You are here

Behind the Steel Curtain

Subscribe to Behind the Steel Curtain feed
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 2021-09-24T18:45:00-04:00
Updated: 1 hour 12 min ago

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

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

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

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

1ST DOWN WOES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers 20, Bengals 16

Burning Questions: Intermediate and middle of the field Edition

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 7:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bombs Away, or Dink and Dunk?

This isn’t something new, and in fact it’s something that drives me insane. Insane to the fact I find myself yelling at the TV while watching our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers play. I mean no one’s listening so why do I do it? Let me also tell you that it drives my wife nuts when I stand up right in front of a 65” inch television, sometimes blocking her view. She’s called the get back coach in my household, always pulling on my waist band to get the “bleep” out of her way. I won’t apologize for how I watch the Black and Gold, or for demeanor in my own house...yes for three hours a week I become unhinged.

The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Well here we are looking at a similar offense which refuses to use the middle of the field or throw some intermediate routes. But why?

Is it something that our aging QB refuses to use? Is it set up in the all around scheme from the offensive coordinator? You watch other teams use the middle of the field, in fact Henry Ruggs came all the way across the field in the game on Sunday catching a pass and, if I remember correctly, ran out of bounds before being hit.

I get the fear of the middle of the field, no one wants to get lit up, but teams find ways to have players running free on the Steelers’ defense all the time, and the middle of the field is sometimes used. I’m sure Jon Gruden doesn’t want Ruggs lit up because he just doesn’t have the size to take that kind of punishment, but what teams do is scheme to have these plays run.

Where is this scheming in the offensive pass sets? Do the Steelers not have plays designed to have a great route runner such as Diontae Johnson, who can free himself against just about any defender, come across the middle without taking a great impact hit. I don’t want anyone getting crushed, but a third of the field is not being used.

I remember one play in the preseason with Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Chase Claypool was lined in the slot and ran a 12-15 yard out route along the side line. The defender was not even close and I said to myself “Claypool is going to kill it from the slot”. To me, this sets up the seam for later in a game which also involves the intermediate as well as using the middle of the field.

I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, and there are more qualified members here at BTSC that can shine light on this mystery. I’m not the only one that recognizes the lack of use. The local media, other Steelers fan sites and just the general talking heads of the league see it too. It makes no sense to me, so I’m hoping that someone can provide some insight why this it’s either ‘Bombs Away or Dink and Dunk’?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Now onto those Burning Questions:

  • Why do the Steelers refuse to use the intermediate and middle thirds of the football field?
  • Why is Chase Claypool only used on end arounds and the deep heave and pray? Am I the only one that thinks he would kill it in the slot on occasion?
  • Why is JuJu Smith-Schuster relegated to just catching 5 yard turn arounds?
  • Where is the two tight end sets, it’s not like the offensive line can’t use some help blocking?

As always, Stay Safe and Go Steelers!

The Steelers appear to be lagging far behind the Browns and Ravens in the AFC North

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 6:00am
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Steelers in the same class as both the Browns and Ravens in the AFC North? It just doesn’t feel that way right now.

Something was going through my mind when everyone was mocking the Browns for blowing a double-digit lead and losing to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 1: doubt.

Doubt was going through my mind. Sure, I wanted to make fun of the Browns for being the Browns. I wanted to laugh at quarterback Baker Mayfield’s emotional vulnerability after throwing a game-sealing interception. I wanted to go to social media and post the memes and the gifs.

In fact, I may have done all of those things, but I didn't believe any of it; again, I’m talking about the usual story about how the “Browns is the Browns.” No, instead, what I was trying to emotionally and intellectually shield myself from after Week 1 was how strong Cleveland looked in spite of Nick Chubb’s fumble and the long-haired punter’s botched handling of a perfectly good snap that turned the tide in favor of the defending AFC champions.

I may have been too drunk off of the euphoria of the Steelers’ unexpected Week 1 victory against the Bills at Highmark Stadium to do anything but dance around and write celebratory articles, but deep in my conscience I felt it: that victory seemed a little too much like the ones that took place in 2019 following the season-ending elbow injury suffered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Pittsburgh could remain relevant and be a contender thanks to a relentless defense, but a serious one? Looking at that season in hindsight, it never seemed realistic.

I have to say that’s how I’m feeling about the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers and their chances of surpassing the Browns and/or Ravens in the AFC North when all is said and done.

Speaking of the Ravens, they may be 1-1 like everyone else in the AFC North after two weeks, but even without some key and potent running backs, their ground game has looked as strong as ever so far in 2021. Is it because of quarterback Lamar Jackson and his unparalleled aptitude for tucking, running and making defenders look foolish all game long? Sure it is, but it has worked for him and Baltimore’s offense for three-plus seasons. That’s the point, isn’t it, to find what works for an offense and do it to perfection? Jackson isn’t perfect; he makes mistakes and throws some questionable interceptions at times. But when he’s not doing that, he’s a quarterback capable of magical things, like the jump pass he threw to receiver Marquise Brown for a 40-yard touchdown in the Ravens’ thrilling 36-35 victory over Kansas City at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

Speaking of quarterbacks, that Mayfield isn’t so bad, either. Actually, he looks downright good at times. He has a good offensive line, a fine duo of tight ends, good receivers and undoubtedly the best running back tandem in the entire NFL in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Baltimore’s offense can move the football on a regular basis and score points, but Cleveland may have the most explosive attack in the NFL in the not-so-distant future.

When I watch the Ravens and Browns do their thing on offense, they just look worlds better than Pittsburgh on that side of the ball. Stretch plays are run to perfection. Receivers are open and, believe it or not, they aren’t forced to catch contested passes on a regular basis.

I know what you’re going to say: Roethlisberger is old, sure, but you win championships with defense, and the Steelers may have the best one in the NFL (when healthy, of course).

The Steelers may have the best defense in the NFL (when healthy), but is that the only true way to win a title? I know that sentiment gets thrown around a lot, especially when a team is much better at it than it is at scoring points. But I don’t think that cliche is as true as many believe. At best, it’s a 50/50 split when you’re talking about offense and defense and which is more important for championship success. It may, in fact, be the offense that has the edge when it comes to which unit is more vital to winning titles.

Even if you believe that defense is more important, the defenses of the Browns and Ravens appear to be much more capable of helping out their potent offenses than the Steelers offense does of carrying its own weight when that dominant defense isn’t on the field.

As the title of this article states, it is very early. There are 15 games left in this 2021 campaign. Great defense does make up for a lot. Neither Jackson or Mayfield has proven that he can be the quarterback to lead his team to the promised land. Roethlisberger has and may be able to do it a third time before he rides off into the sunset.

The Steelers may again prove to be the class of the AFC North when the 2021 regular season ends and the 2021/22 postseason begins.

But, to quote comedian Dennis Miller: I’m just not getting that vibe right now, babe.

