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Updated: 2 hours 40 min ago

I have one personal reason why I'd like to see the Steelers get a playoff bye

2 hours 48 min ago

Wildcard Weekend is a blast, but it's even more fun when the Steelers are on a bye.

A lot has happened in the last seven years.

For starters, I've gone from a 38-year old man who dreaded turning 40, to a 45-year old man who doesn't think 40 was all that bad.

But one thing that hasn't happened over the past seven years is a post-season bye for your Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that improved to 8-2 after pasting the Titans, 40-17, Thursday night at Heinz Field.

After the Chiefs dropped to 6-4 following an ugly loss to the lowly Giants on Sunday, it now appears that the race for the AFC's top two seeds (and those precious byes) is a three-team gallop with just six weeks to go.

In addition to Pittsburgh, the Patriots are also 8-2, while the Jaguars improved to 7-3 with a victory over the still-winless Browns.

Not to sound like I'm one of those people who’s satisfied with second-best, but if someone offered me the deal right now, I'd sign my name in blood for that No. 2 spot.

Why?

I want to enjoy Wildcard Weekend in peace, that's why.

Week 11 was a small slice of heaven, as I sat around and watched football all day long. And I didn't have to concern myself with anything Steelers, since their impressive victory had long-since been savored and digested.

This is what Wildcard Weekend is like when your team is on a bye—only it's so much more glorious.

But when your team is involved in the wild-card round, which Pittsburgh has been the last four times it's made the playoffs (dating back to January 2012), you can't enjoy things as much.

Why?

Because of that churning in your stomach, that churning that signifies a huge battle is on the horizon for your favorite team, a battle that will either leave you euphoric or wanting to call in sick to work on Monday. Even if the Steelers play the late wild-card game on Sunday, I still have that anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach while I watch the first three games, as if I've just woken up on the morning of a scheduled colonoscopy.

And don't even get me started on those years when the Steelers don't make the playoffs, which happened most recently following the 2012 and 2013 seasons, years that—and I think I can safely say this now without being hit with rotten fruit—the team was in a bit of a rebuilding mode.

As it pertained to that 2013 season sans the postseason, how could I enjoy the wild-card-round, knowing the Steelers should have been the sixth seed embarrassing the Bengals in their own house, and not the Chargers?

I couldn't because Ryan Succop kept Pittsburgh out of the playoffs, when he missed a last-second field goal against San Diego in Week 17.

Back to those four most recent instances in which the Steelers had to play on Wildcard Weekend. Sure, they managed to advance on two of those occasions.

But those other two?

Pittsburgh lost to Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos following the 2011 season. And three years later, after roaring into the playoffs on a four-game winning-streak as AFC North Champions, the Steelers lost to those hated Ravens, who came into Heinz Field and toyed with Pittsburgh before exiting with a 30-17 win.

I don't want to have to deal with Wildcard Weekend this year—at least not emotionally.

I just want to sit back and enjoy the show, knowing the Steelers will have to face one of three teams in the divisional-round, depending on how things shake out.

I remember nine years ago, after sixth-seeded Baltimore knocked off the fraudulent Dolphins on Wildcard Weekend, I thought, "That's cute, Baltimore. Good luck with those top-seeded Titans."

Little did I know, the Ravens would go to Tennessee and ugly their way to a second-straight postseason victory, setting up an AFC North Showdown with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line (and little did I know how truly memorable that night would turn out to be).

That same Wildcard Weekend, as I watched the 9-7 Cardinals outlast what I thought was a much better Falcons squad, I said to myself, "Oh well, I guess it's going to be either the Giants or the Panthers making it out of the NFC."

Little did I know it would actually be those Cardinals who would be the NFC's representative in Super Bowl XLIII and go on to give Pittsburgh all it could handle.

Seven years ago, when the sixth-seeded Packers left Philadelphia with a first-round playoff win, I said, "Good luck with trying to repeat what Pittsburgh did in '05!"

Turned out, Green Bay did just that, by winning two more road playoff games before outclassing the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

For my money, there’s nothing like the NFL post-season, and when your team is on the bye, I believe that's how college football fans feel as they watch all those secondary bowl games in the days before their team plays in the National Championship Final Four (as a Pitt fan, I can only guess that's what it feels like).

Finally, while there certainly is nothing like the NFL playoffs, I want to enjoy the first round this year without any anxiety, regret or depression.

Wildcard Weekend is a blast, but it's even more fun when the Steelers are on a bye.

Steelers News: Alan Faneca and Hines Ward semi-finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, again

3 hours 58 min ago

Another big year for two legends of the Black-and-gold to hopefully be enshrined at Canton, OH.

Another year, another chance for a huge group of NFL players and coaches to become enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, released their 2018 Hall of Fame Semi-Finalists, and two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers were among those awaiting the final phone call.

Those two players were Alan Faneca and Hines Ward, both of whom have reached this stage of the process once already. But the question remains whether they’ll be finalists this year with a star-studded cast of characters also awaiting the call.

Take a look at the complete list of semi-finalists below:

The 27 semi-finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2018: pic.twitter.com/B3ETpuqkI7

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 22, 2017

Mike Tomlin often said in the early stages of this season that he'd use the bye week at the halfway point of the season to “globally assess” some facets of his team.

One assessment he made is that the club needed more “splash plays.”

In other words, long scoring plays or big gains on offense, turnovers or sacks on defense and kick blocks or significant returns in the special teams game.

Let's go back to a quote from Tomlin as his team was coming out of the bye Nov. 7, before the win in Indianapolis.

“Being capable of cashing in on opportunities that are presented, that needs to define us in this second half of the season,” Tomlin said at that press conference. “We've had splash-play opportunities on offense that have been missed which could have made our journey easier. And we have had splash-play opportunities on defense that have been missed.

“Great teams seem like they have a flair for the dramatic. They make those plays when given the opportunity.”

Tomlin went on to specifically reference a Ryan Shazier interception that likely would've gone for a touchdown near the end of an eventual win in Detroit as evidence. He also pointed out a misplayed deep throw from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant on the opening play of the loss in Chicago.

The presence of Chris Hubbard on the Steelers’ roster makes the loss of right tackle Marcus Gilbert to a four-game suspension easier to digest, coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.

At his weekly press conference, Tomlin said he had "no reaction" to the suspension handed down to Gilbert on Monday for violating the NFL's policy against performance-enhancing drugs. Tomlin said he prefers to make an "adjustment" in the former of Hubbard returning to a starting role.

Hubbard has started five games this season while Gilbert has spent two stints sidelined with hamstring injuries.

