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A level-headed news-discussion site with a sense of history and community 2019-02-17T14:47:00-05:00
Updated: 2 hours 38 min ago

The Steelers, and their fans, regain their swagger heading into Week 11

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 11:05am

It took a while, but the Steelers, and their fans, have their swagger back.

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t get off to a great start. After all, there was a reason Mike Tomlin referred to the team’s horrid start as the “September Stench”. Nonetheless, the uber talented group rebounded from their 1-2-1 start, and have rattled off 5 straight wins heading into a Week 11 meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Yeah, the swagger is back.

Unlike recent years, there aren’t players chirping from their locker stalls, but just a quiet confidence surrounding the group as they continue to put their heads down and prove they are more than capable — with or without Le’Veon Bell.

What has been fun to watch, from a website editor’s perspective, has been the confidence the fan base has shown, or hasn’t shown, in the black-and-gold throughout the year.

Take a look at the most recent FanPulse chart for BTSC fans, from BTSC fans:

You can see a near 100-percent confidence heading into the Week 1 game vs. the Cleveland Browns, and then a steep drop off which were the losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4.

I found it interesting how a huge win over the Atlanta Falcons at home didn’t give the confidence numbers quite the boost I expected. Nor did the win over the Cincinnati Bengals prior to the bye week. No, it wasn’t until wins over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium and demolishing the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football when the fans confidence has started to really pick up.

The players have found their swagger, and it seems the fans have too! The question now is whether they will keep this upward trajectory, or if the Jaguars will be the downer on the team’s parade for the third straight time.

Le’Veon Bell’s nameplate removed from his locker when it’s raided by Steelers players

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 9:47am

Since he is no long part of the team, he has no need of a locker and his former teammates helped by cleaning it out for him on Wednesday.

With Le’Veon Bell deciding not to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, he no longer has need of his locker that has remained largely untouched throughout the year. At least it had been until Wednesday when his former teammates decided to have a look through the possession he had left behind.

In what seems to be more of a playful moment that a spiteful act toward a player many feel has deserted the team, a number of players reportedly took items from his locker and removed the nameplate on the front of it.

Steelers players went into Le’Veon Bell’s locker, removing his nameplate and rummaging through items. Bud Dupree says thanks for the Jordan brand cleats.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) November 14, 2018

Linebacker Bud Dupree looks to have been one of the biggest winners of the raid after it appeared he had found a few pairs of brand new Nike Jordan cleats that seem to fit him. However, he might not have only been the one to profit on the day.

Update: the multiple large boxes, each with dozens of pairs of cleats in them, have been removed.

“You need shoes?” a player said to a reporter.

The locker of practice-squad player now has two whole shelves of shoes with “26” sewed on the back.

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) November 14, 2018

Maybe Dupree will give his new cleats a try on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although there was no word on who, if anyone, snagged Bell’s mix cd.

Also found in Bell's locker: A mixtape CD labeled 'Le'Veon Bell #1." The raid seemed more playful than malicious, from my view.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) November 14, 2018

After purging any remaining signs of Bell from the locker room, it can only be hoped that this will have given his former teammates a sense of closure and he will no longer be a topic of conversation for them going forward. For players like Maurkice Pouncey, Bell is not a subject he wants to to talk about anymore.

As a group of media approached Maurkice Pouncey, he warned, “ I’m only going to talk about players that are here. Not gonna answer any questions about anyone who is not here.”

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) November 14, 2018

Steelers game against Chargers flexed to primetime, while game against Raiders is moved to the afternoon

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 8:40am

The Steelers have seen the time of two of their upcoming games changed, with one moving to Sunday night and the other being flexed out of primetime.

Just a week after it was announced that CBS had protected the Pittsburgh Steelers game against the Los Angeles Chargers from being flexed to primetime in Week 13, it turns out they have given into to pressure from the league to allow the contest to be move to Sunday night after all. Meanwhile, just as it seemed they had earned an extra night game, it appears they have also seen their encounter with the Oakland Raiders moved into an afternoon slot.

Kickoff for our Week 13 game vs. the Chargers on December 2nd has been flexed to 8:20 PM ET on NBC.


Kickoff for our Week 14 game in Oakland on December 9th has been flexed to 4:25 PM ET on FOX.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 14, 2018

Originally scheduled for 1.00 p.m ET on December 2, the Steelers game against the Chargers will now replace the previously scheduled matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. Instead of seeing Pittsburgh’s encounter with Oakland on Sunday Night Football in Week 14, the nation will now get a chance to watch the Los Angeles Rams take on the Chicago Bears in primetime on December 9.

Assuming the reminder of the Steelers games are still protected by CBS in Weeks 12, 15 and 16, the only game left eligible to be flexed this season will be their matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. A game that will likely only be moved if it has significant playoff implications for both teams.

Steelers Injury Report: James Conner a full participant in practice on Wednesday

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 7:33am

While James Conner was able to return to training, both Marcus Gilbert and Stephon Tuitt sat out practice due to injury.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers were missing two players at practice due to injury on Wednesday, fans might be encouraged to hear that James Conner was not one of them.

#Steelers injury report:
MISSED: Ben Roethlisberger (coaches decision). Marcus Gilbert (knee). Stephon Tuitt (elbow)
FULL: James Conner (concussion)@937theFan

— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) November 14, 2018

Having been placed in concussion protocols after the game against the Carolina Panthers, the return of Conner as a full participant in training for the first practice session of the week bodes well for his inclusion on Sunday. When speaking to Teresa Varley of after training, the young running back sounded pleased with his progress since being forced from the game in Week 10.

“I felt good. I felt like me again. Back to normal. When it first happened, it was a dizzy feeling. But today I had a good day at practice. I feel like me again. I am good. I am happy.”

Although Ben Roethlisberger was given his usual day of on Wednesday, the absence of both Stephon Tuitt and Marcus Gilbert was due to the injuries they are battling. Gilbert continues to struggle with a knee injury that has caused him to miss the last three games in a row and he will be in danger of missing another if he cannot practice fully on Thursday or Friday.

Even though Tuitt was sidelined by a hyperextended elbow, there seems to be a level of optimism among the coaching staff that he may be able to practice later in the week. Having missed the game last week, it is can only be assumed that Dan McCullers is in good health considering he was not included on the injury report at all.

By comparison, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear to have several injury concerns of their own heading into the game.

Wednesday injury report for #Jaguars and Steelers

CB A.J. Bouye (calf) was officially limited.

— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) November 14, 2018

A flashback to the 80’s shows why the Steelers can’t count their chickens too early

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 6:36am

A trip down memory lane when a promising season in the 1980s went off the rails in a hurry.

Setting the DeLorean time circuits to 1985. Back to the Future competed with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure at the box office. Tears for Fears wanted us all to Shout because Everybody Wants to Rule the World. After 12 games your Pittsburgh Steelers stood at 7-5, poised to return again to the playoffs as they had in 1984. Miami’s Siamese quarterback, Woodstrock had been surgically separated, only to have David Woodley come to Pittsburgh and share QB duties with Magnum PI, I mean, Mark Malone. Which is just about all you need to know to know how the season ended up. We lost our last four games to finish 7-9, and out of the playoffs.

That we did not make the playoffs, however, did not mean our team was bereft of talent. The team was not that different from the one we fielded the year before, nor the record. in 1984 we finished 9-7, beat the Broncos in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Dan Marino’s Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. Malone and Woodley, Erenberg and Abercrombie were less than memorable. Louis Lipps and John Stallworth, however, were split wide, and had real talent. Stallworth of course made it into the Hall of Fame, Lou (they’re saying Lou, not boo) Lipps made it into the Pro Bowl.

It was, as per usual, on the other side of the ball, however, where the Steelers were stronger. Keiths Gary and Willis were football’s equivalent of hockey’s Hanson Triplets- guys who seemed more interested in putting a hurt on the enemy than winning the game. Our defensive backfield sported Donnie Shell still from the glory years and a young Dwayne Woodruff. Another Steeler defensive back played a prominent role that year, as Tony Dungy served as our defensive coordinator.

