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A level-headed news-discussion site with a sense of history and community 2018-10-14T19:39:40-04:00
Updated: 19 min 40 sec ago

It is time for T.J. Watt to step up and be the transcendent player the Steelers’ defense needs

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 10:59am

Second-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt needs to snap out of his early-season slump and become the difference-maker for the Steelers’ struggling defense.

The major concern for the Steelers this past offseason was how they were going to replace inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and his play-making and difference-making abilities.

I spent a good portion of the spring and summer saying the solution was in-house and at a slightly different position—outside linebacker.

I was referring to T.J. Watt, the second-year player out of Wisconsin, who burst onto the scene in 2017 and did so well—52 tackles, seven sacks, seven passes defensed and one interception—he forced the season-long benching (and legacy-tarnishing behavior) of James Harrison.

What every defense needs is a play-maker, a disrupter, someone opposing offensive coordinators must focus on and prepare for. Think Troy Polamalu from about 2004-2010. Think Harrison from 2008-2011.

Despite his troubles with injuries during the course of his three-plus years in the NFL, Shazier was developing into that kind of defender. Unfortunately, he suffered the ultimate injury last December in Cincinnati, leaving Pittsburgh’s defense without anyone for opponents to prepare for.

But with Watt’s rookie season a clear success, that seemed like a temporary problem for Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler, even as they searched for a solution in free agency and the draft.

And after Watt’s first game of his sophomore season, one in which he tallied three sacks and a game-saving (or, at least, loss-saving) field goal block at the end of overtime in a Week-1 tie with the Browns on September 9, it looked as if 2018 could truly be No. 90’s coming-out party. In-fact, that performance put Watt in the spotlight as never before, when the league named him the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Unfortunately, instead of continuing his progression into the upper-echelon of young outside linebackers, Watt has regressed—or at least disappeared—over the past three weeks, registering eight tackles, zero sacks, zero interceptions and zero passes defensed.

In other words, Watt has looked about as lifeless and hopeless as everyone else on a Steelers’ defense that has yielded a combined 95 points over the past three games in-which Pittsburgh has gone 1-2.

The Steelers are now looking for answers, especially on defense, and may even turn to Matthew Thomas, the undrafted rookie inside linebacker out of Florida State, who may finally see some significant playing-time against the Falcons this Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

In the first four preseason games of his young career, Thomas showed explosiveness and difference-making ability. But through the first 17 regular season games of his professional football career, Watt showed similar attributes and did so with such conviction, it was hard to doubt he was the real deal.

But after three games in-which he has done next to nothing, doubt is beginning to creep in.

Has Watt’s play dropped off because of his switch from right outside linebacker over to the left side as some have suggested? If that is the case, then Watt isn’t as special as I thought. After all, the truly special talents can excel just about anywhere you put them. And even if their statistics slip, their presence never does.

Watt’s presence since Week 1 has been akin to the child on the side of the proverbial milk carton.

Maybe Watt’s struggles over the past few weeks are a product of the league adjusting to him. Maybe he’s adjusting to new responsibilities. Or maybe it’s just a good old-fashioned sophomore slump.

Hopefully, this period of lack for Watt is just a small blip on the screen of what will ultimately become an extraordinary career.

If that is the case, we can only hope Watt’s struggles don’t last much longer. If he is going to be a superstar, he needs to snap out of it sooner rather than later, for the sake of the Steelers and their current plight.

The Steelers’ defense still needs a new difference-maker and play-maker, and there’s still time for T.J. Watt to be that kind of player.

2019 NFL Mock Draft: Steelers finally find their Ryan Shazier replacement

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 9:25am

With the season already a quarter of the way done, it's time to look at a possible early draft target for the Steelers.

Yes, it's time for the first mock draft of the season. Is it early? Absolutely it is, but that doesn't mean we can't start mocking a bit as we get a definition of how college players are playing and what the Steelers need in general. Thus, it is time to delve into one of my top-10 prospects of the early season. For the one- round mock I have here, we will assume the Steelers have the 13th pick, as per the rankings currently. It's unlikely this will be the same after the season ends, but regardless it's the best we can do currently.

Now, as we've seen during the first four weeks of the season, this pick has to be on defense. Yes, I know, another first-rounder spent on a defender. Unless Ben Roethlisberger retires, there's no chance I'm spending a first-round pick on an offensive player, especially not a running back. I would rather address RB through free agency with a guy like Tevin Colemen or, since it's now reported the Transition Tag is going on Le’Veon Bell, he might just be back with the team on a long-term deal.

This leaves me with three options: Cornerback, Inside Linebacker, or EDGE.

I can make a good argument for any of these three, but I have a certain sense the team really wants to shore-up the middle of the defense. I have the young, promising Matthew Thomas, and the overachieving Jon Bostic, but I'd like one of them to be a backup along with Vince Williams. Creating a four-headed attack at ILB in which I can rotate the guys I want on the field at will is something I'm all for. Thus, I'm going for that key game-changer at ILB.

Steelers fans, meet Mack Wilson.

Round 1: Mack Wilson. ILB, Alabama

Just to let you guys know, at the beginning of last year. WIlson ran a 4.59 40 and he looks even faster than that on tape. The 6’0’, 230lb (there is no way he is 230 lbs) linebacker is an absolute unit on the field. I introduce you to one of those rare athletic ILB types that can change a defense. If you want an introduction to him, watch him fly off the edge and absolutely blow up this running play.

If you’re not convinced Mack Wilson (@iam__mw3o) is an absolute monster, then you didn’t watch the game. #RollTide

— AJ Spurr (@21Spurr) September 3, 2018

He's an absolute freight train off the edge when he's unblocked like this. If you thought Bud Dupree could fly off the edge when he was unblocked, Mack Wilson puts that to shame. His athleticism isn't just limited to speed, but acceleration and agility too. He's elite in both areas, and you can see that all over his tape. Just take a look at this interception, great acceleration forward and then one of the most athletic interceptions you'll see as he lays out for the catch.

Dual hive here of great players in Quinnen Williams and Mack Wilson. Williams with a strong rip and man does he ever stay low. This is pure domination. Wilson with close coverage and a super athletic play. Wilson a special type of ILB.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 3, 2018

You have to give props to Quinnen Williams with a great chop and then the strong rip through right after. Williams himself is a great defensive lineman, and is a strict product of now-Steelers DL coach Karl Dunbar. However, you can see Wilson has extra tight coverage here and he's actually further behind the receiver to the ball, so Wilson has to come forward with burst and make this play. That's just an incredible athletic play.

However, my favorite thing about Mack Wilson on that play might be the mental aspect. To make that play requires two key things. One, you have to be able to read the QB and react quickly. Two, it takes top awareness of coverage on your man to make this play. Wilson makes that play possible through mental awareness chiefly. If you want to see the range and reaction this guy has in coverage, look no further than this play.

Goodness what a play by Wilson. Comes down and just lays out the receiver out. You can see the burst and athleticism straight off of that. This guy is not afraid to be physical either. Every time you watch him you get some Ryan Shazier glimpses.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 3, 2018

Every time I watch this play I get more and more Ryan Shazier vibes. He's increasingly aggressive with his athleticism and is shot out of a cannon on plays like this. His mental processing needs work on things like play-action but it has improved. Wilson has plays like this all over his film. Once he sees a play, he goes and attacks it and he attacks it aggressively. The hit and reaction once it's released are imperative to making this play. His athleticism helps a ton too, but the mental awareness in coverage is a huge reason why this works. That's something the Steelers seemingly lack at ILB too. The mental aspect in coverage seems to escape them, so this would be a huge add.

The way Mack Wilson plays reminds me a little too much of Ryan Shazier. His awareness in coverage, the way he aggressively comes off of the edge, and his run-defense too. Wilson is a great run-defender, and is especially good in fighting off blockers at the second level due to active hands.

Mack Wilson Thread: I am so impressed with how athletic and strong this kid is. Georgia OL uses the stack and gets to the second level on Wilson put he fights straight through this traffic. Stays disciplined as he breaks down and then rips right through the block. Smart play.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 3, 2018

Again, great discipline and rip through by Wilson. He is a really solid run defender and makes this play to prevent Sony Michel from really breaking it. Good tackle.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 3, 2018

He just tackled Sony Michel and Nick Chubb with ease too, so that should let you know how sure of a tackler this guy is. But notice how aware he is of the ball carrier and then how he fights straight off of these blocks to make the tackles. This is how you beat a stack block and fill in the line when your DL doesn't get the penetration you want them to get. The Steelers have this somewhat in Jon Bostic, but it never hurts to have two of them. When you have two of those ILBs, your run-defense improves exponentially.