"Sometimes you're faced with adversity and the things that you do in terms of how you respond define you," Tomlin said. "Thankfully for us, Chris Hubbard playing is nothing new for us. He's played a lot this year. He's done an awesome job of upholding the standard.

"From that standpoint, I'm excited for him and excited to watch him meet the standard of expectation."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Steelers players weren't exactly caught off guard when right tackle Marcus Gilbert was suspended four games Monday for violating the NFL's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.

Roethlisberger said on his weekly 93.7 FM radio segment that he knew about the looming suspension for “a week or so, maybe two weeks.”

“He knew it was potentially coming,” Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger said players told Gilbert, who said he took an illegal substance “inadvertently,” not to appeal the suspension.

“How many times do you win appeals in the NFL?” Roethlisberger said. “You can postpone it, but how does it help us if in three weeks, they are like, ‘Nope, you have to serve your four games.' Or is it better for him to take this and get it over with now and get back for the last two regular-season games and postseason?”

Roethlisberger said Gilbert said he took the substance after he was given assurance that “100 percent no chance would it be an issue.”

“He knows that we are still responsible for what we put in our body,” Roethlisberger added. “We can't always take the word of a doctor or nutritionist.”

ESPN predicts Joshua Dobbs, not Landry Jones, will replace Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers future QB

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 1:44pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers might have a plan in place to replace Big Ben when he calls it quits, and ESPN believes that replacement is Joshua Dobbs, not Landry Jones.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a roster stacked with talent. Whether you are looking on the offensive or defensive side of the football, the team is brimming with players. However, there is one player who could change everything, for the offense, and that is Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has hinted at his retirement before, and whether he plays in 2018 or not, the team has to start wondering who will be the next quarterback of the black-and-gold.

ESPN recently predicted who will be every team’s starting quarterback for the 2020 NFL season, and their prediction for the Steelers was surprising, to say the least.

Most would suggest the team would turn the job over to Landry Jones, while others will simply believe the organization would be best served finding the replacement via the NFL Draft. Either way, ESPN suggests the answer is already in the facility — Joshua Dobbs.

First, it should be noted, ESPN predicted all teams, but placed them in one of three tiers.

  • Teams with no plan
  • Teams with a plan
  • Teams with a solid plan

The Steelers fall into the second tier of having a plan. Check out what they have to say about their prediction:

Pittsburgh Steelers

2020 QB: Joshua Dobbs

Primary QB from 2014-16: Ben Roethlisberger

Total team QBR 2014: 70.4 | 2015: 64.0 | 2016: 57.0

In 2018, Roethlisberger finally follows through on that retirement threat. Dobbs, a former student of rocket science at Tennessee who spent two years backing up Big Ben, grabs the controls in 2019. Headline writers fire up their rocket puns.

This suggestion is likely to go over like a lead balloon with the Steelers faithful, but Dobbs was drafted in the fourth round for a reason. Meaning, he certainly has some issues to work out, but his intelligence speaks for itself.

Throughout the preseason, Dobbs showed continual development and growth with every snap he played. Did he make some bone-headed throws? Absolutely, but a lot of young quarterbacks do just that in their first NFL action.

What was also noticeable about Dobbs was how he became a playmaker towards the end of the preseason. For every head-scratching play he made early in the preseason, he started to make plays for the Steelers towards the end of the preseason.

Is Dobbs the next ‘guy’ for Pittsburgh? ESPN certainly thinks so, but I have a feeling most will say ‘No’. Take the time to tell us what you think about the future of the Steelers’ quarterback position in the poll below:

B.J. Finney to see extra reps as the Steelers extra TE with Chris Hubbard starting at RT

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:25pm

The suspension of Marcus Gilbert creates a ripple effect along the team’s offensive line depth.

When a starting right tackle like Marcus Gilbert is suspended for 4-games, it has a ripple effect along the offensive line. Chris Hubbard, who has been great this year spelling Gilbert throughout his hamstring injuries, will now replace Gilbert full-time, but this vacates Hubbard’s usual duties on game day.

Hubbard, who was also the team’s backup swing tackle, was also used primarily in those run-heavy packages where he acted as an extra tight end. With him being forced into the starting role, Mike Tomlin said, in his weekly press conference, B.J. Finney will be the next man up in Hubbard’s former role as extra tight end.

This is not new to Finney, who filled this role earlier this season, but Tomlin praised his work as a tight end, stating he might be equally as good as Hubbard in this capacity.

The one vacancy Finney, who is a backup interior lineman, cannot fill is the team’s backup swing tackle position. This duty will likely fall on the shoulders of either Matt Feiler, or Jerald Hawkins. Considering Hawkins has yet to be active for a regular season game in 2017, logic would state the team would move to Feiler as the ‘next man up’ if something were to happen to Hubbard or Alejandro Villanueva on their respective sides of the offensive line.

If fans are concerned about Hubbard not being the eligible receiver when the Steelers go into their ‘heavy’ sets, think again, the position is in good hands with Finney at the helm. However, as for the backup tackle position, well, let’s just all hope and pray nothing happens to the starters for the next four weeks.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on all things black-and-gold as they prepare for the Green Bay Packers in Week 12.

NFL Power Rankings Week 12: Steelers solidify themselves as a Top 3 team after big win

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 10:57am

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to rise up the rankings, but how long until they reach the pinnacle is anyone’s guess.

The Pittsburgh Steelers keep on winning, and with more wins comes more movement up the weekly NFL Power Rankings.

After the team’s 40-17 drubbing of the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, Pittsburgh advanced their record to 8-2, as they entered a long break before facing the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 on Sunday Night Football.

We all, hopefully, realize Power Rankings are meaningless, but they are great fodder for discussion and debate. While the Steelers sit No. 3 in the league on almost all legitimate Power Rankings, you have to wonder what it will take for them to leap frog the Patriots or Eagles? Clearly a win over New England in Week 15 would do the trick, and an Eagles loss along the way will allow doubt to creep in, but the Steelers have to keep doing their job and keep “stacking wins” to climb to the top of the Power Rankings mountain.

Check out the latest Power Rankings below, and feel free to discuss, and debate, these rankings in the comment section below:

ESPN

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England Patriots
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
“The Steelers have held their opponents to 17 or fewer points in five straight games -- all wins. Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown might be the biggest stars in Pittsburgh, but the defense's return to prominence and third overall ranking in the Football Power Index is the biggest triumph for the Steelers this season.”
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Los Angeles Rams
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Seattle Seahawks

NFL.com

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England Patriots
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Those guys running around in black and yellow tights the other night sure looked familiar. You know, they were scoring and making plays as if they were Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh topped 30 points for the first time this season on the strength of its stars, with no small assist from a once-trounced-upon secondary, at least, by the critics, anyway. That group sure looks deep. Impressive win.”
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Los Angeles Rams
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Detroit Lions

SB Nation

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England Patriots
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Minnesota Vikings
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
7. Carolina Panthers
8. Los Angeles Rams
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Detroit Lions

Yahoo!

