interceptions and recovered 21 fumbles. If a Steelers’ opponent tried to run an end-sweep on Ham’s side of the field, most often they could count on losing yardage. He was unparalleled in his ability to knife through lead-blockers and tackle ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage. While Ham might not have been the fearsome enforcer that his sidekick Lambert was, everyone associated with the 1970s NFL knew that No. 59 was one of the best in the business.

When we talk about game-changing players, we mean more than players who must always be accounted for by the opposition in their game-planning. These are the players who, regardless of an opponent’s pregame preparations, cannot be accounted for under any circumstances. They’re the winners whose personal standards are higher even than those of the teams for which they play. They’re the ones never satisfied with giving anything less than their absolute best on the gridiron. Regardless of changes in the modern game of pro football, this rare kind of player still is considered the gold standard in the NFL — and certainly the standard for the 6-time champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rankings the Steelers’ Top-10 game-changers of all time

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 9:45am

In the eyes of Steelers Nation, championships are the only goals that matter. The franchise has a league-best six Lombardi trophies on display in their front office mainly due to the consistently superior efforts of game-changing players.

Given the laser focus of Steelers Nation on seeing the Black-and-gold punch another ticket to the Super Bowl, it’s instructive to take a look at some past and present players who have played central roles in cementing the team’s winning tradition. Talent is one thing, but the qualities which define the Steelers’ most storied players extend well beyond sheer athletic ability. Pittsburgh’s unparalleled pro football history has been built on exceptional players who’ve consistently showcased outstanding efforts at key points in crucial games. With the clock now ticking down on the amazing career of Ben Roethliberger, these celebrated game-changers reflect both the tangible and intangible qualities necessary for an NFL team poised on the threshold of greatness to take the final triumphant steps.

So without further ado, here are my selections for the Top-10 game-changers in Steelers history:

No. 1 — Terry Bradshaw

No matter what pundits or fans have said or written about him, and regardless of his sometimes mind-boggling critiques of past or present Steelers’ players or coaches, No. 12 was the player chiefly responsible for Pittsburgh’s incredible run to four NFL championships during the 1970s. Former Raiders head coach John Madden once referred to Bradshaw as the best quarterback he’d ever seen in terms of his ability to convert broken plays into game-winning plays. While Bradshaw has attained a legendary and almost mythical status among Steelers fans too young to have seen him play, many of those old enough to have watched Bradshaw throughout his career find it difficult to imagine Pittsburgh having any of its first four Lombardi trophies without the Blonde Bomber at the helm. And when you consider the extended championship drought that followed Bradshaw’s retirement, this underscores the huge challenge this team will face when Big Ben decides to call it quits.

No. 2 — Franco Harris

While Bradshaw was the player most responsible for putting Pittsburgh over the top in four championship seasons, the Steelers were well-known as a run-first team throughout his career and despite the heroics of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Harris was the player who kept opposing defenses back on their heels during the game and enabled the Steelers to consistently dominate time of possession. He was also the player most responsible for extending key scoring drives that paved the way to championships. As the prototypical fullback of his day, Franco’s most-storied Immaculate Reception play was certainly an oddity. But it was also a play that revealed No. 32’s exceptional headiness on the field and burning desire to win — essential qualities for players who lead the way to championships.

No. 3 — Joe Greene

During the 1970s era when he played, there was no more athletic or physical defensive tackle in the NFL than “Mean Joe.” As the heart and soul of the Steel Curtain, Greene played the game with such raging energy that periodically, in the heat of a game, Coach Noll had to sit him down on the bench to cool his jets.

With Greene anchoring the middle of the Steelers’ defensive line, opponents found it nearly impossible to run the ball up the middle. Throughout his career, he was practically impossible for offensive linemen to block.

No. 4 — Jack Lambert

More than any other single player, “Jack Splat” personified the incredible Steel Curtain defense and its 1970s NFL reign of terror. If you ignore the psychological aspect of pro football, then you might choose the technically-flawless Jack Ham as the Steelers’ greatest-ever linebacker. But Lambert was the player who struck genuine fear into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks and their offenses.

Jack was the growling, toothless face of the greatest defense in NFL history. While he was on the field, there was never anything tentative about his play, and he rarely missed a tackle under any circumstances. Win or lose, Lambert delivered consistent, 100-percent efforts. He also famously played the role of nasty big-brother on the field, zealously defending his kickers and other, smaller teammates who occasionally were bullied by opponents. With four Super Bowl rings in his collection, No. 58 epitomized the type of player you need to win a Lombardi Trophy.

No. 5 — Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis played essentially the same role for the Steelers during his career as Franco Harris had done during the ‘70s. He was the prototypical fullback of his day, combining incredible power with surprising agility and elusiveness for such a large man. The crowning glory of Jerome’s career came in his final pro season when the Steelers captured their fifth league championship in Super Bowl XL, defeating the Seattle Seahawks in his hometown of Detroit.

Undoubtedly, Bettis was a player with the same level of talent and burning desire as Franco. But particularly in 3rd-and-short situations, “The Bus” was virtually unstoppable. His ability to knock tacklers backwards and move the pile was unparalleled during the period when he played. Strictly in terms of championship contributions, however, Franco deserves the higher rank on this list with his 4-to-1 advantage in Super Bowl rings.