Even Wilson’s cons mirror Shazier’s when he was coming out. He takes bad angles but they are made up for by his athleticism, and he overpursues into the backfield at times too. Yes, it would be a retread of a young Ryan Shazier, but Mack Wilson is just what this defense needs. You wanna improve this defense? Mack Wilson is the ticket to doing it.

Steelers Injury Report: Vince Williams sits out practice while Morgan Burnett was limited

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 7:59am

Chris Boswell also joined the names sitting out of practice towards the end of the session after he was forced to end training early because of a foot injury.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first injury report of the week might appear to feature a long list of names, but more than half of the players sitting out practice on Wednesday were the beneficiaries of a coach’s day off. The key injury concerns heading into Week 5 appear to be Vince Williams and Morgan Burnett, with Chris Boswell and Darrius Heyward-Bey making a surprise appearance on the list to start the week.

Steeers injury report features surprise appearance from kicker Chris Boswell. Lots of veteran days off sprinkled in, too.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) October 3, 2018

Williams’ absence was always expected after he left the contest early against the Baltimore Ravens with a hamstring injury, and he’s in danger of missing the first game of his career due to injury on Sunday. Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort and Matthew Thomas all received snaps with the first-team in his place, and it appears a combination of these players would replace him against the Atlanta Falcons if he cannot play.

With Burnett continuing to work his way back from a groin injury, his participation on game day will not happen unless he can at least train fully with the team on Thursday or Friday. After a teammate stepped on his foot during practice, Chris Boswell was forced to leave the field early on Wednesday, but it’s presumed he’ll be available to play against the Falcons.

Chris Boswell had his foot stepped on in practice today. He is expected to be fine for Sunday.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) October 3, 2018

Chris Boswell will be a full participant on the injury report because he didn't miss any kicking drills. Punter Jordan Berry said Boswell was "scraped" by a cleat during practice. The injury is to Boswell's left foot.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) October 3, 2018

The availability of Heyward-Bey could be in doubt, having sat out training with an ankle injury. But there was better news to share about the health of Mike Hilton after he was a full participant in practice, albeit wearing a brace on his elbow.

Mike Hilton practiced full today. He wore a brace on his elbow for protection and said he will wear it in the game. Big boost for the defense with the high-powered Falcons offense coming to town.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) October 3, 2018

Although Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Haden and Maurkice Pouncey were listed among the players missing practice, it’s presumed each was given a veteran rest day, as has become the norm for a number of key starters this season. All are expected to be back at practice on Thursday.

Crunching the Numbers: Evaluating the Pittsburgh Steelers first quarter of 2018

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 6:48am

Success in September has not always been the Steeler way.

Coach Mike Tomlin mentioned in his Tuesday press conference how the team just went through their first quarter evaluation for 2018. When asked about the reason for the evaluation, Tomlin stated he generally does it every year after the first four games. With 2018 being the second-worst four-game start of a Tomlin-coached Steelers team, the evaluation needed to take place whether it was precedented or not.

First Four of 2018

With the Steelers currently 1-2-1, there is reason for concern in salvaging the 2018 season. The team is currently ranked 10th in offensive scoring, third in passing yards, and 28th in rushing yards. The team is also ranked dead last in giveaways, leading the league with nine.

On the defensive side of the ball, the highest league ranking the Steelers have managed is sixth in the number of takeaways. The next highest team ranking for the defense is 21st in rushing yards allowed. The Steelers are toward the bottom of the league otherwise, ranked 28th in scoring and 29th in passing yards surrendered.

The rankings on special teams are another reason for concern. The Steelers are ranked 31st in field-goal percentage and 30th in PAT percentage. They are also 28th in average punting yards. In the return game, they are ranked 23rd in kick off returns and a much-improved 10th in punt returns.

There have been many reports about how the Steelers have been the most penalized team in the NFL so far in 2018. There have been 42 accepted penalties against the Steelers. On the flipside, the Steelers have also been the beneficiary of the most penalties of any team in the first four games, accepting 39 penalties called against their opponents.

Historical Perspective

The Steelers have never gone 1-2-1 in the first quarter of a sixteen-game season. In fact, they have never had this record in any quarter of a season since 1978 when the league expanded to 16 games. The only other time the Steelers had a season of 16 games which included a tie was in 2002 when the Steelers went 2-1-1 in the third quarter of the season on their way to a record of 10-5-1.

The Steelers have only had two seasons under Mike Tomlin where they were not at least .500 in the first four games. Other than this current season, 2013 was the Steelers’ worst start when they began their season 0-4.

Strangely, the Steelers have never gone 1-3 in the first quarter under Coach Tomlin, and have only had three instances of this record in any quarter of the season. Under Bill Cowher (1992-2006), the team started 1-3 three times (2000, 2002, and 2006). Interesting enough, under Coach Cowher the Steelers never began the season 4-0 or 0-4. Under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers had a record for the first quarter of the season of 1-3 three times as well (1986, 1988, and 1990). Is important to note that even though Coach Noll began coaching in 1969, a quarter of the season consisted of four game starting in 1978 when the regular season was expanded from 14 games to 16 games.

The first quarter of 2018 is the sixth time under Coach Tomlin the Steelers did not have at least a .500 record in any quarter of the season. The Steelers were at least 2-2 on 39 of the 45 four-game quarters. Of the other five instances, the Steelers have made the playoffs in two of those seasons. In both of those circumstances, the Steelers finished no worse than 3-1 in any other quarter of the season.

Only five times has a Tomlin-coached team gone 4-0 in any quarter of the season, with none of those instances in the first four games. In fact, the Steelers have not began a season 4–0 since their Super Bowl-winning season of 1979. Additionally, the Steelers began 4-0 in 1978 as well when they began the season 7-0.


While considering the state of the Steelers after the first quarter of the season, it is important to point out how fan confidence basically goes as far back as the last game. Even if the Steelers were 3-1 but were coming off their miserable performance against the Ravens, there would still be a high level of concern. On the other hand, if the Steelers were 1-3 and coming off a dominant victory over Baltimore, fans would have confidence in the team trending in the right direction.

Starting strong has not been the norm for the Steelers under Coach Tomlin. In 12 seasons, the Steelers have finished above .500 in the first quarter of the season five times, with each time the Steelers going on to make the playoffs. In order to reach the postseason after beginning 1-2-1, the Steelers will need to have marked improvement along the way. With the defense ranked towards the bottom of the league and an offense which seems unbalanced, turn-over heavy, and out of sync at times, there will be a lot to overcome for the 2018 Steelers to make the playoffs.

Steelers Podcast: Who is to blame for the team’s issues? Offense or Defense?

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 5:39am

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 5 action and they’ve just passed the quarter mark of their 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 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 win over the Buccaneers
  • Week 5 True or False!
  • Breaking down the Steelers vs. Falcons Week 5 prime time game
  • Week 5 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
Android Users: 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: Tyler Matakevich gets majority of reps in place of Vince Williams

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 4:38am

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 Tyler Matakevich, not Matthew Thomas, received the majority of the defensive starter reps at practice with Vince Williams nursing a hamstring injury. This could have a big impact on the team’s defense.

Let’s get to the news:

Tyler Matakevich gets biggest role in committee replacing Vince Williams at Steelers practice

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It appears as if the Pittsburgh Steelers’ method for replacing Vince Williams, if needed, is by committee.

Tyler Matakevich said he got first-team reps in the base defense in place of Williams (hamstring injury) during Wednesday’s practice but L.J. Fort came in for some (passing-oriented) packages and rookie Matthew Thomas subbed each at times.

“We know we are ready,” Matakevich said. “All three of us have got to be ready to go in there and rotate and help this defense and help this team, (do) whatever we can do to get this ‘W.’”

When the Steelers (1-2-1) face the Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at Heinz Field on Sunday, they could be without their longest-tenured linebacker. Williams did not practice Wednesday after leaving this past Sunday’s loss to Baltimore during the fourth quarter.

Although Matakevich initially ran out to replace Williams, he was called back in in favor of Fort, who finished out the game at inside linebacker against the Ravens. Matakevich said was because Fort was wearing a “green-dot” helmet with a radio that allows communications from the sidelines for play-calling purposes.

Who would wear the coveted dot Sunday – assuming Williams can’t play – isn’t yet clear. The other starting inside linebacker is Jon Bostic.

“You only get two (radio helmets),” Matakevich said. “But (the coaches) will figure it out. We’ve just got to go out there and execute it. That’s what it comes down to; there’s no magic potion.”

