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A level-headed news-discussion site with a sense of history and community https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/community_logos/47293/steel_curtain_fave.png 2018-12-10T11:59:06-05:00
Updated: 2 hours 41 min ago

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

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 7:54am

Time to check in on the weekly Pittsburgh Steelers Stock Report.

Have you guys ever seen the movie Final Destination? If not, the synopsis—spoilers included, just in case it’s been sitting in your Netflix queue, or something—is as follows: A brooding contingent of angsty teens are set to embark on a trip to Paris; shortly before their plane takes off, the most angsty teen of the bunch has a startling premonition in which the plane crashes, killing everyone aboard. (If memory serves, the plane doesn’t so much “crash” as much as it “suddently vaporizes while airborne,” but that’s neither here nor there as far as this analogy is concerned.) Therefore, said teen freaks out in the cabin, leading they and their friends to be removed from the flight. Sure enough, the plane departs and blows up, just as the angsty, brooding teen predicted.

What they angsty teen didn’t envision, however, is that his death—and his friends’ deaths—was preordained; he was supposed to die on that flight. Though the teen did craftily evade Death, Death is resourceful and cunning, and Death always gets his pound of flesh. So, instead of dying instantly and painlessly aboard a doomed aircraft, the angsty teen and his classmates are killed off one-by-one in hilarious and inexplicable ways: one teen asphyxiates after slipping in a wet bathroom and getting tangled in a clothesline; another teen ultimately makes it to Paris, only to be killed when a billboard crushes him; one rude teen tells another teen to “Drop dead!” and is immediately demolished by a speeding bus. It’s all absurdly ridiculous and yet they made at least four sequels.

The Pittsburgh Steelers remind me of the angsty teens who met their fates in Final Destination. Last week against Jacksonville, the Steelers committed myriad atrocities on both sides of the ball but nevertheless survived, staging a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback and defeating the Jaguars on what was essentially a walk-off touchdown by Ben Roethlisberger. It was a game the Steelers probably should’ve lost.

This week, in a 24-17 loss in Denver, the Steelers played well enough to win, but saw drive after drive killed off in hilarious and inexplicable ways. Here, in no particular order, is a list of calamities that befell the Steelers on Sunday:

  • Xavier Grimble fumbled what should have been a touchdown out of the back of the end-zone, which is by rule a touchback, canonically a turnover, and is in all seriousness the dumbest infraction in the NFL’s rulebook.
  • James Conner punctuated gorgeous 23-yard catch-and-run with a fumble, which safety Darian Stewart recovered at Denver’s 21-yard line. The Broncos scored the game-winning touchdown on their ensuing drive.
  • Ben Roethlisberger overthrew a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schuster on the first play of the second half. It was virtually the same play in which Ben and JuJu connected for a 75-yard touchdown against Carolina a few weeks ago.
  • This one is subject to come conjecture: Ben either slightly overthrew James Washington after Washington absolutely torched his defender, or Washington amplified the difficultly of a routine-ish play manifold by needlessly diving. I think it was more the latter, but, regardless, it was a missed opportunity for a potential touchdown.
  • Chris Boswell’s first field goal attempt of the game was blocked.
  • Broncos corner Chris Harris stalled a promising Steelers drive by intercepting an errant pass.
  • The Steelers concluded Sunday’s game by drawing up and implementing one of the most arcane, byzantine offensive schematics you’ll see in a professional football game:

The Ben Roethlisberger INT in the endzone at the end of a big regular season game, just like last season.pic.twitter.com/EDqjbql8hm

— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 26, 2018

This was an RPO that looks like it was designed by Picasso. It was bad! There are no variations of the above-embedded clip in which Antonio Brown is open; the absolute best case scenario for this play is that Bradley Roby, who was covering Brown, smacks the ball to the ground and gifts the Steelers a 4th and goal. The worst case scenario—the giant billboard falling and rendering your corporeal existence to mashed bones and liquefied organs—is the defensive tackle feigning blitz only to leak toward the goalpost, enveloping the game-sealing pick in his meaty fingers.

Now, it’s true that, after any game, you can create a neatly-curated register of the disastrous occurrences that led directly to your favorite team’s downfall, but the Steelers’ misadventures felt especially pronounced, almost as if some unseen malevolent entity was orchestrating the proceedings. Thus, I’ll chalk Sunday’s loss up to Death collecting his debt. Stock report!

Stock down: James Conner

We aren’t here to point fingers in the Stock Report, but it’s worth mentioning that it was a fumble by Conner in Pittsburgh’s Week 1 game in Cleveland that enabled the Browns to close a two-possession fourth-quarter gap, take the game to overtime, and force a tie. This isn’t to say that James Conner is responsible for tying the Browns—he had almost 200 all-purpose yards in the game and scored two touchdowns, so if anything he was responsible for the Steelers almost winning—or that his fumble last week caused the Steelers to lose in Denver (as we’ve established, you can create a neatly-curated register of disastrous occurrences that led directly to your team’s downfall after every game, and Conner’s fumble was but one of many deleterious outcomes); however, the aforementioned plays, coupled with a pair of critical drops in Jacksonville last week, are enough to engender pangs on anxious discomfort deep in the pit of your gut, similar to those caused by a poor report card or by watching Chris Boswell kick field goals back when he had a case of the yips.

(Here’s the part where I should point out that Conner had nearly 100 all-purpose yards on offensive touches, so he still had a pretty solid game despite the fumble and despite being held scoreless since Week 10.)

Stock up: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Smith-Schuster, who was not fast enough to warrant first-round consideration in the 2017 NFL Draft, scored the second 97-yard touchdown of his career on Sunday. Smith-Schuster was the sixth receiver selected in that draft, taken behind the likes of John Ross and Zay Jones, both of whom are TRASH. All told, Smith-Schuster caught 13 passes for 189 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, bringing his season totals in each category to 77/1,055/4. That’s a helluva stat-line for an entire season for a “secondary” receiver. The Steelers still have five games remaining on the schedule, nearly every one of which has the potential to transmogrify into a two-way shootout, which means that Smith-Schuster could very legitimately finish the season with somewhere in the ballpark of 100/1,500/8 despite playing on the same team as Antonio Brown. The Bengals picked John Ross instead of this guy!