No. 6 — Ben Roethlisberger

Just as Bradshaw was the chief catalyst in four Steelers’ championships, without Big Ben taking the snaps for today’s Steelers, it’s doubtful the franchise ever would have notched its NFL-best fifth and sixth league titles. Whatever flaws his critics may have cited, there’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is home to an NFL quarterback who will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

Even in a disappointing defeat in the Steelers’ recent playoff loss to Jacksonville, Ben totally shredded the Jag’s defense, showing the football world that he’s still at the top of his game and one of the most lethal passers in the league. Perhaps the most intriguing similarity between Big Ben and Bradshaw is their shared capability to turn around broken plays. This capability represents a major reason why the faithful of Steelers Nation have had such a thrilling ride extending over so many years.

No. 7 — Hines Ward

Throughout the entire history of the Black-and-gold, there’s never been a player quite like Ward. In terms of sheer “want to” and lust for competition, I’d rank Ward at the very top of this list of superstars. As the ultimate possession receiver, Ward’s specialty was snatching quick flicks from Roethlisberger that moved the sticks and demoralized Steelers’ opponents. But he was also incredibly adept at finding openings in opponents’ secondaries, especially on the many big plays when Ben was flushed out of the pocket. No receiver in the league was more reliable or fearless when catching passes over the middle than No. 86. He certainly absorbed more than his share of physical pounding during his career. Ward’s blocking ability and pure physical toughness were exceptional for an NFL wide receiver of any era.

No. 8 — Antonio Brown

When Hines Ward retired, I considered his NFL career and never-say-die attitude as the epitome of the kind of player you need to win a championship. But these days, No. 84 clearly has entered a category by himself among NFL receivers of all time. While his athleticism obviously is freakish, Brown excels equally because he shares Ward’s dogged, whatever-it-takes approach to the game. As every NFL defense has discovered during his career, there’s simply no way to stop AB on the gridiron. He consistently makes plays that leave both network broadcasters and opponents’ coaches scratching their heads in bewilderment. He brings to the game both a technical mastery of his position and a burning desire to win. He routinely makes game-winning plays in crucial situations — and makes it look easy. Despite his relatively small stature, Brown plays like he’s the biggest receiver on the field.

We can only hope that AB finishes his career in Pittsburgh and does so in possession of one or two Super Bowl rings. But regardless of how things pan out, Brown seems destined to rewrite the record book for receivers, particularly assuming he continues his amazing collaboration with Roethlisberger. And because of the records he’s smashing, no future discussion of the greatest Steelers in history ever will exclude No. 84.

No. 9 — Greg Lloyd

Lloyd’s 11-year NFL career from 1988 to 1998 (including 10 years with the Steelers) unfortunately took place during the Steelers’ extended championship-drought period. But during that era, no NFL team had a better outside linebacker than No. 95. As great as the Steelers’ 1970s linebackers were, Lloyd might have been the only Steelers’ linebacker of his day good enough to have won a starting job on the Steel Curtain defense.

In the 10 years he played for Pittsburgh, Lloyd notched 53.5 sacks and 34 forced fumbles. His durability was equally remarkable, as Lloyd played in at least 14 regular-season games in seven out of the 10 seasons when he wore black-and-gold.

No. 10 — Jack Ham

As someone who watched Ham play throughout his entire career, I can honestly state that I’ve never seen a better overall linebacker on any NFL team than No. 59. In fact, if you’re a young defensive player who wants to know how to play the LB position, I suggest you stock up on all of the grainy game film you can find on this guy. For a low-key perfectionist like Chuck Noll, the even-tempered Ham was the ideal player — nearly always in perfect position on any given play and possessing an uncanny nose for the football.

During his 12 seasons with the Black-and-gold, Ham snatched 32 interceptions and recovered 21 fumbles. If a Steelers’ opponent tried to run an end-sweep on Ham’s side of the field, most often they could count on losing yardage. He was unparalleled in his ability to knife through lead-blockers and tackle ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage. While Ham might not have been the fearsome enforcer that his sidekick Lambert was, everyone associated with the 1970s NFL knew that No. 59 was one of the best in the business.

When we talk about game-changing players, we mean more than players who must always be accounted for by the opposition in their game-planning. These are the players who, regardless of an opponent’s pregame preparations, cannot be accounted for under any circumstances. They’re the winners whose personal standards are higher even than those of the teams for which they play. They’re the ones never satisfied with giving anything less than their absolute best on the gridiron. Regardless of changes in the modern game of pro football, this rare kind of player still is considered the gold standard in the NFL — and certainly the standard for the 6-time champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

My favorite Steelers victory in the 13-win 2017 season

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 7:39am

The Steelers Week 4 win at Baltimore was the sweetest of them all in 2017.

Yes, believe it or not, despite the Steelers’ season ending without a Super Bowl victory, there were actually a lot of memorable moments during their 2017 campaign.

After all, they did win 13 games, and when that occurs, great moments tend to be accumulated along the way, along with favorite wins.

I thought about ranking all 13 victories in one article, or even creating a series of articles ranking the wins or even memories from worst to first—which would extend the series into Week 4 of the 2018 regular season.

However, ranking a bunch of great moments or all 13 victories would be rather disingenuous on my part, considering I'm normally pretty easy when it comes to wins.

In other words, if the Steelers win, I'm usually pretty happy.

But there was one victory during the 2017 season that ranked above the rest—and I gotta tell ya', it wasn't really that close.

I'm talking about the Week 4 road thumping of the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 1.