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England Patriots
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Ben Roethlisberger finally had his huge passing game thanks to an uptempo attack and long-awaited explosion from Antonio Brown. But late November, December and January are still built well for Le'Veon Bell and their fast defense.”
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
7. Carolina Panthers
8. Los Angeles Rams
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Detroit Lions

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the future is now

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 9:34am

In the NFL, the opportunity to make a serious bid for the Lombardi Trophy is a rarity for any team. Pittsburgh’s prospect this season may be the strongest we’ll see for quite some time.

Life in the NFL is fraught with uncertainties; just ask the Steelers’ Week-12 opponent, the Green Bay Packers, or the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, teams which have all lost their starting quarterbacks indefinitely. Undoubtedly, the greatest uncertainty currently hanging over the heads of the Steelers and their legion of fans is the availability of franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, for the 2018 regular season and beyond. Only Ben and perhaps a few top-level people in the Steelers’ organization know the answer to the $64,000 question of when he’ll decide to hang up his cleats to pursue his life’s work. This fact alone dictates a strong sense of urgency for the Black-and-gold as they prepare for the home stretch of their 2017 regular season.

But even when considering the Steelers’ team as a whole, there might not be any better prospect in the foreseeable future for Pittsburgh to claim its seventh league championship than the one presented in the current season. While the Steelers’ annual picks in the NFL Draft invariably are the subject of hot debate on BTSC and elsewhere, it’s pretty difficult to make the argument that Tomlin, Colbert and company have failed in any significant way to improve the team during the past five years.

Building the perfect beast?

The Steelers’ offense has been justly criticized this season for not performing up to its capabilities. But few observers would attribute this circumstance to a dearth of talent on the roster. Last Thursday night at Heinz Field, these capabilities were on prominent display, despite a few residual misfires mainly during the first half. The addition of Le’Veon Bell (second round, 2013) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (second round, 2017) provided an already potent offense with a full stable of thoroughbreds enabling today’s Steelers to compete offensively with the strongest teams in the league.

It’s on defense, however, where the sheer star-power of high draft picks has begun to reach its full potential on the gridiron. In the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh grabbed Ryan Shazier, the freakishly athletic linebacker who has become the centerpiece and stalwart of a young, outstanding LB corps also including first-rounders Bud Dupree (2015 No. 1 pick) and T.J. Watt (2017 No. 1 pick). And let’s not forget Pittsburgh’s 2013 sixth-round pick Vince Williams who plays like he should have been a first-rounder.

The Steelers’ defensive line is anchored by 2011 first-round pick Cameron Heyward and his younger sidekick Stephon Tuitt (second round, 2014). Nose tackle Javon Hargrave (third round, 2016) also appears to be rounding into the kind of player that Pittsburgh has missed at the position ever since the departure of former standout Casey Hampton.

Pittsburgh’s secondary had become the butt of jokes in previous years, either because of its poor coverage skills or its stone-handed interception attempts (which the late/great sportscaster Myron Cope might have characterized as “doinks”). If defensive doinks were counted as an official NFL stat, Pittsburgh might have led the league back in those days. But the 2016 NFL Draft addressed these issues when Pittsburgh selected cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis with their No. 1 and No. 2 picks respectively. When they signed veteran CB Joe Haden—himself a 2010 first-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns—at the start of this season, all of the pieces (including the surprising Mike Hilton) had been put in place for the development of the defensive backfield as a team strength. Furthermore, outstanding depth in the secondary provided by players like William Gay, Robert Golden and Coty Sensabaugh represents a valuable buffer against untimely injuries such as the one Haden suffered in Indianapolis recently.

All in all, and despite occasional lapses, the Steelers’ defense is more solid today than it’s been at any time since their last Super Bowl appearance on February 6, 2011. In fact, had the Steelers’ offense been more productive and supportive of its defensive brethren during the first half of this season, Pittsburgh might be undefeated now.

No time like the present

Interviewed on the field after the Steelers’ 40-17 win over Tennessee on Thursday night, Antonio Brown graciously and correctly attributed his outstanding performance mainly to No. 7, a player Brown described as a “Hall of Fame quarterback” while expressing gratitude for being one of those NFL receivers fortunate enough to have the opportunity to catch passes from Big Ben.

While we’ve already heard what sounds like some preemptive denial of the obvious fact that Roethlisberger’s departure will create a massive void on this team, it’s plain enough to observe what happens to NFL contenders that temporarily lose the services of their starting quarterbacks—let alone a future Hall of Fame inductee. Given the paramount importance of the quarterback position in today’s game, that’s strictly a back-to-the-drawing-board scenario for the Steelers.

In an NFL with newly-emerging powers such as the Philadelphia Eagles, who rode into town on Sunday night to mop the floor with the Dallas Cowboys in their own house, there simply are no guarantees beyond what Pittsburgh might be able to accomplish this season. Father Time is ticking, and we might never see this same gang together again making another run for glory. That’s why it’s never been more true that the future is now for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Steelers make it official and activate CB Cameron Sutton to the 53-man active roster

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 9:31am

In an anticipated move, the Steelers have promoted rookie CB Cameron Sutton from injured reserve onto the team’s active 53-man roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made it official. In the wake of Marcus Gilbert’s 4-game suspension Monday, the team has filled his spot on the 53-man roster with rookie third round pick, Cameron Sutton.

#Steelers announce rookie Cam Sutton has been activated from IR.

— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) November 21, 2017

Sutton, who spent most of training camp and the preseason injured, played well enough in the final two preseason games to show the coaches he is worthy of staying with the team. This would be why when he re-injured his hamstring in the final preseason game, the team placed him on injured reserve rather than parting ways with the former Tennessee defensive back.

The team had to make a decision on Sutton Tuesday, and with Gilbert’s suspension it made moving him to the 53-man active roster an easy decision. However, when Gilbert returns from his suspension the team will have to release someone to make room on the roster.

Sutton has impressed his teammates and coaches with his preparation and skills throughout the season, but his role on the team is anything but certain. Mike Hilton and William Gay are the sub package cornerbacks, and have been doing this job extremely well all season, but if the team wanted to throw out an extra defensive back in specific situations, or if someone gets injured, you can expect Sutton to be the next man up.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, and others, surrounding the Black-and-Gold as the team prepares for the Green Bay Packers in Week 12.