Close to being able to practice, could Ola Adeniyi be an answer for ailing Steelers’ passrush?

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Unsolicited during his weekly news conference Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin cited an ability (or lack thereof) to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks as a key to solving what is ailing the defense.

While Tomlin was directly referring to improving the play and production from those on the current 53-man roster, the passrush is in line to add a reinforcement.

Rookie Ola Adeniyi is eligible to return to practice Oct. 15, and the rookie outside linebacker said Wednesday he will be physically able to as soon as league rules allow. Adeniyi was put on the injured reserve list after suffering a hamstring injury during the final preseason game.

“I’m good (physically); I have been good for weeks,” Adeniyi said.

“Ride it out, just two more weeks.”

A player can return to practice after six weeks on IR; he can’t play until he’s sat out eight games. That is a change for this season; in prior recents seasons, a player could miss eight weeks (not games) before being activated. This season, the result is that Adeniyi is eligible to be activated off of injured reserve in time for the Steelers’ Nov. 8 game against Carolina.

Also, it should be noted that teams have a 21-day window in which to activate a player who begins practicing while on IR.

Adeniyi was initially surprised when the Steelers put him on IR after he made the team through its final cuts before the regular season . He then vowed there was “no question” he would be ready to go when eligible, and nothing has happened since then to change that outlook.

Adeniyi perhaps can’t be activated soon enough for a defense that’s had trouble getting pressure on quarterbacks. After having seven sacks in the opener at Cleveland, the Steelers have gotten just six sacks the past three games. Just three (two from Bud Dupree, one from Anthony Chickillo) have come from outside linebackers.

How the Steelers can survive a 1-2-1 start

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Cameron Heyward knows where this dreary season is headed if the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make the proper corrections.

“If we don’t, there’s no reason why we’ll win the next game,” the All-Pro defensive end said before Sunday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. “To beat good teams in this league, you have to be able to make corrections.”

Vaulting from a 1-2-1 start to contention will be an arduous task for the Steelers, who must improve in virtually every area.

Running the ball or getting stops on defense is a major issue. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had brilliant moments but two bad games. The Steelers lead the league in penalties (42) by a wide margin. Philadelphia is second, with 35.

Overall, the team efficiency rating is an AFC North-worst 47.5, and the ESPN Football Power Index projects the Steelers to win 7.3 games this season, 10th in the AFC.

Running back Le’Veon Bell plans to return for Week 8 against the Browns, which should provide a spark.

The pain of a Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss doesn’t end on game day

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 1:57pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ disturbing performance thus far this season deserves all the criticism it’s received, but the critiques probably would prove more effective if they were a bit more constructive.

One of my son’s best friends is a talented young man who just happens to be autistic. He’s a college student and a impressive anime artist. You really wouldn’t know he was autistic unless you got to spend some time getting to know him, then you’d realize he has difficulty communicating with others. He’s gearing his college education with consideration for his artistic abilities, but he’s also taking public speaking classes to help improve his communications skills. That happens to be a skill which we, as Steelers fans, could all look to improve on.

I’ve always hated every Steelers’ loss since I was a kid, but I admit I hate them even more now. Each Steelers’ loss brings out the absolute worst in our fan base. The comment boards light up with disgruntled fans wanting to voice their displeasure, and that’s usually a good thing. That’s what BTSC and other Black-and-gold sites are for — a place were we can all come together and discuss all things Steelers, both good and bad. Many times we will voice our opinions and realize we’re not alone — that others are seeing the same deficiencies and shortcomings we are. This can have a therapeutic effect and help each person vent their frustrations. Often times you’ll experience a special kinship with other commenters and learn to truly value their insights.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans are one of the most knowledgeable fan bases in all the NFL, without a doubt. We are also one of the most passionate groups around. Each loss is painful in is own way, but some hurt worse than others.

Losing to the New England Patriots, in what has been a yearly occurrence, always stings — but usually I could chalk it up to being defeated by a superior opponent. That’s why last season’s loss was so extremely painful, because I felt like the Steelers were the superior team. Maybe Tom Brady would have driven the team down the field for another last-second, game-winning play if the instant replay officials would have let Jesse James’ touchdown catch stand as it was called on the field — but alas, we’ll never know. It sure would have made the loss a little easier for me to accept. I can handle the Steelers being beaten by a superior opponent, but I can’t accept losing due to a lack of effort on the field or being out-coached.

Up to that point, I thought the Steelers were playing with house money last season. Though apparently most fans failed to appreciate it, seemingly every break or bounce of the ball went the Steelers’ way last year. I even felt fortunate when Ryan Shazier’s injury didn’t result with him being paralyzed, or worse. With every last-second drive, game-winning field goal, miraculous sideline, toe-dragging catch, backup quarterback faced and weakened opponent defeated, it just seemed like the Steelers were a team of destiny. As things turned out, though, the Steelers squandered a great opportunity last year.

Boy how times have changed.

This season has been off-kilter from the start. Preseason injuries and new faces in new places affected team chemistry right off the bat. Bell’s continued absence, the self-inflicted national title of ‘Team Turmoil’ and the inability to get on the same page as a team has the Steelers looking like anything but a team of destiny at the moment. Nothing has come easy for this team, or for the fans. But no matter how this season plays out, real Steelers fans will continue to love the Steelers, while the fair-weather fans will cut and run like a bunch of rats from a sinking ship.

It’s easy to be a fan when your team is playing well and winning games. Anybody can do that. This is another situation where football imitates life. If you want to find out who your real friends are, wait for tough times to happen in your life. When you might not be your fun-loving self or might need a shoulder to lean on or perhaps an understanding ear to listen. Your real friends will be there to lift you up and carry you forward if need be until you find your footing. Your fake friends will be strangely absent — suddenly hard to find.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are struggling mightily at the moment. They are being outplayed, outclassed, and out-coached on a weekly basis. They’re absolutely no fun to watch and even harder to root for this season. Their off-field antics are hard to defend, but they’re still our team and we must continue to support the individuals trying their best to turn this season around. I totally understand criticism, it’s more than warranted in this situation, but let us try to at least be constructive when we do. You know the old saying, “You attract more flies with honey than you do vinegar.”

I’m not on Twitter, but I saw somewhere that Stephon Tuitt called out some especially critical fans after the game Sunday night on social media. He said something to the effect that, if we claim to be Steelers fans, then we’re all in this together and we all need to improve — the fans included. First, let me say I was happy to hear from him because he was nowhere to be found during the game (that might not have been constructive, but it was my attempt to bring a little humor to this subject). You know what — he actually has a point. If we’re all part of Steelers Nation, then we’re a member of a family and family doesn’t run away during hard times. Family supports, encourages, and fights for each other until the bitter end.

One thing that Steelers Nation should want to avoid is to ever resemble Dallas Cowboy fans. If you’ve ever worked with, went to school with, or grown up with Cowboys fans, you know what I’m talking about. They are the definition of fair-weather fans. When the Cowboys are winning, you see them everywhere. They can’t stop crowing about how great the team is and how they’re going to win the Super Bowl. However, when the team is losing, they’re nowhere to be found.

Please Steelers Nation, we don’t ever want to become that. We are better than that. I’m not saying don’t voice your displeasure when the product on the field doesn’t meet the franchise standards, but merely suggesting to temper your comments with a modicum of logic and intelligence.

Never stop believing and as always, Go Steelers!

Steelers officially announce the signing of CB Herb Waters to the practice squad

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 12:30pm

Pittsburgh has filled Brian Allen’s vacated spot on the practice squad with a converted cornerback who entered the NFL as a wide receiver in 2016.

Officially announcing the signing of cornerback Herb Waters on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers have moved quickly to fill an open slot on their practice squad created by the promotion of Brian Allen to the active roster after Nat Berhe was placed on injured reserve.

We have signed CB Herb Waters to our practice squad.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2018

Originally signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Waters entered the league as a wide receiver coming out of the University of Miami. Persuaded to switch to the other side of the ball when the Packers needed help at defensive back, Waters had previously played both ways in high school as both a receiver and cornerback, and was recruited to Louisville as a cornerback.

After beginning his rookie season on the practice squad, Waters was promoted to the active roster towards the end of the year and played in two of Green Bay’s postseason games. Heading into 2017 with high expectations, a shoulder injury suffered in training camp led him to ultimately be placed on injured reserve. Despite being re-signed by the Packers in March of 2018, he was released in the final round of cuts back in September.

