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Updated: 1 hour 46 min ago

Steelers NFL Draft Prospects: College Game Day and Open Thread

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 10:47am

Time to check in on the NCAA action Saturday, and players who could be on the Steelers’ radar.

Welcome to week 6 of the college football season. Lets take a look at this weeks top 25 match ups:

No. 19 Texas at No. 7 Oklahoma (-7.5) Noon, FOX

No. 5 LSU (-3) at No. 22 Florida 3:30 p.m., CBS

No. 6 Notre Dame (-5) at No. 24 Virginia Tech 8 p.m., ABC

Taking a look at the weekly college schedule in an effort to give you your money’s worth for possible draft picks in the 2019 season. In other words, what games give you the best chance to check out the most draft-able players.

This weeks highlight game is:

No. 5 LSU (-3) at No. 22 Florida 3:30 p.m., CBS

LSU Tigers

#18 Foster Moreau TE 6’5” 255

#4 Nick Brossette RB 6’ 221

#90 Rashard Lawrence DL 6’3” 300

#99 Edwin Alexander NT 6’3’ 339

#91 Breiden Fehoko DL 6’3” 300

#40 Devin White ILB 6’1” 255

#29 Greedy Williams CB 6’1” 182

Florida Gators

#59 T.J. McCoy C 6’1” 308

#73 Martez Ivey OT 6’5” 315

#65 Jawaan Taylor OT 6’5” 334

#25 Jordan Scarlett RB 5’10” 213

#89 Tyrie Cleveland WR 6’2” 205

#12 Van Jefferson WR 6’1” 195

#92 Jabari Zuniga EDGE 6’3” 245

#96 CeCe Jefferson Edge 6’1” 261

#54 Khairi Clark DL 6’1” 315

#99 Jachai Polite OLB 6’2” 260

#23 Chauncey Gardner-Johnson S 6’ 207

New Feature :

I wanted to bring about more discussion into the College Game Day Open Thread. I had an article written up and ready to go asking for someone to do some draft breakdown. One of our own writers, Nick Farabaugh, saw the article in the Editorial Queue and said he would take on that offer and in fact it is somewhat of a hobby for him, one might say a passion.

LSU Tigers

CB Greedy Williams

I don’t know what more I can say about Greedy Williams. He is easily CB1 right now and it isn’t particularly close. If you are looking for the classic traits in your ideal Cornerback, Williams checks just about every box. He has elite athleticism, great length, and ideal size at 6’1”. The only concerning part is that he weighed in at only 181 lbs, and by extension, needs to add some muscle on. His strength is probably the biggest knock on him. He knows he is not very strong and is Artie Burns-like in run defense. The guy misses far too many tackles and allows far too much separation simply because he is not strong enough.

However, he is a true man coverage corner. He is uber physical and bumps receivers off their route a ton. If he doesn’t get them off their route right away, he is the master of the trail technique and carries everyone vertical. You have seen Joe Haden do that all the time and Williams does it a ton too. Like Haden, he is great at mirroring and it is why he rarely gets burnt at all. He is far advanced in that stage. The only other knack on him for me is his hips. He plays with them out, and that can allow inside leverage or cause him to be turned around off the line of scrimmage.

Round Grade: Top 10

NFL Comparison: AJ Bouye

IDL Rashard Lawrence

Lawrence sure is a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I love how he plays low all the time. What does that open up? Pass-rushing opportunities and more importantly, block shedding opportunities in general. I love his crazy quick hands. He has a great rip move that allows him to get into the backfield and is so explosive off the line that you see flashes of Aaron Donald in there. In run defense, he sure does clog up space, but my issue is his lack of making plays for himself. He will drive back his linemen but not disengage and it will cause the ILB to make a play, which is fine for LSU, but if it is 3rd and 1, I want him making that play. He does not inspire confidence as a pass rusher yet due to his lack of moves outside of the rip, but he has started to experiment with a cross chop rip combo. Hopefully that works out. Hope this guy sounds like a familiar DL you might know?

Round Grade: Mid-2nd

NFL Comparison: Javon Hargrave

ILB Devin White

Whew. I did not know a guy could be a stud and yet so disappointing at the same time. I am a huge Devin White fan, but he always leaves a little bit to be desired. This is an athletic linebacker who can actually pursue the ball carrier coming out of college. His angles are crisp, his tackling is as sure handed as anyone, and man does he ever have some range. These athletic linebackers have to also be able to weave through the traffic they will encounter and no one is better at that than White. Even better, once he reaches the ball carrier, he is one of the most aggressive tacklers you will see in this class. He is Vince Williams level of intense on that field. All of this and he is one of the best run defenders in the ILB class.

And yet, I find myself so disappointed. Devin White is so raw man. The guy simply cannot mentally process a play action for his life. He bites every single time. His instincts simply are not there yet. He is a slow reactor to the football half of the time and he will literally get washed out of plays by wide receivers. DK Metcalf washed him straight out of the middle of a play when LSU faced Ole Miss. He has a long way to go, and because he is so raw, but has such a high ceiling, I am a bit lower on him than others, but he can be stud.

Round Grade: Early 2nd

NFL Comparrison: Telvin Smith

Florida Gators

EDGE Jachai Polite

The most underrated EDGE in the class and probably my EDGE3 over Clellin Ferrell of Clemson. Brian Burns and Nick Bosa might be too good for him to overtake, but Polite looks to be an EDGE rusher that will probably go somewhere in the mid 20s. Once you see his tape, the first thing that jumps out is his explosion. He is naturally a speed rusher, but man that explosion off the line is some of the best in this class. Polite has a knack for being aware on the edge though. He knows how to read his blocker and since he is so agile, he easily cuts inside and goes in from there. In addition to that, it is great to know that he is an adept run defender. He holds that edge well and knows when to shed. He is an expert block shedder and has about five moves in his arsenal. I have seen a rip, cross chop, swim, spin, and the patented bull rush. And when he gets around that edge, he can bend as good as anyone coming out. This is one of the most polished pass rushers in the class.

Where do I want him to improve? Simply put, consistency. He disappears for stretches and then will have spans of time where you will be wowed. This seems to be the case with some more polished edge rushers like Harold Landry last year, but they still have a huge impact. I would like to see Polite work on his hands a bit. They are active right now, but they are not active enough. If he gets beaten in leverage, he does not have a great counter, and he should try and develop a counter tactic.

Round Grade: Top 20, 1st Round

NFL Comparison: Melvin Ingram

S Chauncey Gardner Johnson

Gardner-Johnson has received some hype as a deep safety who can be a rangy over the top coverage specialist. I will say, in coverage he is solid. You can tell he has ball skills and he is versatile enough to play from the slot and be in man. He is an athlete that is for sure and it sure does attribute to his range.

While his coverage is good, he is just brutal in other areas. He is slow at reacting and processing and gets beat deep at times. However, even more important is how dreadfully awful of a run defender he is. He takes terrible angles and even when he gets there, he simply cannot wrap up. Up to this point, I have studied about 110 defensive players, and I hate to say it, but he takes the worst angles of any of them and is probably the worst tackler of them too. It is tough to project him. He is small and might be hard pressed to play single-high, so I would say he is likely suited as nickel corner more than anywhere.

Round Grade: Early 4th

NFL Comparison: Corey Graham

WR Van Jefferson

I think Van Jefferson is one of the more underrated receivers in this upcoming class. He does not wow you with speed, but he is just a smart, solid football. He is a super polished WR who is uber aware of the field and makes a ton of sideline catches due to it. He has a diverse route tree and thus is one of the more polished route runners I have studied in this year’s receiver class. You just see how aware he is when he expertly does a scramble drill. He is pretty unbelievable in how easily he converts it and gets into DBs blind spots. He can play inside and outside and has showed the ability to make catches in traffic. His hands are like glue and that includes blocking. One of the most impressive WR blockers I have seen.