It was our linebacking corps, however, that was the strength of the defense. No, we no longer had Hall of Famers Lambert and Ham, but we did have Robin Cole, Bryan Hinckle, David Little, Mike Merriweather and Dennis “Dirt” Winston. Some were near the end of their time in the spotlight, others at the beginning, but all of them enjoyed long and successful NFL careers.

In addition, we still had Mike Webster, a Hall of Famer, and as our kicker, Gary Anderson who like Donnie Shell, should be in the Hall of Fame. All of whom were coached by the Emperor Chaz who also has a bust in Canton.

My goal for this walk down memory lane is neither to show off my memory, nor to practice my google-fu. Rather it is to remind us all that a.) we’re not in the playoffs yet and b.) even when we have disappointing seasons we have reasons to give thanks. It’s already been a roller coaster ride of a season. We’ve had drama. We’ve had grievous lapses and embarrassing losses. We’ve had dominating wins, and frightening injuries. We’ve had more JuJu joy, and Conner strong success.

This is my first season without my dad to talk to. It’s my first season writing for BTSC. My hope is it will be my seventh season celebrating a Super Bowl victory. But even if it’s not, I’m grateful for every member of the Front Office, every coach and player on the team, and every citizen of Steelers Nation.

Podcast: The Steelers revenge tour continues in Jacksonville

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 5:32am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-gold from the week that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into Week 11, and they’ve finally surpassed the halfway point of the 2018 regular season. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers, including a fun game of “True or False!”

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Recapping the week that was
  • True or False!
  • Predicting Steelers vs. Jaguars
  • Week 11 AFC North game predictions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams 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
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Black and Gold Links: Steelers’ offensive line bonding into the league’s very best

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 4:32am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won five straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 52-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, the team now has a chance to rest and relax and prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we talk about the Steelers’ offensive line. When someone talks about the team’s offensive resurgence, you can’t talk about skill players like Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner or Antonio Brown without talking about the big men up front doing the dirty work.

A combination of high draft picks and hard-working undrafted free agents and what you have is a Mike Munchak masterpiece.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ offensive line bonding into NFL’s best

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers just piled up 52 points, their highest total in 34 years. Seven players scored touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes and compiled the fourth perfect passer rating of his career, and the running game contributed 138 yards.

It was an all-around dominating performance on offense, and the team’s franchise quarterback made sure nobody forgot about the contributions of the five players blocking for him.

“It all starts up front,” Roethlisberger said Thursday after the Steelers dismantled the Carolina Panthers, 52-21, for their fifth consecutive win. “You can say what you want about the skill guys, but we’re nothing without them up front.”

Roethlisberger touting his offensive linemen is hardly new. He customarily credits his blockers when dishing out reasons for the offense’s success. It’s just that now whenever Roethlisberger calls his linemen the best in the NFL, there’s few who can argue with him.

Consider that:

• In the past six games, Roethlisberger has been sacked four times, and one of those came on the last offensive play at Baltimore when he gave himself up to allow the clock to continue running. The Steelers are on pace to allow fewer than 25 sacks for a third consecutive season.

• James Conner, stepping in for the absent Le’Veon Bell, has four 100-yard rushing games, including three in a row during a winning streak that has catapulted the Steelers from last to first in the AFC North with a 6-2-1 record.

• Roethlisberger has completed 66 percent of his passes, his best percentage in three years, he’s on pace to reach 5,000 yards for the first time in his 15-year career and set a career best in touchdown passes. He has thrown one interception in his past four games.

“The offensive line has been playing spectacular,” Roethlisberger said after the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens, 23-16, on Nov. 4. “Everything you’re asking them to do, blocking in the pass game and the run game, opening holes against the No. 1 defense in the world, there’s a reason they are that good.

“You can say what you want about James and the running game, but it starts up front. We go as those guys go.”

Tim Benz: Can the Steelers finally exploit Jacksonville’s offensive line?

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Updated 17 hours ago

Heading into the Steelers’ playoff game against Jacksonville last season, Pittsburgh fans and media — and even some in the locker room — seemed to have a pretty clear-cut opinion of the Jaguars.

After seeing the 30-9 beatdown administered by the Jags during the regular season at Heinz Field, most folks around these parts seemed to think:

• The Jags defense is frightening.

Leonard Fournette is a beast.

• Quarterback Blake Bortles can be had.

• The offensive line is pretty good. But not great.

Those predictions resulted in a mixed bag of accuracy during the rematch.

The Jaguars defense allowed 42 points and 545 yards. Yet it also created two turnovers resulting in touchdowns. Bortles wasn’t dynamic, but he was efficient, going 18-for-24 with no interceptions and a touchdown. And Fournette followed a 181-yard performance in the regular-season matchup with another 108 yards and three touchdowns.

But how about that Jags offensive line? It was a constant. For a unit with only moderate acclaim, the blockers looked like the 1995 Cowboys.

Between games, Steelers defenders mostly brushed off Fournette’s success , chalking up the Game 1 yardage to one 90-yard gallop in garbage time.

“If you watch the film, guys weren’t really getting blocked off the ball,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said before the January rematch. “It’s just holes. Gaps. They exploited our gaps really well.”

Also that week, defensive end Cameron Heyward claimed “it was just three or four plays” that hurt his team in the first game against Jacksonville.

In the playoff game, it was more like 40 plays as the Jaguars offense continually controlled the line of scrimmage and opened creases for Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and even a scrambling Bortles.

“We were able to get a hat on a hat,” Jacksonville offensive lineman A.J. Cann saidafter the win. “We stayed on our blocks. The running backs found holes and got positive yards.”

Throughout the two games, the Jaguars offensive line paved the way for 395 yards rushing and allowed just two sacks.

However, that unit hasn’t been the same this year.

How the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell both win the divorce

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

No one wanted it to come to this.

Not Le’Veon Bell, who, money aside, wanted to retire a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Not the Steelers, who offered Bell a $70 million extension this offseason, though without the guarantees to Bell’s liking.

And certainly not Pittsburgh fans, who cheered on Bell for his prolific play for five seasons.

But Bell’s lost season -- finalized Tuesday when he didn’t show by the 4 p.m. deadline to sign his franchise tag -- was a byproduct of two stubborn sides that weren’t meant to negotiate.

Bell was willing to forfeit $14.5 million to become a standard-bearer for undervalued top players everywhere, banking on a lucrative deal as an unrestricted free agent in March.

The Steelers won’t budge from their traditional -- maybe archaic -- contract structures that in most cases don’t offer full guarantees beyond a signing bonus.

If Bell was with another franchise, he might not be in this situation.

But both sides can still get what they want, and be better off for it.

(More in the link above...)

Ryan Switzer’s journey to the Steelers could be viewed as a Godsend

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 2:42pm

With half of the regular season over, Ryan Switzer is likely looking back and thinking how lucky he is to have found his way to Pittsburgh.

Sometimes in life you can look back and view certain situations and circumstances, which at the time were horrible, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

This absolutely could be the case for Pittsburgh Steelers return man/slot receiver Ryan Switzer.

Let’s just go over Switzer’s time in the NFL since being drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft:

  • Selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th round out of UNC
  • After his rookie year, was traded to the Oakland Raiders
  • Prior to the start of the 2018 regular season, was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Switzer has become a key piece to the Steelers’ puzzle as they prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, hoping to extend their winning streak to 6 games, but you have to wonder if Switzer doesn’t stop and think, “what if?” from time to time.

What if the Cowboys didn’t trade him away?

He would be a part of a 4-5 Dallas team struggling to stay afloat in the very mediocre NFC East.

What if the Raiders hadn’t traded him to Pittsburgh?