M&T Bank Stadium had become a house of horrors for Pittsburgh in recent years, with the team having lost in five of the previous six trips there.

Even though the Ravens were beaten, battered and bruised, and coming off a 37-point shellacking at the hands of the Jaguars a week earlier in London, I just had a bad feeling in the days leading up to this game.

I mean, if the Ravens could beat up on Pittsburgh at home with the just-signed-off-the-streets Ryan Mallett at quarterback (something that actually happened in Week 16 of the 2015 season), the sky was possibly the limit with Joe Flacco taking the snaps from center.

Speaking of a bad feeling—well more like a nauseating one—if you recall, the week leading up to the trip to Baltimore was the week when thousands of fans took to social media (or so it seemed) to proclaim they would never watch the Steelers again.

This was the result of the team's "anti-American" decision to stay in the tunnel at Soldier Field, rather than make things political by joining other NFL teams with displays of protests during the national anthem.

I don't want to get into all of that but, way back then, everyone and their mother did, as—in addition to NFL boycotts—videos of fans burning their Steeler gear began popping up all over the Internet like weeds in the summer.

Anyway, to make matters worse, all of this nonsense and negative feedback from the fans came in the aftermath of an ugly overtime loss to a Bears team Pittsburgh was favored to beat by double digits.

Again, I don't want to get into it, but let's just say I had a "Screw you!" attitude that entire week, as it pertained to those "fans" who, among other things, thought they were being clever by spouting off gibberish such as "The Pittsburgh Kneelers" (nevermind that they never actually knelt on the sidelines of Soldier Field), and were now openly rooting for the Ravens to win..the team that actually knelt on the sidelines in London (something I didn't actually have a problem with, by the way).

During the entire week leading up to that game against the Ravens, for whatever reason, I felt as if the Steelers’ pride (or the pride that I actually had in being a fan of them for many years) was on the line.

As for the game itself, even though it was very early in the season, and there really wasn't much at stake other than getting off to what would be an impressive 3-1 start, I had butterflies in my stomach the size of bats. This feeling persisted all throughout the first half, even though Pittsburgh built a 19-0 lead on the strength of two Chris Boswell field goals and touchdowns by running back Le'Veon Bell (one-yard run) and rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (11-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger).

The Steelers were due to receive the second half kickoff, and I had visions of a clock-eating touchdown drive that would drive the final stake into the hearts of the home crowd, sending folks to the exits early.

What I got instead was an annoying mix of John Harbaugh's savvy nature and the over-officiated nature of the NFL.

On third and six, Roethlisberger attempted to hit receiver Antonio Brown with a short pass. Brown appeared to catch the football but was immediately tackled to the turf by cornerback Jimmy Smith, well-short of the first down mark. Yes, the ball did pop up in the air and was intercepted by annoying safety Eric Weddle, but the play was blown dead because, as I just alluded to, Brown was down by contact.

But Harbaugh, being the savvy jerk that he is, knew that—if it was deemed that Brown never actually had control of the football—it would be ruled an incomplete pass. And since the football never actually hit the turf, Weddle's pick would be legit.

Sure enough, Weddle's pick was legit, and the Ravens took over deep in Pittsburgh territory.

Thankfully, the Ravens, being the anemic offense they normally are, could only capitalize on their coach's savvy tendencies by turning this gift into a Justin Tucker 42-yard field goal.

The Steelers immediately went on an extended drive and appeared ready to take those three points back. Unfortunately, Boswell's 44-yard attempt was no good.

Since this was Baltimore, and since this was M&T Bank Stadium, I knew I just couldn't enjoy a nice, easy win, a point that was further driven home, when the Ravens quickly marched 66 yards on three plays and made it 19-9 on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to—of all one-trick ponies—Mike Wallace.

So, with still more than 21 minutes left in the game, I now had visions of an epic collapse that surely would have made me want to call in sick to The Final Score, the weekly post-game show I did with Bryan Anthony Davis.

After some exchanging of punts, Ryan Shazier stepped up and intercepted Flacco near midfield with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and I—around 2:30 in the afternoon on October 1, mind you—jumped up and screamed "Yeah!" like I just watched Ben To 10 in Super Bowl XLIII.

I was super-excited, to say the least.

Even though the Steelers quickly went three and out, their offense got a reprieve moments later, when a fourth down pass from Flacco was intercepted by Mike Hilton following a tip from—there's that man again—Ryan Shazier.

Anyway, Pittsburgh put the final nail in the coffin by marching 49 yards on seven plays and put the game away on Bell's second one-yard touchdown run of the afternoon.

The final score was 26-9, and I was so darned happy, I even called my brother to celebrate as the final seconds ticked off of the game clock.

The Steelers had a lot of exciting finishes in 2017—including that epic 39-38 victory over the Ravens weeks later that clinched the AFC North.

However, for reasons that were varied, nothing felt sweeter last season than when the Steelers went to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4 and had their way with the Ravens.

Despite speculation, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not awarded a compensatory pick in upcoming draft

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 6:15am

The NFL announces the compensatory picks for the 2018 NFL Draft, and the Steelers were left empty-handed.

There were a lot of people who felt the departure of Lawrence Timmons and Markus Wheaton would equate to a compensatory pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but when the NFL announced all 32 compensatory picks on Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers were passed over.

The #NFL announced 32 compensatory picks for the upcoming draft. The #Steelers did not receive any.