Despite this, I do not find him to be overly great. He is good, but he is so polished I really question how much upside he has. He will be a solid WR for a while, but I do not think he will improve all that much. He does not attack the point of catch on combat catches and since he does not get all that much separation due to his less than exceptional athleticism, that is an issue.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

NFL Comparison: Nate Washington

OT Martez Ivey

Well, Martez Ivey certainly is a behemoth and a gigantic offensive tackle. He has the length and size to be an NFL tackle, but he is going to be a big project. He has tremendous upside no doubt and that is why he has to be talked about in the early round discussion. He has the physical tools, and he is one of the best pulling tackles I have studied thus far. In addition to that, he is quick and will be able to stack quite effectively to the second level. It is indeed quite impressive, but the cons are quite extensive.

Simply put, his leverage and hands are two huge issues. His hands are like stone and are so slow. They just get beat so easily by competent pass rushers and his leverage does not help this. He is stiff and plays way too high. It makes him a very suspect pass protector as a whole. Since he is so slow, speed rushers have a field day with him. Jachai Polite dominated him at practice on video all the time. He is not physical enough with his hands and can be bull rushed straight back. He is just an incredibly raw pass blocker. He has all the physical tools, but the whole process, including footwork need to be fixed. His leverage issues can be attributed to him playing so high out of his stance. I have no clue why but he simply is so slow. Sure, he can reach the second level, but he hardly ever sustains those blocks. He is so incredibly raw that I honestly would not touch for the first three rounds.

Round Grade: Early 5th

NFL Comparison: Bobby Hart

College Upset Special:

No. 6 Notre Dame (-5) at No. 24 Virginia Tech 8 p.m., ABC

Calling the Hokies to upset the Golden Domers in Blacksburg, one of the best entrances in any sports venue.

...

Tell us who you have your eye on as a possible prospect for the Black and Gold and what games you are watching.

Go Steelers!

NFL Odds and Predictions: Picking the full Week 5 slate against the spread

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 10:24am

We make our picks against the spread and versus the totals for every game on the NFL schedule in Week 5

The Pittsburgh Steelers were something of a letdown last Sunday and so were the BTSC game picks in Week 4. Jeff Hartman was a rather meidcore 8-6 against the spread and 6-8 versus the totals, while I was far more disappointing after posting a record of 8-6 ATS and a disgraceful 4-10 versus the totals. Not to paint that performance with too broad of a brush, but that is not even varsity level.

Like the Steelers, we hope to bounce back in Week 5 and once again the weekend’s action is made up mostly of home favorites, with only three road teams giving up points on Sunday. No game is separated by more than a touchdown and seven games feature a spread of a field goal or less.

Having only picked four different winners between us against the spread, we will either both be very right this week or very wrong. Betting on the later is probably the safest wager of the week. After four straight weeks of blindly picking the Steelers to cover regardless of what your head tells you, Jeff is the only one of us keeping the faith against the Atlanta Falcons. Given my recent form picking winners, that is probably a good omen for Pittsburgh.

Selections have been made using the consensus Las Vegas odds from VegasInsider.com as per Friday night and we encourage you to play along with us by adding your picks below.

Report: Steelers offer to Le’Veon Bell may have included over $20M in guarantees

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 9:12am

If a report from Pro Football Talk is to be believed, the Steelers offered their star running back far more guaranteed money that has previously been suggested.

The deadline for signing an extension may well have long since passed, but that has not stopped the talk about the contract offer Le’Veon Bell turned down from the Pittsburgh Steelers. For those who have been keeping track, all sorts of numbers have been floated around the internet in the past few months, with both sides of the debate picking out the figures they like best to support their argument.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk was the latest with some new nuggets of information to share about the deal Bell rejected on Friday, and if his source turns out to accurate, the contract the Steelers’ star running back turned down actually provided very similar guarantees to those given to Todd Gurley.

While it was publicly reported as a $60 million deal that included $45 million guaranteed, the reality of Gurley's contract is that the actual guarantees are worth just $21.95 million. The bulk of the remaining guarantees come in the form of roster bonuses and injury guarantees after 2019 and the Rams can still cut him at any point to avoid paying him significant portions of the deal.

Pittsburgh reportedly were offering Bell a $10 million signing bonus and ALSO a $10 million roster bonus in 2018, according to Florio. When added to the minimum base salary they could have paid him as per league rules, Bell would have been guaranteed $20.79 million in year one alone. A suggested cash flow of $47 million over the first three years of the deal sounds credible, given that would equate to around $13 million in 2019 and 2020 and likely made up of roster bonuses and a large base salary as the Steelers have done with other star players on the roster.

With Pittsburgh’s offer consistently having been reported as being worth in the region of $70 to $72 million over five years, that would imply earnings in the region of $12 million in each of the last two years of the offer. If all these suppositions hold true, the back end of the deal might have been a reason to reject the contract, but the level of guarantees were not.

That being said, all of this is a moot point now with Bell destined to be playing elsewhere in 2019, if not sooner, but worth keeping in mind the next time someone suggests the Steelers did not offer their star running back enough in guarantees.

A simple, 4-step plan for fixing the Pittsburgh Steelers

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 8:02am

Personnel-wise, the Steelers must play with the cards they’ve been dealt. But they could alter the current trajectory of their season by tweaking the general approach we’ve seen so far in 2018.

There are a number of things — very pronounced, blindingly-evident things — that have prevented the Steelers from coalescing into the veritable Super Bowl contender they ostensibly were in the preseason. The defense is trash, for one thing, and the particulars of its trashiness are manifold: the secondary couldn’t stop a high school team from racking up hundreds of yards, and the run-defense isn’t much better — allowing opposing rushers to gain a very meaty 4.2 yards per carry. They’re currently ranked fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks, but it’s important to note that more than half of those sacks came in a single game against Tyrod Taylor. If Taylor were standing on the surface of the moon while a malevolent spaceman looked on — withholding oxygen until Taylor completed a pass — Taylor would rather stand there and asphyxiate than force a throw into coverage. At Heinz Field, where they’re currently 0-2, the Steelers have amassed only three sacks.

Slows starts by the Steelers are not unprecedented. They lost four games in a row on the way to a 4-5 start in 2016, a season in which they advanced to the AFC Championship Game (where they were summarily demolished by the vile New England Patriots, but that’s neither here nor there). And last season — which saw them pace the AFC with 13 victories — it was a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville in Week 5 that facilitated an overwhelming surfeit of pessimistic and defeatist takes. The general thinking is that this is all a natural part of the proceedings and they’ll figure it out eventually, probably when the weather starts to get cold.

But this year feels different, gloomier, more panicky, more wow they-might-not-really-have-the-capacity-to-turn-this-thing-around. Last year, for instance, it was Ben Roethlisberger, of all people, who contributed to the Steelers’ bad start. In the aforementioned home loss to the Jaguars, he famously threw five bad interceptions and subsequently claimed post-game that perhaps he didn’t have it anymore. The defense, meanwhile, particularly the secondary (of all units), enabled the Steelers to win some games they maybe shouldn’t have won. It was a strange reality. But generally speaking, the consensus pointed to the eventuality that hey, there’s no way in Hell the secondary is actually this good, and that Ben would eventually stop whining so much and return to at least a Wal-Mart brand version of what he’d been during the previous 12 seasons.

But there don’t seem to be any such assurances this season, which is why I’m gonna fire up the conjecture machine and craft an admittedly simplistic and very self-evident 4-point plan for returning this iteration of the Steelers to glory.

Step 1: Be prepared

In their past three games at Heinz Field dating back to last season, the Steelers have spotted the opposition 56 points in the first quarter. Whether this is the result of the coaching staff failing to get the team game-ready, or the result of personnel not holding themselves accountable for figuring out things out (probably it’s a mixture of both), the fact that the Steelers have developed a penchant for coming out of the locker room flat is putting them in positions to lose.