Podcast: Can using a FB give the Steelers the numbers they need in the running game?

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 4:30am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Editor of BTSC.

There’s been so much discussion about what Mike Tomlin and the 2021 Steelers need to do to in the regular season and improving the running game was usually on the top of everybody’s minds. Despite great effort from Najee Harris, the running game is still not functioning properly. Could employing a fullback in the game plan help the run game and the numbers? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • How would using a fullback help the run game statistically and in general?
  • and more geeky numbers!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers Injury Report: Watt, Haden limited in practice Wednesday

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 3:31pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With some players limited with her injuries, Devin bush returned as a full participant.

The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season both with their first defeat and with a number of mounting injuries. As the Steelers take the practice field for their first day of preparation for the Cincinnati Bengals, nine names were on the list although one was a full participant. In the first injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, there were five players who did not participate while three players were limited.

Steelers PR Department

One positive note from the Steelers injury front is inside linebacker Devin Bush returned to practice on Wednesday after missing Sunday’s game with a groin injury. If all goes well, hopefully Bush will not be one of the players the Steelers are questioning his availability come Sunday.

Another positive from injury report was Joe Haden and T.J. Watt participated in a limited basis in practice on Wednesday with their groin injuries. Even though being limited practice is usually not a desired outcome, both Watt and Haden are players who could participate on Sunday without a full week of practice. The fact that they got on the field at all on Wednesday is a good sign. If they respond well to the work and can continue to stay on the field throughout the week, the chances of their availability on Sunday increase significantly.

Another player who was limited in practice was cornerback Justin Layne who is new to the Steelers injury report. Layne is listed as being limited with an Achilles injury.

As is typically the case, Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday. Knowing that Roethlisberger has a left pectoral injury, it’s not surprising to see him on the list with the injury. Ultimately, Wednesday doesn’t really give any indication as to whether or not the injury has slowed Roethlisberger’s progression to play this week where Thursday will be a much better gauge. The one player who did land on the list as a coaches decision was tight end Eric Ebron.

The Steelers had three other players who did not practice at all on Wednesday. Carlos Davis, who did not play in Sunday’s game, as well as Diontae Johnson, who is injured on the final play of Sunday’s game, both sat out with knee injuries. Additionally, Alex Highsmith’s groin injury, which first surfaced prior to Week 1 and had not been mentioned since until Mike Tomlin‘s press conference on Tuesday, is the one that is keeping a player off the field. All three of these player’s availability for Sunday is now in doubt with still two more practices remaining to get back on the field to prepare for Cincinnati.

As for the Bengals’ injury report, you can see the names below courtesy of Steelers.com.

Cincinnati Bengals Participation/Injury Report, Week 3

Wednesday, September 22

WR Tee Higgins (Shoulder) - DNP

G Xavier Su’a-Filo (Knee) - DNP

DT Josh Tupou (NIR-Personal) - DNP

CB Trae Waynes (Hamstring) - DNP

DT Larry Ogunjobi (Groin) - Limited

CB Darius Phillips (NIR - Rest) - Limited

For more information on the Steelers’ and Bengals’ injury report, check the injury report podcast below:

How can the Steelers fix their offensive line problems?

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 2:05pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The problems are glaring, but can they be fixed?

Whenever you click on the comment section of a Pittsburgh Steelers related post these days, you are almost guaranteed to find a number of comments asking the team to fix its offensive line. If it were only as easy as the comments suggest we really wouldn't have to have this conversation. But this is the real world unfortunately, and things like this will take time. As a former collegiate offensive lineman, turned collegiate offensive line coach, I’ll give my best shot at how I would attempt to get this unit back on the rails. Below are my best ideas at what the team can do here in the short term, and what they can do after the season to plug these issues.

Short term Get Zach Banner healthy

First and foremost the Steelers need to get their best available unit on the field at once. Zach Banner hasn't been available to the Steelers early on in this season, but getting the road grader back in the lineup will help this team. At the very least it would also show the organization where they stand in terms of starting and backup tackle depth. Maybe this spot isn't an issue at all with Banner healthy, but maybe it’s worth than expected. Only way we will know is to get Banner onto the field.

The free agent well

This feels increasingly more unlikely as the weeks go on, but with so much available cap room to this team, it feels possible. Guys like Mitchell Schwartz and Russell Okung are still sitting there on the open market, and it’s always possible the Steelers dive back into the trade well, although they have already dealt a handful of picks. The Steelers just haven’t been getting it done on the field, and at some point they will have to add a body. If the hits on Ben Roethlisberger continue to pile up, adding an offensive lineman might become a necessity.

More zone pass blocking

The simplest way to make an offensive lineman’s life easier is to take away responsibilities from them. In most man blocking concept’s the lineman will have to first determine who their man is, then figure out whether or not a stunt or a blitz is coming their way and whether or not they need to switch their man responsibilities based on the protection that was called. To put it in simple terms, they must do a ton of thinking in not a lot of time. Zone pass blocking takes away most of the thinking as now the line will block as a collective unit rather than five individuals.

Each player is responsible for their call side gap and anyone who tries to rush the passer from said gap must be picked up. The more line slides that can be run equals less situations where the line has to think and can just play football. The line slide is your friend.

Lateral movement is your friend

In the run game, the Steelers (and really any team) can find success by attacking the rules of the defensive lineman. From pop-warner to the NFL one of the most well known rules for an edge rusher is to keep contain on a run play. By running outside zone runs and getting the offensive lineman to run down the line of scrimmage, you can create displacement, not by being more physical, but by forcing the defenders to play by their rules.

The Steelers seemingly don't have the guys to run gap, man, or counter techniques, but the zone (specifically stretch technique) is one that any line should find success, and one that can be built off of when establishing your running game.

Dial up more play action

This one will sound different than what you have probably heard play-by-play announcers talk about on Sundays. But the Steelers could utilize the pass to set up the run. By using more play action fakes eventually linebackers, and mid level defenders will start cheating the call. This would be done in hopes of limiting big plays and open receivers in the pass game. Once you’re able to slow the linebackers flow over the top of a defense more running lanes begin to open up. So a healthy dose of play action could give the run game a push in the right direction.

Long term Draft, Draft, Draft

The Steelers 2022 offseason will come down to two key positions. Do we address the offensive line or do we addressed the quarterback (or can we do both). The Steelers obviously only have one first round pick, and it doesn't project to be a very high one. Not to mention this draft doesn't exactly have the high end quarterbacks we have gotten used to seeing. Because of this the Steeler may want to re-sign Ben Roethlisberger, sign another free agent, or try to swing a trade at quarterback.

The Steelers first round pick could be used on a player like Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum may be one of the best center prospects to come out of school in some time. Drafting the 2021 All-American and Rimington finalist could allow the Steelers to bump Kendrick Green back out to his more natural guard position and let him run wild. The right guard spot should also be available with Trai Turner’s deal expiring next spring.