Stock up: Antonio Brown

Smith-Schuster is a remarkably gifted young player, but it’s evident that he’s the beneficiary of all the extra attention opposing defenses are paying to Antonio Brown. Brown’s numbers are down this season, but he’ll easily eclipse the 1,000-yard threshold for the seventh time in his career and his sixth-straight 100-catch campaign is still well within reach.

Stock down: Situational offense

Ben’s game-ending pick was bad, but the play was doomed from the onset. I don’t know how, on 3rd and goal with the game on the line, that’s the play call you settle on. Spread them out! Put four or five receivers in the formation, park Ben 10 yards behind the center, and let him sling it. Alternatively, bunch everyone together, but have Ben put his hands directly on Maurkice Pouncey’s butthole, give the ball to Conner, and let David DeCastro lead the way. Or run the exact same play the ran but instead of forcing a lame duck into the fingers of the nose tackle sail it 10 rows deep and live to play another down.

Honestly, I think we’ve grown too accustomed to the Steelers converting these kinds of critical situations into touchdowns. I certainly was already mentally preparing myself for the potential letdown by Pittsburgh’s defense on the ensuing drive after Roethlisberger tied the game at 24-all. So...at least the defense didn’t blow it! Silver linings, etc.

Stock down: Front seven

Denver averaged 5.4 yards per rush and held the Steelers to just a pair of sacks. Not great!

Stock up: Secondary

Despite the proficiency of Denver’s rushing attack and the lack of pressure against Case Keenum, the Broncos finished with only 184 passing yards. Emmanuel Sanders and Denver’s tight ends made a handful of significant plays, but the Broncos’ passing attack was largely held in check.

Stock....: Postseason hopes

The Steelers are currently 7-3-1. Let’s say three more victories secures a playoff spot and that two more victories makes them sweat a bit but still enables them to win a crappy division. The remaining schedule features games against Los Angeles, at Oakland, against New England, at New Orleans, and against Cincinnati (finding three wins on that remaining slate is alarmingly difficult and I’m gonna try not to lose any sleep about it right now; thankfully, Baltimore’s remaining schedule looks nearly as difficult). The Raiders are a sinking garbage barge engulfed in hellfire, but the game is in Oakland, so that’s one loss. But the other games should be interesting! Melvin Gordon is injured, so the Chargers won’t be at full strength; the Patriots look eminently more beatable than usual this season; the Saints look so completely invincible that the Steelers just might have a shot to take them down (also, they’re 3-0 against the NFC South this season, if that matters).

I realize I am very much getting ahead of myself with this but I can’t help but feel like this iteration of the Steelers possesses the all-around talent to make a deep postseason run.

NFL Power Rankings: Bump in the road drops the Steelers out of the Top 5

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 6:39am

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a unanimous Top 5 team heading into the regular season, and after a rough start to the season they are heading back to the front of the pack.

The only consistent aspect of the Pittsburgh Steelers early in the season were their 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. Right on cue, the next week they suffered a 26-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, the Pittsburgh roller coaster was again on the decline.

Have no fear Steelers fans, a dominant performance in Week 5 vs. the Atlanta Falcons in followed by a big win over the Cincinnati Bengals had the team continuing on their upward trend. Or as Mike Tomlin would say, “The arrow is pointing up.”

Inconsistent was the theme early with this team, but they seemed to have been rectified this after beating the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9 and the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, extending their winning streak to five straight games. A narrow victory in Jacksonville over the Jaguars moved the Steelers’ win streak to six games, and continued their ascent in the weekly rankings.

If fans were thinking things were too good to be true, the Denver Broncos slapped a big fat ‘L’ on the Steelers’ schedule in Week 12 — dropping the team down the rankings in the process.

In reality, these power rankings mean nothing, but they’re great for conversation and debate. This week, the Steelers saw themselves stay in the Top 10, but back out of the Top 5.

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

ESPN

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Los Angeles Rams
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Los Angeles Chargers
5. New England Patriots
6. Chicago Bears
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Toughest game left: Week 16 at New Orleans. The Saints are the league’s hottest team and have averaged 41.8 points per game in their past four Superdome games. The Steelers will be coming off an emotional matchup with the Patriots in Week 15 and will most likely need this victory to keep the dream of a first-round playoff bye alive.”
8. Houston Texans
9. Minnesota Vikings
10. Seattle Seahawks

NFL.com

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Los Angeles Rams
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. New England Patriots
5. Los Angeles Chargers
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger sure makes those goal-to-go end-game scenarios intriguing. A week after diving in the Jags’ end zone to win the day in Jacksonville, Roethlisberger tossed the ball to the other team’s nose tackle in the other team’s end zone. Still, this is not an appropriate time to be anxious if you’re a Steelers fan. Pittsburgh played consecutive games on the road, splitting against desperate teams clinging to scant playoff hopes, and the loss on Sunday came in Denver, a tough place to play. Roethlisberger did pass for well over 400 yards, while JuJu Smith-Schuster (13 catches, 189 yards) acted like he was in an arcade game. He might be forced to keep up the bean counting, because Philip Rivers and the electric Chargers offense come to town this week. Fun.”
7. Chicago Bears
8. Houston Texans
9. Minnesota Vikings
10. Seattle Seahawks

SB Nation

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Los Angeles Rams
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Chicago Bears
5. New England Patriots
6. Los Angeles Chargers
7. Houston Texans
8. Pittsburgh Steelers
9. Indianapolis Colts
10. Baltimore Ravens

USA Today

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Los Angeles Rams
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. New England Patriots
5. Los Angeles Chargers
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
“If they’d done right thing and continued deploying 6-9, 320-pounder Alejandro Villanueva in red zone, this other nonsense is immaterial.”
7. Houston Texans
8. Chicago Bears
9. Minnesota Vikings
10. Indianapolis Colts

Mike Tomlin addresses concerns over the Steelers’ turnover margin

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 5:34am

The mark of -7 in turnovers after 11 games is the worst of any NFL team with a winning record this season.