Step 2: Stick to the game-plan

Once the Steelers have demonstrated their ability to prevent opponents from nabbing multi-possession leads before the ushers are done scanning tickets, they can implement offensive schematics more multifaceted in nature, as it’s impossible to commit to running the ball when there’s four minutes left in the first quarter and you’re already staring down the barrel of a 21-0 deficit. A cogent, well-balanced offensive game plan that features an omnivorous buffet of play-action, West Coast, stretch/toss plays, between-the-tackles runs, and deep passes should not only increase Pittsburgh’s scoring output and general offensive vitality, but should also better enable them to control time-of-possession and give the defense some much-needed downtime.

Step 3: Experiment with the defense

There’s no point asking the Steelers to “fix” the defense, as doing so would have the same effect as callously telling someone living on the street to get a job — they simply don’t have the wherewithal to promote such a miraculous turnaround. Pittsburgh is home to perhaps the NFL’s worst stable of defensive backs — which is a shame, because there are some talented names among these ranks. Their linebackers are good at stopping the run and proficient at rushing the passer, but not much else. So why not get cute with it? Try Sean Davis out at cornerback. Move Terrell Edmunds to linebacker. Play with three safeties. Sign Markus Wheaton and let him play cornerback. Grab some random DB off the street. Tyvon Branch is apparently a person who used to play safety. Jeremy Lane once did a convincing impression of a starting cornerback in Seattle.

I don’t know — goof around with the schematics a bit or mix the personnel up a bit — but please don’t let Tyler Matakevich start in actual games of consequence. Do something, Keith Butler, please!

Step 4: Stay positive

Le’Veon Bell hopefully is set to report back in Week 7, which would make him eligible to play in the Steelers’ Week 8 home match against Cleveland. Losing to Atlanta or Cincinnati (the odds of them losing at least one of these games are very, very high) honestly isn’t gonna totally sink their postseason hopes (but losing both might, so yikes). So if the Steelers can simply tread water and enter the bye at like 2-3-1 (or 3-2-1), I think returning an All-Pro offensive dynamo to the fray will be an encouraging development.

But regardless of when or if Bell returns and what version of Bell the Steelers get, Pittsburgh will contend so long as Ben Roethlisberger is doing his thing, especially if JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown, Vance McDonald, and the rest of the offense continue to assist Ben in doing his thing.

There’s also the issue of Mike Tomlin, who is seen below:

He’s still never had a losing season, guys. Have some faith in the man.

Behind Enemy Lines: How the Falcons’ injury woes could help the Steelers to victory

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 7:07am

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons to head-to-head in Week 5 at Heinz Field, and we go behind enemy lines to get the low-down on the opponent.

Right now the Pittsburgh Steelers are not a very popular team among their fan base. Sure, they always have their devout followers, but fans are pretty upset with the horrid 1-2-1 record in the first quarter of the season.

How bad has it become? Many want Mike Tomlin’s seat to start heating up, and feel as if the defense is beyond repair. In other words, burn it to the ground and start from scratch. What is humorous about this situation, is after asking David Choate, editor of SB Nation’s The Falcoholic, some questions about the upcoming matchup in Week 5, Falcons fans are feeling some of the same things Steelers fans are.

Sitting at 1-3, the Falcons need this game every bit as much as the Steelers do, so it might be worth it to learn a little bit more about this NFC South opponent. Check out the interview I had with David below, and be sure to check out The Falcoholic for the best coverage of Week 5 from the Falcons’ perspective.

What is the health of the Falcons right now? Are there any key injuries which could impact the game this Sunday?

The Falcons are in rough shape. They’re missing both starting safeties for the rest of the year, and star middle linebacker Deion Jones won’t return for weeks. They’re also missing starting left guard Andy Levitre and won’t have their best defensive tackle, Grady Jarrett, for at least this week.

If that sounds grim, that’s because it is. Atlanta’s been cobbling it together on defense with awful results over the last couple of weeks, and I’m not sure that changes this Sunday. Jarrett’s loss will be keenly felt because he was both the team’s best interior pass rusher and one of their better run defenders, but the Steelers should generally find this defense unusually easy to move on. On the offensive side, it’s probably worth seeing if Wes Schweitzer, Levitre’s replacement, can hold up. He has so far.

The Falcons have gotten off to a rough start to the season, and are coming off a back-breaking loss to the Bengals in Week 4. Considering this team was in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, what is the feel surrounding the team moving forward, both from the players and the fan base?

There’s a lot of despair. Few Falcons fans really believe at this point that this team can still contend for a Super Bowl with all their injuries, though I think a fair number are still holding out hope for a playoff berth. The short-term outlook for this team depends a lot on injury replacements stepping up and the offense continuing to be stellar, which could happen but like it may not to the degree necessary to get the Falcons to, say, 10-6 after a 1-3 start.

You’ll never hear the players say that because Dan Quinn and company do an excellent job of keeping everyone on track, and these are guys with some swagger to begin with. It’s better that way.

The long-term outlook is more nuanced. There is a small but vocal minority of the fan base that believes the Falcons have gone as far as they can with Dan Quinn at the helm, given this team’s persistent issues with fundamentals and his in-game management. The larger part of the fan base is unhappy now but believes this team has enough talent to bounce back in a major way in 2019. I’d say I find myself in the latter camp.

Looking at the Falcons’ offense, what are the weaknesses there? In other words, if you were a defensive coordinator, what are you scheming to try and slow down this high-flying unit?

Good luck finding many. When this team is really firing on all cylinders, they’re very tough to stop because of the difficulty in keeping Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper in check all at the same time. Your best is probably to pressure Matt Ryan, as the offensive line has scuffled a bit in pass protection, or look to make the team one dimensional by shutting down the ground game. The Falcons haven’t been great running the football this year, but they are getting Devonta Freeman back this week.

There’s no secret sauce, though. If you can force Ryan into a few bad throws or pin your ears back on third down and just take him down, you’ll stall out a few drives. With the way Pittsburgh’s offense is capable of playing, that might be enough.

Defensively, the Falcons have had a few key losses. What are the strengths and weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball?

Cruelly, the strengths have mostly been taken away from Atlanta. Their secondary was one of the better-looking units in the league late last year and figured to be even better this year with the addition of second round cornerback Isaiah Oliver. With the invaluable Ricardo Allen down for the year, the Falcons found themselves without their best communicator, a true defensive leader, and underrated safety net. Without Keanu Neal, they don’t have their most physical, playmaking safety. Without him, the coverage has looked listless, and while time may improve it you should still be able to take advantage of that.

This is a defense without a ton of strengths right now. There’s plenty of speed and physicality here, but outside of the fearsome Takkarist McKinley, there’s not a lot of pass rushing punch. They do have a solid run defense thus far this year and are still capable of big plays, but this isn’t a unit to fear until they get their act together.

What is your prediction for the game, and how do you see it shaking out?

I want to be more positive about this one than I am, but I just watched the Falcons give up 80 points over two weeks and endure two excruciating losses against teams with terrific offenses and questionable defenses. I think the Falcons will keep it close, score over 30 points, and still lose because the defense can’t quite get it together.

I’ll go Steelers 34 - Falcons 31 — and hope I’m wrong.

The NFL’s new roughing the passer rule is silly

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 6:05am

2018 was supposed to include a silly rule that changed the game of football, but the wrong one showed up.

Remember during the spring, summer and NFL preseason, when you were raging over the league’s new rule (or was it a new emphasis — hard to keep track of these things) to protect the health of its players?

Turns out, you were right to be enraged, only you were angry about the wrong rule.

While the NFL’s new rules on targeting and helmet-to-helmet hits stole the headlines before the start of the 2018 regular season, it’s the league’s newer and sexier roughing-the-passer rule (or emphasis) that has stolen the show so far.