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) February 23, 2018

The Steelers added Coty Sensabaugh, Tyson Alualu and Joe Haden as free agents last year, and that’s likely the main reason why the team didn’t get a compensatory pick for the first time in quite awhile.

Check out all of the compensatory picks given out around the league below:

32 compensatory choices in the 2018 @NFL Draft have been awarded to 15 teams pic.twitter.com/7so8TJfChd

— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) February 23, 2018

With the news of the Steelers being left out in the cold when it comes to the extra draft picks, the team is locked in with the following draft order:

The Steelers’ 2018 NFL Draft picks:

  • Round 1: 28th pick
  • Round 2: 28th pick
  • Round 3: 28th pick
  • Round 4: None
  • Round 5: 11th pick from San Francisco, 28th pick
  • Round 6: None
  • Round 7: 2nd pick from the New York Giants, 28th pick

Podcast: The “Terrible Towel Cafe” breaks down the most recent Steelers news

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 5:00am

Getting black-and-gold fans ready for another week!

On this episode of the “Terrible Towel Cafe” Michael takes Steelers fans through the many offseason Steelers moves already made.

Check out the latest episode in the player above and prepare yourself for a heaping helping of java from the Terrible Towel Cafe in the weeks and months coming!

HERE WE GO!!

...

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.

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Edition, Vol. 6

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 5:51pm

Ugh...the offseason. Here We Go.

There has been several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night open thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring back the Friday night open thread...with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six Pack of Steelers Questions, and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

  • I’ll ask at least four questions strictly related to the Steelers.
  • The rest of the questions could be about anything.
  • Be respectful.
  • Have fun talking about the Black-and-gold.

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

1. Rumors have swirled about Martavis Bryant being on the trade block. If you are the GM, do you trade or keep him? And if you trade him, what do you think is quality compensation?

2. Look into your crystal ball and predict the starting Steelers depth chart for the running backs next season. You can put (Draft Pick) for a player they will snag in the draft.

3. If the Steelers bring back Lawrence Timmons, how much would you pay him for a simple 2-year deal?

4. We had a great article this week about how the Steelers should value Joe Haden, from a financial standpoint. How much would you be willing to pay Haden this season?

5. The NFL Scouting Combine is coming...do you enjoy the underwear olympics, or just check out the results?

6. Speaking of Olympics, did you take in much of the Winter Games? Personally, I didn’t see much, but every time I turned on the TV it seemed figure skating was on. Very frustrating.

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Diagnosing what a Steelers ‘blockbuster’ offseason trade would look like

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 1:38pm

If the Steelers were to pull of a huge blockbuster trade, who would be involved and what would the compensation be?

For those who may not have heard yet, the Kansas City Chiefs sent shockwaves across the NFL landscape by trading their All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams for several draft picks. At the time this article was written, it was unknown exactly what draft picks were given, or even if any players were involved.

Nonetheless, it made me wonder what a big-time trade like this would resemble if it involved the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Who would be the player leaving? And what would the compensation be for said player?

I, like most Steelers fans, thought of one player immediately when participating in this exercise — Le’Veon Bell. Bell has been requesting a boat load of money, and it would severely cramp the team’s already small salary cap space. On top of that, Bell is coming off a solid season and his stock may never be higher.

The next question would be compensation. If you cannot get a starter at one of the many key positions the Steelers are looking to fill this offseason, (safety, inside linebacker, running back in this case, and others) then there should be a lot of draft picks involved. For an All-Pro player like Bell, it isn’t out of the question to think a 1st round pick, and maybe a 2nd round pick would be involved. If not a 2nd, a 3rd round pick.

It all would depend on the team involved in the trade, where they pick in a particular round and what the team feels is a fair deal for one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NFL.

But what other members of the Steelers could be involved in a huge trade like the Peters to L.A. trade?

Cameron Heyward would certainly shock the fan base. The defensive captain is a seasoned veteran coming off a double-digit sack season. He certainly would garner some quality compensation.

Martavis Bryant has already been the subject of rumors and the Steelers fielding phone calls regarding a potential trade. The issue here is the compensation for a player in his final year of his rookie contract, and one bad urine sample away from the NFL giving him the Josh Gordon treatment, might not have the team receiving the compensation they deem to be worth it.

If the team wanted to bring in a ridiculous haul, even more than Bell, Antonio Brown would be the player to put on the trade block. The best receiver in the NFL would certainly give the organization enough compensation to completely alter their roster, and possibly for years to come.

Now, I don’t see any of these players leaving the organization via trade, even Bryant, but it is interesting to consider what, and who, would all be involved in one of these big-time trades the Steelers are seemingly never a part of.

If you were to put a player on the trade block, who would it be? And what would you expect in return? Let us know in the comment section below!

Reports of the Steelers listening to potential trades for Martavis Bryant hit the national media

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:25am

The Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly listening to phone calls when it comes to potential trades for Martavis Bryant.

Earlier this week a Twitter report suggested several teams, including the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, had shown interest in Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Rumors were the Dolphins even were interested in a one-for-one trade with DeVante Parker.

(If you missed that report, you can check it out HERE.)

The one hold up regarding this report was the source. It wasn’t from an Adam Schefter or Jason La Confora. It wasn’t even Ian Rapoport. However, the reports of teams showing interest, and the Steelers listening, has hit the mainstream media.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the reports are true, or valid, but they are starting to cause some smoke. And usually where there is smoke, there is fire.