And much like the last time the Steelers drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (2012, David DeCastro) they should probably follow it up with another pick along the offensive line. However, they need to hit on that pick unlike the one they made nine years ago (Mike Adams).

Find the right veteran

This Steelers offensive line is young, and I mean really young. I think to a degree Trai Turner probably isn't the right guy to lead this group either. The Steelers need to go out and find a guy that can start for a handful more years and help transition this young group into the next era of Steelers football. Think about all the offensive linemen lost over the last year, from David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, and Matt Feiler the Steelers didn't just turn the page they started a whole new book. The group needs some veteran leadership, and they should do that on the open market.

But what do you think? Can the Steelers offensive line show improvement this year? If they can't will all of their problems be able to get fixed during the next offseason? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: The Steelers are who we thought they were

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 2:00pm

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

All offseason long, the entirety of Steeler Nation attempted to analyze the 2021 identity of the Men of Steel. Even though there were some that felt like the Steelers were a Super Bowl favorite, many thought that the Steelers were a possible playoff team having to travel a bumpy road to get there. After Week 2 of 2021, the Steelers may just be exactly who we think they are. This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The Steelers are exactly who we thought they are
  • Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Power Rankings: Steelers fall out of the Top 10 heading into Week 3

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 1:00pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a Top 10 team heading into Week 2, but have fallen out of the Top 10 after their Week 3 loss.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were not victorious in their home opener against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2, and the loss to Las Vegas has dropped them out of the Top 10, according to the latest Power Rankings.

These Power Rankings are something which should be taken with a grain of salt, but if nothing else they are good for some healthy debate.

Yes, Power Rankings can be an interesting exercise, and while we don’t put too much stock into these rankings it does give you a taste of how the experts at certain sites view the Steelers. Who do they have topping the rankings this week? The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Kansas City Chiefs? How about the Seattle Seahawks?

Time to take a look at the latest Power Rankings:

ESPN

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Los Angeles Rams
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. San Francisco 49ers
5. Buffalo Bills
6. Seattle Seahawks
7. Arizona Cardinals
8. Cleveland Browns
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Las Vegas Raiders
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers

Fantasy surprise: WR Diontae Johnson

There’s not a whole lot of positive fantasy news for the Steelers two games into the campaign, but with a TD in Week 1 and 105 receiving yards in Week 2, Johnson is performing as expected as Ben Roethlisberger’s top target. He sustained a knee injury on the final play of Sunday’s loss, though, and that could dampen his outlook, at least temporarily. Running back Najee Harris hasn’t been able to get much space to run, although his involvement in Sunday’s passing game suggests better days might be ahead. Even the Steelers’ defense, one of the best in Week 1, faltered in Week 2.”

NFL.com

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Los Angeles Rams
5. Buffalo Bills
6. Green Bay Packers
7. San Francisco 49ers
8. Cleveland Browns
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Arizona Cardinals
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers

“A big afternoon from the defense and a huge play on special teams paved the way for a Week 1 road upset of the Bills, but a home loss to the Raiders puts the focus back on an underwhelming offense. Ben Roethlisberger is no longer the star who can put the Steelers on his back; the 39-year-old veteran needs help to make this attack go and he’s not getting enough of it from his offensive line or running game. Part of that responsibility falls on offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who’s still trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Pittsburgh should remain competitive as long as the defense stays intact, but a serious Super Bowl run will be impossible without balance on the other side of the ball.”

CBS Sports

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Los Angeles Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. Buffalo Bills
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Las Vegas Raiders
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Cleveland Browns
...
14. Pittsburgh Steelers

“The offense is so limited right now in terms of what it can do throwing the football. That has to be fixed, but the defense didn’t play well against Las Vegas either. The coverage was bad.”

The Sporting News

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Cleveland Browns
5. Los Angeles Rams
6. Arizona Cardinals
7. Buffalo Bills
8. Baltimore Ravens
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Steelers didn’t get enough offense in Buffalo and stole a victory. Unfortunately, even with rookie running back Najee Harris and second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool sparking the attack against the Raiders, they still slumped on the scoreboard. Related to that, of greater concern to Pittsburgh are the growing/groin injury concerns on defense.”

What do you think of these rankings? Think the Steelers are too high? Not high enough? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to check out one of our newest podcasts where we do some rankings of our own! Check out the “Steelers Power Half Hour” in the player below:

5 former Steelers nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2022 class

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 12:34pm

The Steelers who are nominated span the last four decades.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced the 122 modern-era players who have been nominated for enshrinement for 2022. Among the players are five with ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The #Steelers are well represented among the Modern Era nominees for the @ProFootballHOF Class of 2022. #PFHOF22

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 22, 2021

Hines Ward has made it as far as a semifinalist in previous years. Ward spent all 14 of his NFL seasons in Pittsburgh and was selected to the Pro Bowl four times. Playing in three Super Bowls with the Steelers, Ward was the Super Bowl MVP for the 2004 season.

For the second straight year, former Steelers tight end Heath Miller has been nominated. Miller played tight end 11 NFL seasons all in Pittsburgh where he had two pro bowl selections.

Other nominations are nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebacker Hardy Nickerson Sr., and kicker Gary Anderson. Last offseason, Hall of Fame kicker Morton Andersen gave a ringing endorsement for Gary Anderson to enter the Hall of Fame in an exclusive interview with BTSC.

Modern-era finalists will be trimmed down to 25 in November and again to 15 in January before going down to 10 and then five during Super Bowl weekend in February. The five finalists and three senior finalists will undergo a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote and must receive 80% in order to be selected.

A complete list of all players who were nominated for 2022 can be seen below courtesy of the Pro football Hall of Fame.

BREAKING: The Modern-Era nominees for the Class of 2022 have been unveiled. The list is comprised of 122 players. Among the group are 10 first-year eligible players.

>> https://t.co/tx6ulgv2Cw#PFHOF22 pic.twitter.com/LcEyiX4ux5

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) September 22, 2021

Ben Roethlisberger preaching urgency, not panic, within the Steelers offense

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 11:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback knows it isn’t time to hit the panic button, but the offense isn’t nearly good enough to become complacent.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is far from a finished product. In fact, some might suggest they are at the beginning of the project phase. Nonetheless, heading into a Week 3 grudge match with the Cincinnati Bengals, the players realize they have to be better. No one realizes this fact quite like Ben Roethlisberger.

Wednesday Roethlisberger met with media and was asked if the offense is feeling a bit of urgency to improve, after all they rank dead last in the NFL in rushing, and are struggling to put points on the board.

“Maybe a little bit (of urgency), but we still have to walk a line, careful not trying to do too much,” said Roethlisberger. “You know we’re not panicking. It’s only the second week. We’re 1-1, we lost to a team that’s 2-0 and it was a one score game till the end. It feels like a bad feeling, a bad loss, but we understand it’s real early in the season. Everyone in our division has the same record, so we’re going to get ourselves together and get ready to go.”