Can you remember the last time a player was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit? I know there have been some, but it doesn’t seem to be altering games or keeping drives alive at an alarming rate through the early portions of the 2018 season. And maybe that’s because you can fundamentally teach players on both offense and defense to block and tackle without using their heads as battering rams. Sure, there have been some bang-bang non-calls, but those are going to happen. Perhaps to the credit of the officials, they’ve mostly used common sense in situations where helmet-to-helmet contact is simply impossible to avoid.

But you can’t give the officials any credit for how they’ve been emphasizing quarterback safety by throwing roughing-the-passer flags at an alarming rate that appears to be zooming on the way to being absolutely ridiculous. Through three full weeks, 34 roughing the passer penalties have been called, up by 18 from the same time-frame in 2017.

The quirk in this new emphasis isn’t necessarily the amount of penalties that have been called, but why.

Remember the good old days, when defenders were only flagged for things like shots to the head or hitting the quarterback after taking a two- or three-step running start? Much like the helmet-to-helmet hits, a defender could cut down on such fouls simply by using proper technique and a little restraint.

But I’m at a loss at what to say about this new emphasis on roughing the passer in 2018, when it’s now illegal for a defender to land on a quarterback with all of his body weight. How is that really possible in most cases? How can you tell a defender to use proper tackling technique on a ball-carrier (bend at the knees, see what you hit, and drive the ball-carrier to the ground), but then turn around and tell him he must take a different approach when hitting a quarterback?

What is a defender supposed to do? If he’s not using proper technique, he must either sling a passer to the ground or take him down with a semi-clothesline, a la pro wrestling.

In the Steelers’ 30-27 victory over the Buccaneers in Week 3, four roughing the passer penalties were called — two on both teams — with perhaps the silliest one going against safety Sean Davis, who weighs 20 pounds less than Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

So now, if you’re a defender, you can’t hit a quarterback high, hit a quarterback low or tackle a quarterback to the turf like a regular football player.

Prior to Week 4’s matchups, the NFL doubled-down on its new emphasis on protecting the quarterback, which is cute for now. But wait until a Jesse James-like play alters not only the course of a drive or game, but changes the fortunes of some aspiring playoff team.

Much like the Catch Rule and many other irrational league mandates, you can almost guarantee the NFL ultimately will de-emphasize its current stance on roughing the passer.

It’s just too bad that will happen next spring.

In the meantime, brace yourself and hope it’s not your team whose playoff aspirations are de-emphasized in 2018.

Black and Gold Links: When will the Steelers’ pass rush show up consistently?

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 5:08am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the loser column after a poor performance vs. their divisional rival, the Baltimore Ravens, at Heinz Field in prime time in Week 4. With the Atlanta Falcons coming into Heinz Field for a Week-5 matchup, the Steelers will need to improve on their 1-2-1 record.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-Gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet, and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about the missing Steelers’ pass rush. After recording a team record 56 sacks in 2017, this team hasn’t showed a consistent pass rush since Week 1 when they played the Cleveland Browns. Will Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt lead the way? Or will Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt be the ones leading the charge? Time will tell, but there is no guarantee when the Steelers’ pass rush will arrive.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ pass rush not living up to standards

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In the Pittsburgh Steelers’ two losses this season, opposing quarterbacks have had 73 dropbacks. And by the team’s bookkeeping, the passer was hurried or pressured on just seven.

Is it any wonder, then, that Patrick Mahomes and Joe Flacco compiled an aggregate passer rating of 141.9 in victories against the Steelers in Weeks 2 and 4, respectively? That they combined for eight touchdown passes, an average of 344.5 passing yards and led their teams to a combined 68 points?

“We’ve got to create duress in that pocket,” coach Mike Tomlin said, unsolicited, when asked a question about the perceived poor play by his defensive backs so far this season. “We’ve got to aid our secondary in terms of the coverage and making our quarterback throw out of a well.”

Though the Steelers’ sack numbers aren’t too bad (they’re tied for fourth in the NFL with 13), that’s misleading both because seven of those sacks came in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns and because pressure is defined by measures other than just sacks.

Whatever term you use for these — hurries, pressures, QB hits — they can be subjective. The Steelers track these under the category of “quarterback hurries/pressures.” And they’re finding that they’re not getting enough of them, especially in their losses.

During the Steelers’ 26-14 loss to Baltimore last week, they pressured/hurried Flacco just twice. That’s the fewest for the team in any game since 2016.

“We’ve had our ups and down starting the season, no doubt,” outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo said. “We need to get better as whole unit pass rushing.”

Sunday will be ‘tough’ for Steelers’ Vince Williams, missing 1st career game because of injury

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Vince Williams’ attire for Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers game against the Atlanta Falcons will be different than any he’s adorned his early days with the team.

The Steelers’ longest-tenured linebacker will not be in uniform because of a hamstring injury.

“It’s tough,” Williams said Friday after missing a week of practice. “I’ve never missed a game (because of injury) ever. I missed a year (in college) but never missed a singular game my whole football career.”

Williams was inactive because of coach’s decision for the first game of his 2013 rookie season after the Steelers took him with a sixth-round draft pick. But he’s played in the 83 regular-season games since, a streak that is the fourth-longest among active NFL linebackers.

That streak, though, will come to an end Sunday at Heinz Field. Williams is listed as “doubtful” on the team’s official injury report, and over the past five seasons no player with such a designation has played for the Steelers.

Tyler Matakevch, L.J. Fort and Matthew Thomas will take Williams’ place at right inside linebacker against the Falcons. The plan is for Matakevich to play in the base defense and for Fort to play in passing-down subpackages (against the potent passing offense of Atlanta’s, that figures to be often), with rookie Thomas sprinkled in at times.

“It’s a good rotation between us,” Thomas said.

Not exactly clear is who will take over Williams’ role as the defense’s playcaller, though a logical choice is starting left inside linebacker Jon Bostic. Williams wears the “green dot” helmet that has radio communication with coaches on the sideline; Fort has traditionally been the second defensive player allowed to wear the radio helmet, as he was last week.

“They all do a great job communicating anyway,” Williams said. “(Who wears the dot) is not that much of a big deal…. They’re all professionals, everybody is prepared.”

Year 3 breakout stalls, but Steelers not giving up on Artie Burns

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Two months ago, Artie Burns was shadowing Antonio Brown stride for stride and winning his fair share of matchups in training camp.

The Year 3 breakout for a first-round pick appeared imminent. The Steelers could pair Burns with veteran Joe Haden to play more man coverage against the league’s top receivers.

Then the season began, and Burns is still trying to wake up from a nightmarish stretch.

Burns looked distraught during a Week 3 media session in which he acknowledged his starting job was in jeopardy. That job went to veteran Coty Sensabaugh, who started against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

Burns and Sensabaugh have played in a rotation the past two contests, with Burns starting off the Week 4 game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Burns is a tall, lanky cornerback with world-class speed, but he’s admitted to undermining those qualities with fluctuating energy levels in practices.

Now he’s taking ownership of his struggles and career, calling this stretch a “make or break” moment.

”I know I can make plays,” Burns said. “That’s why they brought me here, to make plays. I’ve just got to make them routine, like what I know I’m capable of doing.”

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Week 5 Falcons Edition

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 5:43pm

The games finally count, and there is plenty to talk about!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

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

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

1. I asked this question in the offseason, but with a quarter of the season over, I felt it should be asked again. If you could bring back ONE player from the Steelers’ past to play TODAY at the their prime, who would it be and why?

2. Fans are down on the Steelers right now, and rightfully so. What would it take for you to get back on their side and think this team has a shot at something special?

3. OVER/UNDER Steelers sacks of Matt Ryan: 3

4. Finish the sentence...for the Steelers to win on Sunday ________ needs to have a big game.

5. Do you have any gameday rituals you alwasy follow? For instance, do you always sit in the same spot? Always wear a special jersey? Explain your rituals!