He would be a member of a 1-8 Oakland team who seems to be tanking their season in hopes of having a higher draft pick(s) in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Instead, he is looking at a promising season with the black-and-gold, and he couldn’t be happier. See what he said about the transactions in response to a fan on his verified Twitter page:

How lucky was I that they came & got me from where I was

— Ryan Switzer (@Switz) November 14, 2018

...and this tweet in response to former Steelers safety Ryan Clark:

Bro I thank GOD he put me in Pittsburgh, PA. #HeWeGo

— Ryan Switzer (@Switz) November 9, 2018

Switzer is a local product, hailing from Charleston, WV, and him playing for the Steelers and at Heinz Field, the same field he participated in the Pass, Punt and Kick competition as a youth, is special.

Some say things happen for a reason, and while Switzer’s tenure in the National Football League has been passing through cities regularly, the hope is he found a home in Pittsburgh — a place to thrive.

Ben Roethlisberger on Le’Veon Bell: “the good thing is we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 1:13pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise quarterback said plenty about Le’Veon Bell, without saying anything at all.

The Pittsburgh Steelers got over one giant hurdle on Tuesday when the clock struck 4 p.m. ET, and it had nothing to do with a game on the football field.

It was all about Le’Veon Bell not showing up to work.

Him doing this meant he would not be eligible to play at all this season, and the Steelers can now move on from the drama which surrounded Bell, and cast a shroud over the players who play every week.

Finally, there is an end to the madness. Granted, it doesn’t mean there won’t still be questions asked, at least this week, but the team finally has some finality to the entire situation.

When Ben Roethlisberger met with media Wednesday, he was asked about Bell often, but one theme stood out among the others — the team won’t have to talk about it anymore.

Roethlisberger was asked about Bell walking away from $14.5 million dollars, and his answer shed some light on this thoughts on Bell’s decision(s).

“You know what the thing about it he is not here, he’s not going to be here, so we don’t talk about it. I texted him yesterday before the deadline saying I hope he is going to show up, and if he decided not to then I wish him the best. He was a great teammate here, a great football player. To each his own on what they want to walk away from.”

For those keeping score at home, Roethlisberger did state Bell did not return his text message plea.

After being asked if he would ever take a year off during his prime, Ben’s answer also spoke volumes.

“It would be tough. Part of the great thing of this sport is the band of brothers and the group of guys in here and being with them. It’s kind of what keeps me coming back after so many years, too. Like I said, to each his own. Each guy has their own motives and motivations. I can’t comment on him. I am glad that we don’t have to talk about him anymore though.”

The questions continued, and when Roethlisberger was asked about his emotions from how Bell’s ultimate decision.

“Like I said the good thing is we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”

As a captain of the team, you can only imagine this same sentiment is felt throughout the entire team, coaching staff and organization. It isn’t as if the Steelers, and Roethlisberger, didn’t want Bell on the team this season, but how the saga just needed to be over.

Now the team can focus on football, and in particular the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

To see Roethlisberger’s full interview, see the video below:

Ben Roethlisberger discusses the Jaguars' defense, and the depth at running back behind James Conner.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 14, 2018

It’s finally over, and Steelers fans don’t have to talk about Le’Veon Bell anymore

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 11:43am

He did not report by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. That means Steelers fans will finally get their wish. We will not have to talk about him any longer.

Despite his importance to the Steelers team and their offense, you didn’t want to talk about the situation.

Despite the holdout that lent itself to an uncertainty about how his absence would affect Pittsburgh’s championship aspirations, you were tired of talking about it.

Despite everyone else on the planet talking about it on a daily basis as if it were a relevant and important topic, you didn’t want to read about it.

“Should the Steelers draft a running back in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft?” we often asked via various articles last winter and spring after Pittsburgh placed the franchise tag on him for a second straight year. “Do we need another article about this?” you rhetorically asked in various comments to said articles.

“Steelers superstar running back [redacted] says he won’t participate in OTAs, mini-camp or training camp again this year,” wrote ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler last spring. “Why do we need to know about that?” you asked last spring.

“Will James Conner benefit from the absence of Steelers superstar running back [redacted] as the team prepares for the 2018 regular season?” a lot of us asked via various training camp articles this past summer. “I sure hope so,” you said in response to these various articles. “Also, do we have to keep talking about this?”

“It is being reported by many well-connected NFL insiders that [redacted] could sit out the Steelers Week 1 match-up against the Browns at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium,” one of the breaking news types from BTSC wrote in early September. “You mean we’re still talking about this?” you rhetorically responded in many comments to said article.

“Can the Steelers offense function with James Conner as the workhorse running back this week against the Browns?” many of us asked in various opinion pieces in the wake of the news that [redacted] would not be reporting to the Steelers prior to their Week 1 match-up with the Browns at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium. “I have much confidence in James Conner,” you said in various comments to said articles. “Also, do we still have to keep reading about [redacted]?”

“Hey, let’s have a round-table discussion about Steelers star running back [redacted] on our NFL studio show,” said a lot of network executives as the [redacted] holdout continued through the first half of the 2018 regular season. “Yes, but why are we having round-table discussions about [redacted] on this site?” you often asked as the holdout continued through the first half of the 2018 regular season.

“Credible sources indicate that [redacted] could report to the Steelers facilities during the team’s bye week,” wrote someone from BTSC when it was initially reported by major outlets who thought it was news. “Is this even news anymore?” you rhetorically responded to our article about their article.

“Look, this whole thing is just dividing the fan base,” you often said. “To continue to write articles about it just fans the flames for further vitriol between us.”

Fair enough. Just take a look at some excerpts of various disagreements among the readers regarding the [redacted] situation:

“I don’t think he’s worth $15 million. I think the Steelers should use that money to replenish other parts of the roster.”

“Oh yeah, well I do think the Steelers should give him what he wants. He’s a generational talent.”

“He is not a generational talent.”

“Yes he is.”

Just ugly.

The responses to our postings of [redacted] articles on Facebook were even worse:

“Coach Tomlinson never has his team prepared to play against inferior opponents!”

“No way, not until they stand!”

“Go Steelers, all the way from Mexico City!”

OK, here we are, and Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline for [redacted] to report to the Steelers in order to be eligible to play in the 2018 regular season has come and gone. [Redacted] did not report, which means we will not have to talk about him anymore.

No more articles about trading [redacted]. No more articles about his importance. No more articles about his absence. No more articles about his social media activities. No more articles about his contract situation.

Most importantly, no more division.

“Do we have to keep talking about this?”

At long last, the answer is “no.”

We can finally move on from this totally irrelevant yet somehow divisive topic.

Ben Roethlisberger wins AFC Offensive Player of the Week award for game against Panthers

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 10:23am

Big Ben won player of the weeks honors for the second time this season for his efforts in Week 10.

A Pittsburgh Steelers player winning player of the week honors continues to be a biweekly award for the team in 2018 after Ben Roethlisberger was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his efforts against the Carolina Panthers in Week 10.

Ben Roethlisberger has been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.


— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 14, 2018

Roethlisberger won the award for the second time this season and 17th time in his career after recording a perfect game against Carolina. Big Ben finished the contest with the maximum quarterback rating of 158.3 for completing 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also became the only player in NFL history to have finished a game with a perfect quarterback rating four times.

With 2,888 passing yards on the season, Roethlisberger currently ranks fourth in the league, as Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL with 3,150 yards. His 21 touchdowns also find him in a tie for fourth place, while Mahomes is again the leader with 31. An average of 320.9 yards per game is enough to rank him second behind Matt Ryan (335.0).

The Steelers’ quarterback is one of three Pittsburgh players to win a weekly award in 2018 and this is the fifth time a member of the team has been honored this season. T.J. Watt won defensive player of the week honors in Week 1 and Week 5, while Roethlisberger won the offensive award in Week 3 and James Conner won it in Week 8. No NFL team has won more individual weekly honors that the Steelers so far this year.