Fans around the globe who pull for the Steelers are all asking the same questions:

“What can the Steelers do to improve?”

“What can fix the offensive line?”

“Will the offense ever get better, or is this the new status quo?”

As for Roethlisberger, he realizes it isn’t always about X’s and O’s. Instead, just being there for your teammates, and making sure everyone is doing their jobs as a collective group.

“What I can do is just try and emphasize how important it is to play for your brother, to play for the guy next to you,” said Roethlisberger. “Doesn’t matter that you can go out there say, well I did my job today. But if we didn’t win the game and you didn’t help the team win, then it shouldn’t matter. If it does, then you kind of have the wrong mentality for this ultimate team sport. You’ve got to go out and do your job, but you also have to understand that collectively we have to do the job together. Sometimes that’s the best way I can try and help young guys, is just helping them to understand that it’s more than just what you do, it’s how did you help the team today.”

When Roethlisberger is talking about “young guys” there are plenty on the offensive side of the ball. The list of players still on their rookie contracts is lengthy:

Kendrick Green *
Dan Moore Jr. *
Kevin Dotson
Chuks Okorafor
Diontae Johnson
Chase Claypool
James Washington
Najee Harris *
Pat Freiermuth *
Zach Gentry
*- Rookie

Needless to say, Roethlisberger has been trying his best to help these young players realize not just what it takes to win, but how to play well together. As a unit, or a collective group.

“I tell the guys, no one has to be great. If we’re all good, then collectively we can be great,” said Roethlisberger. “Offense is such a group effort. It takes literally all 11 guys every play to make it work. When one guy’s a little off here or there, it can affect the whole thing. We’re just going to keep learning and growing and figuring out how we can try and get better.”

The Steelers’ offense will be attempting to prove they are trending in the right direction Sunday against a vastly improved Cincinnati Bengals team. Will they be able to get back on track offensively and develop a semi-balanced attack? That has yet to be determined, but there is no panic — yet.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes as the Steelers prepare for the Bengals this Sunday at Heinz Field in Week 3 regular season action.

Podcast: Najee soars, Claypool snores and Bengals roar

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 11:00am

Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers, your draft and for success in any of your leagues.

Now that the regular season is here in the National Football League, most drafts are complete and ready to go. Most likely, the main contest that you, the reader or listener, will be paying attention to is the Steelers hosting of Cincinnati on Sunday. Will Joe Burrow and a stable of talented receivers go off against a suspect Steelers secondary? Is Najee Harris going to get some holes to run behind? What about the Joe Mixon? What’s up with Chse Claypool? Get those answers and more as BTSC continues with the new weekly show surrounding all aspects of the world of fantasy football with a black-and-gold twist. Welcome to the Steelers Fantasy Football Fix. Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers and for success in any of your leagues.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Previewing the Steelers vs. Bengals for any of your fantasy leagues.
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeremy Betz of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers in the landscape of Fantasy Football and then some.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Reviewing the analytics behind Mike Tomlin’s 4th down decision vs. the Raiders

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 10:00am
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Tomlin elected to punt the football rather than go for it on 4th and 1 with the game hanging in the balance. Was it the right call?

Was it the right call, or was it the wrong call?

This question can be asked in almost any situation in the game of football. Should you have thrown when you ran the ball? Should you have blitzed when you didn’t?

It isn’t about trying to do what’s best, it is literally second-guessing every decision made. And anyone who has coached a team sport at the High School level, or above, knows some of these decisions are gut-driven, and also decisions which don’t allow you to always ponder the analytics of that decision.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and head coach Mike Tomlin, found themselves in one of those moments Sunday when facing a 4th and 1 on their own 34-yard line with 8:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing by 9 to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Tomlin elected to punt, or as many are saying, “living in his fears”, and while the defense was able to get the ball back to the offense, it took valuable time off the clock. Armchair quarterbacks were outraged with the decision, but was it the right call? What do the analytics say?

The folks at EdjSports broke it down, and ultimately called the decision a “surrender” by Tomlin.

“Tomlin made a decision that made many wonder whether he was even watching his game or just gave up on the game. With 8:35 remaining and trailing by nine points, Pittsburgh faced 4th and 1 from their own 34-yard line. Instead of going for it the Steelers punted, decreasing their pre-snap GWC (Game Winning Chance) by 5.6%. A conversion with only one yard would have increased their GWC to 14.9%, while a failed conversion attempt at the line of scrimmage would have dropped them to 4.7% GWC. The required success rate for Pittsburgh was only 22.5%, assuming a punt of 45 yards. An average team would be expected to convert a 4th and 1 well over 22.5% of the time, around 70%. So, the decision by Tomlin to punt was a very curious one.”

Hindsight is always 20/20, we all know this by now, but the decision certainly made many question the trust Tomlin has not only in running back Najee Harris, but also the inexperienced offensive line.

Tomlin had this to say about the decision after the game Sunday:

“I did, but I felt comfortable with our ability to stop them. I wanted to play the field position game and I think we punted it and stopped them.”

He isn’t wrong, but it will go down as a very curious, and difficult, decision made by the Steelers’ head coach. But what about you? Do you think Tomlin made the right call, or should the Steelers have gone for it? Let us know your decision by voting in the poll below, and feel free to explain your decision in the comments below!

Steelers Vertex: How the loss of T.J. Watt affected the Steelers defense in Week 2

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

When the Steelers lost their All-Pro edge rusher in Week 2, there was a big change in the passing game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered their first defeat of the 2021 NFL regular season in Week 2. Losing at home to the Las Vegas Raiders, the Steelers simply couldn’t overcome the loss of a number of key players on defense. With two starters being ruled out when inactives were announced, it was the loss of Tyson Alualu and T.J. Watt during the game which was even more difficult to overcome.

Of course every loss is significant, but when the Steelers two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year finalist left the game with a groin injury, there was a significant difference in both the Steelers defense and the way the Raiders were attacking on offense. Exactly what did the Raiders do once Watt exited the game? That is the topic of this weeks Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

This time around, our vertex may initially appear as if these two lines are diverging apart rather than coming together for a single point. In looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush on Sunday against the Raiders, the numbers actually show more pressure in the second half. In the first half, the Steelers had one sack and one quarterback hit. Both of these occurred before T.J. Watt left the game with about five minutes left in the second quarter. How do I know this? Because T.J. Watt was the only player to register a sack or a quarterback hit in the first half of the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the second half on Sunday, the Steelers managed one sack along with four quarterback hits. Those statistics belong mostly to Melvin Ingram as he had the sack and three of the quarterback hits with Jamir Jones getting the other.