In his weekly press conference, coach Mike Tomlin began by addressing one of the greatest problems facing the team this season.

“The significant element of play was the turnover ratio. But not only in this game. If you look back at the last eight quarters of football for us, as a football team, it’s something we’ve got to tighten up and tighten up rather quickly.”

Coach Tomlin went on to point out it is not just turnovers on offense, but the lack of takeaways on defense.

“We’ve turned the ball over some on offense. We’ve got to do a better job of safeguarding and preserving it in everything that we do. Whether it’s a run, or passing, or running with the football, etc. And on the defense of side of the ball, save the last snap of the game in Jacksonville, we’ve played eight quarters of football without creating a turnover. I think you can’t have one discussion without the other. Turning the ball over is less of an issue if you’re getting it. Not getting turnovers is less of an issue if you’re preserving and taking care of it. So we’ve got issues in both areas and it’s created issues for us globally. We were fortunate to get out of Jacksonville… and obviously we weren’t able to get out of Denver.”

Tomlin went on to describe what the Steelers need to do to flip the turnover margin in their favor.

“So we’ve got work to do in that area. It’s very fundamental. We always work in that area. But it’s a re-centering, if you will- a point of emphasis- and we’ll continue along those lines until we get the desired result. And to be quite honest with you, we better get the desired result very quickly because of the significant challenge we have coming before us.”

Coach Tomlin also acknowledged the Steelers are not up to par with the elite teams in the NFL in this area.

“We, as a football team, if there’s one area we are lacking in, in terms of development, is that turnover ratio. I think we are toward the bottom part of the league. And again, it’s twofold. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of it. We’ve got to do a better job of seizing it and getting it, particularly with some of the duress that we’ve been able to create defensively. We create a lot of sacks and so forth. Just by virtue of those statistics, it should be the type of helter-skelter necessary to get turnovers and it just hasn’t happened for us. So we’ve got some work to do.”

Coach Tomlin was asked what can be done by defenses to create more turnovers.

“It starts, first of all, with just simply ball awareness. We teach that and talk that probably more than anything. Being aware of where the ball is located, who’s holding it, how they’re holding it, and what they’re trying to do with it and how that relates to your assignment. And that’s just a general Football 101 description of ball awareness. But anytime you’re talking about getting the football, from a defensive perspective, it starts there. So everyone can relate to that. A defensive lineman can relate to that relative to his pass rush. A defensive back can relate to that relative to covering people and attempting to break up potential completions, etc. I think everyone can talk about and think about how ball awareness relates to the specific task but they have to do with an any particular defensive call.”

Additionally, Tomlin was asked if focusing on takeaways could somehow affect either coverage or tackling.

“Potentially. There’s risk/reward associated with everything that you do in football. I feel comfortable asking professionals to have an increased emphasis in a certain area without worrying about our tackling going helter–skelter.”

Black and Gold Links: Ben Roethlisberger has some harsh words for rookie WR James Washington

Wed, 11/28/2018 - 4:31am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at Ben Roethlisberger’s harsh criticism of rookie wide receiver James Washington on his weekly radio show. Roethlisberger has utilized his 93.7 The Fan show on more than one occasion to send messages to teammates, and he did just that to the rookie from Oklahoma State.

Let’s get to the news:

Ben Roethlisberger calls out James Washington for dropped pass against Broncos

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger offered some strong words Tuesday for wide receiver James Washington, whose drop of a deep pass Sunday was the latest miscalculation in an unproductive rookie season.

Washington left his feet and tried to make a diving catch in the third quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

On his weekly 93.7-FM radio segment, Roethlisberger criticized Washington for not only dropping the ball, but for his leaving his feet when he could have continued running.

“He has to make it,” Roethlisberger said. “I just think he didn’t trust his hands. For some reason, he jump/dove. I’m not really sure what he was doing. We look at it (on film), and coach got on him pretty good yesterday.

“We took a long, hard look at it. James needs to run through that, and it’s a touchdown.”

The play happened on second-and-8 from the Steelers 41 with 4:40 left in the third quarter on the series after the Broncos had tied the score, 17-17. Running down the right sideline, Washington had his hands on the ball but dropped it at the Broncos 22.

After another incomplete pass intended for Antonio Brown, the Steelers punted.

Of the 10 players that were targeted for passes Sunday, Washington was the only player who did not have a catch. He was 0 for 3 on passes thrown his way. For the season, Washington has caught just eight of 25 targets, a 32-percent rate that is the lowest among NFL receivers with at least 11 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Yes, he’s a rookie, but you’re not going to be out there if you‘re not going to make those plays for us,” Roethlisberger said.

The second-round draft pick’s lack of production has led to a reduction in playing time. After playing in 86 and 79 percent of the offensive snaps against Baltimore and Carolina, respectively, Washington was on the field for 54 percent of the snaps against Jacksonville, and that number was reduced to 23 percent against Denver.

Washington was on the field for the final offensive snap when Roethlisberger threw an interception to Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris.

“He needs to have confidence in himself,” Roethlisberger said. “When you have trust and confidence in yourself, you use your hands and you catch the ball. I felt like when he jumped and dove, whatever you want to call it, it showed a lack of confidence in himself and his hands.”

Mike Tomlin on whether Broncos’ blocked field goal was legal: ‘Not my deal’

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin was in no mood Tuesday to discuss the legality of the Denver Broncos formation when they blocked a field goal in the first quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-17 loss Sunday.

The Steelers coach deferred questions about Justin Simmons’ block of Chris Boswell’s 48-yard attempt to NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron.

Riveron, who made the replay review decision that denied Jesse James’ touchdown catch last season against New England, issues a weekly video that details some questionable officiating calls.

“I’ve got too much other business to focus on,” Tomlin said. “Not my deal.”

Le’Veon Bell’s bitter divorce with Steelers was years in the making

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Technically, the relationship between Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers is still alive. The team owns his rights. They can place the transition tag on him this offseason, which would spark a labor fight.

Realistically, only practical business would lead the Steelers down that path.