3 key questions in the aftermath of the Le’Veon Bell contract saga

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 9:45am

Thanks to a longstaning contract dispute, aggrieved running back Le’Veon Bell has forfeited an entire season. What happens now?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Le’Veon Bell did not report to the Steelers on Tuesday, thereby rendering himself ineligible for the remainder of the 2018 season and officially forfeiting every dime of the $14.5 million he’d have earned by signing the franchise tag back in September. The relationship between Bell and the Steelers, which was rooted in animus and contentiousness but underpinned by a mutual understanding that a “fair” offer for both sides was not a realistic thing, had turned sour after two years of stalled contract negotiations and social media gaslighting; if you thought Bell being absent was a distraction, imagine the dank haze of awkwardness that would’ve enveloped the locker room had Bell made his glorious return at the 11th hour.

Though Bell electing to remain absent was the anticipated result, it’s a significant one nonetheless; and, in light of its significance, I have three simple questions:

So...what now?

The Steelers and Bell will almost assuredly walk divergent paths this offseason, which is an outcome that’s seemed preordained since both parties failed to come to terms on a contract extension back in July. During his press conference Tuesday, Mike Tomlin spoke as if the Steelers never even bothered to game-plan for Bell’s eventual return—in fact, the way Tomlin tells it, Bell straight up ghosted him. (Ignoring calls and texts is a little tacky on Bell’s part, but he’s neither under contract with the Steelers nor is he on the active roster; the Steelers “own” Le’Veon Bell’s rights, which is what’s preventing him from, say, signing with another team tomorrow, so it isn’t as if he’s required to take work calls). Thus, if Bell did intend to return, Mike Tomlin might’ve been the last feller to hear about it.

In Bell’s stead, the Steelers have heavily featured James Conner, who, much like Bell, is an amorphous offensive workhorse, one whose capabilities as a receiver, blocker, and runner have transformed him into one of the NFL’s most valuable commodities. It takes a special kind of talent to seamlessly replace a Hall of Fame-caliber running back, but Conner has done just that, and in fact there’s a reasonable case to be made that Conner’s presence in the backfield has actually enhanced the potency of Pittsburgh’s offense. Conner is three years younger than Bell, his contract is dirt-cheap for the next two seasons, and he’s arguably the most beloved athlete in the city—even if he was only operating at, like, 60 percent of Bell’s capacity, proceeding with him as the feature back would’ve made sense. That he’s producing at an All-Pro caliber makes safeguarding his status as the franchise back a no-brainer.

Now, there exists the possibility that the Steelers could franchise-tag Bell for a third-consecutive season or place the transition tag on him. The former option absolutely will not happen, as the tag figure for 2019 would likely exceed the $14.5 million tag figure from 2018. The Steelers aren’t gonna want to cough up $19 million just to watch the exact same scenario unfold, ya know?

The transition tag is an intriguing option, as it would enable Bell to negotiate with other teams this offseason, but permit the Steelers to match any offer that Bell may receive. If you’re familiar with the NBA (I don’t know if hockey does this; maybe they do), the transition tag is kinda akin to the restricted free agency process. I can’t imagine this option will be in play, either, because A) teams like the Jets, Raiders, and Colts could destroy Pittsburgh in a bidding war, B) even if another suitor provided a low offer that the Steelers could reasonably match, it doesn’t make sense to relegate Conner to a back-up role, and C) the relationship between Bell and the Steelers very legitimately appears to be irreparable.

In my option, the most sensible thing the Steelers can do is allow Bell to hit unrestricted free agency this spring: it’ll provide both parties with a clean break and should allow the Steelers to net a mid-round compensatory pick.

Did Bell make the right decision?

I think that he did not, but that’s largely the result of me viewing this whole ordeal in retrospect. Bell’s decision to hold out was not an irrational one; he knew full well the Steelers intended to hand him another 350-400 touches (and they likely did, as evinced by Conner’s ample usage rate), and subsequently he decided that forfeiting $14.5 million for a clean bill of health was a fair trade. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a running back-needy team like the Raiders or Jets offers Bell a contract that includes, I don’t know, $40 million in guaranteed money. Thus, while Bell did surrender $14.5 million in order to acquire said contract, he still came out ahead. You gotta spend money to make money, etc.

It’s important to note, too, that Bell truly had nothing to gain by playing this season. Opposing coaches and general managers are already deeply familiar with Bell’s impressive multifaceted skillset and his pioneering running style, and tacking another full season on his odometer probably wasn’t gonna have any kind of positive impact on their opinions of Bell. If anything, it might’ve only lessened Bell’s value; Bell has most likely already reached his pinnacle, and hitting the open market with six full seasons under his belt at age 27, a year before running backs, as a position, tend to chart a course toward their inevitable declines, probably did not bode well for his earning potential. In this sense, I think sitting out was the right decision.

But what Bell probably didn’t foresee was Conner’s emergence as a similarly-effective utility knife. Much like Bell, Conner developed a reputation as a bruiser during his college days, but transmogrified into a reliable offensive presence who can do a little bit of everything once he reached the professional ranks. As someone who follows the Steelers closely, I had no expectations for James Conner. He would be a decent, albeit one-dimensional, two-down back, I thought. But, more than anything, I was terrified that Bell’s absence would have deleterious effects on the offense. I was obviously very much incorrect, because not only is James Conner “decent,” he is scoring touchdowns, catching passes, forcing defenders to miss tackles at an alarmingly proficient rate, running defenders over, stiff-arming defenders, picking up blitzes, and just generally exceeding in all of the things that made Le’Veon Bell such an incredible, ostensibly irreplaceable player.

Of course, the insidious aspect of Conner’s meteoric rise to superstardom is the evocation of the “system back” epithet. Could it be that Conner and Bell are both very talented, but are both products of an elite offensive system that features a top-notch offensive line, a stable of speedy receivers, and a Hall of Fame quarterback? Probably both statements are true, but you can believe that potential suitors are gonna latch on the “system” thing in an attempt to dampen Bell’s value. James Conner is Le’Veon Bell’s bane; I think Conner, by being so truly exceptional, cost Bell some money.

Should I, the discerning Steelers fan, harbor contempt towards Le’Veon Bell?

You should not, but that’s just my opinion. Bell has made it very clear that his core objective was to reformat the economics dictating what elite running backs should be paid. You can argue that every player in the NFL is a depreciating asset (the Patriots are well aware of this, which is why so often they’ll part ways with a player seemingly in his prime, only to see him reach his career nadir a year or two later—relatedly, this is why the Patriots are always so friggin’ unstoppable) but this seems to be especially true for running backs, who are asked to handle the ball more times than everyone except for the center and the quarterback and are tackled more than anyone. And I actually kind of like Bell’s famous argument about being paid like a top-tier running back and a top-tier secondary receiver; if there’s a position group in the NFL that could make the “positionless” argument, it’s the running backs (As a brief aside that runs counter to the aforementioned argument, what Bell fails to recognize is that most football players are asked to do multiple things. Receivers block, and fullbacks occasionally catch passes. Just last week, Eric Ebron, a tight end for the Colts, scored a rushing touchdown. Defensive backs are sometimes asked to blitz, just as linebackers are sometimes asked to drop into coverage. Some defensive tackles anchor the offensive line during punts and field goals.)

I know that a lot of people think that professional athletes (and millennials) are spoiled, inherently entitled folks and that, by enacting a season-long holdout, Bell is demonstrative of that axiom, but I think it’s kind of laudable that Bell essentially gambled on himself. It’s a decision that could backfire in tangible ways in March (and beyond), but there is power in demanding what you think you’re worth and refusing to settle for anything less. Le’Veon Bell believes that he should be the highest-paid running back in NFL history and that his contract should be laden with guarantees; the Steelers, meanwhile, agree that Bell should be highly paid, but are understandably not thrilled about the prospect of fronting a running back $40 million (or whatever). Bell’s unwillingness to settle is fair, as is the Steelers’ unwillingness to meet his demands.

On the other hand, however, Bell’s attitude in the months following the stalled contract talks in July—mostly notably, the cryptic social media activity, which included the promise that 2018 would be his “best year yet”—have been irritating and vexing and have seemingly aroused an anger within the fanbase that’s been unseen since Mike Wallace skipped town, which is to say that, if he returns to Pittsburgh in the near future as a member of another team, the Steelers probably won’t have a special welcome or a nice compilation video waiting for him. This is also fair.