Recently, ProFootballTalk wrote about NFL Network’s reporting of the Steelers listening to offers for the talented, yet troubled, receiver.

The Steelers are now listening to potential deals for Bryant, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

Bryant has undeniable talent and burst onto the scene as one of the best big-play threats in the NFL in his first two seasons, in 2014 and 2015. But he was suspended for the entire 2016 season for multiple violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy, and in 2017 he wasn’t as effective a player and got benched for a week when he griped about his role.

Bryant is under contract for 2018 at a base salary of just $705,000, so he’s a potential bargain if his head and his heart are in it. But if he’s an unhappy camper it’s also easy to see why the Steelers would be eager to get rid of him.

Last year at this time similar ideas were discussed, but the Steelers put a stop to those rumors stating they won’t be fielding any potential trade requests for Bryant. According to these reports, they are singing a different tune this offseason.

Bryant is still entering the final year of his rookie contract, the extra year due to his being suspended for the 2016 season, and the return would have to be right for Pittsburgh to part ways with a player whose potential has yet to be reached. However, lacking draft picks and having glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball could change a lot, when it comes to their attitude on Bryant.

Throw in Bryant’s off field issues, combined with the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the team may feel replacing Bryant won’t be difficult. Things could certainly start heating up as the NFL Scouting Combine and NFL Draft quickly approach.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on these rumors, as well as other news surrounding the black-and-gold.

The evolution of the Run-Pass Option, and its impact in the Steelers new offense

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 9:32am

One of those football terms which has been burned into everyone’s mind is ‘RPO’. Here we explain what an RPO is, where it originated, and how it could impact the Steelers’ offense under Randy Fichtner.

Anyone who watched Philadelphia’s recent run to the Super Bowl title heard a host of TV commentators talk about the Eagles’ extensive use of the RPO, or “run-pass option.” Many of these analysts discussed them as though they were revolutionary. However, football junkies who have been watching the game at the high school and college level have been studying the RPO for years. Let’s dive into the concept by looking at its history, how it works and what to expect of its use in Pittsburgh.

RPOs developed at the lower levels last decade as part of the ever-evolving chess match between offensive and defensive coordinators. Offenses gained the upper hand in the early 2000s with the introduction of spread offenses designed to exploit less athletic defenders by making them play in space. Defenses countered by implementing the 4-2-5 scheme, which removed a traditional linebacker and replaced him with a more athletic safety-type who could line up in the slot and run down all of the bubble screens and perimeter concepts the spread employed. These 4-2-5 looks were initially effective, until tricky OC’s figured out their next move: the RPO.

The RPO borrowed from a spread offense staple, the zone-read, by leaving a defender unblocked and subsequently “read” by the quarterback. The zone-read left first level defenders unblocked and provided the quarterback two run options. He could give to the back running between the tackles or pull and keep it himself into the alley. RPOs changed that equation by leaving second-level defenders unblocked. Now, the quarterback would read one of those fast bodies the 4-2-5 had put onto the field. By reading a linebacker or safety, the quarterback had a run-pass option.

The run option was usually a sweep or power play that developed slowly enough for the quarterback to read the second-level defender. The pass option involved a quick throw into the area the read-key had voided. This quick throw was essential to the RPO’s success. It allowed offensive linemen to run-block because the ball was out of the quarterback’s hands before they were illegally downfield on a forward pass. And it got the ball into the hands of playmakers with space to run after the catch, which created opportunities for bigger chunk plays than did the “run-run” option of the zone read. Plus, unlike the zone-read, the quarterback wasn’t employed as a ball-carrier. This meant he got hit less, which OC’s favored for obvious reasons. Teams soon began to build RPOs into their base run plays and to get creative with the formations and personnel groups from which they used them.

Here is an early RPO concept I first learned of at a clinic back in 2009. I was a high school offensive coordinator at the time and I was looking for ways to get the ball to the perimeter in the shotgun spread offense we’d just installed. The presenter was Chris Ault, the head coach at the University of Nevada, and he was talking about Nevada’s signature sweep play, which they called “Horn.” What I thought made Horn unique was that Nevada pulled the center, which wasn’t something many teams did. But when Coach Ault started talking about their built-in pass concept on the backside of the play, it blew my mind. No one was using the term RPO yet so I didn’t know what to call it. But I scribbled it into my notes and told myself we would have to find a way to incorporate it into our offense.

(image courtesy of X and O Labs)

A few years later, we had our own version of “Horn X Pop.” The formation was different but the idea was the same: a pin-and-pull sweep with the QB reading the backside LB for a simple throw into the alley. Here is a breakdown of our version:

In the images above, you can see the read key flow with the run action. This prompts the QB to pull the football and flip it to the TE running up the seam. The TE receives the ball with plenty of space to run after the catch, and the result is a big play. When executed properly, the concept is almost unfair to the defense.

Why, then, did it take so long for the RPO to infiltrate professional playbooks?

Professional football has long been effected by a group-think mentality. There are only so many ways to skin a cat, and for NFL coaches that means sticking to the tried and true schemes that have worked for decades. The zone and gap run game. The 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Cover 1, 2 or 3. Every team in the NFL builds their system around these basic schemes. Why? Because they’ve worked. So-called novelty schemes like the Run n’ Shoot offense (which Buddy Ryan once famously called the “Chuck n’ Duck”) and the 4-6 defense have come and gone for a variety of reasons. Some coaches have not understood them well enough to properly implement them. Others have not been able to find the right players to make them work at the NFL level. And some have struggled to find success with them only to be replaced with a more traditional coach. The latter reason seems the most likely explanation for the slow matriculation of the RPO to the NFL. Coaches stick to traditional paradigms because they don’t want to get fired, and employing perceived novelty schemes is a sure way for that to happen if success isn’t found quickly.