Sentiment is gone.

Two years of rocky negotiations and broken promises have left relationships frayed, paychecks forfeited and a divorce almost finalized.

An examination of the Bell saga from both sides shows he seemed destined for a yearlong holdout.

That Bell’s locker remained untouched for the first 10 weeks of the season gave hope that an All-Pro would rejoin the backfield. Players would glance at that wooden No. 26 nameplate and wonder if this was the week. They eventually realized the exercise was futile at best, making closure in the form of pillaging his locker that much easier. “I guess we just had to move on,” cornerback Mike Hilton said.

Tension had bubbled under the surface for some time, though. Many inside Steelers headquarters embraced a belief that Bell simply did not want to be in Pittsburgh any longer, destined to forge a free-agency path in the name of underpaid running backs.

Negotiations offered hints. Some with the team felt Bell sent mixed messages during the process, vacillating from big per-year payouts to heftier guaranteed money.

In the end, the Steelers would go as high as $14 million per year, but guaranteed money was an issue.

Bell told ESPN in October an offer of at least $40 million in guarantees would have facilitated a deal with Pittsburgh. The Steelers offered $17 million guaranteed on a five-year, $70 million deal, Bell says. Though the particulars of those guarantees are unknown, it’s likely that $17 million was the signing bonus and they counted the first year as essentially guaranteed since they wouldn’t cut him months after doing a deal.

Either way, Bell’s demands, coupled with his jet ski excursions and night club appearances in early September, gave the Steelers reason to believe he had set his sights on 2019.

But Bell had his frustrations with a front office that told him in January they planned to lock him up and put the franchise tag to bed. Bell was hurt the Steelers followed up those promises with what he felt was a flimsy contract structure. Basically, the Steelers don’t guarantee money beyond the first year of a deal, but in return they try to honor the contracts of their homegrown players who have impact.

Bell called that “monopoly money” because the Steelers could walk away from the deal when they wanted. In his eyes, it was far from a compromise.

”They want to have it both ways, and that’s not fair,” Bell said.

Tim Benz: Like it or not, Big Ben needs balance

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Steelers play in prime time at home on Sunday night against a team with a good record. The Chargers are 8-3.

That’s normally a winning formula. Ben Roethlisberger will probably throw for 300 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions like he did against the Carolina Panthers when they came rolling into Heinz Field with a 6-2 record and on a hot streak three weeks ago.

So, criticism of Roethlisberger or the passing game for some recent miscues isn’t a prediction of future results.

In fact, the result I expect Sunday is something to the effect of 34-30 Steelers with Roethlisberger having a great night.

But, if that happens, it’ll likely be complemented by a more consistent running game. Because when the Steelers run effectively, they score. And they win. When they become too pass reliant, they usually don’t.

The Steelers have seven victories and a tie thus far in 2018. Five of those results featured 100-yard performances from James Conner. A sixth saw Conner exit early in that 52-21 blowout of the Panthers. At the time of his departure, Conner had 65 yards on just 13 attempts.

Roethlisberger has been held under 300 yards passing four times this year. The Steelers are 3-1 in those games. The two games in which Big Ben exceeded 400 passing yards resulted in losses against the Chiefs and Broncos.

It’s not just about the yardage totals either. It’s about attempts. Just look at the pass-run ratio.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s count sacks as pass-play attempts and runs by Roethlisberger as rushing attempts — since runs-by-design go into the stat book the same way scrambles do.

This year, three of the Steelers’ four highest point totals occurred in games when the ratio has been nearly even, or in favor of the run.

“We strive for balance,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “Balance being, we are capable of attacking in the ways that we choose.”

I think Tomlin and his quarterback should choose passing a little less.

The only game in 2018 when the Steelers ran more frequently than they passed was the 52-point Carolina romp. The 41-17 victory over Atlanta saw an even 29-29 split. And the 33-18 defeat of the Browns featured a 37-31 pass-run ratio.

The outlier was when the Steelers scored 37 points against the Chiefs. They threw 61 times and ran just 13 in that game. But they lost, 42-37.

That’s a theme. Not only does more passing usually fail to equal more points. It’s also failing to equal victory.

Check the other losses this season. The Steelers put up 14 points in a loss to the Ravens when the pass-run total was 48-11. It was 60-16 in the loss to the Broncos when they only posted 17 points. Even the 20-16 win in Jacksonville saw the Steelers’ third-lowest point total of the season. And that was another game where the offense skewed pass-heavy, 50-11.

Critics of these numbers will say winning via balance can be a false equivalence because of how the defense and special teams perform. They’ll argue that, when a team falls behind, it needs to pass in hopes of closing a gap. Like the Steelers against Kansas City.

And they’ll say big early leads because of the pass allows for the run game to flourish late.

Sometimes. Sure.

But that blow out of Atlanta? Conner had 71 yards at halftime. The split was 17 throws and 14 runs. The Carolina beatdown? Again, 41 of Conner’s 53 yards were before the half, and the split was 13-11 pass-to-run.

Defenders of the Steelers approach advance that the team is leading its division at 7-3-1 with the most lopsided pass-to-run ratio in the league.

My response is, maybe Roethlisberger and company would be 9-2 or 9-1-1 and leading the AFC if they stayed on the ground more often, particularly against Denver on Sunday.

Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers is a practice in the art of hesitation

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 2:44pm

Instant replay has changed how we watch, and enjoy, the Pittsburgh Steelers games.

I only have myself to blame. I know better. I allowed myself to fall victim to the moment. I invited the sweet wave of unencumbered joy to sweep over me after what appeared to be a Xavier Grimble touchdown reception. All the pressures and problems of the outside world seem to fade away while you are focused on the singular endeavor of rooting for our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers with all of Steelers Nation. For someone like myself who doesn’t drink alcohol or partake in some form of pharmaceutical stress reliever, Steelers games can be a welcome distraction and a euphoric escape.

Yesterday’s game doesn’t fall into that category however.