Given his limited experience at the position, fans shouldn’t expect Waters to be pushing for a place on the active roster anytime soon, but his athleticism and quickness should make him an interesting prospect to keep an eye on as he develops.

Steelers Injury Report: Secondary could get a boost in Week 5

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 11:11am

The Pittsburgh Steelers could get some defensive help back on the field in Week 5.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary has been in a constant state of flux this season. At safety, Sean Davis has been the only consistent face, with Terrell Edmunds and the oft-injured Morgan Burnett sharing duties at Strong Safety. Joe Haden has missed one of the first four games and Mike Hilton’s elbow injury had him watching on Sunday night when the Baltimore Ravens picked apart the Pittsburgh defense.

Have no fear, though, the secondary could be getting a boost and hopefully some consistency for the Week 5-game vs. the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday at Heinz Field.

According to Mike Tomlin at his weekly press conference, he’s hopeful to get both Burnett and Hilton back onto the practice field. Clearly, their practice participation will dictate their overall availability for the contest on Sunday.

Tomlin on injuries: Burnett and Hilton should return to practice this week. Nat Berhe has a torn pec that has landed him on IR. Brian Allen was promoted earlier in day to 53-man roster. DHB has ankle injury and Vince Williams a hamstring injury

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) October 2, 2018

While getting Burnett and Hilton back at practice should help the defense, they lost Nat Berhe for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Brian Allen was promoted from the practice squad and he’ll add an extra cornerback to the roster in case of an emergency.

Other injuries listed by Tomlin were Darrius Heyward-Bey’s ankle injury and Vince Williams’ hamstring. Heyward-Bey’s special-teams role on coverage units would be difficult to fill, but Tomlin isn’t closing the door on him being in the lineup this Sunday. As for Williams, his ability to get onto the practice field will be the deciding factor in his overall availability, but Tomlin did state Matthew Thomas could see some reps at inside linebacker in his stead, if Williams can’t play.

Tuesday is the first reported practice of the week, so stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers heading into Week 5.

Steelers Film Room: Joe Haden might not be what he once was, but he is worth every penny

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 9:48am

Joe Haden had some issues against the Ravens, but he was easily the savior of the secondary too.

Let me be brutally honest about Joe Haden. He’s an above-average cornerback, but he’s nowhere near elite and is much better off being a No. 2 cornerback on a team. Thus, I don’t find it particularly comforting he is, by far, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best cornerback. He has his lapses, and they happened more often on Sunday night than they usually do versus the Ravens. But while not having a great game, Haden also showcased why he’s so valuable to the team. He has by far the best ball skills of all the cornerbacks, and he continues to show how you can justify paying him 27 million dollars. If you want to see why he deserves every penny he gets to play for Pittsburgh, look no further than this:

One hell of a play by Joe Haden. He gets "beat" off the line but uses the trail technique to come back and make a heck of a diving play to knock this ball out.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 2, 2018

Haden is not as fast as he once was — injuries having no doubt taken their toll on him — but you just don’t see plays like this by an average corner. He lets Brown get the inside track and then tracks the ball so well. This is what we call a trail technique and it takes ball skills more than anything. Haden was playing this deep-route all game and didn’t only make one play like it. The dive here and then the hand usage to knock it out are textbook on trail technique. This is a great play no doubt, but he made an even better play on one earlier.

Haden gets a bit grabby here for sure but that is a heck of a play on the ball regardless. Haden made a few plays like this tonight. Good play by the best corner on the team.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 1, 2018

Mike Tomlin has repeatedly talked about not giving up inside or outside leverage in the secondary. Joe Haden gives him a prime example to show everyone in the film session. He is physical up front with his hands and bumps Brown before he goes inside and thus takes him off his route. He keeps his hips square and tracks Brown the whole way, even out of the break. The best part of this is how he tracks the ball and easily bats it down as it approaches. This speaks volumes about his ability to track the ball in general. He gets a bit grabby, but still a great play by Joe Haden.

Unfortunately, Haden then fell victim to the scheming of Keith Butler. Butler has some of the weirdest scheming assignments in the NFL.

Haden gets beat to the inside here. Really the reality is he just plays the out far too much. He is expecting that and doesn't play the in as aggressively as he should. He knows Brown is quick and plays it too soft, easy pitch and catch once he goes on the in-breaking route.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 2, 2018

Why Haden is playing so far off and playing the out route so hard is odd. It does allow him to run his trail technique on a post, but he still gives up any inside route. Jon Bostic deserves some blame here because he blatantly bites on the fake, but even then, the scheming of this play is giving up an easy slant every time. In makes no sense to make this play call. I have no idea what Vince Williams is doing, but it is possible he had a zone and this is why Brown gets so wide open, but no doubt about it, this is a schematic mess.

As for Haden himself, he did have a few rough plays. For one, he and Cameron Sutton had a terrible miscommunication you have to blame on Keith Butler.

Simply put, I have no words. This is a highlight of the Keith Butler defense. Miscommunication by not knowing the play call. Haden and Sutton literally have no clue who they are covering and John Brown just runs on by them.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 1, 2018

This has been a rampant issue and all parties involved endure the blame for this folly. If the correct assignment is followed by either Sutton or Haden, then this likely does not become an easy touchdown. However, even if you are Joe Haden or Cam Sutton, you simply cannot watch the receiver run right by you. You can at least mirror him and follow. Regardless, though, that is a horrible miscommunication.

As for the one truly terrible play by Haden, here it is courtesy of Michael Crabtree.

Haden got cooked on the double move by Crabtree. Artie ain't the only one to bite on them in this secondary. Haden had an up and down day today but was easily the savior of our defense today no matter how bad his bad moments were.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 1, 2018

Oh yeah, Haden fell straight for the stop n’ go route. He clearly thought it was going to be a hitch and just fell asleep. The double move by Crabtree was pretty swift, but Haden has to be more disciplined and read the play, because if Flacco hits the throw on the money Crabtree is going to walk into the endzone for a touchdown.

Haden is easily the best cornerback on the team right now, and maybe the best member of the secondary depending on how you view Sean Davis. As for what we get instead of him, we get this mess.

#Steelers vs #Ravens Thread:

The Steelers welcome you to the game with some of the worst tackling you'll ever see. Very well could be the worst tackling unit in the NFL, this should never be a first down,

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 1, 2018

It might not be in coverage, but what an absolutely terrible tackling attempt by Cameron Sutton. I have no words for how bad that is. He just simply slides in with no regard for actually tackling Buck Allen. Before this, Bud Dupree simply whiffs and Vince Williams does as well. This team simply cannot tackle at all.

So, no matter how you view Haden, you better believe there is no cornerback even close to him right now on the roster. He has his lapses, but largely, he is worth every penny he is getting paid right now.

Steelers first quarter issues on offense are less ‘penalty driven’ than Mike Tomlin suggests

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 8:45am

After telling reporters that the Steelers’ early struggles on offense were due to penalties more than anything else, Mike Tomlin might want to review the tape.

Of all the ways the Pittsburgh Steelers have disappointed each week, one of the more frustrating aspects is the way they’ve performed on their opening drives. After three consecutive weeks of 3-and-outs to start the game, Pittsburgh changed the pace with a fumble on their third play of Week 4, once again setting a negative tone they would fail to overcome.

While acknowledging the Steelers’ early struggles in their recent matchups when speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin might be mistaken if he truly believes what he said to the media.

“Offensively, it’s been penalty driven, more than anything else.”

In reality, none of Pittsburgh’s opening drives have seen the offense flagged for a penalty through the first four weeks of the season. Only once have they incurred a penalty during their second drive of any game. Nevertheless, the second time the offense has touched the ball in every game so far has ended with either a punt or a turnover.

We will never know how far into a game the coaching staff scripts their plays on offense, but it’s safe to assume they have more than four plays prepared. Despite an entire week of practice to get ready, the Steelers continue to look unprepared in their opening drives. It remains to been seen if this is the consequence of having installed a new offensive coordinator in Randy Fichtner, or perhaps the absence of Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. But it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh faced similar problems during the first few games of 2017.

The issues eventually were fixed last year, and the Steelers were 9-8 on the season in terms of opening the game with a scoring drive versus punting or turning the ball over. So perhaps it is too early to panic at this stage.

Over the past few weeks, Pittsburgh’s third possession of the game has become their first scoring drive and perhaps it should have been in Week 2 as well, if not for a missed field goal. A total of just six first-quarter points through four games is unacceptable for team that had championship ambitions at the start of the year. It can only be hoped that the Steelers acknowledge behind closed doors that penalties aren’t actually the problem holding them back at the start of their games.