So why was the pass rush less effective after T.J. Watt exited the game even though the stats show otherwise? It comes down to one other factor: Time. As we will see in the film, the time Derek Carr had to throw in the second half allowed him to have more success. How much more success? Carr was 16 of 21 for 263 yards and two touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 149.4 in the second half. In the first half, even with T.J. Watt missing the final five minutes, Carr was 12 of 16 for 119 yards, no touchdowns, and a 95.6 rating.

Although Carr’s time to throw is not recorded by half, Pro Football Focus does have it for the entire game. In Week 1, Carr was 2.63 seconds from snap to throw where in Week 2 he was at 2.54 seconds. If I were to venture a guess, I would say Carr had a much higher time to throw once T.J. Watt exited the game. Maybe the film will back this up.

The Film Line:

After a scorching start to the season in Buffalo, the Steelers pass rush was going to be even more important against the Raiders, especially with Joe Haden and Devin Bush out with injuries. T.J. Watt was ready to answer the call.

T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

Derek Carr doesn’t hold onto this ball very long at all, but it is still long enough for T.J. Watt to get hands on him after the throw. Watt just lets Carr know he is there, just a little something to think about when he’s dropping back in the pocket.

T.J. Watt is the pass rusher to the top of the screen.

Derek Carr knows Watt is coming, so on this play he steps up into the pocket to buy some more time. It doesn’t work, and T.J. Watt has a second straight game with a strip sack to start the 2021 season.

T.J. Watt is lined up behind the line, he’s moving around before the snap and settles in the middle of the line.

One of my keys to this game was pressure up the middle. Here we see even a bit of pressure up the middle makes Derek Carr uncomfortable, and that hop he takes as he throws pulls the ball short and incomplete. Watt drawing a double team on this rush was a big part of the pressure up the middle.

Foster Moreau is the tight end to the top of the screen.

This is the first play after T.J. Watt left the field with an injury. It’s also the first deep pass attempt of the game for the Raiders. Look at the pocket, there is no one in front of Derek Carr, and there is no one hitting him as he throws. Once T.J. Watt left the game the offensive line was able to keep Derek Carr clean and he started throwing balls downfield.

Foster Moreau is the receiver to the bottom of the screen. Jamir Jones is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

That’s Jamir Jones’ first QB hit of his career. Derek Carr takes his time with his release, there’s no reason to rush this throw and he takes a hit for it. After the Detroit Lions preseason game Ben Roethlisberger was asked about a hit he took, and he said it was fine, he held onto the ball and they made a play, so he was fine taking a hit.

With T.J. Watt out Derek Carr was comfortable taking more time in order to make a play, even if it meant taking a hit to do so. When T.J. Watt was on the field, Carr was getting rid of the ball much faster to keep T.J. Watt from making a play. Similar to how Ben Roethlisberger in 2020 and early this season has missed opportunities to make plays because he has to be concerned with the pass rush making plays.

Tre Norwood is the nickel back, he starts the play just off screen to the right.

Tre Norwood has played great as a 7th-round rookie. But make no mistakes, he’s not Mike Hilton. The Steelers were failing to pressure Carr and he was making plays, so they dialed up a nickel blitz to try and generate some pressure and get him off his rhythm. Instead Derek Carr is able to get this ball off before protecting himself from the hit coming, and the Raiders had a huge play to break the game open.

While this play leaves a lot to discuss with Witherspoon’s coverage and Minkah Fitzpatrick missing the deep threat, watch Derek Carr. The difference between getting hit as he throws and the pass being disrupted and a 61-yard TD is miniscule. Football is a game of fractions of a second. The Steelers don’t have Vince Williams and Mike Hilton anymore, Joe Schobert and Tre Norwood are good players, but they aren’t very good blitzers. With Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt out of the game the Steelers couldn’t generate enough pressure with a 4-man rush and they couldn’t get it blitzing either.

The Point:

T.J. Watt’s importance to the Steelers pass rush is greater than it has ever been. With Mike Hilton, Vince Williams, and even Bud Dupree gone, the Steelers aren’t as good of a blitzing team. They showed they can get pressure with 4 rushers, but that rush (especially with Stephon Tuitt out) is heavily reliant on Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt. Without Watt, Cameron Heyward and Melvin Ingram may not be able to create enough pressure to make this defense dominant.

10 Takeaways from the Steelers’ loss to the Raiders

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 8:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

10 things Steelers’ fans learned, or overreacted to, following the second game of the season.

Despite the high expectations coming off a win against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, the Steelers fell flat against the Raiders on Sunday.

As always, there’s plenty of takeaways to be had:

1. The sky is not falling (yet)

Did the Steelers look bad against the Raiders? Sure. They were outplayed in just about every aspect of the game. However, it’s important to remember that the loss was only in the second week of a seventeen game season. And the Raiders are shaping up to be one of the AFC’s best teams. It’s far too early to panic.

Many of the positional groups that struggled against the Raiders will likely improve as the season progresses, especially the young, developing offensive line and injury-plagued defense. Even Ben Roethlisberger should improve as he continues to get more comfortable in Matt Canada's system. Some forgot that this is the same team that beat a talented Bills squad just over a week ago; there’s more than enough talent in Pittsburgh to be a legitimate contender this year, they just need to play more consistently.

That isn’t to say that the issues that the Steelers’ displayed against Las Vegas weren’t disconcerting, but rather that there is plenty of time to fix them. But if the Steelers don’t fix their issues, the team will certainly be in trouble.

2. Proving his worth

All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt was injured in the first half and forced to sit out the rest of the game against the Raiders. Some may have seen that as a consequence of his limited participation throughout training camp, or even as a reason why the Steelers shouldn’t have given the pass-rusher so much guaranteed money. But if anything, it showed how important it was for the Steelers to keep him in Pittsburgh. Watt had already recorded a strip sack and tackle for loss in the first half before his injury, and without him in the second half, the Steelers’ pass-rush was noticeably worse. Melvin Ingram and Alex Highsmith had solid games, but without Watt, Derek Carr began to have enough time in the pocket to pick the Steelers’ secondary apart. Even without playing, T.J. Watt proved how much he is worth to the Steeler defense.

And for those worried that Watt will be enjoying all his guaranteed cash without playing, it looks like he’s slated to make a timely return from injury.

3. Let JuJu play on the outside

JuJu Smith-Schuster was very vocal throughout the offseason that he wanted to play on the outside more, but he’s been relegated to the slot throughout most of the season. He’s been exceptional there so far, but it may be time to fulfill the receiver’s wish. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have been Roethlisberger’s main deep targets so far this year, and while both have gotten open, Johnson hasn’t always followed through on his routes while Claypool has struggled greatly when catching through contact. On the other hand, Smith-Schuster routinely showed on Sunday his ability to play through contact and make catches, always on the same page as Roethlisberger.

Even though he’s predominantly ran short routes over the past few seasons, Smith-Schuster is a proven playmaker down the field when given the chance. Expanding his route-tree may also be a valuable wrinkle to add to a predictable offense. Besides, Smith-Schuster’s strong hands and connection with Roethlisberger may be the key to opening up the Steelers’ deep to intermediate passing game.