(Side note: it’s interesting that the 3-4 defense was once considered a “novelty,” and that for a time in the 1980s the Steelers were the only team in the league who played it. Chuck Noll suffered some down years while using it, and a different franchise may have fired him or forced him to revert to a more traditional defense. The Steelers are unique, however, in that they believe in stability. Thus, the 3-4 took hold because the Steelers were a patient organization and took the long-view on its inception).

One other reason is took so long for the RPO to reach the NFL is because football at the college level has been far more fertile ground for experimentation. College coaches have had to get creative to narrow the talent gap that exists in many conferences. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, and the Kentucky’s of the world have had to innovate to compete with the giants of the SEC. That’s how Hal Mumme’s Air Raid found its way into the game. Kentucky was never going to win playing power football against the likes of Georgia and Alabama. So Mumme modified the BYU playbook from the 1980s, put a bunch of wide receivers on the field and started chucking the football 50 times a game. The results were amazing. Innovations like the Air Raid have allowed teams like Appalachian State to upset Michigan and, more recently, 45-point underdog Howard to best UNLV.

Talent disparities like these don’t exist in the NFL, however. Some teams are clearly better than others but not because one has a roster of 5-Star recruits and the other has a bunch of glorified walk-ons. Things like coaching, culture and even the nature of the schedule have a much greater impact on NFL success. Thus, the urgency of creating new and exotic schemes designed to bridge the talent gap isn’t as pressing.

Now that the RPO has finally arrived, what does it mean here in Pittsburgh? Some of you may recognize the “Horn X Pop” play discussed above. Todd Haley ran a version of it the past few seasons, with Maurkice Pouncey pulling and Antonio Brown in the role of X receiver. At times, Haley ran RPOs both extensively and effectively. According to Ted Nguyen of FanRagSports, the Steelers ran 7 RPOs for 77 yards, an average of 11 yards per play, in their October win at Kansas City. Despite that success, Haley’s enthusiasm for the concept seemed to wane as the season progressed.

New offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s preference for gap run concepts at Memphis, which blend nicely with pin-and-pull RPOs, and Ben Roethlisberger’s stated desire to add flexibility to the offense seem to indicate they will play a larger role next season. Fichtner may expand on existing concepts like Horn X-Pop or he may introduce an entirely new series of his own. I’d look for him to get big bodies like Vance McDonald, Jesse James or even Juju Smith-Schuster up the seams on RPO concepts that exploit safeties filling aggressively to stop outside runs to Le’Veon Bell. Bell will be a huge key to the success of any RPOs Fichtner might employ. Without a successful run game, defenses have no need to be overly aggressive at the second-level, thus nullifying the effectiveness of the RPO.

Regardless, with the entire stable of offensive weapons expected to return, and with enthusiasm for the RPO growing rapidly throughout the league, their proliferation seems inevitable. Get ready for a barrage of commentators gushing about them in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in 2018.

Ryan Shazier wanting to play football again is a good thing

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 7:36am

We should all want what Ryan Shazier wants, and that's to play football for the Steelers again.

Since his horrific spinal injury suffered in a Monday night game against the Bengals last December 4, the constant refrain from just about everyone wishing Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier well has been something along the lines of, "Just walk again, bro."

But Shazier, confined until recently to a wheelchair, has a different wish, and that's, "I've gotta get back, bro."

That is precisely what Shazier told teammate Roosevelt Nix, when he addressed his current health status and football aspirations while appearing on the Pro Bowl fullback's podcast which aired Tuesday.

And, Shazier, a two-time Pro Bowler in his own right, has bigger aspirations than just that annual tropical postseason destination. He also stated he wants to be an All-Pro and eventually reach the ultimate football destination, that of not-so-tropical Canton, Ohio.

I'm talking about the Pro Football Hall of Fame in case you didn't catch my allusion.

Is it crazy for a man who probably still wonders if he'll ever walk again to proclaim he will one day walk up on stage and put on that gold jacket, an action that would symbolize his football immortality?

I can't say because I'm not a doctor and I don't know which, if any, limitations apply to a person who’s suffered the kind of injury Shazier did, and then underwent the spinal stabilization surgery he did days later.

I do know Shazier was pictured on social media standing arm and arm with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger right before his release from the hospital a few weeks ago.

I also know Shazier was seen standing (admittedly, with a little assistance) at a Penguins home game just days after that.

As he told Nix during his podcast appearance, Shazier's rehabbing hard every day—two hours, five days a week, to be exact—and wowing people with his progress.

It's no secret the drive it takes for a professional football player not only to make it to that level, but to excel at that level as Shazier had done before his injury.

It shouldn't shock you, therefore, that Shazier has so much drive, so much determination, to not only walk again, but to get back to, and even surpass, the level of play he reached during the first three-plus years of his career.

The fact that I opened this article by describing Shazier as a Steelers inside linebacker is significant because it signifies my belief he’ll be back.

But would it be dangerous for Shazier to try and come back?

As his injury—one that happened on an innocent-looking tackle—clearly illustrated, football is a dangerous sport regardless of your injury history.