Packers saddled with several key injuries heading into Week 12 vs. the Steelers

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 8:00am

The Green Bay Packers will have some key injuries to keep an eye on as they prepare for the Steelers in Week 12.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off of a mini-bye week after their Week-11 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football. But their Week-12 opponent, the Green Bay Packers, are dealing with several key injuries after they were shut out at Lambeau Field by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

According to the Packers’ official website:

The Packers finished Sunday’s game without two of their top play-makers on defense and perhaps their most versatile offensive lineman.

Linebacker Clay Matthews (groin), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (ankle) and offensive lineman Justin McCray (knee) all exited and didn’t return in Green Bay’s 23-0 loss to Baltimore.

Matthews was the first to drop out in the first half. His departure came shortly after sacking Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco for an 8-yard loss to halt Baltimore’s first offensive series.

“I think Clay had great energy when he was in there and sparked some good momentum for our team and definitely getting the defense going,” linebacker Vince Biegel said.

McCray, making his sixth start of the season, had moved into the starting spot at right tackle after Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending knee injury. Jason Spriggs, who was activated off injured reserve on Saturday, finished the game at right tackle.

Clark played a role in the Packers containing Baltimore to only 2.2 yards per carry on 26 attempts before going down with 10 minutes, 16 seconds left in the fourth quarter after Alex Collins’ 2-yard run on second-and-1.

The former first-round pick was carted to the locker room and immediately ruled out. He leads the Packers’ defensive line with 29 tackles in nine starts this season.

“He’s one of those guys that’s been phenomenal this year,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “He’s one of our impact players and makes a lot of plays. Huge leader. He was the captain today and gave a speech before the game. He’s definitely a big component to our defense.”

The ankle injury to defensive linemen Kenny Clark has already ruled him out of the upcoming Sunday Night Football game, whereas the other key injuries will be evaluated throughout the week.

This coming from a team already without Aaron Rodgers and several other key pieces to their collective puzzle. But it isn’t as if the Steelers don’t have their own issues. Marcus Gilbert was just suspended four games for breaking the NFL’s PED policy, Joe Haden has a fractured fibula and several other key players are questionable to return for the game this Sunday.

At this point in the season, the healthier team likely will be victorious, and in this case you have to believe the Steelers are the healthier of the two football teams.

Stay tuned to BTSC as Mike Tomlin updates the injuries for the Steelers at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

Joe Haden working his way back to the Steelers’ lineup

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 7:39am

The veteran cornerback is already setting his sights on his return to the Steelers’ lineup.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Joe Haden for an unknown amount of time during the Week-10 game vs. the Colts, but the veteran cornerback is gradually working his way back to the lineup.

Haden took to social media to show fans he’s now riding a stationary bike. A far cry from defending elite receivers in the NFL, but certainly an upgrade over the crutches he was on just days ago.

Joe Haden is riding a bike! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/KioMPNVkBi

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) November 20, 2017

After fracturing his fibula, experts predicted approximately a 3- to 4-week recovery and a 6- to 8-week time frame for his return to the lineup. If Haden were on the shorter end of these estimations there’s the potential for him to be in the lineup vs. the New England Patriots when the Steelers host their AFC rivals in Week 15.

This might be considered wishful thinking but, at the same time, fans should trust the team’s depth with Coty Sensabaugh and possibly Cameron Sutton to get the job done if Haden is out for longer than expected.

But most experts don’t believe Haden’s season is over, and he should be able to return to the team for the playoffs, at the latest. Stay tuned to BTSC for all the latest injury updates and news surrounding the Black-and-gold as they prepare for the Green Bay Packers in Week 12.

NFL Odds: Packers open as two-score underdogs vs. the Steelers in Week 12

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 6:38am

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heavy favorites vs. the Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 12.

Here we go again.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the Green Bay Packers in Week-12 action on Sunday Night Football, the paranoid Steelers faithful will become uneasy with the notion their team is a heavy Las Vegas favorite to win. How heavy a favorite are they? According to BookMaker, the Steelers are 13.5-point favorites in prime-time at Heinz Field this Sunday, but some Vegas Sport Books have Green Bay as 14-point underdogs.

If Steelers fans need something to calm their nerves, there are two factors which will help the Black-and-gold followers get some sleep at night.

First, the Steelers, and mainly Ben Roethlisberger, are playing in prime-time at home. This has been a recipe for success the past few seasons, and it was again just last week when the team beat the Titans 40-17 on Thursday Night Football. Secondly, the Steelers are playing a team with a .500 record. We all know the team’s record against teams with a sub-.500 record, but being at home against a 5-5 Green Bay team certainly will help silence this narrative, at least for another week.

If, and this is a big ‘if’, the Steelers can continue their success built in Week 11, there is no reason this team should lose to Brett Hundley and a banged up Packers group. Nonetheless, there are reasons why they play the game, and merely because the Steelers should win, doesn’t mean they will.

It should be worth noting that Green Bay is an underdog by 13 or more points for the first time since 2010. The only game since 1994 where the Packers were 13+ dogs was 12/19/10 at New England.

If anything has been learned throughout this 2017 regular season, it’s the fact that anything is possible.

Check out some other odds for the upcoming slate of NFL action:

NFL Week 12 Opening Odds

Vikings at Lions (PK, 44.5)

Chargers at Cowboys (OFF)

Giants at Redskins (-7.5, 44.5)

Browns at Bengals (-9, 38)

Bears at Eagles (OFF)

Dolphins at Patriots (-17, 47)

Bills at Chiefs (OFF)

Buccaneers at Falcons (OFF)

Panthers at Jets (+4, 39.5)

Titans at Colts (OFF)

Seahawks at 49ers (OFF)

Saints at Rams (-2.5, 53.5)

Jaguars at Cardinals (+5, 38)

Broncos at Raiders (-5, 44)

Packers at Steelers (-13.5, 41.5)

Texans at Ravens (-7, 38)

Steelers News: Martavis Bryant still a work-in-progress

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 4:35am

The freakishly talented Martavis Bryant is continuing to work his way back after a year away due to suspension.

The Pittsburgh Steelers want to have the best offense in the NFL, and they certainly can do that, if they get everyone on the field and on the same page. You know, not taking to social media following a game to bash a teammate, or getting suspended for a year due to multiple failed drug tests.

Nonetheless, while Martavis Bryant remains an enigma to the fan base, it’s worth remembering that he remains a work-in-progress as he continues to get assimilated back to life in the NFL, as well as finding his niche on this football team.

“I think the main part with me was, I wanted to come back in and have instant success but it didn’t work out like that,” Bryant acknowledged to Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. “Now, it’s about being patient and just going out and having fun with it, and just let everything fall into place.”