Personally, I am going to miss Le’Veon Bell. He was a stellar running back who helped the Steelers rebound from a pair of 8-8 seasons to become one of the NFL’s most exciting offensive powerhouses. Bell, one of the titular components of the Killer Bs, did not win a Super Bowl ring in Pittsburgh, but I wish him all the best elsewhere. May he get his bag, then his ring, if he so wishes.

Steelers Injury Report: James Conner still in concussion protocol, but expected to practice

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 8:33am

The Pittsburgh Steelers get back to work on Wednesday, and James Conner will continue to work through the concussion protocol at that time.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off their mini bye week, and are now preparing for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

The once prime time game will pit two teams who met twice in 2017, the Jaguars winning both of those contests at Heinz Field, and don’t think for a second the Steelers have forgotten the feeling of having the Jaguars beat them on both occasions.

It is now time for the Steelers to return the favor, and as Mike Tomlin addressed the media during his weekly Tuesday press conference, he also updated the team’s injuries. No injury was more concerning than the concussion James Conner suffered during the team’s Week 10 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Mike Tomlin stated Conner is still in the concussion protocol, but that isn’t necessarily negative.

Coach Tomlin says that James Conner is still in the concussion protocol.

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) November 13, 2018

Tomlin’s direct quote:

“James Conner is still in the concussion protocol, not that that’s a negative. Part of getting out of the protocol is physical labor. We haven’t worked. He’ll be given an opportunity to work tomorrow and I think that will lay all of those discussions to bed. Tuitt has as an elbow that could limit him at the early portions of the week. Marcus Gilbert is still working his way back from his knee injury and as always, participation will be our guide in terms of his availability or potential availability.”

Anyone who knows about a standard concussion protocol, it looks something like this:

Step 1: No more symptoms (headaches, nausea, blurry vision, etc.)
Step 2: Consecutive days without symptoms
Step 3: Light work load
Step 4: If no symptoms, increase work load
Step 6: If no symptoms, resume regular practice
Step 7: If no symptoms, cleared to return to play

Now, I am no suggesting this is the exact NFL Concussion Protocol, but I wouldn’t be stunned if it looked very similar.

So, to sum up, Conner will have to practice and not have any reoccurring symptoms before he is cleared to return to play. If headaches, or any other symptom, pop up, he moves back to earlier steps in the protocol.

Conner will be on the practice field Wednesday, the team’s first workout of the week, and Mike Tomlin mentioned a few other players who will be working their way back as well.

Stephon Tuitt (elbow) and Marcus Gilbert (knee) are both players to keep an eye on this week, considering it is Tomlin’s policy to allow practice participation to dictate an individual's availability for the upcoming game.

Other injuries: Stephon Tuitt is dealing with an elbow injury and Marcus Gilbert is still working his way back from his knee injury.

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) November 13, 2018

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the upcoming matchup between the Jaguars and Steelers, and don’t forget the game will be a 1 p.m. ET kickoff after being flexed out of the Sunday Night Football time slot.

With Le’Veon Bell out of the picture, Steelers find new cohesion at mid-season

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 7:37am

In case you haven’t noticed, the Black-and-gold look more together as a group these days than they have for years.

The late, great Dan Rooney placed team cohesion at the top of his list of qualities that distinguish NFL champions. And in the wake of recent Steelers’ seasons marred by the discord of Le’Veon Bell’s seemingly endless contract dispute or Martavis Bryant’s extended soap opera, how refreshing it is to witness the Black-and-gold currently playing perhaps their best football of recent years in a renewed atmosphere of camaraderie.

Whether it’s the Band-of-Brothers unity between Ben Roethlisberger and his outstanding offensive line, the equally brotherly affection displayed among the Steelers’ receivers, or the newfound confidence in a revamped and improving defense, Pittsburgh may be on the cusp of yet another remarkable and memorable football story. The sea change in this team’s overall performance since it started the season at 1-2-1 has been truly exceptional, culminating in last Thursday’s wipe-out of the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field.

As if they needed any further incentive, the Black-and-gold will face off in Week 11 against their arch-rival and nemesis of the 2017 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars, in next Sunday’s game in northern Florida. What better way to extend the momentum they’ve built during their current, 5-game winning streak than to go into the house of the 3-6 Jaguars and potentially knock them out of the playoffs with six weeks remaining in the 2018 regular season? Given the embarrassing and costly nature of the Steelers’ two previous meetings with Jacksonville, this is a game that could serve as a springboard into the postseason. Just as they did last week, this game presents another opportunity for the Steelers to affirm their status as a rising and dominant NFL team.

In the three games following Sunday’s tilt against Jacksonville (facing the Broncos on the road, the Chargers at home, and then the Raiders in Oakland) Pittsburgh will have an opportunity to continue building a head of steam for the final three regular-season games against the Patriots and Bengals at Heinz Field, and the Saints in New Orleans. In particular, the December matchups against New Orleans and New England will speak volumes about how far this team has come.

But if the Steelers can continue to display the type of cohesion — and pure joy of the game — they’ve demonstrated in recent weeks, their new attitude might be the factor that gets them over the hump this season. We’ve certainly seen a much more consistent group lately, and one that can be absolutely dominant at times. Perhaps more than any other single factor, the confidence and trust these players are developing in each other with each successive game are the qualities that increasingly separate them from the pack.

For a time earlier this season, everyone was wondering exactly what the Steelers’ brain trust was up to in terms of a long-term strategy. But now I think we’ve discovered Mike Tomlin and his staff were far more patient and focused than we were as fans. The issues we never thought would be fixed earlier in the season (e.g. running back, the secondary and linebackers) have been substantially addressed, and the Steelers appear likely to go into the postseason with the wind in their sails.

Undoubtedly, some disappointments will await on the road ahead. But the Steelers team now taking shape before our eyes appears to be a group capable of overcoming adversity. Now that they’ve moved beyond their previous personnel issues, the Black-and-gold has the look of a team poised for a strong championship bid.

Steelers 2019 offseason: Free Agents to re-sign, outside free agents and complete mock draft

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 6:39am

Analyzing how to improve the Steelers in the 2019 season.

We are at Week 10 now, and heading into Week 11 of the 2018 season. The Steelers are looking really good so far, and their defense, while still having some issues, has improved dramatically. However, there are still some improvements to be made in depth along the defensive side of the ball, and even some on offense. As long as Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t retire, the Steelers will be completely fine to compete for another Super Bowl in 2019. Here is an early outlook on some of the best decisions the Steelers could make in the off-season, even though there’s a lot more football to be played yet in 2018.

Re-signing Phase

Of all the parts I’m outlining, this was the toughest. There are a lot of “bubble” decisions this off-season to say the least, but with more cap space than ever, the Steelers will have the freedom to actually use their newfound cap space to lock down their key guys. So, here’s the list of free agents and my associated decisions:

RB Le’Veon Bell

Do I really have to do this one? The transition tag isn’t worth it, as the team would lose their 3rd-round compensatory pick if they don’t match his offer, and if the Steelers do match, they’re stuck with a RB who they really don’t want. I mean, honestly, the Steelers should trade him. He’s become too much of a headache at this point, and it’s time to cut your ties. Take the 3rd-rounder and let the guy walk.

OG Ramon Foster

Big Ragu has been really good, and I know B.J. Finney is waiting in the wings, but Foster looks the best he has during his entire career right now. With how well he’s playing, as long as the team doesn’t have to shell out a tremendous amount of money, I want to bring Foster back. Re-sign for no more than two years.

DE Tyson Alualu

Alualu is really great depth and if Pittsburgh can bring him back I’m down for it. You could draft one, I suppose, and if that’s what you plan to do, go for it, but Alualu has done great in his time filling in for injured defensive linemen.