Obviously, Shazier's personal physician, as well as every other doctor familiar with his current condition, might say it's impossible, ludicrous or insane for him to even think about playing again (for all we know, these very words may have been spoken to Shazier by one or several medical experts).

But maybe the exact opposite sentiment has been expressed to Shazier by those aforementioned medical experts, and maybe this is what's driving the ultra-talented and freakishly athletic linebacker to be so determined to make it all the way back.

Regardless of his future, Shazier's present is a lot better than I could have imagined even a month ago.

That's because he has hope.

And if Ryan Shazier has hope, we should all have hope, hope that he gets to do exactly what he wants to do — play professional football again.

Steelers 2018 Free Agent Market Watch: The Wide Receivers

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 5:58am

BTSC highlights free agent receivers and whether or not they may be an option for the Steelers.

The Steelers corps of receivers are head and shoulders above where they were last year at this time. Antonio Brown was All-World again in 2017, JuJu Smith-Schuster was a rookie sensation that came close to 1,000 yards and Martavis Bryant made great strides towards season's end in coming off of a drug suspension. The unit, as a whole, doesn't need much of an upgrade at all. But Justin Hunter is a free agent, Eli Rogers was suspect - and suffered a season-ending injury in what turned out to be the last game for the Steelers anyway - and Darius Heyward-Bey is getting long in the tooth. Even though the Steelers have funds that need to go elsewhere, here are the top free agent receivers available in 2018 and where they may or may not fit in the burgh of Pitt, should they decide to go theWR route.

Jarvis Landry - Miami Dolphins

Landry has become one of the finest slot receivers in the league. Averaging 1,009 yards each of his first four years in the league, Jarvis had 112 catches and nine TDs last season. He’s in for a big payday, but the Steelers won't be a suitor.

Allen Robinson - Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags lost Robinson in the season's first game last year and still made the AFCCG. The Penn State Nittany Lion had 1400 yards and 14 scores in 2015, but fell back to Earth with 883 and six in 2016. With great size at 6'3", Robinson would be a nice addition to Pittsburgh, but his health is in question and resources need to go elsewhere. If the numbers were right (doubtful), it would spell the end for Bryant.

Josh Gordon - Cleveland Browns

Again off-the-field issues make Gordon taboo for the Steelers and many other teams. When he's clean and mentally engaged, Josh Gordon is spectacular. His 2013 tally of 87 catches, 1,646 yards and nine scores was phenomenal. Last year, after two-years away, Gordon caught 18 balls for 335 yards and a score in five games. However, his well-documented issues and suspensions make him a high risk. With no assurance that Gordon's problems are behind him, the Steelers probably wouldn't take a risk on Gordon, while still not completely certain that Martavis Bryant's troubles are behind him.

Terrelle Pryor - Washington Redskins

The hometown kid looked to be getting a huge payday in 2017, but was a major disappointment in Washington. A year after putting up 1077 yards, Pryor had only 240 in nine games. The 6'4" Jeanette product had mentioned not wanting to play in Pittsburgh due to hometown distractions, but he'll come at a low price. Maybe it's time to come home.

Sammy Watkins - Los Angeles Rams

Watkins has shown signs of brilliance, signs of doubt and signs of fragility in his four seasons in the NFL. After being traded from the Bills, Watkins disappointed with a mere 39 catches for 593 yards in 2017. He's still young and a huge talent, if the market is low...Watkins is worth a flyer.

Other Notable Free Agent Wide Receivers

Cameron Meredith (RFA) - Chicago Bears

Marquise Lee - Jacksonville Jaguars

Eric Decker - Tennessee Titans

Mike Wallace - Baltimore Ravens

Donte Moncrief - Indianapolis Colts

Paul Richardson - Seattle Seahawks

Bruce Ellington - Houston Texans

John Brown - Arizona Cardinals

Tyrell Williams (RFA) - Los Angeles Chargers

Jordan Matthews - Buffalo Bills

Danny Amendola - New England Patriots

Taylor Gabriel- Atlanta Falcons

Lawrence Timmons expected to be released by the Dolphins, but do the Steelers want him?

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 4:55am

The anticipated release of Lawrence Timmons by the Miami Dolphins raises the question of whether the Steelers want him back.

I’ve never personally met anyone who didn’t like Lawrence Timmons. Mike Tomlin’s first draft pick as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 was a fan favorite for his low-key personality and hard-nosed playing style.

After the 2016 season, as a free agent, Timmons signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Dolphins last March, and the deal included $11 million in guaranteed money. After collecting 84 tackles in 14 games (all starts), it was Timmons’ off-field behavior which was more notable than anything he did on the field.

If you recall, Timmons left the team when Hurricane Irma forced the Dolphins and Buccaneers to have a Week 1 bye. Before their season opener against the Chargers, he left and never returned. He eventually turned up, but reportedly was in Pittsburgh. No one knows what truly happened, but the Dolphins suspended him one game for his actions.

Either way, the Dolphins are rumored to cut ties with the veteran linebacker, who’s now 32, and many want to know — should the Steelers sign him to a team-friendly deal as a stop-gap for the injured Ryan Shazier?

It’s certainly tempting, considering Timmons knows the defense like the back of his hand. But I do know having Vince Williams playing alongside a linebacker who resembles himself more than Shazier is not a good equation.