Later in his press conference, the line of questioning returned to the team’s first-quarter struggles, and Tomlin at least offered some hope that the coaching staff might be addressing the problem logically.

“We’re looking at what we’re doing schematically, what we’re doing in terms of preparation logistically leading up to the game. We’re looking at things that are within our control.”

But if the Steelers’ brain trust doesn’t accurately assess the problems currently plaguing them, it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to fix them. Looking consistently flat and out of sync early on in games, players at every offensive position have started poorly each week — but that has nothing to do with penalties.

Analyzing the Steelers’ Week-4 defeat at the hands of the Ravens, by the numbers

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 7:34am

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice the second-half numbers that led to the loss.


This is the number of first downs the Steelers made in the entire second half of the game. Conversely, the Ravens had this many first downs on three of their six second-half possessions (one of which was in victory formation). Losing the first-down battle 14-3 in the second half of a game that was tied at halftime isn’t going to get the job done.

8:29, 47 yards, and 0 points

The Steelers only possessed the ball for 8:29 in the second half, gaining only 47 yards. The longest drive of the second half was 2:42 which was six plays and 27 yards, ending with a punt.


This information is the result of the Steeler’ second-half drives. Four punts, one interception and one turnover on downs.


The Steelers were zero-for-six on third downs in the second half. It was a balanced 0/3 in the third quarter and 0/3 in the fourth quarter. On those plays, Ben Roethlisberger was one-for-six for minus 5 yards and one INT. Comparatively, the Ravens were four-for-10 on third down in the second half, with Joe Flacco going four-for-seven passing the ball for 55 yards. Of those four completions, three of them were enough to move the chains.


This might seem to be a strange number. It’s actually one of the rare positives from Sunday night. 53:03 is the amount of time to finish the game during which the Steelers’ defense kept the Ravens out of the end zone. After surrendering the second touchdown with 8:03 remaining in the first quarter (which was only a 31-yard drive due to a turnover), the defense was in “bend but don’t break” mode. Of the 10 drives that followed, four ended in punts, four led to field goals, one was a fumble recovery, and the other ended the game. Keep in mind the defense was on the field for 21:31 of the second half. As much as it didn’t look pretty, they managed to do that and not give up a touchdown.

26 points

With the Steelers averaging almost 30 points a game coming into Week 4, holding Baltimore to 26 points should have been enough to get the W, but it wasn’t. I’m not arguing that the defense did a great job against the Ravens, but after giving up 14 first-quarter points, they only surrendered field goals the rest of the game. The offense simply has to be able to keep pace when the defense is holding a team to 3-pointers.

Brett Keisel condemns the current NFL trend that downplays stout defense

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 6:36am

The former Steelers’ defensive end makes some thought-provoking comments about the demise of defense in today’s NFL.

Fantasy football killed the game we got to play. The amount of generated by fantasy is too good for league to ignore! It has changed the players too! They use it as a measuring stick.
Grateful I got to play when the game still cared about Defense. It’s becoming obsolete.

— Brett Keisel (@bkeisel99) October 1, 2018

Former Steelers’ defensive end Brett Keisel knows a little something about playing defense in the NFL. That’s why his recent Tweet can hardly be taken lightly. Although Keisel blames the demise of stout defense on the rise of Fantasy Football and all the money associated with it, that’s certainly not the only factor explaining why NFL defenses these days are hardly what they used to be.

Keisel’s remarks — along with a dynamite photo that personifies the grit of what once was an intimidating Steelers’ defense — touch on a particularly raw nerve for Steelers Nation. During the past few years, we’ve watched as the Black-and-gold defense has sunk ever-further into mediocrity — to the point where nowadays the unit has practically become the laughingstock of the league. Defensive players who can no longer tackle, along with rule changes that make conventional tackling increasingly challenging, lend credence to Keisel’s charge that hard-nosed defense — the way fans expect it to be — is becoming obsolete. For lifelong devotees of the storied Steel Curtain defense, this kinder/gentler version is particularly hard to swallow.

So take another long look at that photo of Keisel and his former defensive teammates, anchored by Big Snack — the ultimate monster of the middle. When you consider the overall talent and cohesion of that defense, it’s painfully obvious how far this once-mighty unit has fallen.

But perhaps Keisel’s comments are the slap in the face (or the cold shower) that the Steelers and their global nation truly need right now. While Keisel seems to believe the good old days of stout NFL defenses may be gone forever, his remarks might also aim to provide some much-needed inspiration for a unit which arguably has reached the lowest ebb in team history. More than any other factor, a back-to-basics approach to recruiting defensive players appears to be strongly indicated moving forward. As important as sheer athleticism might be, it’s more important to draft rock-solid football players. Unfortunately, this defense largely lacks the kind of impact players represented by the names Hampton, Smith, Keisel, Harrison, Clark, Farrior, Polamalu and Timmons.

Brett’s message is something the Steelers and their fans definitely need to hear as the team approaches what looks like a crossroads in their season. With Halloween just around the corner, it’s certainly legitimate to question whether the weekly chocolate bar being handed out to Pittsburgh’s ravenous fan base during the season might be getting progressively smaller and less appealing. Certainly, that’s been the case in both of the Steelers’ disappointing losses before their home crowd at Heinz Field in recent weeks.

Not that you need any further encouragement at this stage but, in the wake of Keisel’s comments, there’s probably no better time for the BTSC community to chime in with comments of your own regarding not only Keisel’s then-versus-now comparison, but also the larger topic of how the Pittsburgh Steelers might set about mending the “fence” in “defense” and hopefully recapturing some of their glories of yesteryear.

Mike Tomlin attributes game-planning against established tandems to success of other targets

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 5:29am

Both JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Falcons’ Calvin Ridley have seen an increase in production as teams focus on top receivers.

During his weekly press conference, Mike Tomlin addressed the issue of other players benefiting from the focus given to QB-WR tandems who have enjoyed past success. Specifically, Tomlin spoke of Falcons’ rookie Calvin Ridley and his six touchdown catches on the season.

“It’s interesting,” Tomlin stated. “Julio being the guy that he is and the touches and attention that he gets and rightfully so. He’s got zero touchdowns and Ridley’s got six. I just think that speaks to some of the things that usually transpire during the first quarter of the season as people get familiar with new weapons.”

Tomlin went on to make the same comparison with his own players.

“(Teams) work to minimize old or existing weapons and I think the same thing can be said about what is going on with Ben and AB in terms of people working hard to minimize them and the opportunity it’s created for some of our guys.”

There’s no doubt that JuJu Smith–Schuster has been the primary beneficiary of the focus teams have put on Antonio Brown. On the season, JuJu has 31 receptions for 416 yards and one touchdown.

Although Ridley (15 receptions for 264 yards) doesn’t have nearly the receptions or yardage Smith-Schuster has amassed so far in 2018, his six touchdowns can be directly related to teams trying to shut down Julio Jones.

When asked about the disconnect between Rothlisberger and Brown so far this season, Coach Tomlin once again came back to the same comparison with the Falcons.

“Like I said earlier in regards to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, often times people spend a lot of time in the off-season working to minimize tandems such as Ben and AB. Usually, over the course of the journey, the cream rises and they’ll show what they are capable of. They’ve done it for a long time. I anticipate that happening while we continue to work to infuse some of our new targets into the mix.”

Tomlin did mention James Washington specifically as one of those new targets. He also went on to confirm, “JuJu has probably benefited from some of that attention.”

Coach Tomlin did say the Steelers will have to account for Ridley in their defensive game plan. But failing to acknowledge the Falcons’ Ryan-Jones connection would be foolish.

“They’ll be the formidable tandem they always are.”

Black and Gold Links: Several Steelers fined after Week 3 game vs. Buccaneers

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 4:31am

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 several members of the Black-and-gold were fined, some heavily, for actions taken during the team’s Week-3 Monday night win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Let’s get to the news:

Heyward-Bey, Bostic, Davis fined for actions in Tampa Bay game

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Three Pittsburgh Steelers players have been fined nearly a combined $57,000 as punishment for personal fouls called in their Week 3 game in Tampa Bay.

Darrius Heyward-Bey was fined $26,739 for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with an official in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ 30-27 win at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 24.

Safety Sean Davis was fined $20,054 for roughing the passer, and linebacker Jon Bostic was fined $10,026 for unnecessary roughness.

Neither Jason Pierre-Paul or Gerald McCoy of the Buccaneers was fined for roughing the passer in the game. However, running back Peyton Barber was fined $10,026 for an illegal chop block.