“You can’t fight the process,” Bryant said. “You just have to be willing to get better. Me and ‘Coach T’ had talks about not fighting the process. He knows that I’m not going to fight the process. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy for me.

“It’s all about being on the same page, working hard and going out and executing.”

Consecutive games that earned quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s approval haven’t taken the pressure off, Bryant said, mostly because he insisted he wasn’t feeling any.

“I don’t have any pressure,” he said. “All I want to do is win. As long as we’re winning, we’re having fun doing it, what pressure do I have?

“Our season is defined by the Super Bowl. We want to win the Super Bowl. The individual stuff will come later but right now I want to win a Super Bowl. Everybody else in here wants to win a Super Bowl. We want to do it for Mr. Rooney.”

Time to check on other news surrounding the Black-and-gold outside the walls of BTSC:

One 40-point game can do wonders for your scoring average. In one fell swoop Thursday night the Steelers went from 20th in the NFL in scoring up to 13th. It was the long-awaited breakout game for the Steelers, and the players said afterward they hoped it would be the start of a new trend.

But is their 22.7 points-per-game average enough to win a Super Bowl? History suggests it would be difficult, although not impossible, to accomplish. In fact, if the Steelers maintain their current pace (22.7 points per game) and standing in the league (13th) and went on to win the Super Bowl, they would be one of the worst offenses in NFL history to raise the Lombardi trophy.

Coincidentally, the 2008 Steelers are the worst scoring offense to win a Super Bowl. The 2008 Steelers ranked 20th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 21.7 points per game. That Steelers team narrowly beats out the 2015 Denver Broncos, who were 19th in the league in scoring, averaging 22.2 points per game.

Since the 1970 merger, only the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (18th), 1990 N.Y. Giants (15th), 2007 Giants (14th), and 2000 Baltimore Ravens (14th) won the Super Bowl with offenses ranked lower than 13th in the league.

Senquez Golson made the news Wednesday, signing as a practice-squad player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You are familiar with his sad Steelers story, right? A No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, he never played a down here because of a long list of injuries. The team finally released him in early September.

Mike Hilton made a different kind of news Thursday night in the Steelers’ 40-17 win against the Tennessee Titans. He had his second interception of the season and was credited with five tackles. After going undrafted in 2016, failing tryouts with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots and being out of football for three months, he was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad in December. He has been their top nickel back since day one this season and has emerged as a top playmaker.

Golson and Hilton were teammates at Mississippi where Golson had 10 interceptions as a senior and was a unanimous All-America choice.

Hilton is doing with the Steelers what Golson was drafted to do.

Several years ago, the NFL opened up a real-time fiber line from the league office to every game site, in order to permit assistance and consultation with the replay review process. The league has since expanded the use of the pipeline to include matters relating to game administration.

Here’s the rule, as it’s currently written: “The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating Department at the League office may consult with the on-field officials to provide information on the correct application of playing rules, including appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock.”

On Thursday night, the game officials, the replay officials, and senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron failed to apply the proper when Steelers receiver Antonio Brown fumbled the ball forward from the 40 to the 31, where it was recovered by Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant. The ball should have been placed back at the 40. Four plays later, the Steelers extended their lead from 13-7 to 16-7 via a 50-yard field goal just before halftime.

During a Monday media briefing, NFL spokesman Michael Signora explained that the league office had “no disagreement” with the explanation provided during the NBC broadcast regarding the failure to spot the ball in the right place.

But to the extent that the game officials are catching the bulk of the blame for this, the truth is that the accountability extends more broadly. Yes, the officials should have noticed the situation and fixed it. The on-site replay official also should have noticed the situation and fixed it. And Riveron should have noticed the situation and fixed it.

Marcus Gilbert releases statement to Steelers fans, and his teammates, following suspension

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 4:19pm

The right tackle apologizes to fans after “inadvertently” taking a banned substance.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a big piece of their offensive line Monday when Marcus Gilbert was suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s PED policy, and after the news broke Gilbert took to social media to release a statement.

pic.twitter.com/2ztBrGy1ir

— Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88) November 20, 2017

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Steelers family. Regretfully I inadvertently took a banned substance. I promise to come back in great shape, and will be ready to play when my suspension is over.”

Gilbert claiming to “inadvertently” taken a banned substance is surprising, to say the least, considering the amount of people and literature available to players as to what can, and can’t, be taken by league standards.

Nonetheless, Gilbert will have to sit out the next four games, including the huge game vs. the Patriots in Week 15, before returning to the lineup before the Christmas day game vs. the Houston Texans.

Gilbert’s statement came after Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert released a statement of his own regarding the suspension, per the team’s official website:

“We are disappointed that Marcus Gilbert has been suspended four games for using performance-enhancing substances. He will not appeal the NFL’s decision. The suspension is effective immediately, and he will not be permitted in the building until after the suspension has concluded following our game on Dec. 17.”

Suspension of Marcus Gilbert will likely lead to activation of Cameron Sutton

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 3:31pm

The 4-game suspension for Marcus Gilbert will likely equate in the activation of CB Cameron Sutton to the 53-man roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt another hand filled with drama on Monday afternoon when the league announced right tackle Marcus Gilbert will be suspended four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy.

After news broke, some more details started to filter through the mayhem, and one of those came from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette on his official Twitter page:

Gilbert will lose $1 million during his 4-game suspension. Steelers can add player to 53 to replace him during that time.

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) November 20, 2017

Gilbert will lose a huge chunk of change the next four weeks, and will him miss the following games: vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati, vs. Baltimore and vs. New England, but his suspension will also have ramifications on the team’s 53-man roster.

Since Gilbert can be replaced during his suspension, it just so happens the team has to make a move on cornerback Cameron Sutton sometime Tuesday. Sutton will likely be activated to the team’s 53-man roster, in Gilbert’s place, and stay there for the next four weeks before the team will have to make a decision on who will stay and go upon Gilbert’s return.

The Steelers activated Sutton off injured reserve three weeks ago, and started the 21-day clock to make a decision on his return to the team. As unfortunate as this situation is with Gilbert being out of the lineup, it makes for an easy decision with Sutton, especially with Joe Haden currently injured.

Pittsburgh will again lean on Chris Hubbard to be the right tackle for the foreseeable future, with Matt Feiler or Jerald Hawkins, who has yet to be active for any regular season game this year, to take over the primary backup tackle position.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, and others, surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 12.

Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert suspended four games after violating league’s performance-enhancing substance policy

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 3:19pm

The Steelers will be without Marcus Gilbert for four games due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-2, and were just dealt a huge blow with news of offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert being suspended for four games due to violating the NFL’s strict substance abuse policy, but more specifically the performance-enhancing substance policy.