I have learned the hard way to never celebrate an apparent great Steelers play prematurely. Instead I will attempt to contain my excitement while I scan the screen for any sign of a yellow flag. It may be my imagination, but I would swear I have watched the players in the process of celebrating a big play only to have a flag be thrown incredibly late. Was it stuck in the refs pocket or what? What was he thinking waiting so long to throw the flag? It almost appears sometimes that they are allowing the play to develop and then deciding whether or not to throw the flag. Either it’s a penalty or it isn’t. The resulting inconsistencies are truly maddening. I feel we can all agree, like the strike zone in baseball, we only want the game to be called the same both ways.

The other reason I delay getting too ecstatic after any successful Steelers play is because of instant replay. You simply can’t count your chickens before they hatch. You have to hold in your excitement till you have watched every angle of the replay to confirm if it was a successful play or not. It doesn’t matter what the call was on the field, because a stadium full of people will quickly draw their own conclusion. They will cheer or moan their decision in a concerted effort to help the coach decide whether to challenge the play or not.

I have been doing better this year in delaying my celebrations in an attempt to limit my utter disappointments, but yesterday I received a painful reminder why that is necessary and prudent.

I jumped off the coach celebrating what I thought was a Big Ben TD pass to Grimble, but quickly realized something wasn’t right. I never saw a ref give the touchdown signal, but he had to have scored on that play, right? Wrong! Even though his full speed momentum did allow him to break the pane of the goal line, he forgot the most important objective. The freaking football. Not only did he fail to secure the ball, but to make matters worse he fumbled out of the end zone, which results in a change of possession.

The fact that I had already celebrated the score made the resulting disappointment seem so much worse. That single play summed up Sunday afternoon’s game to a tee. The Steelers were able to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. Maybe fate has a way of evening these things out, because we done the exact opposite the week prior.

Hopefully this game won’t turn out to be a total loss, but rather a learning tool moving forward. The Steelers should realize they are capable of playing with anybody in the league, but that they can be their own worst enemies. The Steelers beat themselves in Denver.

This team is still finding their identity. The upper echelon teams know who they are and are consistently performing as such. The Saints are the class of the league at the moment. The Rams and the Chiefs are offensive juggernauts who are trying to learn to play a little defense, at least enough to compete for a title. Then you have teams like the Steelers, Chargers, Bears, and Texans. These teams in my opinion are still finding themselves and have yet to reveal what they will become.

I wrote a few weeks back that I feel the Steelers have the unique potential to develop into a punishing power offense, and I still believe that to be true. The Steelers have cleaned up some of their penalty problems, and up to yesterday they had improved their third down conversation percentage. But they are still suffering from self inflicted wounds of their own making. Ball security has to be a priority moving forward. Dropped passes, fumbles, and interceptions are keeping them from reaching their potential. This team is close to being something special, but ball security can derail any team.

I also have an opportunity to learn from this game. Like Leon Lett before me, I need to wait till we are in the end zone, and it is confirmed by replay, to celebrate.

Steelers expect Stephon Tuitt to return to practice on Wednesday as Xavier Grimble enters concussion protocol

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 1:29pm

There are also injury concerns surrounding Bud Dupree and Vance McDonald as Pittsburgh prepares to face the Los Angeles Chargers.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers enter the final third of their season, it is perhaps no surprise to note that the injuries are starting to mount for a team that had been rather lucky in that regard until recently. Bud Dupree, Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble are the latest names to be added to the injury report and all are expected to be limited as the team prepares for their matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.

When detailing these injuries during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin would announce that Grimble had been placed in concussion protocols and also share some more encouraging news about the status of Stephon Tuitt.

“On the injury front, Vance McDonald has a hip that will limit him at early portion of the week. We’ll let his participation be our guide. Xavier Grimble is in the concussion protocol. Bud Dupree has a pec injury that his participation will be our guide in terms of his availability. Some other bumps and bruises. We anticipate Stephon Tuitt working tomorrow, at least in some capacity and letting that be our guide in terms of his march back, and the same with Gilbert.”

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin recaps Week 12, and previews our Week 13 matchup vs. the Chargers. https://t.co/mL60KVOc4J

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 27, 2018

Hopefully, Tuitt will not be too limited in practice and his hyper-extended elbow looked to be in fairly good shape earlier in the day when he posted a video of him celebrating his return to training with teammates.

View this post on Instagram

Clearly you can tell I’m excited to be back with the team!!! #doituitt

A post shared by Stephon Tuitt (@stuitt) on Nov 27, 2018 at 9:13am PST

With Matt Feiler also struggling with a pec injury that kept him out of the game on Sunday, Gilbert would be a welcome sight at practice this week. Should Dupree been forced to miss any extended time, Ola Adeniyi is sure to see some more reps in training and may even suit up against the Chargers if Dupree cannot play.

Ultimately, the real injury concerns for Week 13 could end up being the tight end group if neither McDonald or Grimble are medically cleared in time to face Los Angeles. While Jesse James is more than capable of being the starter and Roosevelt Nix is a viable option as his backup, the coaching staff may yet be forced to consider promoting Bucky Hodges from the practice squad.

The Steelers left more points on the field than they put on the board in 24-17 loss to Broncos

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 12:15pm

You can point fingers in many different directions if you want. But the Steelers 24-17 loss to the Broncos on Sunday was the result of four turnovers and a blocked field goal, gaffes that left at least 20 points on the field when they should have gone on the scoreboard.

The Steelers 24-17 head-scratching loss to the Broncos at High Mile Stadium on Sunday was one in which you could place blame in many different directions.

That is, of course, if you don’t value the takeaway—a statistic the defense clearly hasn’t valued since 2011.

But lack of takeaways, aside, it’s hard to affix blame for Sunday’s loss on Keith Butler’s unit, not when the 24 points his guys allowed should have been good enough for a lopsided victory.

No, yielding 24 points doesn’t exactly remind one of the ‘76 Steelers (or, for the younger people—like, even me—the ‘08 edition), but if you watched the game, you know that amount should have been more than enough to obtain victory.

And if the offense and special teams didn’t do their parts to demoralize the defense on several occasions, Denver may not even have sniffed 20 points, let alone 24.