6. This will become more of a talking point as the season progresses, but at this moment would you pick up Artie Burns’ 5th year option?

Extra: We had this debate on our preview show...which football movie is better:

Remember the Titans or Rudy?

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Steelers Injury Report: Pair of starters likely out of the lineup vs. the Falcons

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 1:45pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely be without three players who have significant roles on the team when they host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in near must-win territory with a 1-2-1 record, and even though there are a lot of games left to be played, wins now are necessary. To do this the Steelers may need all hands on deck to beat the visiting Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field in Week 5.

Sadly, it doesn’t look as if that will be possible.

Injuries are inevitable, but there are players, and positions, where injuries become more of an issue. Two particularly important positions are safety and inside linebacker.

Unfortunately, these are two positions for which the Steelers have suffered injuries to players who likely won’t be in the lineup come game time. The two players of note are Vince Williams (hamstring) and Morgan Burnett (groin).

Burnett, who was expected to be a starter this season, has sat more than he has played so far this season; his absence puts a stress on young players who are still finding their way in the big league - players like Terrell Edmunds, who is now thrust into the starting role alongside Sean Davis.

The Steelers injury report isn’t as bad as other teams, and for that fans should be thankful, but it is looking as if the Steelers will be without Darrius Heyward-Bey (ankle), Williams and Burnett for the upcoming. It is good to see players like Mike Hilton (elbow), Chris Boswell (foot) and Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) will all be ready to go when the game kicks off at Heinz Field this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

For the complete injury report for both teams, check below, courtesy of the Steelers official website:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Game Status
S Morgan Burnett (Groin) - Doubtful
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Ankle) - Doubtful
LB Vince Williams (Hamstring) - Doubtful

Atlanta Falcons

Game Status
DE Derrick Shelby (Groin) - Out
CB Justin Bethal (Knee) - Out
DT Grady Jarrett (Ankle/Knee) - Out

Report Card: Grading the Steelers offense for the first quarter of 2018

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 1:06pm

BTSC grades the Steelers’ offense after the first four games of 2018.

As I’ve stated all along, I’m not a football coach or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. Each week of the 2018 exhibition and regular season, I’ve graded the efforts of the Black-and-gold via “the eye test”. Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what count the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well. So you, the reader, get to vote as well. You even get to grade the grader in the comments section.

So let’s take a look at BTSC’s perceptions of the season’s first quarter:

Offense

The Steelers’ offense is ranked tenth in the league with a 25.5-points per game (ppg) average through four contests. In 2017, they scored at a rate of 26.4 ppg. So far, Randy Fichtner’s crew has resembled both juggernaut and junk in the 2018 season. The same assessment could be made of one Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger. The league’s passing leader (1,414 yards) is averaging 353.5 yards per game. But BB has been inconsistent and, admittedly, not on the same page with everybody. His three picks were costly in the opener and a miserable second half in Baltimore helped thwart Pittsburgh’s chances. Ben’s offensive line hasn’t been reminiscent of the high-caliber unit of past years either. Injuries have hampered David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert, while a healthy Alejandro Villanueva’s play has been chicken-pox spotty. The line just doesn’t seem to be as strong as what we’ve witnessed in recent years.

Le’Veon Bell’s absence from the running game has hindered some aspects of the offense as well. While James Conner has played admirably with 232 yards on the ground, 164 yards as a receiver, plus a penchant for picking up the blitz, he doesn’t create concern nor command extra attention in the manner No. 26 did. Conner has done well, but there’s definitely a drop-off from Le’Veon.

Bell’s absence puts more attention on Antonio Brown too. Double-teaming AB has forced balls to go in other directions, mostly to JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu leads the team with 31 catches for 416 yards versus Antonio’s 29 for 272. A disconnect between Ben and AB is apparent as well. The team also might be missing Martavis Bryant. While he’s far from tearing it up in Oakland, the deep threat he provided hasn’t yet been replicated.

The TE duo of Jesse James (228 yards on 10 catches) and Vance McDonald (200 yards on 12 catches) has been very solid. As a duo, they’ve got a combined 22 grabs on 27 targets and their yards-after-catch have been remarkable — a combined 210. Jesse is ranked 29th in the league, while Vance registers at 25th.

Overall Offense Grade: C

Despite gaudy stats, less-than-desirable offensive efforts prevented the Steelers from winning in Week 1 and Week 4. A greater output will be needed this season to make up for the defensive foibles.

Offensive Valedictorian: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Should Mike Tomlin be on the hot seat after a cold start to 2018?

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 11:34am

Some Steelers fans think the clock has started to tick on Mike Tomlin’s tenure in Pittsburgh barring a quick turn around.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ start to the 2018 regular season has been rocky, at best. Their 1-2-1 first quarter has the vast fan base fuming. How angry? To the point many believe head coach Mike Tomlin should be considered to be on the proverbial ‘hot seat’.

In a recent poll of those Steelers fans who have signed up to be a part of our FanPulse team, over 50 percent of the most tuned-in fanatics believe Tomlin should be worried about his job status if things don’t turn around in a timely fashion.

Want to be a part of the BTSC Steelers Fan Pulse? Each week, we send brief polls to 100+ plugged in fans from each team. Steelers fans can sign up HERE to join FanPulse.

Clearly, by looking at the image above, you see while this is a majority of fans who believe Tomlin is on the hot seat, it isn’t a vast majority who believe Tomlin’s seat should be heating up. Also, being put on the ‘hot seat’ does not mean they believe Tomlin should be fired. It essentially just means there is some stress coming his way, and the possibility of a repeat performance after this season could equate to a change at head coach.

So, what do you think? Should Mike Tomlin be concerned, and be considered on the ‘hot seat’ heading into the second quarter of the season? Let us know by voting in the poll below, and if you are on a mobile device and the poll isn’t showing, speak your mind in the comment section below by telling the community why, or why not!

Steelers Film Room: Top-10 NFL CBs don’t have games like Joe Haden did vs. the Ravens

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 10:13am

Despite occasionally standing out in a relatively weak Steelers’ secondary, game film reveals Haden definitely isn’t among the NFL’s most highly-regarded cornerbacks.

August 30, 2017, is when Pittsburgh Steelers fans rejoiced after Joe Haden was signed upon his release by the Cleveland Browns. The excitement roared up and down the BTSC boards. Fans were so excited to have a legit Pro Bowl cornerback come to town — a cornerback selected to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014, while amassing seven interceptions and 40 pass deflections over the span. Unfortunately, Steelers fans glossed over 2015 and 2016 when Haden didn’t play well while missing 14 games.

His contract seemed reasonable at three years and $27 million. Haden’s 2017 low-ish salary of $3.2 million paid by the Steelers — with the Browns picking up the rest — pushed his total salary to $7 million due to the no-offset language in his contract. His annual contract makes him the nineteenth highest paid cornerback. The issue that a segment of Pittsburgh fans has with Haden is that he’s the eighth highest-paid cornerback this year following an injury-plagued and lackluster year.

This year appears to be the same dog-and-pony show as the past three years. Haden couldn’t finish the first game of the 2018 season against his old team — then missed Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Will the hamstring injury heal? Or will it cost Haden more games down the road like so many other soft-tissue injuries affecting aging cornerbacks?

The Baltimore Ravens game optimized where Haden is at in this stage of his career.

(I apologize but I didn’t put arrows designating Haden’s position in these videos. I had already uploaded the videos when I realized my blunder.)

The first play by Haden that’s bothersome is his clear lack of interest during the run game. Does Haden look like he has any interest in putting a hat on the running back?

Who takes the blame for the touchdown to John Brown? Fans can debate whether it is Cameron Sutton, Haden, Keith Butler or Mike Tomlin. Joe Haden is in his ninth year while Sutton is in his second. Haden has to take that leadership role by the horns and communicate who will cover who on the play.