4. Haden holds it all together

As many pointed out following the Steelers’ loss, Pittsburgh’s secondary has often struggled when Joe Haden has been out with injury. That trend continued against the Raiders, as the Steelers’ cornerback room, which had enjoyed such a strong performance against Josh Allen and the Bills last week, gave up 382 passing yards and 2 touchdowns to Derek Carr and the Raiders. The Steelers’ young cornerback room simply couldn’t cover for the injured Haden, who despite his age remains the best corner on the roster. It’s important he is able to return soon this season, or it may be a rough few weeks for the Pittsburgh secondary.

5. A special day for special teams

The Steelers’ specialists were the bright spots for the team in their Sunday loss. After a strong performance against Buffalo, kicker Chris Boswell doubled down by setting the new record for the longest field goal in Heinz Field history on his lone attempt against the Raiders, a 56-yarder that went straight down the middle. Boswell has continued to make the front office’s decision to keep him after an abysmal 2018 look very smart.

Rookie punter Pressley Harvin also impressed, landing three of his four punts inside of the twenty and recording an average of nearly fifty yards. He landed one inside of the five yard line, and was also the holder on Boswell’s record-setting field goal. It was a nice comeback for the young punter, who had struggled with consistency last week. In a rough loss, it was good to see at least one positional group have a strong game.

6. Flashes of brilliance

The Steelers’ offensive line wasn’t great against the Raiders, but rookie running back Najee Harris still made the best of what he had. His 38 yards on ten carries certainly was’t an impressive stat line, but every yard was hard-earned, punctuated by a powerful stiff-arm on talented Raiders’ safety Jonathan Abram. Additionally, Harris found success through the air. He’s slowly starting to become the dump-off target Roethlisberger hasn’t had since Le’Veon Bell last played, recording five catches for 43 yards, recording his first NFL touchdown on a tackle-breaking run after the catch in the fourth quarter. Harris won’t be able to fully live up to his potential until the Steelers shore up their offensive line, but in the meantime he’s still finding time to impress.

7. Redemption game

It’s not an exaggeration to say that linebacker Robert Spillane had one of the worst Steelers preseasons in recent history in 2021. So it’s no surprise that most were worried how he would perform in the starting lineup with Devin Bush out with an injury. However, Spillane had a strong game opposite Joe Schobert as the Steelers let him play to his strengths: stopping the run and special teams. Spillane did both admirably, recording some big hits as well as a tackle for loss. He even led the team in tackles, staying close to the line of scrimmage while Schobert took care of most of the coverage duties. It’s fair to say that Spillane isn’t a particularly versatile defender; however, he can still be a solid starter when put in a place to succeed like he was on Sunday.

8. Pat Freiermuth is TE1

Eric Ebron wasn’t very noticeable on Sunday, but when he was noticed it wasn't good. Ebron once again struggled as a blocker, and he couldn’t hang onto a pass he should’ve held onto following an impressive play and pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Freiermuth made some good blocks against the Raiders, catching four passes for 36 yards as well. Ebron is still a dangerous weapon, but Freiermuth is simply a far more reliable pass-catcher and blocker at this point. He’s been slowly overtaking Ebron when it comes to the snap counts, and expect that to continue throughout the season.

Additionally, it was nice to see the “MUUTH” cheer already going strong at Heinz Field on Sunday. When one of the CBS announcers jokingly asked if the fans got together ahead of time to plan such things, I started laughing. That place is called BTSC.

9. Heyward steps up

At 32 years old, many have predicted Steelers’ star defensive lineman Cam Heyward’s play to regress. If anything, it seems that he’s getting even better. With both Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu out against the Raiders, and possibly for a good bit of the remaining season, it was paramount for Heyward to step up. And he certainly did. He continued to record pressures and tackles, but perhaps most impressive was his hustle. For a veteran lineman, Heyward was consistently downfield in pursuit of runners once they made it past the line of scrimmage. His hustle and effort are second to none. With a defensive line room as thin as the Steelers’ is right now, Heyward is giving his all to ensure that the interior of the Steelers’ defense is still a quality unit.

10. Don’t blame it all on Ben

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play his greatest game on Sunday, and he’s certainly responsible for some of the Steelers’ offensive struggles. But he doesn’t deserve all of the blame. He consistently held onto the ball and tried to make plays behind an unreliable offensive line, passing for 295 yards on the day. His deep ball wasn’t great, but he had several passes down the field dropped by his receivers. Roethlisberger had some notable bad throws, particularly his early interception, but it’s important not to place the expectations too high on an aging quarterback playing behind one of the league’s worst lines.

Roethlisberger played a decent game on Sunday, one that was certainly better than the one he turned in against Buffalo. There’s certainly still room for improvement, but Roethlisberger shouldn’t be the lone scapegoat following his team’s loss to the Raiders.

The Steelers beat a good team in Week 1, and lost to a good team in Week 2. It’s still far too early to worry about what could still be a successful season for the Steelers in 2021.

Don’t forget to stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 2021 regular season.

11 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin during Tuesday’s press conference

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers head coach held his weekly press conference with the Pittsburgh media on Tuesday heading into Week 3.

The 2021 NFL regular season is underway and teams are starting to get into a routine with what occurs during a typical game week. As the Steelers begin their preparation for their first AFC North matchup, head coach Mike Tomlin held his regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday. With many players discussed, it’s time for another players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.

Ben Roethlisberger

One new player who showed up on the Steelers injury report from Coach Tomlin on Tuesday was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a left pec injury. Coach Tomlin was asked if he knew specifically when Roethlisberger‘s injury occurred.

“I don’t know specifically when Ben got injured in-game. I don’t know that he does. Sometimes just in the midst of competition, adrenaline and so forth, you just don’t know. Sometimes things just come up after.”

Coach Tomlin was asked a follow-up question about if Roethlisberger and the receivers have been on the same page as much as he would like them to this season.

“Largely, yes. For sure.”

Coach Tomlin was asked another question about if Ben Roethlisberger took too many hits in the game.

“Yeah, he did. He took too many hits. We can run the ball better. We can get the ball out of his hand quicker. We can stay on schedule and not get behind the sticks and get in situations where the line of gain is so far that it enhances the rush.”

Coach Tomlin was asked yet another question if Roethlisberger and Matt Canada are communicating as he expects.

“Very much so. The communication has been really good. I like the growth, the direction of that growth. They’re 1-1 like I’m 1-1. We’re all 1-1, if that’s what you’re asking in terms of evaluation of where we are. We’re a 1-1 football team.”

Najee Harris

Through two games, Steelers first-round draft pick Najee Harris has only missed three offensive snaps. Coach Tomlin was asked about what he has seen from Harris through his first eight quarters of play.