That’s right, when your offense and special teams combine to leave at least—AT LEAST—20 points on the football field, that’s where the blame for a seven-point loss safely rests.

And you can blame game-planning if you want—some people have been questioning the run/pass or, better yet, pass/run ratio (58 passes vs. 16 runs)—but it was a good enough game-plan for Pittsburgh to move the football all day long to the tune of 527 yards of total offense.

The game-plan seemed superb when Xavier Grimble pulled in a perfectly executed tight end screen pass early in the second quarter and had the easiest touchdown of his life just waiting for him in the end zone. Only, he never really made it to the end zone, because instead of being smart in so many different ways—including placing the football in his left arm—he decided to impose his will on defensive back Will Parks right around the half yard line. Avoiding him altogether seemed like the smarter choice, especially after Parks separated Grimble from the football just long enough for it to roll out of bounds and be ruled a touch-back.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also deserves blame for doing his very best to ensure he won’t be included in the MVP discussions after two more interceptions on Sunday to go with the three he had a week earlier against the Jaguars. Unfortunately, unlike the Jacksonville game, Roethlisberger couldn’t overcome his miscues.

His first interception came late in the third quarter, just when it looked like Pittsburgh, who had managed to overcome Grimble’s gaffe to establish a 17-10 lead, was about to impose its will on the inferior Broncos.

Two plays after the interception by Chris Harris, which he returned to the Steelers 43, Denver found its way into the end zone to knot the score at 17.

Roethlisberger’s second interception occurred in the end zone with a little over a minute to play, just when it looked like the Steelers, who were now trailing 24-17 and faced a third and goal from the three, were about to tie the game.

The reason the Steelers were trailing 24-17 was because James Conner, the running back with a great story, has decided to include “Ball Security Issues” as a pretty weak chapter. After failing to hold onto two important passes late in the game against Jacksonville, Conner fumbled the football after a sizable gain at the end of the third quarter that would have set Pittsburgh up in great position to break a 17-17 tie. Instead, the Broncos recovered Conner’s fumble and broke the tie themselves, on an 11-play, 79-yard touchdown drive.

That’s four turnovers with two of those preventing what should have been easy touchdowns, and Conner’s that prevented at least—AT LEAST—a field goal.

And, then, of course, you can’t forget about the blocked field goal early in the game that could have given the Steelers another three points.

That’s 20 points by my count. That’s good enough for an easy road victory.

When someone says a team gave a game away, they’re not always thinking rationally. However, the Steelers game-long gift-giving of unwrapped footballs to the Broncos on Sunday was the very definition of giving a game away.

Examining the Steelers’ doomed final play against the Broncos

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 11:01am

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the game with a dud, and it is time we take a look at just what went wrong.

Ugh.

That’s my gut reaction to what transpired in Denver on Sunday. After escaping Jacksonville with a win that probably should have been a loss, we exited Denver with a loss that should have been a win. No moment better captured the frustration that was Sunday’s effort than the ill-fated final offensive play, when Ben Roethlisberger threw a brutal game-ending interception with the Steelers poised to score and (likely) force overtime. How in the name of Cliff Stoudt did that happen? Here’s a breakdown.

The Situation

Denver 24, Pittsburgh 17. Steelers ball, 1st and goal on the Denver 3 yard line, 1:57 to play.

The Steelers come out on 1st down in an 11 personnel set (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) with a pro look into the boundary and a slot look to the field. James Conner is in the backfield to the right of Roethlisberger. They fake sweep to Conner and run a fade to Juju Smith-Schuster out of the slot. Juju is slightly open but Ben overthrows him by a hair.

The 1st down concept. Sweep to the boundary with a slant-fade combo to the field. Ben overthrows Juju on the fade by inches.

On 2nd down they are in the same 2x2 set and they run the same concept with one significant twist. Rather than run the fade, Juju, in the slot below, runs a slant while the offensive line again blocks sweep for Conner. This is likely an RPO, or run-pass option, whereby Roethlisberger reads an unblocked defender and decides to give the ball to Conner (run) or throw it into the area voided by the read key (pass). Here, Roethlisberger hands the ball off because his read key sits in the alley and does not pursue the sweep, thereby denying the slant.

The 2nd down RPO slant to Juju is taken away by the read key sitting in the window, so Roethlisberger hands the ball to Conner.

These two plays are clearly packaged, giving Ben an RPO on each based on the look he was getting from the defense. It’s possible the Steelers saw Juju win the slant on 2nd down and decided to try it again on 3rd down from a different look.

3rd Down

The Steelers line up in a different formation. They bring Jesse James over to the slot side to give them Tight End-Trips to the field, with AB isolated to the boundary. Conner is still to Ben’s right.

They are going to run the same slant-RPO as they did on 2nd down except they’re going to change the receiver and the read key. Rather than having Juju run the slant and read the backer to the field, they are going to have AB run the slant and read the backer to the boundary. What they’re trying to do with this package is to RPO the backers while setting the Bronco DBs up to win the slant (Juju runs fade on 1st down to get his defender to widen then tries to beat him inside with the slant on 2nd; AB runs fade on 2nd down in order to beat his corner inside on 3rd). They flip James to the other side to remove a defender to give AB more room to run the slant and they change the run play from a sweep to a trap because without the tight end on that side they don’t have enough players to block the sweep. Otherwise, these are simply two different versions of the same basic concept.

And what of the concept? I find the design to be a wonderful example of modern football thinking. It displays creativity and a complex understanding of scheme. It gives the quarterback the ability to make decisions that avoid dead plays based on pre-snap alignment. It prescribes answers for just about anything a defense can throw at it. There’s just one problem: to make it work, it also requires precise ball-handling and perfect execution.

The 3rd down call is a trap RPO with a slant from AB. The read key is safety Su’a Cravens, who is circled in the diagram above

What Went Wrong

Plenty. First, and most crucially, the snap is low and wide. Much like the season opener in Cleveland, where a bad snap on an RPO resulted in a fumble that let the Browns tie the game late in the 4th quarter, the snap here disrupted the timing of the play. As seen below, Roethlisberger reaches down and to his left for the ball. By the time he gets his head up to ride Conner and read his key, Conner has run into him.