Steelers OT Marcus Gilbert suspended four games for violating performance-enhancing substance policy.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 20, 2017

Gilbert has fought hamstring injuries the entire season, and after looking as if he would be back and ready to go the past two weeks, this news will hinder the team’s depth at the right tackle position.

In Gilbert’s absence will be Chris Hubbard. Due to Gilbert’s health issues this season, Hubbard has seen the field a lot, but now the question will become which player will step up to be the depth at the tackle position for the next four weeks.

Matt Feiler and Jerald Hawkins are both currently on the active roster, but Hawkins has been inactive every week, and Feiler has seen very little playing time since being promoted to the 53-man roster.

Gilbert is now slated to miss the following games: vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati, vs. Baltimore and vs. New England.

A tough pill to swallow for the players, organization and the fan base, but Gilbert is not planning on appealing the suspension, per the Steelers.

Steelers GM Colbert: "We are disappointed . . . He will not appeal

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) November 20, 2017

Stay tuned to BTSC for more on this story as it unfolds...

Pick Six: Highlights from the week that was in the NFL

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 2:46pm

Take a look at some of the highlights from the week that was in the National Football League.

Week 11 is essentially in the books, and it is time to check back on some key highlights from the week that was in the NFL.

Check out the latest SB Nation video which gives six key notes on the state of the NFL after the weekend action.

On this video check out some of the following information:

Check the video below!

Snap counts show there is no longer a debate as to who is the Steelers No. 2 wide receiver

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 1:05pm

There was once a debate who the team’s No. 2 wide receiver is, but if you look at the snap counts this debate has been over for weeks.

In 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers experienced life without Martavis Bryant. Suspended for the year, the team struggled to move the ball without a viable threat opposite Antonio Brown. The likes of Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey were just not enough to force teams to not double, sometimes triple, team Brown on his side of the football field.

Entering this season, with Bryant back in the fold, it looked as if the one-two punch of Brown and Bryant would be back, and hopefully better than ever, but Bryant’s rust certainly threw a wrench into those aforementioned plans, and rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has taken advantage of that and shot up the depth chart.

Fans know how Bryant handled having a rookie see the field more than him just a few weeks ago, but after Bryant’s one game punishment, and the bye week, Smith-Schuster has clearly become the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Brown.

Snap counts the past two games:

Week 10 vs. the Colts
Smith-Schuster: 53
Bryant: 37

Week 11 vs. the Titans
Smith-Schuster: 67
Bryant: 45

There have been occasions earlier in the season when Smith-Schuster’s increased playing time could be connected to the team’s efforts in the running game. Smith-Schuster is by far the superior blocker when compared to Bryant, and it would make sense they use him often when they need the edge sealed by a receiver.

However, in the team’s Week 11 win on Thursday Night Football, where they aired the ball out more than they have in the past few games, it was still Smith-Schuster who saw the field more than any receiver not named Brown. In fact, on the team’s opening drive of the Thursday night game, when they came out with a no-huddle look, Bryant never saw the field the entire drive.

I don’t believe Bryant is still being punished for his previous actions; the Steelers just see a better, and more reliable, all-around receiver in Smith-Schuster at this point. It doesn’t mean Bryant no longer adds value to this team, he most certainly does, but when someone asks who the team’s No. 2 wide receiver is, the answer should be JuJu Smith-Schuster, not Martavis Bryant.

AFC North Standings: With 6 games remaining, Steelers have stranglehold on the division

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:25am

It was a rare successful week across the AFC North, but the Pittsburgh Steelers remain the team to beat.

After Week 11, the AFC North had a rare 3-1 record on the day. The Steelers beat the Titans on Thursday night, the Ravens shut out the Packers in Green Bay and the Bengals bested the Broncos at home. The Browns weren’t able to beat the Jaguars, but it did keep their losing season in tact.

Despite the success of the division this past week, the Steelers continue to have a stranglehold on the division. With an 8-2 record, the team has a three-game lead over the Ravens, and a four game lead over the Bengals, but you can tack on another half-game with their head-to-head over both teams in the first half of the season. With all three teams still an opponent on the rest of Pittsburgh’s schedule, this head-to-head victory could evaporate, but the distance they have built should be able to withstand any late push by the rest of the division.

Time to take a look at the AFC North Standings heading into Week 12, along with all four teams remaining schedules.

Will the Steelers be able to sweep the AFC North? Will the Ravens make the playoffs as a Wild Card team? Will the Bengals fire Marvin Lewis before the end of the season? Will the Browns ever win a game?

All these questions will get answers...in due time.

AFC North Standings

1. Pittsburgh Steelers - 8-2 (Remaining Games: vs. Packers (5-5), at Bengals (4-6), vs. Ravens (5-5), vs. Patriots (8-2), at Texans (4-6), vs. Browns (0-10))
2. Baltimore Ravens - 5-5 (Remaining Games: vs. Texans (4-6), vs. Lions (6-4), at Steelers (8-2), at Browns (0-10), vs. Colts (3-7), vs. Bengals (4-6))
3. Cincinnati Bengals - 4-6 (Remaining Games: vs. Browns (0-10), vs. Steelers (8-2), vs. Bears (3-7), at Vikings (8-2), vs. Lions (6-4), at Ravens (5-5))
4. Cleveland Browns - 0-10 (Remaining Games: at Bengals (4-6), at Chargers (4-6), vs. Packers (5-5), vs. Ravens (5-5), at Bears (3-7), at Steelers (8-2))

AFC Playoff Picture: Chiefs’ loss puts distance between front runners and the pack

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 9:45am

The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are sitting atop the AFC, with the rest of the conference in catch-up mode.

Week 11 is officially in the books for the AFC, and after the week that was, the conference is certainly up for grabs — for a few teams.

Those teams would be the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, both sitting at 8-2 heading into Week 12, but don’t sleep on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars hold the head-to-head win over Pittsburgh, which is certainly incentive for the Steelers to keep their distance ahead of Jacksonville.

After these three teams, however, the conference is pretty much up for grabs.

The Kansas City Chiefs, and the rest of the AFC West for that matter, are pretty much a jumbled mess. The Chiefs, once the lone undefeated team in the NFL, have lost four of their last five games, while the Broncos don’t have a quarterback and the Raiders are making their 2016 season look more and more like a flash in the pan.

It’s hard to believe there’s a 5-5 team—the Ravens for that matter—holding the sixth spot in the playoff picture, but this is the reality of the AFC in 2017—a few really good teams plus a lot of mediocre teams. Nonetheless, while there’s still a lot of football left to be played, take a look at the current AFC Playoff Picture below, the remaining schedules for the top-6 teams, and make your predictions as to where the teams will finish when the dust settles.