With or without Le’Veon Bell, run game worries Steelers’ Mike Tomlin

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin has not spoken to Le’Veon Bell, and the coach is not waiting until after Week 6 — when the star running back reportedly will return to the Pittsburgh Steelers — to fix his team’s issues running the ball.

Tomlin held a “state of the union” review with his players Monday to remedy problems that have cropped up during the Steelers’ 1-2-1 start.

Among the topics covered was a running game that was dominant in the season opener but has stagnated in recent weeks. The Steelers rank No. 28 in rushing, and they totaled 19 yards on 11 attempts in a 26-14 loss Sunday night to the Baltimore Ravens.

James Conner, the starter while Bell remains away from the team, had just nine carries against the Ravens. He carried only three times after intermission even though the Steelers remained within a touchdown of the Ravens on their first four possessions of the second half.

Tomlin said the Steelers not only need to run the ball more frequently, they need to run it more effectively, starting Sunday when they play the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field.

“Some of it, we need more reps at it,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “How do you get more reps at it? You get more possession downs, you win possession downs. We didn’t do that in the last game.”

Mark Madden: Don’t feel bad for NFL players

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Le’Veon Bell told ESPN, “I want to play, but I’ve got to take this stand.”

After Seattle safety Earl Thomas broke his leg Sunday, Bell posted this on social media: “I’ll continue to be the bad guy for all of us.”

Workers of the world, unite!

Does anybody believe Bell is taking “this stand” for the greater good? He isn’t. Bell wants to add to his mad stacks. He’s a multimillionaire who wants even more.

That’s OK. But don’t pretend to represent the proletariat.

Same applies to Thomas, who skipped practice to protect his body because he’s in the last year of his contract.

It didn’t work. Thomas broke his leg Sunday, then inexplicably flipped off the Seahawks bench as he was carted off. NBC’s Rodney Harrison called Thomas “a classy guy.” Thomas isn’t. Neither was Harrison when he played.

Thomas isn’t a victim in any way. He’s a contracted employee making $10.5 million this year, but he refused to work and got away with it. Until his leg broke.

Thomas wants a new, long-term deal. But Seattle doesn’t think he’s worth what he’s asking. Seahawks ownership and management have that right, just like Steelers ownership and management don’t have to give Bell what he wants.

Players and agents can’t unilaterally impose their demands. There isn’t a reverse franchise tag.

NFL players want to “get theirs,” but it’s not theirs. Not until the owner signs the check.

NFL owners are old, white jerks. But it’s their league, teams and money. If you want to change that, don’t ditch practice. Call Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

The quest of Bell and Thomas doesn’t parallel Cesar Chavez organizing farm workers. Bell is 26, and he has made $16 million. Thomas is 29, and he has made $55 million. “Theirs” is more than “mine” or “yours” or any schoolteacher’s. Bell and Thomas can live more than comfortably on what they’ve already made.

Le’Veon speaks: Expectations, message to teammates, trade talk

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The Le’Veon Bell debate has lacked one key voice over the past month: Bell himself.

The Steelers running back has offered little more than a monocle emoji as he stayed away from the Steelers. But Bell made clear to ESPN that he’s eyeing a return sooner than later, and he spoke at length about various topics related to his franchise tag.

Here are some of the lingering questions that were addressed in ESPN’s interview with Bell.

What is Bell’s expectation for himself upon his return?

Bell expects to be himself. He says he’s in top physical condition and doesn’t want to hold back when he’s on the field.

”When I do get back, I plan to give it my all,” he said.

But what about a pitch count of sorts? Is that what Bell wants?

An exact pitch count didn’t come up, but I did ask Bell about returning to his heavy workload that has become his signature. Bell said he’s prepared to do what’s necessary to help the Steelers win while taking the chance to “show people” what he can still do.

“My intentions [when this started], I’m going to save myself for when you want to make a long-term deal,” said Bell, who added that, once on the field, “I’ll be fully committed and give you everything I have.”

If Bell’s not worried about touches once he returns, what was the “plan” Bell wanted to hear before reporting?

This is a reference to agent Adisa Bakari openly asking on a Sirius XM interview during Week 1 what plan the Steelers had for his client.

Pittsburgh Steelers bring in free agent cornerback for workout

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 2:19pm

The Steelers are kicking the tires of a potential practice-squad defensive back.

Tuesday marked the end of the season for Pittsburgh Steelers safety Nat Berhe, and an ascension from the practice squad to 53-man roster for cornerback Brian Allen.

After Berhe’s torn pectoral muscle landed him on Injured Reserve (IR), and the promotion of Allen, the Steelers have an opening on their practice squad for an available player. According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, the Steelers worked out former Green Bay Packers defensive back Herb Waters to potentially fill that vacancy.

#Steelers worked out former #Packers CB Herb Waters (Miami, Fla.), according to a source. Waters (6-0, 188) was a WR in college but made the switch to CB after one year with Packers. Could be practice squad addition after the promotion of CB Brian Allen to 53. @TheAthleticPGH

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) October 2, 2018

As Kaboly notes, Waters is a former wide receiver at the University of Miami, but turned to the defensive side of the football prior to the 2016 NFL Draft. Waters spent his entire NFL career with the Packers, spending time on their practice squad before being released before the 2018 regular season.

Fans shouldn’t get their hopes up thinking he might somehow find his way onto the 53-man roster, but more likely is another body to fill out the 11-man practice squad in 2018. There is no news of any signing, and it could have been nothing more than a workout. However, stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers’ attempts to fill out their practice squad with Allen joining the 53-man roster.

Matthew Thomas could be in the mix to see snaps on Sunday if Vince Williams cannot play

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 12:53pm

Mike Tomlin acknowledged the Steelers could choose to play Matthew Thomas at inside linebacker on Sunday if Vince Williams is sidelined by injury

Having suffered a hamstring injury in Week 4, the status of Vince Williams is in some doubt for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday after Mike Tomlin was unable to offer any positive updates about his condition on Tuesday. If he cannot play, there should be a legitimate debate about who might start in his place.

L.J. Fort was the first player off the bench to replace Williams against the Baltimore Ravens, even though Tyler Matakevich is the one listed behind him on the depth chart. After a week of practice that saw Matthew Thomas training with the first-team at times, the backup roles at inside linebacker are clearly in flux.

Prior to Sunday night, none of these three reserve players had seen a snap on defense through the first three games, and Fort saw just 11 snaps against Baltimore when Williams went down. Looking ahead to Week 5, it appears the undrafted rookie might actually be in line to make his career debut on defense against the Atlanta Falcons.

When asked during his weekly press conference if Thomas would be an option to play in place of Williams, Mike Tomlin confirmed he was in the mix to see some snaps.

“He would be. ... He’s done some nice things and he’s gotten better each and every day. You see some of the results of that in some special teams production. He’s had some special teams tackles over the last couple of weeks, ran down and made a significant tackle on a kick off inside the 20 this past week, had a kickoff tackle on Monday night in Tampa, is playing some gunner for us. He’s got some talents and he’s learning what to do. As he gains more knowledge and a good baseline of play, he’ll be given an opportunity to participate when it presents itself.”

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin recaps Week 4, and previews our Week 5 matchup vs. the Falcons.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 2, 2018

Even if it is not this Sunday, it does seem that Thomas is inching his way closer to be included on defense on game day, and if Williams does miss the upcoming game, it not too hard to envisage the coaching staff believing the young rookie was a better option to start than Fort or Matakevich. That being said, Tomlin’s love of his veteran players is well known, and it would be equally unsurprising if Thomas was left languishing on the bench a bit longer before he was able to convince Tomlin or Keith Butler that he deserved an opportunity to play.

Having expected his inclusion with the first-team in practice ahead of the Ravens game was an indication Thomas might play in Week 4, we are equally prepared to be disappointed again this week.

Should the Steelers continue to falter, they will have nothing to lose from trying some of their more inexperienced players like the former Florida State product. How much worse can he really be given the standard of play we have already seen at the position so far this season?

NFL Power Rankings, Week 5: Steelers free fall out of the Top 10 of rankings

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 12:03pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a unanimous Top 5 team heading into the regular season, but not anymore. These days, they’re just trying to stay near the Top 10.

The only consistent aspect of the Pittsburgh Steelers are their many inconsistencies.

After an opening week tie with the Cleveland Browns, followed by a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers had shown it all — amazing offense, head-scratching play calling and shoddy defense, among others.

Needless to say, the Steelers experienced a precipitous drop in the weekly NFL Power Rankings because of their poor play which resulted in a 0-1-1 record heading into Week 3. However, a 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football had the Steelers on the rise. After their 26-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, the Pittsburgh roller coaster is again on the decline.