ILB Ryan Shazier

I don’t know if he can even play. I think he wants to, but I’m not even sure what’s going on in his head. Thus, this is indeterminate, but my gut says to bring him back as a coach.

P Jordan Berry

Well, he’s definitely inconsistent. I mean, I suppose re-sign him for another year, but please bring in competition. This is a definite need for 2019. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t bring him back, though.

OLB Anthony Chickillo

Chick isn’t the greatest player and, with a likely draft pick, possible free agent, another year on Keion Adams, and Ola Adeniyi coming back, he looks more expendable. But if he wants to come back on a cheap deal, bring him in as a possible depth piece.

CB Coty Sensabaugh

He has played well enough to warrant another year with the Steelers. He shouldn’t start next year, but he’s a very good depth piece as he’s proven.

WR Derrius Heyward-Bey

Very nice veteran leadership, but I would not bring him back. His special teams have even suffered with penalties being called on him. I wouldn’t bring him back as a player, but as a coach, you couldn’t get me on that train faster.

DT Daniel McCullers

Big Dan has finally put it all together and has shown the ability to dominate offensive linemen. This is a huge yes to bringing back Shade Tree.

WR Justin Hunter

A mediocre WR who seemingly can’t do anything when he’s on the field. Let him walk — the Steelers have better options in free agency and in the draft.

S Nat Berhe

Coming off of a torn pectoral and being nothing more than a special-teams guy, I don’t think he’s coming back, and I wouldn’t bring him back.

RB Stevan Ridley

While the Steelers should add a RB through the draft, Ridley is a veteran back who can fill in still. Yes, I would bring him back.

ILB L.J. Fort

YES! Not only would I bring Fort back, but I would give him a two-year extension. He’s now a cheap option at ILB and a huge part of the sub-packages on Keith Butler’s defense. This is an easy decision.

TE Xavier Grimble

Great third TE that can catch the ball and blocks well too. This is an easy decision, bring back X-man.

LS Kameron Canaday

Haven’t heard Canaday’s name at all, so he’s right in line for another easy extension.

OL B.J. Finney

The best depth piece on this OL, Finney could start next year if Ramon Foster walks, but regardless, this is an easy decision, bring the man back.

OL Matt Feiler

Feiler has been absolutely fantastic in relief of Marcus Gilbert, and it’s possible the Steelers release Gilbert. But with his contract up after 2019, it’s better to lock Feiler down for 2+ years and make him the starter in 2020.

WR Eli Rogers

Ryan Switzer has seemingly replaced Rogers, but the team should see what happens if Rogers comes back at any point this season. For now, this is a pass for the Steelers.

TE Jesse James

The Outlaw has been the definition of solid. He deserves a decent payday that won’t break the bank, but one that will keep him in Pittsburgh for the long-term. Keep that man in black-and-gold.

IDL L.T. Walton

Walton has been displaced by the resurgent Daniel McCullers, but Walton is always solid and was solid when he played on Thursday against the Panthers. Keep him here in Pittsburgh.

T Zach Banner

We admittedly don’t know too much about Banner, but he looked decent in the preseason, so let’s bring him back to be part of the competition next year.

CB Mike Hilton

Multi-year extension on the way for Hilton, he will be sent an ERFA tender which he will likely sign, and then the Steelers can work out a deal with him. Hilton should be priority No. 1 this off-season, he’s earned the payday.

S Jordan Dangerfield

He has been a good depth safety and has been brought back as a competitor at the S spot. Might as well do it again, especially since he’s been stellar in his special-teams outings.

Other contracts

Sean Davis

Davis has been the stabilizer at the back of the Steelers’ defense that they’ve needed since Troy Polamalu left the team. Davis has been a fantastic tackler and has shut down his side of the field when in coverage. He has earned himself a contract, and I don’t want to risk him hitting the market next year.

Ben Roethlisberger

Want to create a bit more cap space? Let’s give Big Ben an extension beyond 2019. That’ll ensure he gets to play out to when he is comfortable, and give the Steelers more cap space to move around with. I think the Steelers want this, and he does too.

Joe Haden

Yes, he’s aging and he’ll be 30 the next time his contract rolls around, but one thing I can say is that Haden is still playing at an extremely high level. I wouldn’t mind adding a year or two to the end of his current extension.

Artie Burns

I’m not going to say release him, but I’d decline his fifth-year option. Burns has proven to be nothing but dead weight this season.

Free Agency

Yeah, I don’t expect the Steelers to be too active in the free-agency market, but I do have two moves I really want them to make no matter what, so here they are:

Sign RB T.J. Yeldon

They could just as easily address RB through the draft, but Yeldon will not be expensive and he fits the mold of Steelers RBs. He is a guy who runs through you, but still has that burst to him. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and rushes fairly well. So, if you want to give James Conner some time off, I would highly recommend using Yeldon and Jaylen Samuels next season. That would be huge for this offense.

Sign CB E.J. Gaines

You want to make sure you don’t have to double dip at CB in the draft? Gaines is not only a fantastic depth CB, but also a guy who can start on the outside if needed. This is a reasonable signing for the Steelers, as he won’t break the bank, but he will give the Steelers everything they want to help their rookie CB.

Note, I could have asked for Demarcus Lawrence or a crazy defensive signing, but that is just not the Steelers, so I doubt that will ever, so I tried to make this slightly realistic.

The Draft

Well, here it is, an extremely streamlined 7-round mock draft. These explanations will be extremely short and I will have the Steelers picking 29th, which is what the draft order would be if the season ended today.

Round 1: DeAndre Baker, CB, Georgia

A physical, man-coverage corner who not only has length but is athletic. He comes with ball skills and an incredible leadership ability. The Steelers get lucky this year with a fantastic CB class and Baker is a good one.

Round 2: Bobby Okereke, ILB, Stanford

An athletic linebacker that can go sideline-to-sideline and is a polished processor. He has shown the ability to be fantastic in coverage and is just what the Steelers need to round off this ILB core.

Round 3: Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech

A polished pass rusher with some moves, but leverage issues. His athleticism and polished ability leave a low ceiling, but he is instantly a very good depth piece and potential future starter.

Round 4: Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri

This would be a steal, as Hall is a precise route runner and great jump ball guy. He will be a deep threat guy and fills a void on the Steelers offense. He and Washington would complement each other well.

Round 6: Darrin Hall, RB, Pittsburgh

Hall is a great change of pace back that can pass-pro and catch out of the backfield. He is a big play threat with burst, and immediately would make a big impact for such a late-round pick.

Round 6: Hiljalte Froholdt, IOL, Arkansas

The Steelers need to restock the cupboard of their IOL, and Froholdt, who is a fantastic athlete with length, is the type of OL the Steelers love to turn into gold under Munchak. If he pans out, Froholdt would be a future all-pro, but many teams would never be able to turn him into that, Munchak, however, would.

Round 7: Donald Parham, TE, Stetson

This would be the ultimate sleeper pick, but he is an athletic, big-bodied TE that would be a fantastic guy to have in the passing game. He has grown as a blocker and might go in the mid-rounds, but from what I’m hearing right now, there isn’t too much hype around Parham. Should the Steelers get him, goodness help defenses.

Ben Roethlisberger and his constant pursuit of perfection

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 5:32am

Ben Roethlisberger achieved a perfect passer rating in Thursday night's blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers, but what does that really mean?

What is perfection? Is it like beauty — in the eyes of the beholder? It must be, because Big Ben Roethlisberger was given a perfect passer rating for his efforts against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. I must admit I’m slightly confused because, forgive me for bringing this up, Ben wasn't perfect during that game. Just look at the stats, he had three incompletions. So how is that perfect? What kind of rating system is that?

This doesn't happen in other professional sports as I recall. If you make ninety nine out of one hundred free throws in basketball, the official statistician doesn't say “close enough” and award you a perfect 100-percent average. Or when a baseball pitcher throws a no-hitter but walks two batters in the process, they don't award him a perfect game. Why is a quarterback’s passer rating the exception to the rule?