“With each passing quarter that you mentioned, he’s been better. Not that that’s unexpected. We spent a lot of time talking about the cohesion and the development and the comfortability of the blockers, but the same could be said for the runner who’s also played eight quarters of NFL football. He was better last week than he was in Week One in terms of the things that we value, maybe some things that aren’t valued to the naked eye but just our professionalism things, mechanic things, technical things. He’s going to continue to get comfortable, and by comfortable, I mean understanding that your preparation sets you up for performance. That’s something that a young guy has to get comfortable with. Why do we do what we do on a Wednesday and what does it do in terms of setting me up for success on a Sunday? He’s been through a couple of weeks, he’s been through a couple of those cycles. He’s gaining an understanding about what the process does in terms of setting them up for performance and, thus, it should put him in position to let his natural talents come out in play. I’m expecting him to get routinely better with each outing and excited about that.”

Derek Watt

One player who hasn’t been seeing offensive snaps through two games is fullback Derek Watt. Coach Tomlin was asked if the use of Watt could help improve the run game.

“That’s an option as well. Like I mentioned in regard to no-huddle, we’ve got a limited number of snaps that we have available to us from a preparation standpoint, and we make decisions week in and week out based on matchups and our perceived strengths versus their potential perceived strengths. Derek is a valued member of our team. He’s the captain of our special teams. He’s a very credible fullback. Some weeks, he’s going to be featured; some weeks, he’s going to not be featured, and sometimes it might not have anything to do with his capabilities. It’s just the nature of this thing James Washington is a very capable receiver. Some weeks, he gets more opportunity than others. Oftentimes, you get questions like that when you’re unsuccessful. I get it, but it doesn’t change our approach.”

Pat Freiermuth & Eric Ebron

In only two games of the 2021 season, rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth has seen more snaps than veteran Eric Ebron. Coach Tomlin was asked about how Freiermuth his taken on the week-to-week challenges and if they will look to get him the ball more.

“Much like the outside linebackers, I’m not going to come in here and carve out snap distributions to you guys and explain it week in and week out. We’ve got viable players, some at the same position, and we’re going to utilize all of them. I really want to highlight their individual talents, whatever they maybe, whether it’s matchup-related or whether it’s schematics or the things that we’re trying to do. Pat, like all the other young guys that we’ve been talking about, is really getting better with each opportunity, and it’s reasonable to expect that to continue. He has been a really positive contributor to our efforts thus far, so I’m excited about what the short-term and the long-term future holds for him.”

Carlos Davis & Isaiah Buggs

Another player dealing with injury for the Steelers is defensive lineman Carlos Davis who missed Week 2. Coach Tomlin was asked if Davis would be available and if he would see more snaps with the injury to Tyson Alualu. In his response, Coach Tomlin also brought up Isaiah Buggs.

“We’ll see. We haven’t practiced yet this week. We’ll let his participation be our guide in terms of where he is, but obviously he is a guy that has a chance to have an expanded role. Isaiah Buggs is a guy that has a chance to have an expanded role. But we’ve called on those guys in an expanded capacity in the past. I think Buggs had a couple of significant games for us at Baltimore late in the year last year, where he had an expanded role. We expect him to deliver, and we expect Carlos to deliver if called upon in an increased fashion.”

Jamir Jones, James Pierre, & Robert Spillane

With T.J. Watt suffering an in-game injury on Sunday, rookie Jamir Jones saw much more snaps on defense. Coach Tomlin was asked about what he has seen from Jones this season. In his response, Coach Tomlin also brought up James Pierre and Robert Spillane.

“He’s done solidly. He did solidly in preseason stadiums. He registered production in those games: tackles, pressures, sacks, etc. He’s been a quality special teamer for us. He had a tackle last week, I think, on punt in the Vegas game. He’s doing the things that young guys do, the natural maturation process. They show you glimpses on offense and defense, and so they develop in that area. All the while, they’re productive special teams’players—and he has been that—and they wait for their opportunities on offense or defense. James Pierre is a guy that walked a similar path a year ago and now James Pierre is a regular contributor on defense. He’s going through that. He might get an increased opportunity to participate this week due to the circumstances involving others, but that’s just the nature of this thing. That’s why every man is viable, every man is working with great urgency, and when I ring their bell, they’d better answer. You guys have gotten to know guys like Robert Spillane under similar circumstances, because of someone else’s misfortune. We’re all excited for guys like J. Jones in circumstances like this, if he gets an opportunity to have an increased role. We expect those guys to step through that crack in the door and elevate themselves from a career standpoint.”

Trai Turner

The Steelers were also a man down on the offensive line at the end of Sunday’s game with the ejection of guard Trai Turner. Coach Tomlin was asked if he had a meeting with Turner about the incident.

“I didn’t. I didn’t. Much like I mentioned after the game, Trai is no kid. He’s very cerebral, largely. He understands what that circumstance did to us collectively, as a team. He was more than apologetic. It required no meeting.”

For more information on Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the podcast below:

If you want to watch Mike Tomlin’s press conference, you can do so below:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Bengals. https://t.co/EKkTTxiAnz

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 21, 2021

A Steelers loss to the Raiders usually goes hand in hand with them missing the playoffs

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly two decades since the Steelers made the playoffs after a regular-season loss at the hands of the Raiders. Yikes.

Perhaps current Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr was right; maybe the football did hit the ground. Perhaps former Raiders’ owner Al Davis was right; maybe Frenchy Fuqua really did touch the football. Perhaps former Raiders’ head coach John Madden was right; maybe the officials on hand at Three Rivers Stadium on December 23, 1972, really did say, “Six for Pittsburgh!” after finding out that there were only six officers available to protect them from an angry mob once they admitted that the play that would come to be known as the Immaculate Reception was totally illegal and was about to be reversed while half of Pittsburgh was celebrating on the field.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe any of that malarkey, but the Raiders and their fans clearly have for the past 49 years. I don’t know, maybe the Steelers can hold a press conference at Pittsburgh International Airport, right in front of the famous Franco Harris statue, and publicly admit that the Raiders were robbed of a divisional-round victory nearly five decades after the fact. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like the NFL would strip Pittsburgh of the playoff win. Heck, the Steelers lost the next week anyway.

Just let the Raiders believe they were wronged. Maybe that will lift this curse that has plagued the Steelers’ portion of the rivalry for the past 19 years. That’s right, much like a person getting the shingles 30 years after having Chickenpox, Pittsburgh spent decades avoiding the curse the Raiders must have placed on the franchise the second the Immaculate Reception play was upheld. In the meantime, the Steelers were able to win four Super Bowls, find a second Hall of Fame coach the moment their first Hall of Fame coach retired, win more Super Bowls, and find a potential future Hall of Fame coach right after their second Hall of Fame coach resigned.