In my opinion, if the Steelers do bring Timmons back—and that’s not out of the realm of possibility if Miami does release him—he shouldn’t be considered as the Day 1 starter. In other words, the Steelers would still be wise to not only look for an inside linebacker in the 2018 NFL Draft, but also exhaust all of their other free-agent options before pulling the trigger on bringing back Timmons.

A lot of players have left the Steelers only to return. James Harrison after his stint in Cincinnati, Larry Foote and William Gay after their time in Arizona and most recently Sean Spence after spending time in Tennessee.

Not all homecomings work out the way fans hope, and if the Steelers are forced to rely on Timmons in 2018, my gut tells me you can expect a lot of the same type of defense you saw at the end of the 2017 season.

3 second year Steelers players who need to make a huge jump in 2018

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 11:31am

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be relying on some second year players to really step up their game in 2018.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had great success in recent years drafting players who are NFL ready from Day 1. Examples include the duo of Artie Burns and Sean Davis, and their fellow classmate Javon Hargrave, all who played significant roles in the first professional season.

Looking at the team’s 2017 NFL Draft class, there are a few players who need to make a big jump in 2018, and when I say ‘jump’ I am talking specifically about improving their game, and ultimately increasing their productivity.

You might be surprised, but only one defender made this short list.

Check it out:

T.J. Watt

Of course Watt is the first on the list. As an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ new scheme, he is the Swiss Army Knife for Keith Butler’s unit. He has shown he can cover, but there is a lot Watt can improve upon when it comes to setting the edge and adding some counter moves to his pass rush in order to increase his odds to get to the opposing quarterback.

Watt has a ton of potential, and after a year with the team, he should have gained the necessary experience to realize what he needs to improve upon before his sophomore year. Knowing the Watt family the way the public does, there is a good chance Watt is on the verge of having a very good second season in 2018.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Smith-Schuster took the Steelers’ fan base by storm last year, and his fun-loving personality made him almost larger than life to the general public. However, Smith-Schuster certainly can improve on several aspects of his game.

Catching the ball isn’t an issue with Smith-Schuster, but his route running can continue to improve. Although he was markedly better than most, including myself, anticipated, if Smith-Schuster can continue to improve on his routes, and continue to be the physical presence he already has shown as a rookie, the sky is the limit for the kid from Southern California.

James Conner

This was a toss up between Conner and Cam Sutton. I went with Conner because I feel he will have more of a chance to show himself than Sutton. Sutton is a great prospect, but I don’t see him as anything more than taking over William Gay’s dime package cornerback role. Sutton will certainly play a role on the team’s defense, but his classmate will be the one who needs to show improvement.

Conner had flashes in his limited role last year, but his deficiencies were also glaring. Conner needs to really put in the work as a pass blocker, as well as a pass catcher, if he wants to be given more time to spell Le’Veon Bell, assuming Bell is in Pittsburgh next year.

I believe James Conner can be an excellent change-of-pace back for the very patient Bell. Conner’s one-cut, downhill style can certainly be the fastball to Bell’s change up. When used correctly, he can really help stabilize the Steelers’ running back corps.

...

If these three players can step up their game next season, it will have a very big impact on the overall team moving forward. The experience a rookie gets from his first NFL season is invaluable, in getting through that rookie wall, realizing what it is like going up against seasoned vets and ultimately understanding what it takes to succeed.

For the great ones, there is no offseason...just more preparation.

Mel Kiper Jr. jumps on the Leighton Vander Esch to the Steelers bandwagon in latest mock draft

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 9:39am

Another NFL Draft analyst likes the Boise State linebacker going to the Steelers at pick No. 28.

The NFL Scouting Combine is just days away, and despite there being very little evidence of teams actually showing interest in any specific players, NFL Draft analysts are feverishly typing away at those mock drafts.

Of course, websites like this one love the speculation, as it can create some quality discussion and debate about positional need, and individual prospects who could possibly be considered for an NFL franchise.

As I’ve stated before, some analysts’ mock drafts are regarded in higher distinction than others, and Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN would certainly be in the upper echelon.

In Kiper’s latest 2.0 mock draft, he joined a growing number of people who are predicting Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to the Steelers with pick No. 28 in the first round.

See what Kiper had to say about the selection:

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

*Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Vander Esch is a name I continue to hear for the end of the first round. I expect him to put up strong numbers at the combine. At 6-4, 240, he has the versatility to play outside linebacker, but I think his best fit is as an inside ‘backer in a 3-4. He’s a physical run-stopper who can defend tight ends and running backs -- he had three interceptions in 2017. Inside linebacker is an obvious need for the Steelers, who will have to replace Ryan Shazier. This is also a spot where I could see a team trading up to grab Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who I think will be the fifth QB off the board.

The analysis of Kiper seems rather lazy to me, when it comes to Vander Esch. Nothing he said shows anything more than “The Steelers have a need, and this kid fits the bill.”

But what is more interesting is how Kiper suggests this may be where a team moves up in the draft to try and select a player like Lamar Jackson. With pick No. 28, the Steelers should be receiving any, and all, phone calls from teams who may want to jump back into the first round, in order to garner more draft picks.

Pittsburgh currently has at least one pick in every round, except in the 4th and 6th rounds. Adding picks, especially in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, if some of the dynamic playmakers the team sought after aren’t on the board anymore would be a best-case scenario for the Steelers.

Nonetheless, Vander Esch, depending on how he tests at the Combine, could be there, and might just be a player the Steelers like enough to take at No. 28.

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