In reality, these rankings mean nothing, but they’re great for conversation and debate. This week, the Steelers saw themselves claw their way back into the Top 10.

With a Week 5 matchup with Atlanta Falcons looming, the Steelers will be looking for their first home win of the season and they need to put up a good performance if they aim to resurrect their rankings status.

Check out the rankings, and let us know what you think in the comment section below!


1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. New Orleans Saints
5. New England Patriots
6. Philadelphia Eagles
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. Cincinnati Bengals
9. Green Bay Packers
10. Chicago Bears
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Rookie snaps leader: Terrell Edmunds, 242 snaps out of 282 (85.8 percent). The DB out of Virginia Tech has picked up his production the past two weeks, compiling seven tackles and a fumble recovery against the Ravens and an interception in Week 3 against the Buccaneers.”

USA Today

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. New England Patriots
6. Los Angeles Chargers
7. Carolina Panthers
8. Cincinnati Bengals
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Washington Redskins
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Good as James Conner has been, Le’Veon Bell’s ongoing absence(for now?) puts too much burden on Big Ben, who’s on track for 744 passes.”

SB Nation

1 Los Angeles Rams
2 Kansas City Chiefs
3 Jacksonville Jaguars
4 New Orleans Saints
5 Carolina Panthers
6 Cincinnati Bengals
7 Baltimore Ravens
8 New England Patriots
9 Philadelphia Eagles
10 Green Bay Packers
19. Pittsburgh Steelers

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Carolina Panthers
6. New England Patriots
7. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Green Bay Packers
9. Chicago Bears
10. Baltimore Ravens
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
“What we’ve all gleaned from the Steelers’ season thus far is that if Ben Roethlisberger is off, Pittsburgh doesn’t win. Despite having a few talented starters, the defense has been riddled by opposing quarterbacks. Even in the fourth quarter of their ”Sunday Night Football” matchup, when the Ravens were settling for field goals, Baltimore was marching right down the field with a mix of runs and intermediate throws. The Steeler defense couldn’t keep the Ravens off the field, while Pittsburgh’s offense couldn’t stay on it. All is not lost yet. Nonetheless, there is little question that the Le’Veon Bell situation has been a distraction. Is Pittsburgh headed to 8-8?”

Stock Report: See whose stock is rising, and falling, after the loss to the Ravens

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 10:42am

The Pittsburgh Steelers stumbled in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens on prime time. We check in on the stock report heading into Week 5.

I think it’s safe to say that, following their 26-14 loss to the despicable Baltimore Ravens, any positivity—or, perhaps more accurately, any waning ambivalence—about this iteration of the Pittsburgh Steelers is sufficiently exhausted, gone like snowfall in the summertime. The myriad issues plaguing this team are tangible and rooted in certitude, and the weeks ahead don’t look particular forgiving. Here’s the their schedule; two games remaining against Cincinnati, games at New Orleans and Jacksonville, home dates against New England, Atlanta, San Diego, Carolina, and the suddenly very capable-looking Cleveland Browns. Let’s say 10 wins assures you a spot in the AFC playoffs. The Steelers are currently 1-2-1; find me 9 more wins on their schedule. The way this team is playing, I certainly can’t.

Pittsburgh’s loss to Baltimore didn’t expose any new flaws, but it did exacerbate the severity of the existing ones: the secondary is an unmitigated, DEFCON-1 disaster; the offensive line is keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright, but they are doing James Conner no favors in the running game; the coaching has been utterly galling, and every member of the staff with the authority to make actual decisions of consequence continues to draw up the most confounding and byzantine schematics imaginable.

This is the part where I’ll pause to mention that, hey, it’s only Week 5, and the Steelers are certainly a team that’s rebounded from cold starts in the past (in 2016, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship game, they started 4-5). Thus, a lot of the forthcoming narratives are obviously very reactionary and possibly very short-sighted and may ultimately look ridiculous in retrospect. With that said, let’s get to business:

Stock down: Big Ben

Roethlisberger played an exceptional game against Tampa in Week 3, which he largely replicated during the first half against Baltimore. He moved the ball between the 20s effortlessly, picking apart an extremely proficient Baltimore secondary with a metronomic onslaught of short and intermediate passes. Near the end of the first half, he orchestrated a quintessential Ben Roethlisberger drive, which he punctuated by throwing a laser-beam touchdown pass to Antonio Brown on a broken play to tie Sunday night’s proceedings at 14-all. It was a drive that, pragmatically speaking, the Steelers needed (they were down eight points at the time), but more importantly it was one that temporarily placated the concerns of a dispirited fanbase. As long as Ben is doing Ben things, maybe we’ll be alright, etc.

Well, things were not alright. Ben followed his 225-yard first half by throwing for just 50 yards collectively in the remaining two frames, guiding the Steelers to a grand total of three first downs in six second-half drives. Frustratingly, Pittsburgh’s longest second-half drive lasted about two and a half minutes, and four of their drives generated two or fewer yards, which allowed Baltimore to dominate the second-half time of possession and feast omnivorously on the Steelers’ abhorrent defense.

Such a futile offensive showing can’t be entirely attributed to any one man, including the quarterback, but the truth of the matter is that Ben, by Ben’s own admission, didn’t make some plays that he probably should’ve made. He sailed one third down pass that wasn’t even in the same zip code as his intended receiver, and he missed a wide-open Brown on another. (Whether or not Brown ran the wrong route on this play is beside the point; it’s a play that, two years ago, Ben and Brown make ten times out of ten).

It’s important to note, however, that the Steelers wouldn’t have scored any points against Baltimore without Ben Roethlisberger, let alone been in a position to potentially win the game. Despite his rough second half against the Ravens, Ben’s been sharp all season (sharper than usual, in fact, as his 1,400 passing yards through four games is a career high and puts him on pace for around 5,600, which would be a single-season NFL record—even if he doesn’t ascend to these unparalleled heights, it isn’t unreasonable to expect him to eclipse the 5,000 yard mark the ways things are going) and it’s clear that the Steelers are going to have to rely on him heavily if they hope to achieve any kind of success this season.

Stock down: James Conner, the runner

Conner’s doing just fine catching the ball and he looks like a proficient blocker, too, but his monstrous 135-yard rushing effort against Cleveland in Week 1 looks increasingly like an aberration rather than a harbinger of things to come. While it’s true that Conner’s paltry rushing totals over the past three weeks (17 yards in Week 2; ~20 yards on his first 11-12 carries in Week 3; 19 yards against Baltimore) are largely attributable to his inconsistent usage rate (he has 32 carries over his past three games, which is just one more than he amassed in Week 1 alone), his inconsistent usage rate may be attributable to the fact that he’s not a major threat in the rushing game.

Or maybe none of this is true and Pittsburgh’s coaching staff is totally botching game plans, I don’t know. It’s understandable that Conner wasn’t utilized early in Weeks 2 or 4, as the Steelers faced multiple-possession deficits in the first quarter of both contests and therefore were forced to abandon the ground game and resort to fast-paced passing attack, but the Steelers didn’t feature him later on once they’d closed these gaps. Against the Ravens, this glaring lack of utility proved critical, allowing John Harbaugh and his ilk to drop millions of defensive backs and linebackers into coverage instead of expressing even fleeting interest in defending the run. There was no run to defend!

Le’Veon Bell is set to return after Pittsburgh’s Week 7 bye. Honestly, thank God. Conner is a nice player, but even the most resolute Le’Veon Bell hater can’t possibly argue that Conner is a better backfield option. On Sunday, Cris Collinsworth remarked that a contender in the market for a rental player could benefit mightily from acquiring Le’Veon Bell. I am convinced that, on paper, the Steelers have the look of a contender, so I am strongly in favor of renting Le’Veon Bell for the second half of the 2018 season. Boo and hiss all you want; if the Steelers do manage to turn things around and make a run at the playoffs, Le’Veon Bell will be a big reason why.

Stock up: Vance McDonald

Vance McDonald, a walking bank vault with a strong, perfectly square jaw, ran right the heck over Tony Jefferson, leaving Jefferson’s corpse strewn haphazardly on the turf. He also caught all five of his targets for 62 yards, proving once again that he’s a consistently reliable target—aside from, you know, fumbling in his own team’s end of the field, thereby essentially gifting the Ravens additional points—and an integral component of the passing attack. Heeeeeeeaaaath.