Now I understand the passer-rating parameters and guidelines in theory, so please don't feel the need to get out the coloring books and crayons trying to explain them to me. I’ve already read how the ratings are obtained and, truthfully, I struggled to stay awake. Let's just say the rating system was created by individuals far intellectually superior to myself and leave it at that. I honestly find the numerical-evaluation process of sports rather mundane. I love the physicality of sports, in conjunction with the battle of wills on the field and the battle of wits on the sidelines. The percentage of probabilities fails to peak my interest.

Vince Lombardi was rather famous for his way with words. He’s well known for a multitude of quotes, many of which are among my all-time favorites. He once issued a mission statement if you will to his troops when he took over as head coach of the Green Bay Packers that went something like this, "We will strive for perfection, men. We will never obtain it, but we will achieve excellence along the way!" He sometimes worded the quote a little differently, but it always had the same meaning.

I would have no problem giving Ben a perfect rating for the other night if those three incompletions had been the result of dropped passes, but that isn't the case. So if Ben didn't achieve perfection during his impressive display of quarterback prowess the other night, how should we quantify his performance then? I think the word “excellence” fits just fine.

Ben looked like the face of the franchise — a general in total control of his troops. He said all the right things to the media leading up to the game, and he set the tone for his team with his very first pass attempt. That touchdown throw to JuJu was a thing of beauty. Watch the trajectory of that pass coupled with the velocity. Very few QBs can make that throw and even fewer with that accuracy. Ben led JuJu slightly towards the sideline, while hitting him perfectly in stride. This allowed JuJu to remain at full speed and took away the angle of the safety, resulting in the momentum-shifting touchdown.

The look on the faces of the Panthers’ contingent was priceless. Cam Newton and the boys were still in celebration mode when the rug was unceremoniously pulled out from under them. The Steelers’ faithful in attendance were rocking Heinz Field in unison and we all know the defense feeds off the energy of the crowd. The rest is history, and it all started with Ben absorbing Cam's opening jab, and landing a haymaker of his own.

We’ve all witnessed Ben having these incredible performances in the past, but this one felt a little different. It was almost like he’s grown tired of not getting the respect he deserves as an all-time great player. All week, he heard how great Newton had been playing, and he was basically an afterthought — a supporting actor if you will, to Cam's star billing. That might have just made him a bit angry. Didn't work out too well for the Panthers, that's for sure.

I hope the media continues to underestimate and overlook Ben's excellence — make him play second fiddle, don't put his name up in lights on the marquee. That seems to motivate him just fine.

An angry Ben might just be the best Ben.

Black and Gold Links: Believe it or not, there is a game to be played this Sunday

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 4:39am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won five straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 52-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, the team now has a chance to rest and relax and prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we talk about how Le’Veon Bell has dominated the news wire so much, combined with the extended break since the Week-10 game vs. the Panthers, and it may come as a shock to some how the Steelers will actually play a game on Sunday.

Not just any game, but a big revenge game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars in Duval County, FL. Thankfully, Mike Tomlin prepped the fan base with plenty of news and notes surrounding the upcoming matchup. We will focus on those.

Let’s get to the news:

Tim Benz: Can the Steelers finally exploit Jacksonville’s offensive line?

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Heading into the Steelers’ playoff game against Jacksonville last season, Pittsburgh fans and media — and even some in the locker room — seemed to have a pretty clear-cut opinion of the Jaguars.

After seeing the 30-9 beatdown administered by the Jags during the regular season at Heinz Field, most folks around these parts seemed to think:

• The Jags defense is frightening.

Leonard Fournette is a beast.

• Quarterback Blake Bortles can be had.

• The offensive line is pretty good. But not great.

Those predictions resulted in a mixed bag of accuracy during the rematch.

The Jaguars defense allowed 42 points and 545 yards. Yet it also created two turnovers resulting in touchdowns. Bortles wasn’t dynamic, but he was efficient, going 18-for-24 with no interceptions and a touchdown. And Fournette followed a 181-yard performance in the regular-season matchup with another 108 yards and three touchdowns.

But how about that Jags offensive line? It was a constant. For a unit with only moderate acclaim, the blockers looked like the 1995 Cowboys.

Between games, Steelers defenders mostly brushed off Fournette’s success , chalking up the Game 1 yardage to one 90-yard gallop in garbage time.

“If you watch the film, guys weren’t really getting blocked off the ball,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said before the January rematch. “It’s just holes. Gaps. They exploited our gaps really well.”

Also that week, defensive end Cameron Heyward claimed “it was just three or four plays” that hurt his team in the first game against Jacksonville.

In the playoff game, it was more like 40 plays as the Jaguars offense continually controlled the line of scrimmage and opened creases for Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and even a scrambling Bortles.

“We were able to get a hat on a hat,” Jacksonville offensive lineman A.J. Cann said after the win. “We stayed on our blocks. The running backs found holes and got positive yards.”

Throughout the two games, the Jaguars offensive line paved the way for 395 yards rushing and allowed just two sacks.

However, that unit hasn’t been the same this year.

Tim Benz: Steelers’ 2nd-half schedule suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Part of the reason I was so concerned about the Steelers’ rotten 1-2-1 start is that the second half of the schedule looked so daunting.

Assuming the Steelers were going to be a 10- or 11-win team ­— as many in Pittsburgh and Las Vegas predicted — I was of the belief that they would need to be excellent early in the season to bolster themselves against what appeared to be a brutal second-half slate.

They always beat the Browns. That didn’t happen. They tied.

They’ve been great against the Chiefs in recent years, especially at home. Well, that blew up. And they lost the home half of the annual Ravens rivalry, too.

Having just one win through four weeks appeared to be a kiss of death given what remained on the schedule.

When the season began, I drew an imaginary line after the seventh game. That was at home against the Browns. I thought the Steelers had to be a five- or six-win team at that point to secure 10 or 11 wins and a likely playoff spot.

Asking for much better than 5-4 over the final nine seemed unlikely. After all, the Steelers were slated to:

• Play New England. How does that usually go?

• Have two road divisional games in Baltimore and Cincinnati.

• Go to Jacksonville after the Jaguars beat them twice in Pittsburgh last year.

• Visit Oakland and Denver. Even though those teams are as bad as we expected, the Steelers are as atrocious in those two cities as they are in Jacksonville. The club is a combined 15-29-1 on the road against those three franchises.

• Play Carolina on a short week after the Ravens. Visit New Orleans. And host the tricky Chargers.


Well, they took care of the Ravens and Panthers in short order. So that was a good start.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars have lost five in a row. The Bengals have lost three of four and just fired their defensive coordinator after allowing an average of 529 yards during that stretch.

And, perhaps, the Broncos and Raiders are so bad in 2018 that not even the Steelers’ historical ineptitude in those two places — and their propensity to get upset by lesser competition — will get in the way of victory.

Mike Hilton putting best foot forward with Steelers

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Hilton is so ensconced as the nickel cornerback in the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary that it’s sometimes easy to forget his humble NFL beginnings.

It was just two years ago Hilton — cut by two teams the previous summer — thought his future might involve selling football cleats rather than wearing them.

In the fall 2016, with the holidays approaching, Hilton was out of work and running thin on patience when he applied for a sales position at Foot Locker in Atlanta.

“I was in the process of trying to find a real job, 9 to 5,” Hilton said. “I was looking for something to pass the time and keep some money in my pocket. That’s when I got lucky and got the call.”

The call came courtesy of the Steelers, who had an opening on the practice squad. Hilton put his retail career on hold and never had a chance to pull on the footwear company’s signature referee jersey.

Not that he’s complaining.

Hilton, 24, has found a home with the Steelers and is proving this season his upstart rookie year in 2017 was no fluke.

Through the Steelers’ 6-2-1 start, Hilton is tied for eighth on the team with 27 tackles. He has three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, six passes defensed and one interception. And the 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback’s accomplishments have come with a distinct size disadvantage and while playing just 60 percent of the defensive snaps.