The low snap disrupts the timing of the play Conner crashes into Roethlisberger, causing him to both lose sight of the read key and be late on his read.

Rather than throw the ball away, or pull it and run it himself behind Conner (this is not technically an “option” here but it would be a smart improv, given how the play transpired), Roethlisberger tries to force the ball to Brown.

This presents a new set of problems. For starters, Brown is covered tightly. Even if Roethlisberger gets the ball off cleanly (which he doesn’t), the throw is going to be broken up or perhaps picked by the corner (in the frame below, the arrow shows how the corner has undercut Brown to get into position for the interception). Instead, because of how late the throw comes out, Shelby Harris, the nose tackle, slides off of the block of Maurkice Pouncey and makes the interception.

Watching live, I thought Harris baited Roethlisberger by acting as though he was rushing and then dropping into coverage. On replay, however, you see it is not a creative coverage scheme by the Broncos. It is simply a poor snap compounded by a bad decision from QB7.

58Steel was kind enough to lend his expertise and put the play together as a GIF. Here it is in complete form:

https://media.giphy.com/media/lcMkbgSwkJioOSgP7h/giphy.gif

To RPO or Not?

This is the second time now we’ve turned the ball over while running an RPO concept in the waning moments of a football game when ball security should have been a top priority. It leads to a natural question: should we use so many RPOs? And if so, when?

I’m a huge fan of RPOs. I believe they put defenses at a competitive disadvantage by using the thing that makes them most effective — aggression — against themselves. A defender is allowed to run unblocked to where he believes the ball is headed only to have the carpet pulled out from under him when the ball is delivered into the area he has vacated. If the defender gets wise and sits for the pass option, there is one less hat attacking the run and the offense has a numbers advantage at the point of attack. As a friend of mine often says about the concept, “That’s just cheating.”

Two elements are essential for an RPO to succeed, however. The first is a great snap. RPOs are built on timing. The quarterback must place the ball at the mesh point with the running back at precisely the right time in order to read his defensive key and make a decision on whether to give or pull the ball. If the mesh point is off, which it often is in the event of a bad snap, there is confusion between the RB and QB. Unlike a traditional handoff, where the QB places the ball into a pocket created by the RB, the RB must find the mesh on an RPO because the QB’s eyes are on his read key. Once he finds the ball, the RB is often instructed to clamp down on it when the QB removes his bottom hand from the mesh. If the snap is bad and the mesh is compromised, or the RB cannot determine whether the QB wants to give the ball or pull it, chaos ensues. Like it did against Cleveland. And again on Sunday.

The second necessary ingredient for a successful RPO is a quarterback who can make quick and accurate decisions. Ben Roethlisberger is certainly that quarterback. You don’t build a Hall of Fame resume if you can’t think on your feet. Unfortunately, Big Ben is also a gunslinger, the type of QB who believes he can make any play no matter the circumstance. Sometimes, as witnessed by his remarkable touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to win Super Bowl 43, which was thrown into the narrowest possible window with the game on the line and was inches from being intercepted, it results in glory. Other times, like the fake spike play at the end of last year’s Patriots game, it gets the best of him. Yesterday it did the latter.

The smart play yesterday was for Roethlsiberger to realize the bad snap had compromised the play, to eat the ball and to play 4th down. There was plenty of time on the clock and the Steelers still had a good shot to score from inside the 5 yard line. There was no chance - zero chance - for Ben to complete that throw to AB given how things transpired. The snap threw off the timing, AB got too far towards the middle of the field on his route, the corner undercut the slant, Conner knocked Ben off balance so he couldn’t get anything on the throw. Everything about that scenario said Ben should have eaten the football or thrown it away. That’s not Big Ben, though. Never has been, probably never will. It’s what makes him great. Most of the time.

I wouldn’t give up on RPOs if I were Randy Fichtner. They give Roethlisberger the flexibility in the offense he was denied under Todd Haley and they present a myriad of options to make a defense wrong. The three plays we ran near the goal line on Sunday were brilliantly -designed. Sometimes you can out-think yourself, though. Sometimes the answer isn’t the most complex but the most basic. In this case, with four shots from the 3 yard line, that may have meant a dose of good old power football.

This is twice now the RPO bug has bitten us with the game on the line. Sometimes you have to learn a lesson the hard way before the correction is made. As far as the Steelers and RPOs go, let’s hope yesterday did the trick.

Steelers’ weaknesses are being exposed more with each passing week

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 9:48am

The Black-and-gold’s disappointing loss in Denver indicates that last week’s inconsistent performance in Jacksonville was no fluke, but possibly a harbinger of similar troubles down the road.

One blocked field goal (-3 points), one fumble at the goal line (-7 points), one dropped TD pass (-4 points), two interceptions (one killing a promising drive, the other one killing the Steelers), plus one uncovered Denver tight end and one Pittsburgh running back losing his grip on the ball in the open field. Put them all together and it spells the Steelers’ third defeat of the season.

Of course the Steelers still enjoy a comfortable lead in the AFC North Division. Barring an utter collapse in December, the Black-and-gold look like a safe bet to reach the playoffs. Granted that their now-snapped 6-game winning streak was an impressive feat, and streaks like that can’t go on forever. What’s troubling, though, is that, ever since the Steelers destroyed the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field in Week 10, they haven’t looked anything like a Super Bowl contender. What’s even more troubling is that mediocre teams such as Jacksonville (now 3-8 following their loss to the Buffalo Bills) and Denver (now 5-6 with the win over Pittsburgh) apparently have figured out how to neutralize the supposedly unstoppable Steelers’ offense. And if the lowly Jaguars and Broncos can do it, you’d better believe that legitimate Super Bowl contenders such as New England and Kansas City can and will do it.