For those who think Haden is a solid cornerback, this play epitomizes why Flacco didn’t fear him and threw his way all night. Haden bit on the pump-fake but an inept Flacco missed out on a sure six.

Haden is so worried about Brown’s deep speed he lets the speedy wideout get wide open on a crossing route. Brown had to slow down to make the reception, otherwise this would have been a long-gainer.

Flacco sails another pass to Brown where he gained separation on Haden.

Flacco throws deep down the seam to Brown — Haden makes a fine play but the only reason he’s even in the play is that Brown has to slow down.

Flacco playing easy pitch and catch with Michael Crabtree while Haden fails to wrap him up, giving Crabtree the first down.

The two cornerbacks at the top of the play are in man-coverage, and it can be assumed that Haden was in man as well. Yet again, a missed tackle. This was a crucial third-down conversion with the Steelers trailing by three late in the third quarter.

If Haden was the Steelers second cornerback making a $5-million salary, fans wouldn’t have an issue with his play. But that’s not the case — he’s the top cornerback, making $12 million this year. Joe Flacco is an average NFL quarterback who had no fear in attacking Haden for four quarters. So what happens when an elite quarterback, Matt Ryan, locks onto Julio Jones (Jones leads the NFL with 502 receiving yards) on Sunday? Being viewed as the best cornerback in a bad secondary doesn’t mean Haden is close to being a top NFL cornerback worthy of the top-10 pay he’s receiving.

Steelers Injury Report: 4 players sit out practice on Thursday with injuries

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 8:40am

Vince Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey missed a second day of training on Thursday and were joined on the sidelines by Morgan Burnett and Marcus Gilbert nursing injuries.

The Pittsburgh Steelers saw four players held out of practice on Thursday with injuries, while another was given a veteran rest day. Vince Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey missed their second day of training and were joined on the sidelines by Morgan Burnett, Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster, according to the team’s official injury report.

Vince Williams (hamstring), Morgan Burnett (groin), Marcus Gilbert (knee) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (ankle) did not practice Thursday. Ramon Foster had a vet's day off. Mike Hilton full for second day in a row. Chris Boswell also full after getting hurt Wednesday.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) October 4, 2018

Both Williams and Heyward-Bey look increasingly doubtful for Sunday, as does Burnett having been downgraded from limited on Wednesday to out on Thursday. Foster was simply the beneficiary of his now customary day off.

Gilbert was something of a surprise inclusion with a knee injury and his status will be one to watch on Friday. The right tackle has already missed time with a hamstring injury this year and it should be expected that Matt Feiler would play in his place once again if he cannot play against the Atlanta Falcons.

There was some positive news with the continued involvement of Mike Hilton as a full participant in training, and it is encouraging to note that Chris Boswell was able to practice fully despite leaving the field early the day before with a foot injury. When speaking to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com, Hilton sounded like a man who was preparing to play in Week 5, regardless of his elbow injury.

“It’s not going to hold me back, I am still going to be myself. I will be aggressive, physical. I am going to be using my hands like I want to, but I feel like it’s I am going to be back to myself.”

The Falcons injury report for Thursday:

Falcons injury report: WR Julio Jones (hand/ankle), DE Vic Beasley (ankle) LB Foye Oluokun (ankle) and DE Derrick Shelby (groin) were limited participants in practice. CB Justin Bethel (knee) and DT Grady Jarrett (ankle/knee) did not participate in practice.

— Jason Butt (@JasonHButt) October 4, 2018

Steelers News: It is time for a No. 3 wide receiving option to emerge

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 7:35am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the loser column after a poor performance vs. their divisional rival, the Baltimore Ravens, at Heinz Field in prime time in Week 4. With the Atlanta Falcons coming into Heinz Field for a Week-5 matchup, the Steelers will need to improve on their 1-2-1 record.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-Gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet, and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about how the Steelers are lacking a true No. 3 receiving option on offense. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are clearly No. 1 and No. 2, but someone else needs to emerge to help the offense click on all cylinders. In the past, it was Le’Veon Bell and/or Eli Rogers, but coming into the season it was James Washington who was expected to fill that role. Who will step up? Vance McDonald? Jesse James?

Only time will tell...

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers looking for more production out of No. 3 WR James Washington

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Through four games this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten 60 catches for 688 yards from their top two wide receivers.

After that, though, there’s been a precipitous drop-off. Ryan Switzer, James Washington, Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey have combined for 110 receiving yards.

Hunter has been inactive the past three games, Heyward-Bey has an ankle injury and the majority of Switzer’s receiving production has come when he lined up in the backfield as a de facto running back. So that leaves Washington, a rookie second-round pick, as the logical candidate for production from a Steelers receiver not named Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Through four games, Washington has been limited to five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown, but his usage has been trending up.

“He’s starting to get (significant) snaps,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said.

Washington played 47 of the Steelers’ 62 offensive snaps during this past Sunday’s loss to Baltimore. But he was targeted by just four of Ben Roethlisberger’s 47 passes (Brown and Smith-Schuster were 11 times each).

Still, Fichtner insists Washington is getting open.

“Sometimes he’s not always in a primary spot,” Fichtner said, “sometimes he is.

“I don’t know if it’s anything in particular that we’re trying to do or not do, but he’s actually improved.”

With Heyward-Bey not practicing thus far this week and looking as if he won’t play Sunday against Atlanta, Hunter might again earn a spot in the lineup.

“He’s an option, no doubt,” Fichtner said.

Tim Benz: Steelers don’t trust James Conner as much as they say

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The more the Steelers talk about James Conner, the more they promote his attributes as a running back.

If the coaches and players honestly believe what they are saying, it’s time they start buying into their own sales job.

Because the numbers on-field don’t support the backing given to Conner between games.

Without Le’Veon Bell as the go-to running back, the Steelers either can’t run or are afraid to try.

Maybe both.

Whatever the case, the Steelers rank 27th in yards per rushing attempt in the NFL and 28th in total rushing attempts.

The hype surrounding Conner started in training camp when it became apparent Bell would be sitting out activities in Latrobe for a second straight year. Every offensive player or coach at Saint Vincent College drooled while gushing about Conner’s improved blocking, hands, speed, decisiveness, health and conditioning.

The praise ramped up as it became apparent Bell wouldn’t be reporting in time for the season opener in Cleveland. Conner rewarded that praise by totaling 192 yards from scrimmage in that contest.

He was excellent.

Until that fumble in the fourth quarter that turned the game around.

Maybe that was it. Maybe that’s the reason. Whatever the case, since that moment, the Steelers haven’t treated their running game with Conner the same as they used to with Bell.

They’ll protest to the contrary, though.

“James Conner has been really solid,” Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “Both with the ball in his hands and without.”

If that’s true, then he should get the ball more.

Falcons are talking about AB, T.J., Ben & more

When the Steelers take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Heinz Field it will be a matchup of two explosive offenses that are looking to get back on track and start stacking some wins.

Falcons Coach Dan Quinn knows the weapons the Steelers bring to the table, starting with but not limited to Antonio Brown.

“Right off the bat it’s the explosiveness their team has,” said Quinn. “As good and explosive as Antonio is, they have a full complement of guys they use at receiver and tight ends and backs. They make it very challenging because of the different guys they go to and the matchups. They have a full arsenal and full stable of guys they like to feature and use.”

The Falcons also weighed in on JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.J Watt and more.

Running back Devonta Freeman on Antonio Brown:

“AB is explosive. You already know AB is explosive. I have nothing but respect for AB. I know his work ethic. I know him personally. I know where he comes from. I know he is a competitor. I know he likes to play. I know he likes to win. I know he likes to perform at a high level.”