AFC Playoff Picture

1. Pittsburgh Steelers - 8-2 (Remaining Games: vs. Packers (5-5), at Bengals (4-6), vs. Ravens (5-5), vs. Patriots (8-2), at Texans (4-6), vs. Browns (0-10))

2. New England Patriots - 8-2 (Remaining Games: vs. Dolphins (4-6), at Bills (5-5), at Dolphins (4-6), at Steelers (8-2), vs. Bills (5-5), vs. Jets (4-6))

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - 7-3 (Remaining Games: at Cardinals (4-6), vs. Colts (3-7), vs. Seahawks (6-3), vs. Texans (4-6), at 49ers (1-9), at Titans (6-4))

4. Kansas City Chiefs - 6-4 (Remaining Games: vs. Bills (5-5), at Jets (4-6), vs. Raiders (4-6), vs. Chargers (4-6), vs. Dolphins (4-6), at Broncos (3-7))

5. Tennessee Titans - 6-4 (Remaining Games: at Colts (3-7), vs. Texans (4-6), at Cardinals (4-6), at 49ers (1-9), vs. Rams (7-3), vs. Jaguars (7-3))

6. Baltimore Ravens - 5-5 (Remaining Games: vs. Texans (4-6), vs. Lions (6-4), at Steelers (8-2), at Browns (0-10), vs. Colts (3-7), vs. Bengals (4-6))
_____
7. Buffalo Bills - 5-5
8. Miami Dolphins - 4-6
9. New York Jets - 4-6
10. Cincinnati Bengals - 4-6
11. Houston Texans - 4-6
12. Los Angeles Chargers - 4-6
13. Oakland Raiders - 4-6

The “Home Ben” vs. “Road Ben” debate is very real, and was evident in the Steelers’ latest victory

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 8:25am

The Pittsburgh Steelers saw an offensive explosion in Week 11, and don’t think it didn’t have something to do with “Home Ben” arriving on the scene.

If you're a long-time writer who covers the Pittsburgh Steelers on a weekly basis, one of the things you're likely thinking about as you watch them take on an opponent is a particular post-game angle to examine and share your opinion on.

Such was the case for yours truly, as I watched Pittsburgh battle the Titans Thursday night at Heinz Field.

A topic that I seemed likely to cover between Thursday night and the Steelers’ next contest against the Packers on November 26, was the ongoing struggles of an offense that came into 2017 with a goal of scoring 30 points per week, but had yet to do so through what I figured would be 10 games.

I doubled down on this thought after I witnessed a Chris Boswell 28-yard field goal in the second quarter, which came on the heels of a Coty Sensabaugh interception that had set the offense up at the Titans’ 20-yard line.

This sequence of events was essentially a replay of what occurred in the first quarter, when Mike Hilton returned an interception to the Tennessee 24-yard line and Boswell paid off the takeaway by connecting on a 41-yard field goal.

And after Boswell ended the first half with his third field goal of the night to give Pittsburgh a 16-7 lead, I turned to my uncle and said, "Remember 2008, when the Steelers’ offense struggled week after week? Only instead of having a horrid offensive line, this offense has maybe the best one in football, and it still can't produce."

As it turned out, however, that Boswell field goal at the end of the first half was just the start of a scoring-spree in what would ultimately turn into a 40-17 beatdown before over 60,000 points-starved faithful.

After Tennessee stunned the home crowd by scoring on the opening play of the second half—a 75-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Rishard Matthews—the Steelers proceeded to reel off three-straight touchdown drives of 75, 75 and 51 yards, respectively.

All three of these touchdowns came courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger's right arm, and they were a nice complement to the one he threw to open the game.

That's right, Roethlisberger threw at least four touchdown passes in a game for the first time since he posted five against the Chiefs in Week 4 of the 2016 campaign--which just so happened to be the last time Pittsburgh played a prime-time game at Heinz Field.

This bodes well for the Steelers in the second half, since two of their remaining four home games will be in prime-time.

But the simple fact that Pittsburgh has four home games down the stretch should be great news, considering that between 2014-2016, Roethlisberger averaged close to 20 touchdowns a year at home vs. just under eight on the road.

As for his passer rating, Roethlisberger averaged a number of 111.3 at home the previous three years, as opposed to 85.1 away from Heinz Field. In-fact, Roethlisberger's performance away from home had gotten worse in recent years, falling from 91.0 in 2014, to 78.4 a year ago, with the 78.4 acting as a stark contrast to the 116.7 rating he posted at Heinz Field.

Through the first three home games of 2017, Roethlisberger hadn't exactly been lighting it up. But three home games isn't really a large enough sample size, compared to the league-leading six games he started on the road.

So why the very real "Home Ben" vs. "Road Ben" dynamic in recent years?

It's hard to say. Perhaps Roethlisberger simply performs better in the no-huddle, a formation that was utilized at a much higher frequency Thursday night than at any other time this season, and one that's perhaps a little too difficult for all involved in the process—including the quarterback, his offensive coordinator and the other 10 players—to make work in a hostile environment.

I do know we're all more comfortable in our own environments than we are in a foreign land. The food usually tastes better at home. Your bed is generally more comfortable.

Home, well, that really is where the heart is.

And the heart of the Steelers’ offensive struggles through the first nine games may have been the result of Ben Roethlisberger being a little homesick.

If I were you, I'd go ahead and hold my breath for the Steelers’ next 30-point performance, as it just might come at home against the Packers on November 26.

Steelers Stock Report: See whose stock is rising, and falling, after the team’s Week 11 win

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 7:15am

Time to check the Steelers stock report after the 40-17 drubbing of the Titans.

To say that Skycam™ was divisive and controversial would be an understatement. A cursory review of Twitter indicated that the introduction Skycam was met with either unbridled adulation or unmitigated, vitriolic disdain.

I hated Skycam. I thought Skycam sucked so, so hard. But I understand why Skycam happened.

Last February, the NFL, along with monolithic network giants CBS and NBC, agreed to a massive, multiyear broadcasting contract—one that nets the NFL somewhere in the ballpark of $45 million per game. Within this incredibly lucrative contact lies an interesting Catch-22: players and a lot of fans abhor Thursday night games, but due to the league’s revenue sharing model, that extra coin ultimately confers some mildly-tangible benefits to the players, such as a higher salary cap and, by extension, larger contracts. And this is precisely why Thursday Night Football does not appear to be in any immediate danger. There are a multitude of surface-level concerns plaguing the current product—player safety issues, the over-proliferation of NFL football, and the dissemination of what are often watered-down or otherwise unwatchable matchups, to name a few— but the ratings, which are down from 2016, still are generally very solid.