Stock...meh: The offensive line

This outfit is doing a fine job keeping Roethlisberger’s jersey pristine, but they’re failing to do anything in terms of facilitating the ground attack. Of course, this could all change once Bell returns to the lineup. Virtually the same group of guys have been blocking for Bell for going-on two and a half years, so maybe it could be reasonably argued that, like, they’re used to blocking for a certain kind of running back and that taking said running back out of the mix impacts their continuity (it’s worth noting, too, that David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, and Ramon Foster have all dealt with injuries this season) and in turn impedes their ability to block for a different running back, or something. I don’t know. I’m just fumbling for answers that make sense.

Oh God, speaking of fumbling for answers, here’s a horrifying thought: what if the issues that have befallen Pittsburgh’s offense this season are occurring because savant Todd Haley left? What if the reason the Steelers offense was so efficient, so dangerous, and so multifarious is because Todd Haley is not an uncommonly adept play-caller, but a genius one? What if Todd Haley was what was keeping the Steelers in the Super Bowl hun..[Glass crashes. A dank fog envelopes the room. An overwhelming scent—one that reeks of sulfur and burnt hair—imbues my nostrils. A towering demon rushes me. He’s wearing cargo shorts and a puka shell necklace. He grabs me and stuffs me in the passenger side of his lifted H2 Hummer and drives to Tequila Cowboy and lights me on fire].

Stock that’s reached a previously-unthinkable nadir: The secondary

I think ripping on Joe Flacco is maybe a little played-out, but it’s still very surprising—and alarming!—when he throws for 350 or more yards against your favorite team, as he did against the Steelers Sunday. And it could’ve been significantly worse! Flacco overthrew Michael Crabtree on a play in which Crabtree could not possibly have been more wide-open that assuredly would’ve yielded a touchdown—assuming Crabtree didn’t drop the pass, which is a valid and fair concern—and Joe Haden made a pair of remarkable plays to prevent the diminutive John Brown from scoring a pair of 50-something-yard touchdowns.

If you’re keeping track at home, the Steelers have now surrendered 400 or more yards in three consecutive games, with the vast majority of those yards being accounted for by opposing quarterbacks. Coty Sensabaugh is one of the five worst cornerbacks in the entire NFL and, as of this writing, he’s arguably the third-best cornerback on the Steelers. This is our reality.

The Ravens ate against Pittsburgh, and they ate well. Eleven players registered at least one catch on Sunday, which is flatly ridiculous. Something called Nick Boyle caught three balls, man. This is getting out of hand.

What’s clear is that the Steelers secondary can stop no one; not Joe Flacco, not Ryan Fitzpatrick, and not Patrick Mahomes. These dudes have all been playing above-the-line football this season, but none have yet exhibited the same sustained excellence as, say, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees, or Matt Ryan, all of whom loom large on Pittsburgh’s schedule in the weeks ahead. Ryan and the Falcons, who have scored 30 or more points in their past three games, visit Heinz Field this Sunday, so realistically things are shaping up to get considerably worse before they get better. Should be fun!

And, in many ways, the dearth of talent in the secondary is negatively impacting the defense as a whole. Like, I don’t think Keith Butler is a particularly, um, good defensive football coach, but he isn’t exactly working with the 2014 Seahawks, you know? Haden notwithstanding, the secondary is butt, which puts a cap on the effectiveness of his schematics. Perhaps Buddy Ryan or Wade Philips could do something useful with this group, but probably they couldn’t. So, while I absolutely believe Butler should assume due culpability for whatever adjective you wanna use to describe the defense, I think it’s important to consider that, oftentimes, the poor guy is left calling the blandest, most conservative plays imaginable so as to avoid putting Artie Burns in a position to get toasted by some speedy wideout or to prevent Cameron Sutton from looking dumbfounded because he forgot how hips are supposed to work. Also, it’s nice to see that the Steelers have found a player in Terrell Edmunds who get dragged upfield by running backs and who inexplicably allows receivers to get behind him when he’s playing deep coverage. It’s like Mike Mitchell never left.

Stock down: Pass rush

Bud Dupree had another nice game, sacking Flacco once and generating fairly consistent pressure, but T.J. Watt was stonewalled by James Hurst and neither Cameron Heyward (who led the Steelers with 13 sacks last season) nor Stephon Tuitt (whose cap hit balloons to $13 million after this season, just saying) have had much of any success rushing the passer Sunday, mirroring a discouraging season-long trend. The only chance the Steelers have to alleviate the woes in the secondary is by consistently rushing the passer; however, maybe the only way to consistently rush the passer is by getting better, more significant contributions from the secondary.

Hot seat of the week: Keith Butler

I sincerely believe that the Steelers could lose 10 or 11 games this season unless something changes on the defensive side of the ball, whether this be some sort of miraculous turnaround or a personnel change. The city is already looking to assess blame to the appropriate parties; it’s only a matter of time before they demand their pound of flesh.

Honorable mentions: Mike Tomlin and Jordan Berry. It’s important to remember that Mike Tomlin has NEVER had a losing season. He’s still a top-tier coach! I think it would take like 13 losses for the Steelers to proceed with canning him.

The guy at your work who sits in the next cubicle over could walk into Heinz Field hungover and clad in his business casual attire and out-punt Jordan Berry.

Playoff hopes: Not good!

The Steelers 1-2-1 record pretty well reflects where they’re at as a team; they’re good enough to hang with just about anyone, but their deficiencies in the secondary and erratic offensive aptitude are just pronounced enough to doom them on a weekly basis. Moreover, if you narrow the scope and really focus your discerning eyes on the first quarter of the season, it’s fair to say that, today, the Steelers are the worst team in the AFC North, a division they were picked to win handily in the preseason. The Ravens looks great in all three phases and appear have returned to their status as perennial contenders, as have the Bengals, who are 3-1 on the strength of a much-improved passing attack and will return arguably their best defensive player this week. I think Football Knowers and Tape Watchers are maybe slightly overrating the Browns, but they’re certainly far from the pushovers they were a year ago. And that’s to say nothing of the remainder of the AFC, which is currently log-jammed with surprisingly competent teams. It isn’t too difficult to envision a scenario in which the Steelers finish this season with double-digit losses.

Still, in spite of their many issues, it also isn’t difficult to envision a scenario in which the Steelers right this sinking ship. The offense is still loaded with talent and the defense does have some genuinely able-bodied players. Sean Davis doesn’t look quite as bad as he did a year ago. To be sure, Jon Bostic has been nothing short of a total liability in coverage, but he’s been an adroit run defender. Morgan Burnett is injured, as is Mike Hilton, so perhaps their returns could aid the ailing secondary.

To reverse their fortunes, I think three things need to happen: the coaching staff needs to figure out a way to get both sides of the ball better prepared so they stop coming out so flat; the defense, particular the secondary, must tighten up; and the offense needs to re-establish its versatility. That last one is really the only one I’m confident can be remedied, as getting Bell back in the lineup should help the run game and increase the variance of the passing attack. The Steelers can win by allowing Roethlisberger to spin the rock 60 times a game, but this is hardly a sustainable model for success.

Week 5’s game against Atlanta will be dangerously close to a must-win, and Week 6’s game against Cincinnati will certainly qualify as such.

Steelers place safety Nat Berhe on injured reserve, promote Brian Allen from practice squad

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 10:13am

The Steelers have made a roster move after Behre injured his pectoral muscle in the Sunday night loss to the Ravens.

The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary is a work in progress, and it continues to evolve throughout the course of the 2018 regular season. Sometimes a change is made due to performance on the field, and other times injuries can impact the depth chart.

This is the case for offeseason free agent acquisition Nat Berhe, who was placed on Injured Reserve (IR) Tuesday after injuring his pectoral muscle in the Steelers’ Sunday night loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4.

With Berhe heading to IR, the Steelers promoted cornerback Brian Allen to the active roster.

We have promoted CB Brian Allen to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, and placed S Nat Berhe on the Reserve/Injured List.


— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 2, 2018

Allen spent his entire rookie season on the active roster in 2017, although often a gameday inactive, but was released at the end of training camp only to be re-signed to the practice squad days later.

The Steelers’ secondary now has a different feel to it. Morgan Burnett is often injured, Mike Hilton is working his way back from injury, and Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns are having a battle at the outside linebacker position opposite Joe Haden. Berhe, who is a safety, played primarily special teams, but had been thrust into the lineup with the absence of Burnett.

It should be noted how the Steelers didn’t promote rookie Marcus Allen, a safety, but chose Allen instead. Allen does have great size and speed for the cornerback position, but has always been considered extremely raw and inexperienced.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this situation, and others surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.