Quinn on what makes JuJu Smith-Schuster a difficult matchup:

“He really finishes. With the ball in his hands, the finishing elements, the physicality. You can see in his background there is defense for sure. He’ll go and finish out. The speed is there, but there is speed with a number of the receivers in their offense. The speed in which they play. But the way JuJu finishes, the physicality, those are things that at the end of the catch, the end of the run, that he certainly caught my attention from a competitor. You better bring it because he certainly is.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan on what he sees from the Steelers defense:

“They’re some talented players at all levels of the defense. Cam (Heyward) in the front-seven – disruptive player, very physical, they’ve got some good outside linebackers in their base schemes come defensive ends and they’re sub-defense. Talented rushers, physical guys, very athletic. So they’ve got some good players on the backend. They’ve been dealing with some injuries across the board on defense but they’ve got some tough schemes to go against as players.”

Week 5 betting preview: Steelers 3-point favorites over Falcons

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 6:35am

We take a look at the latest odds for the Steelers’ clash with the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking for their first home win in their third attempt on Sunday when they take on the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field. While neither team has impressed so far in 2018, the Steelers still find themselves as unconvincing 3-point favorites for the game at the time of writing, leaving the high scoring Falcons looking like good value to cover against the spread.

An opening line of 4-points has seen less movement than might have been expected at this stage, but it would not be a surprise to note the spread had dropped to under a field goal by kick off. An initial totals offering of 56-points has seen a bit more action, and 58-points is currently the standard position for most online providers.

It is a sign of quite how far the Steelers’ once proud defensive reputation has fallen that they are faced with a higher points total for this matchup than they have seen in recent memory. Dating back to 2003, only 6 games in NFL history have closed with an over/under of 57.5 or more at game time, according to BetLabSports, and none of them involved Pittsburgh.

An early moneyline price of +160 to -185 has barely moved with most sportsbooks, with -160 the best price listed for the Steelers as of Thursday night.

According to Oddsshark.com, Pittsburgh is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games and 1-3 on the season. The total has gone over in five of the Steelers last six games and the under is 1-3 on the year so far. Worse still, Pittsburgh is 0-5 ATS in their last five games at home, losing four of their last five at Heinz Field straight up. Atlanta have not fared much better recently either, going 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games and 1-4 straight up.

With the Falcons struggling against both the run and the pass, the first touchdown could come from anyone for the Steelers. We will be looking for James Conner to get back on track with the opening score in Week 5 against a team that has given up the second highest number of rushing touchdowns so far in 2018. He should be available at a price of around 6/1 for first game touchdown and around 7/2 for first team touchdown.

Podcast: Previewing the Week 5 matchup with the Falcons

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 5:34am

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

As the Pittsburgh Steelers resume their September schedule on Sunday, facing the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field, there’s a surge of Steelers news — so 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 podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading up to this week’s game!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Injuries
  • Key Matchups
  • Fantasy Players
  • Week 5predictions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Bryan Anthony Davis 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
Android Users: CLICK HERE

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

Steelers vs. Falcons Week 5: Time, TV Schedule and game information

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 4:30am

We’ve got all the information you need to know to keep up with the action from the Steelers’ clash with the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on a team with almost as many problems as they have this Sunday, set to face the 1-3 Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field in Week 5. Both teams have struggled to stop teams from putting points on the board in 2018, while their offenses have been somewhat similar statistically, even if Atlanta has been scoring with more frequency.

Historically, Pittsburgh has owned the Falcons in these matchups, boasting a 13-2-1 dating back to 1966. But with these two teams only meeting once every for years, this record has little bearing on the upcoming game beyond bragging rights for the fans. In something of a strange quirk of these contest as of late, three of the last four games have gone to overtime, with the Falcons responsible for the last tie Pittsburgh was involved in back in 2002 prior to their Week 1 result.

Just the thought of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley lining up against the Steelers’ secondary is the stuff of nightmares, and it is hard to be confident that Pittsburgh will record their first home win of the year. As bad as they have looked at times this season, the Falcons have been far more competitive in their games and it could be another long afternoon for the Steelers on Sunday.

Week 5:

Game: Atlanta Falcons (1-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)

Date: Sunday, October 7

Kickoff: 13.00 p.m. ET

Venue: Heinz Field

Weather: Live weather update

Watch:

TV Channel: FOX, broadcast locally on WPGH-TV, with Chris Myers and Daryl Johnston as commentators and Laura Okmin the sideline reporter. Check the national broadcast map to see if the game is on in your area.

Online: NFL.com Game Pass on delay in the U.S and live for international viewers or live in the U.S via a subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket. The NFL Game Center will update the action on a play-by-play basis.

Radio: Steeler Nation Radio with Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin as commentators and Craig Wolfley as the sideline reporter. Broadcast live on WDVE 102.5 FM and WBGG 970 AM in the Pittsburgh area and via their local affiliates. Listen online via Steelers.com and with the Steelers Official Mobile App. Alternatively, you can listen to a radio broadcast on SiriusXM.

You can also follow Behind the Steel Curtain on Twitter to catch all of the highlights as they happen, and be sure to check back with us after the game for our post-match roundup.

Injuries:

The Steelers primary concerns for Week 5 center around Vince Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey, both of who missed practice the first days of training this week. Morgan Burnett is also looking increasingly doubtful after he was downgraded from limited on Wednesday to out on Thursday. If none of these names can be full participants on Friday, they will not play against the Falcons.

Upcoming schedule:

Snap Counts show exactly how opposing offenses are exploiting the Steelers’ defense

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 2:40pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has been gashed, and the snap totals from Week 4 show one recipe for success for opposing offenses.

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who pays close attention to the game of football, but the ‘secret’ on how to abuse the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is out there. It might have taken some teams longer than others, but there it has become very obvious how offenses are approaching the Steelers’ defense to maximize success.

It is simple, really. Just keep the two inside linebackers on the field as much as possible.

If there is a glaring weakness in the Pittsburgh defense, it would be at inside linebacker. While we have written, and talked, about the absence of Ryan Shazier a lot here, his absence is noteworthy on a weekly basis, and when you analyze the snap counts from the team’s Week 4 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football you see just what I’m referencing.

In my opinion, by drafting Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the team believed they would be able to utilize this big safety in a hybrid inside linebacker role. Morgan Burnett would play alongside Sean Davis, and Edmunds could the the ‘rover’ in the middle. Clearly, Burnett was injured in the game, and Mike Hilton’s absence compounded the issue, but the Steelers going against two tight end sets has left them vulnerable in more ways than one.

When everyone is healthy, Jon Bostic and Vince Williams are on the field for the run-heavy look, and offenses are shredding them because of it. In the Week 4 loss, the Steelers played Williams 65 snaps, 86 percent, and Bostic 58 snaps, 76 percent of the plays.

On the flip side, the Ravens deployed two tight ends often. Nick Boyle registered 55 snaps, Maxx Williams 40 and Mark Andrews 26. Talk about a lot of tight end play from the opposition.

Even in the team’s Week 3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where the Steelers possessed a huge lead in the first half, the Buccaneers tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate saw 48 and 31 snaps respectively.

This isn’t a new trend, but one which wasn’t abused with teams who have the tight ends to pull it off when Ryan Shazier was healthy and active. With Shazier, they had a knifing linebacker in run support, and an athlete fast enough to run with the more receiver-like tight ends in the passing game.

How can the Steelers fix this issue? It doesn’t come without paying a price. They can continue to die a slow, painful death watching Bostic and Williams attempt to cover, or they can gamble with a smaller, but more athletic, player manning the middle of the field.

In my opinion, I’ve seen enough in the first quarter to know I don’t want to test Bostic and Williams more than they already have been. I would be all for Edmunds becoming the player in the middle in certain sub packages, or giving Matthew Thomas a shot at trying to be the stop-gap for this leaking defense.

With a 1-2-1 record, and a defense making history in all the wrong ways, I don’t see how you keep continuing to do what you have done, expecting a different result. In fact, some say that is the definition of insanity.

Only time will tell.

If you want to see the complete Snap Totals for the Steelers in Week 4, you can check the chart below, or click HERE.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ ignorance has put them in their current situation

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 1:17pm

If the Steelers are to fix at least some of the issues that ail them, they need to start being more honest about what those problems are.