But something weird started happening not long after the Steelers’ second Super Bowl era was ushered in with a victory over the Seahawks in February of 2006: the Raiders, a once-great franchise that was in the beginning stages of a two-decade run of mediocre-to-bad football, began ruining Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes with upset victories time and time again.

It began early in the 2006 season with a victory over the Steelers at the Black Hole in Oakland, a game that included four interceptions by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The curse reared its ugly head a few years later with a last-second victory at Heinz Field late in the 2009 campaign. The Raiders defeated Pittsburgh in the Hole in both 2012 and, again, in 2013. The Steelers last game in Oakland occurred late in the 2018 season and included a mysterious rib injury suffered by Roethlisberger, head coach Mike Tomlin’s mystifying approach to the quarterback’s participation for the remainder of the game and, oh yeah, a heartbreaking loss after Chris Boswell slipped while trying to kick a game-tying field goal.

Do you know how every Steelers campaign has ended following regular-season losses to the Raiders dating back to 2006? Not in the postseason, that’s how.

That’s right, the last time the Steelers lost to the Raiders in the regular season and went on to make the playoffs was way back in 2002. I was at that game—a 30-17 Week 2 loss at Heinz Field. Just to give you an idea of how long ago that was, I had just turned 30 and was worried about being old.

Why am I writing all of this malarkey? Because the Steelers just lost to the Las Vegas Raiders at Heinz Field on Sunday. Either that means the Steelers have 15 meaningless games left to play in the 2021 regular season, or they better call in a high priest to take care of this curse.

P.S. - There’s another curse you should know about, and it involves the Steelers missing the playoffs following regular-season home losses to both the Raiders AND Bengals.

I have no idea why I just brought that up...

Podcast: Enough excuses, time for the Steelers to prove their worth

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 4:30am

BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman presents his AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride“.

Despite winning in Buffalo in Week 1, there have been many excuses for the uneven performance so far in 2021. After the loss to Vegas in Week 2, it’s time for the excuses to cease and for the Steelers to prove that they can contend. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the flagship morning show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • The Live Mailbag
  • Much More!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

BTSC Survivor Pool Update: Week 2 results

Tue, 09/21/2021 - 3:30pm
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Over one-third on contestants were knocked out the first two weeks.

The Behind The Steel Curtain survivor pool continued on in Week 2 this past weekend. With four leagues completely filled with 100 entries, the fifth league finished with 46 participants. While technically there are 446 total entries, I have one entry in each league as the commissioner so there were 442 different contestants. Hundreds have entered, but only one can go home with the autographed Joe Haden Football.

The most common selection for Week 2 was the Cleveland Browns over the Houston Texans. Houston held a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, but after losing quarterback Tyrod Taylor to an injury they couldn’t keep pace with the Browns. The Texans did manage to cover the spread, but only the win or loss matters in this game as the 100 contestants who chose the Browns made it through to Week 3.

The second most popular pick was the selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Atlanta Falcons got very interesting going into the fourth quarter with the Falcons cutting the score to three points. But two Mike Edwards defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter turned the game into a blowout which and allowed another 47 entries to move on.

Unfortunately, the biggest thing which eliminated the most contestants by far was not making a selection. Even though I sent out a message to all participants on Saturday evening (which I will not be doing again) as a reminder, there were 43 entries who did not make a selection. As for games which were chosen incorrectly, it was the Kansas City Chiefs falling to the Baltimore Ravens which took out the most people, although it was only five.

So after one week, 64% of the entries still remain. If you are still alive, make sure you enter your pick early so you don’t get knocked out due to a lack of selection. This is your reminder, so go make your pick now!

Weekly Update: Upcoming Week 3 Games of Note:
  • Most heavily favored: Denver (-10.5) at home over the New York Jets
  • Closest match up: Tampa Bay (-1) over the Los Angeles Rams
  • The Steelers match up: Pittsburgh (-4) at home over Cincinnati

(all lines are courtesy of oddshark.com as on 9/21)

So there you have it! Make sure you check back at Behind The Steel Curtain to stay updated on the contest. Even if you did not enter or have already been eliminated, feel free to check in and see how you would have fared each week.

This could be the beginning of the end for Ben Roethlisberger

Tue, 09/21/2021 - 2:05pm
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Roethlisberger’s struggles could spell the end for the Steelers senior signal caller.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has limped out of the gate. Who is to blame? You can point the finger at the new offense, or the struggling offensive line, but a great deal of the blame can be placed onto the shoulders of Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger in his 18th season, combined with this being the final year of his contract, prolonged struggles will only see Roethlisberger get ushered into retirement quicker. It was always expected that if Ben wanted to play another year he would need an above average type of season, and so far it has been anything but that. Going back to Kevin Colbert’s 2020 season-ending interview it already sounded like the Steelers were divided whether they wanted to bring back the veteran passer for this season. But, stringing along games of below average play will likely see everyone in the front offense turn against Roethlisberger.

Although Roethlisberger’s stats aren't terrible, they are flirting with one of the worst starts to a season in his career. An 85.6 passer rating is his lowest total since 2008, and his 62.7% completion percentage is his lowest since 2010. In a game where passing has grown exponentially, trending in the wrong direction is not good. While Roethlisberger has always had a bit of a problem with interceptions, the egregious ones, like what we saw on Sunday vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, are going to be over analyzed thanks to his advanced age. So all of these bad plays are going to be picked apart even further.

The Steelers offense has been hard to watch, moving the ball has been a painful challenge that the team just can't figure out. Worse yet, these problems are exacerbated when watching other offenses moving the ball at will. We will often celebrate Roethlisberger launching the ball down field and completing it every now and then, but watching other games across the NFL it’s apparent the deep ball is a multi-play per drive call. Quarterbacks are whipping the ball around with ease and are completing it more often than not.

Ben Roethlisberger also has to be getting sick of all the hits his offensive line has been giving up. He has always complained and threatened retirement after games he gets hit a lot, and this 2021 season has already seen him take a ton of heavy hits. Getting smacked 10 times against the Raiders was not a good sign. If the line continues to concede hits, Roethlisberger may happily run toward the retirement light as soon as possible.

So for Steelers fans that have gotten to enjoy the talents of Ben Roethlisberger for these past 18 years, it may be time to savor these next 15 games. The retirement-reaper comes for everyone, the lucky few get to go out on their own terms, but at this moment it seems like the Steelers future hall of fame quarterback will be yanked out on someone else’s accord.

But what do you think? Do you believe Ben Roethlisberger is playing himself out of the NFL? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: Taking a peek into the Steelers 2021 Crystal Ball

Tue, 09/21/2021 - 2:00pm

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White look at the week that was and the Steelers going forward.

The Steelers had to come back to beat Buffalo and Steeler Nation was riding high. But in Week 2, a tire went flat against the Raiders and fan morale is low. In this show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran trio as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show

  • News and Notes
  • It’s a long season, don’t panic yet

and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1

Part 2

Pages