That’s why Skycam seemed like a desperation play by an organization that recognizes it has some issues, but isn’t self-aware enough to pinpoint the source of those issues. I can almost picture the meeting that must’ve taken place prior to the implementation of Skycam:

NBC executive: “Why are ratings down?”

NFL executive: “Millennials.”

NBC executive: “I figured. Why don’t millennials like the NFL?”

CBS executive: “Is it because the NFL desperately seeks to maintain a strong “stick to sports” mentality at all levels? Is it because the league itself has a terrible relationship with its players? Is it because the NBA has a more visually-appealing product and superior upper manag…”

*taser noises, followed by a heavy thud*

NFL executive: It’s because of video games. What if we switched the camera angle so the game appears as it does in Madden?

NBC executive: Brilliant! I’ll start the paperwork immediately.

I’m being too critical of Skycam. Truthfully, Skycam is a pretty cool novelty that allows us, the fans, to view the game from a new perspective. Antonio Brown’s first touchdown catch? The average fan could’ve spotted it before Ben Roethlisberger even threw the ball.

But the way NBC went about introducing Skycam and subsequently discussing Skycam was anything but charming. It seemed almost as if color commentators Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth were reading from cue cards throughout the telecast.

Cris: Gee, Mike, isn’t Skycam great? It allows us to see what the players see.

Mike: It sure it, Cris! The NFL sure is pioneering new terrain with Skycam. (*more quietly* Please, I did what you asked. Please let my family go.)

Cris (now crying): Gee, that Antonio Brown sure is…*sniffs* sure is a great receiver, Mike.

I guess Skycam’s current stock is preferential. I’m putting it down. Screw Skycam. Let’s check on the game:

The game plan – Stock up, then down, then back up again

On their first drive of the game, the Steelers went up-tempo—much like they did for their second-half run against Indianapolis Colts last week, a run that culminated in 17 unanswered points over about a quarter and a half—and scored a touchdown. They proceeded to slow things down, which led to, like, four consecutive three-and-outs and a pair of trips that stalled in the red-zone. Not good. However, some apparent halftime adjustments enabled the Steelers to orchestrate four scoring drives to seal the game. So, what happened?

If I had to guess, I’d wager that no “major adjustments” took place—the Steelers just had greater success executing their original game plan in the second half.

Very early in Thursday’s game, it became apparent that Pittsburgh’s ground game was never going to be anything more than a decoy. Le’Veon Bell carried the ball only five times in the first half and 12 times overall, and I’d argue that half of those runs weren’t designed plays to begin with, but rather the result of Roethlisberger changing the play at the line. Instead, Pittsburgh decided to borrow a page from New England’s play book and use the short passing game as a surrogate for the rushing attack. As he’s wont to do, Roethlisberger did take his fair share of deep shots, but, more often than not, Option B (Option A is always Antonio Brown, no matter what) was a receiver at or near the line of scrimmage. Rarely did the Steelers deviate from this formula, as exemplified by Roethlisberger’s almost-unbelievable 299 passing yards on 45 attempts (for context, Roethlisberger threw 49 passes the night he threw for 522 yards against the Colts and 46 passes the night he threw for 503 yards against the Packers). And against a team like Tennessee, which routinely sends extra pass rushers and leaves the secondary in man coverage, getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and into the mitts of a receiver and taking a requisite number of deep shots is a formula that works; sometimes it just takes a half or so to fall into place.

The front seven - Stock up

This website is, by definition, a Pittsburgh Steelers website, but that should not distract from the fact that Cameron Heyward should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s been that dominant so far.

Heyward collected a pair of sacks on Thursday, extending his team lead to seven and positioning himself just outside the top-10 in the NFL in that category. Rarely are 3-4 defensive ends so productive, especially in a defensive system like Pittsburgh’s, in which ends serve as de facto defensive tackles, meant to control the running game and occupy blockers so the linebackers can fly around and get after the quarterback. Heyward decided to cut out the middle man and simply get those sacks himself (and even when Heyward isn’t dragging the opposing quarterback to the ground, he’s coming mighty close).

Heyward’s teammates were just as successful against Tennessee, picking up five sacks and holding the Titans’ 6th-ranked rushing attack to only 52 yards on 21 carries.

The secondary - Stock up

It’s easy to look at Tennessee’s gross passing yardage and ascertain that the Steelers secondary had a rough game. And at times, they did. On the first play after halftime, Marcus Mariota and Rishard Matthews connected on a 75-yard touchdown, which was the third touchdown pass of 60 or more yards the Steelers have allowed in their past two games. The most discouraging aspect of that touchdown was the fact that it didn’t result from blown coverage or some catastrophic mistake in the deep secondary—Mariota and Matthews simply exploited man coverage.

But it must be noted that the Steelers played Thursday’s game without Mike Mitchell and Joe Haden, a duo who might represent the two best players in Pittsburgh’s secondary. In spite of this, the Steelers forced four interceptions, three of which were the direct result of the defensive back making a great play on the ball. Last week, we wrote this:

What we’re saying is that Artie Burns, Coty Sensabaugh, Robert Golden, and Sean Davis are the second coming of the Legion of Boom. Tennessee is averaging a little over 200 passing yards per game and Mariota’s interception numbers are up, so LOB 2.0 could feast in omnivorous fashion.”

The front-seven seemed to do the brunt of the heavy lifting on the five sacks, so we’ll adjust our wording to read that the secondary feasted “carnivorously.”

Impressively, the Steelers did this against a quarterback who is, by most measures, a very solid NFL passer. Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Brett Hundley is decidedly not a very solid NFL passer, so the Steelers could be in for a repeat performance this Sunday.

The game ball - People who watched the entire game

I work in Pittsburgh within reasonable walking distance of Heinz Field, so I checked Ticketmaster on Thursday morning to see about getting tickets on a whim. Not surprisingly, there were maybe 50 pairs of tickets in the 500-something sections listed for $40 or less. (If you ever plan a trip to Pittsburgh for a game, this is actually useful advice: ALWAYS buy your tickets the day before or even the day of the game. You’ll save a ton of money).

Anyway, I ultimately decided against attending the game because a) it was a work night and b) it was super cold. I didn’t miss much because, by the beginning of the fourth quarter, the upper decks were noticeably vacant and wide shots of the stadium exterior revealed lines of ant-like Steelers fans trying to beat traffic (I would have 100 percent been among them).

But those who stayed for the entire game are the truest fans out there, braving the cold weather and hellish Friday work or school days in the name of fandom.

Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Index

It’s a 1 this week. Ben did a bunch of “classic Ben” kind of things on Thursday, which bodes well for Pittsburgh’s outlook moving forward.

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