To the casual observer, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be in total disarray through the first four weeks of the season, in reality, it is much worse than that. Despite possessing more talent on offense than virtually every team in the NFL, even without Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers cannot score consistently and the defensive slide into mediocrity shows no sign of abating any time soon.

While it might seem obvious to expect many of these issues to be fixable, improvements will only occur when Pittsburgh changes what they are doing, and the message coming from players and coaches right now suggests a group in denial about the issues that plague them.

Deluded about the quality they possessed on the roster at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier sidelined, Tyler Matakevich was a more than capable replacement fans were told. To date, Matakevich has not seen a single snap on defense this season. The Steelers barely seemed to look at the free agent market beyond Jon Bostic and passed over every available prospect in the NFL draft in favor of a safety ranked by most as a Day 2 selection at best.

Derwin James has been the NFL's highest graded rookie safety by a comfortable distance so far this season. pic.twitter.com/VoxqM2yf5a

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 3, 2018

It is telling that Matthew Thomas might be the best option on the roster to replace Vince Williams if he cannot play on Sunday, but equally disturbing to acknowledged that the rookie will probably not see a snap on defense in Week 5. When Matakevich drops into coverage against a tight end or running back against the Atlanta Falcons, Steeler Nation should be forgiven for weeping.

If rumors about attempts to trade Le’Veon Bell are actually true, then someone in the organization deserves to be fired for squandering the opportunity to move the player when they actually had some leverage. The only value Bell offers to any team by this point in the season is Pittsburgh and if the front office had not been so naive about Bell’s plans for 2018, they might have actually dealt with the problem sooner.

The Steelers star running back gave more than enough warning signs that he would not be arriving at team facilitates in time for Week 1 and the organization ignored all of them. While Mike Tomlin and his staff can insist they do not pay attention to what their players post on social media, they may want to start doing so. They clearly cannot afford to ignore all the noise surrounding the team, however much they want to pretend it doesn't exist.

Through the first four weeks of the season, Pittsburgh has failed in virtually every way imaginable, but those inside the building seem relatively unfazed. Citing previous poor starts as a sign they will turn it around, or blaming phantom penalties on offense for their woes, both players and coaches alike seem unwilling to accept the obvious truths.

Ben Roethlisberger talks about improving on offense for this week's game against the Falcons and more. pic.twitter.com/9HsZZ87IqE

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2018

Swapping Todd Haley for Randy Fichtner was meant to reinvigorate the offense, so far it looks like they have taken a step back. The offense believed they could live without Bell and had all the confidence in the world in James Conner, but the former Pitt product has carried the ball an average of 11 times a game in the last three weeks.

The team being behind in games has played a factor in that to be sure, but there have also been countless opportunities to run the ball the coaching staff have ignored.

Steelers certainly could use Le’Veon Bell. Steelers rank last in the NFL in rushing yards per game (43.3) and yards per rush (2.8) since Week 2, and their 19 rushing yards in Week 4 were their fewest in a game since 1970.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 1, 2018

Ben Roethlisberger has been a streaky quarterback for much of the last two years, but all is forgiven when he takes a holiday during training camp and Antonio Brown goes AWOL as a consequence. Tomlin remains confident the duo will find their footing soon enough, simply because it has been there before. Rest time is clearly not an issue with Big Ben taking a day off from practice every Wednesday, but maybe working on their chemistry should be taking priority right now.

Joey Porter has been given a host of top draft picks to turn into pass rushers, yet T.J. Watt currently looks as equally likely to wash out as all the names that came before him. Insanely doing the same thing and expecting different results isn't just a paraphrase of a famous Albert Einstein quote, it is the Steelers’ mantra as of late. The fans feel like this too watching your outside linebacker play too Joey.

Joey Porter is all of Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/Ie4BfkCc6P

— Benstonium (@Benstonium) October 1, 2018

While someone has finally noticed that Artie Burns is no longer the promising rookie he once appeared to be, it is laughable to think that a player like Coty Sensabaugh is one of the names they would turn to. A player who couldn't get off the bench in 2017 is suddenly thrust into the mix in a bizarre rotation of three options at the position the coaching staff believes will produce a starter.

Communication issues and problems with tackling have plagued this defense for years, but here we are watching the same struggle unfold each Sunday in 2018. Stephon Tuitt has vanished entirely this season and Cameron Heyward’s repeated calls for his teammates to step up continue to fall on deaf ears.

"Either buy in or don't get on the field" -- Cam Heyward asking for more urgency in the wake of the #Steelers 1-2-1 start to the season pic.twitter.com/W8g7q8I7pz

— Chase Williams WPXI (@chasepwilliams) October 1, 2018

There is little point relying on the veteran free agent signings of the past few years either, given most of them are perpetually injured. Joe Haden, Vance McDonald and Morgan Burnett may well be able to elevate the play of the team, but that would require them to stay healthy. The team openly discusses the disappointing play of the punter and then allows the winner of the camp battle to leave for another team and Jordan Berry continues to be a detriment.

Ultimately, not all of these issues should negate the fact that Pittsburgh is capable of performing at a high enough level to win games, and a turn around of sorts should still be expected. The Steelers should be able to stack enough wins to paper over the cracks and convince the front office they have things headed in the right direction, just enough so we can all be back here again next year in the same predicament.

Steelers have heard nothing from Le’Veon Bell about returning in Week 7

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 12:08pm

While he may be touting his return in the press, no one in the Steelers organization appears to have heard from the team’s star running back about this latest revelation

Despite being an aspiring rapper, communication has never been Le’Veon Bell’s strong suit and that is once again on display this week after he opened up to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN about his plans to return to the team in Week 7. While it might be all well and good to get your story out there in the press, it might also be nice to let your employer, the coaches or perhaps even just a teammate know your intentions. Sadly, that is not the path Bell has taken with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After Mike Tomlin admitted he had not talked to his star running back when speaking to the media on Tuesday, the local beat writers turned to the players to get the inside information, only to find none of them had any insights either. According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette who has spoken to a number of veteran players in the wake of this ESPN revelation, no one in the locker room appears to have heard from Bell.

Not Ramon Foster, who also seemed underwhelmed by the reported news of his teammates return

“No I have not talked to him. No, no, I haven’t. There’s nothing beyond that.

“No reaction. Man, we have a lot of stuff in house we have to deal with more than anything. If he shows up, that’ll be awesome, if he chooses to come later, that’s cool too. Our job right now is to win these games that are in front of us until he does. We’ll see how it goes when he gets here. He’ll be our teammate. We’ll see what his thinking is, ask him more questions, I guess. We can’t look ahead to that.”

Nor Maurkice Pouncey, even if he was a bit more reconciliatory about a reunion.

“No, we haven’t talked.

“We love Le’Veon. I think sometimes people get it misconstrued how much we care about him. We want all the best for him, you know what I mean? But people take things the wrong way some time. ... we understand both sides of it and once he does report, trust me, he’ll be welcome with open arms and I’m pretty sure everybody on the team will accept him.”

“We’ve done a lot of great things with Le’Veon. Sometimes you let some things get in the way, but he’s been a heck of a player here, great teammate. We’ll never forget that. Trust me, I’m pretty sure when he comes back I’m pretty sure everybody will be totally fine with it.”

Reporting similar responses from the rest of the team, Bouchette fail to find a name of the locker room who had spoken to Bell, also noting that coaching staff members who had tried texts or other forms of communication also had not heard back.

While it could be conceivable that Bell was looking to gauge the reaction of the team to his news before contacting them directly, it is just as likely the back has already changed his mind about reporting or maybe never had any plans to return in the first place. Given his stance a few weeks ago about wanting to preserve his body, making himself available in Week 7 is illogical, but to be fair, nothing about this saga has made much sense so far.

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