Hilton made two of the biggest defensive plays last Sunday in the Steelers’ 23-16 win at Baltimore. Despite giving up seven inches in height, he tipped away a pass in the end zone intended for tight end Mark Andrews. On another series inside the Steelers 5, Hilton tripped up Lamar Jackson for a 1-yard loss. The Ravens settled for field goals on each drive – and that eight-point swing was the difference in the outcome.

“I didn’t realize how valuable he is to this team and all of the things he does for us on defense, not only in terms of his play but his leadership abilities,” said defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, in his first year with the Steelers. “Mike is a tremendous competitor.”

Undrafted after a four-year career at Mississippi, Hilton was cut in the 2016 training camp by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The New England Patriots signed him to the practice squad only to cut him a week later.

Hilton was living in Atlanta, near his childhood home in Sandy Creek, Ga., and working out that fall while waiting for the phone to ring. He submitted his application to Foot Locker and set up his interview.

“I was deep in the process,” he said.

Hilton was summoned to Denver for a workout that didn’t result in a contract with the Broncos. But the Steelers had a vacancy. Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers had been promoted to the active roster, and there was a spot available on the practice squad.

A few days after arriving in Pittsburgh, Hilton got a phone call from Foot Locker.

“I said I had a better opportunity come up, and I had to decline it,” Hilton said.

Le’Veon Bell opts to sit out the entire season after failing to report to the Steelers on Tuesday

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 3:01pm

Having opted to miss the final deadline to report to be able to play in 2018, Le’Veon Bell will forfeit at total of $14.544 million this year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have faced countless deadlines with Le’Veon Bell this season, but none have been as significant as the one the running back let pass on Tuesday at 4 p.m ET. By opting not to sign his franchise tag before this final league imposed deadline, Bell is now barred from playing at all in 2018, as per the rules of the CBA.

Statement from GM Kevin Colbert on RB Le’Veon Bell:

"I want to confirm that Le’Veon Bell did not sign his Franchise Tender today and, as a result, he will not be eligible to play football during the 2018 season."

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 13, 2018

His decision will save Pittsburgh the reminder of the outstanding salary he would have been due over the final seven weeks of the season and he has now forfeited a total of $14.544 million. Money that the Steelers will be able to rollover into 2019 to spend on players who actually want to be in Pittsburgh.

When Bell returned to the city last week, it had been assumed that his relocation from Miami was a precursor to him reporting to team facilities to sign his franchise tag. However, it would seem the running back has had yet another change of heart and is happy to turn his back on his teammates altogether this year. With the cost of a third franchise tag now expected to be in the region of $25 million or more next season, it appears Bell has finally realized he does not need to report this year to be assured the Steelers will not tag him again.

Given how well James Conner has played over the first 10 weeks, some might suggest it should have been obvious to this strip-club aficionado that the front office had no intention of going through this fiasco again in 2019, but very little about this saga has made any sense.

While the team has dealt admirably with the distractions associated with their former star running back, Steeler Nation has not always managed it so well. With Bell a keen user of social media to manipulate the conversation about his plans for the season, his economical use of the truth has destroyed his relationship with much of the team’s fan base.

to all my Steeler fans, my desire always has been to retire a Steeler...both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let youu down but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date...

— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) July 16, 2018

If Bell can secure a contract that will pay him around $30 million in year one to make up for the money he walked away from this season, opting to sit out the entire year will have been financially worth it. Anything less and this decision will have been a failure.

[sarcasm font]Luckily for Bell, he has a blossoming career as a rapper that could make up for any financial short falls from football.[end sarcasm]

Mike Tomlin addresses the Steelers’ stable of running backs moving forward

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 1:41pm

With Coach Tomlin’s press conference being only four hours before the deadline for Bell to report, he reminded those in the media of where he is focused.

“I’m business as usual, focused on those that are here and working and appropriately so. That way I don’t waste my time and their’s.”

I hear you loud and clear, Coach.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers seeking redemption from 2017 in Jacksonville on Sunday, Coach Tomlin is only concerned about the players in the locker room who are available to him moving forward. He began by addressing James Conner’s injury.

“James Conner is still in the concussion protocol, not that that’s a negative. Part of getting out of the protocol is physical labor. We haven’t worked. He’ll be given an opportunity to work tomorrow and I think it will lay all these discussions to bed.”

When asked about depth at the running back position behind Conner, Tomlin reminded everyone the position has been stable all season.

“The running back room is the group that we’ve been working with since the day we checked into Latrobe. So there is no adjustment… addressing the challenges that our schedule holds moving forward”

Coach Tomlin was specifically asked about Jaylen Samuels and his recent production.

“I like his arrow. It’s been continually pointed up. But we expect that from him. He’s met that element of the challenge. He’s been a positive contributor for our efforts. It’s shown on (special) teams, it needs to continue to show on teams. And, obviously, in recent weeks when given an opportunity to touch the ball, it’s shown some on offense as well.”

Tomlin was also asked about the benefits from being able to use all three running back‘s in Thursday night’s game.

“We intended to utilize all backs. We said that prior to the game. We did prior to James’ injury. So there was no adjustment or nothing to that. That was part of our plan.”

Coach Tomlin followed up by addressing how much work the other running backs received due to Conner’s injury.

“I don’t know how much James would have played beyond what he played anyway.”

While Mike Tomlin continually had to address questions about a certain player who is not available to him, one Le’Veon Bell, but he did manage to find a way to praise James Conner’s production.

“I’m proud of what James is doing and has done, and all the work he’s put in.”

Conner and company will get their next chance to show their rushing abilities on Sunday at 1 PM in Jacksonville.

Mike Tomlin has no expectations for Le’Veon Bell on Tuesday having still not heard from him

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 12:27pm

After confirming that the Steelers still have not heard from Le’Veon Bell since his return to Pittsburgh last week, Mike Tomlin has no expectations for Tuesday - “That’s just a waste of my time.”

With the final deadline for Le’Veon Bell to report to the Pittsburgh Steelers just a few hours away, it was perhaps unsurprising to note how much of Mike Tomlin’s press conference was dominated by questions about his absentee running back. However, those hoping that Tomlin would have some news to share might be disappointing to note he had no new insights to offer when talking to reporters on Tuesday.

After confirming that no one in the organization had heard from Bell over the weekend, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the running back will not be at team facilities ahead of the deadline, if it wasn't already clear enough for the hopelessly optimistic among us. Asked about his reaction to the prospect of Bell missing the entire season, Tomlin was matter-of-fact in his response.

“I have no reaction. I’ve told you guys and I’ve told you guys consistently, a reaction comes from me if and when he walks in the door. Until that happens, I’m business as usual, focused on those that are here and working, and appropriately so, that way I don’t waste my time and theirs.”

When asked a follow questions of “What if he never walks through the door”, Tomlin offered a rather blunt reply.

“So be it.”

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin recaps our win vs. the Panthers, and previews Sunday's matchup in Jacksonville.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 13, 2018

If Tomlin feels personally let down by Bell, that will never be something he discusses with the media, no matter how much they try to pry. Acknowledging the realities of business in the NFL, Tomlin is perhaps more understanding of Bell’s situation than many fans.

“I understand that business is an element of the game of football. There are elements of the game, relationships within the game, football related relationships that we all hold near and dear and understand. And then, football at this level, there is also the business element. Even when we don’t understand it, we’re sensitive to it, so we’re not shocked when things happen from a business standpoint.”

When asked about his expectations for Tuesday, Tomlin laughed at the question.

“I don’t know that I have any expectation. I don’t know that I’ve ever had any expectation because that’s just a waste of my time.”

With the final deadline to report set to pass at 4 p.m Tuesday 13, the Steelers coach is well aware that this cutoff will not put an end to the media’s endless line of questioning, even if Bell does not arrive.

“I’m sure that you guys will find a reason to bring it up and continue to rehash it in some form or fashion, even after today.”

For my part, I can assure readers I will be keeping my posts about Le’Veon Bell to a minimum once this day is finally over.