As they begin their 2018 stretch run, and despite their 7-3-1 record, the Steelers still haven’t established any sort of offensive identity or consistency. From week to week (or even from quarter to quarter) we never know for sure whether Ben Roethlisberger and company will commit to the running attack or opt principally for passing. We still don’t know whether Vance McDonald is the second coming of Heath Miller, or just a brute with suspect hands and a knack for committing costly penalties. As for Xavier Grimble, perhaps now he understands that his job is to get the football across the goal line, not necessarily to knock opposing DBs into next week.

Undoubtedly, turnovers were the overbearing factor in the Steelers’ defeat on Sunday in Denver. But unfortunately, we’re seeing the very same pattern which has characterized the Steelers in recent seasons. Yet another slow start in Denver enabled a lesser foe to hang within easy striking distance. Poor offensive play selection in crucial situations and a gratuitous waste of timeouts also were evident, along with Ben Roethlisberger throwing late over the middle or forcing the ball into a crowded end zone. By now, these themes have become annoyingly familiar to the faithful of Steelers Nation.

Yes, it’s true the Steelers very well could bounce back at home in Week 13 versus the Los Angeles Chargers. But that hope sidesteps the fact that this was supposed to be the Steelers’ bounce-back week from their largely underwhelming performance in Florida — which fortunately had a happy ending. But sooner or later (and in the Steelers’ case, sooner), teams that rely on fourth-quarter heroics discover the cavalry doesn’t always come riding over the hill to the rescue at the last minute.

If the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers truly are the solid contender described by Tony Romo during Sunday’s telecast, then they had better raise their performance by several notches during the month of December. Rooney U. will be facing some of the league’s stronger teams during this stretch — teams led by some of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. Whereas the loss in Denver might have been humbling, the matchups awaiting in December could be downright humiliating for a team with an inconsistent offense and a defense which has had substantial difficulty keeping track of the tight end.

While the Steelers might stage fourth-quarter heroics against the likes of Jacksonville, or even Denver (on some better day), they’ll definitely need to be firing on all cylinders when facing the Chargers, Patriots and Saints. So we won’t need to wait very long to find out whether the Black-and-gold truly are the contenders we envision, or just another NFL team whose reach exceeds its grasp.

Analyzing the Steelers’ Week 12 loss to the Broncos, by the numbers

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 8:41am

There were plenty of numbers which showed the Steelers could have won, but plenty which also showed why they lost.

1, 2, 23, & 47

These are the yard lines where the Steelers’ turnovers occurred, all in Denver territory. Fumbles took place on the 1 and the 23 yard lines. On the interceptions, the original line of scrimmage was the 2 and the 47. So three turnovers occurred when the Steelers were already in field goal range.

14

Even though the biggest problem with the Steelers turnovers was they did not score any points, Denver still managed to put up 14 points off of those turnovers. This does not even include the three points scored after the blocked field-goal.

62 to 14

The Denver Broncos came into this game in the bottom quarter of the league in run defense. Knowing this, many people expected to Steelers to come out with a heavy rushing attack. This was anything but the case. The Steelers actually attempted to pass the ball on 62 plays. Ben Roethlisberger attempted 56 passes, was sacked twice, and scrambled on two other times where he dropped back. Antonio Brown and Chris Boswell also attempted a pass each. As for running the ball, the Steelers only handed off to James Conner 13 times and Ryan Switzer once.

4

Of the major team stat categories, the Steelers failed to lead in only four of them. Most importantly, they failed to lead in the only category which really matters: points scored. The other stats they did not lead were turnovers, rushing yards, and rushing attempts. The Steelers were either tied or led the Broncos in all other major categories including time of possession, total yards, passing yards, passing percentage, third-down conversions, fourth-down conversions, penalties, sacks, and total plays.

1

The Steelers have only had one takeaway in their last four road games. The lone forced turnover was the strip sack to end the game in Jacksonville. The Steelers had no takeaways in Cincinnati, Baltimore, or Denver. In these past four road games, the Steelers are -6 in the turnover ratio but somehow managed a record of 3–1, largely in part by not turning the ball over in two of the games.

97

It would be tragic to not mention JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown reception. It is his second such reception in his two years in the league. With 25 games played in total in his career, JuJu averages a 97-yard touchdown every 12.5 games.

0

The Steelers have zero outside linebackers who have not missed any plays due to injury in the last two games. Look for the team to make some sort of roster move this week as health at the position could be a major concern moving forward.

Bengals and Chargers will both be missing key offensive starters when they face the Steelers

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 7:48am

With the confirmed news of notable injuries for Andy Dalton and Melvin Gordon on Monday, it appears both players will miss their team’s upcoming games against Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Steelers face a tough schedule over the final weeks of the season with three of their last five opponents currently boasting more wins on the year than them. However, with news emerging of significant injuries to key offensive starters belonging to the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals, it looks like two of their upcoming games might not be as daunting as they first appeared.

While a knee injury suffered by Melvin Gordon in the Chargers’ game on Sunday will not end his season altogether, it seems it will keep him out of the matchup with Pittsburgh in Week 13.

#Chargers star RB Melvin Gordon was diagnosed with a grade 2 MCL sprain suffered in yesterday’s blowout win, sources say. He had his MRI last night. Gordon is out the next few weeks, but should be back before the end of the regular season if all goes well.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 26, 2018

With Phillips Rivers under center for Los Angeles, the contest will still be challenging for the Steelers, but there can be little question the Chargers are weaker on paper without him.

Having lost five of their last six games, the Bengals’ season has been in freefall since losing to Pittsburgh in Week 6 and their remaining schedule just became a lot more difficult after they placed Andy Dalton on injured reserve on Monday.

The #Bengals just placed QB Andy Dalton on Injured Reserve, ending his season with this thumb injury.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 26, 2018

With Dalton sidelined, the starting job will now fall to the inexperienced Jeff Driskel, backed up by the newly signed Tom Savage. Originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft, Driskel was cut before the year began. Claimed off waivers by the Bengals to be their third string quarterback, the first time he saw snaps in a real game was Week 7 this year.

No one wishes injury on an opponent and thankfully neither player appears to dealing with a career threatening issue, but one team’s misfortunate is often another team’s gain. Sadly, Pittsburgh has faced more than enough opponents missing key starters before and have failed capitalize on the opportunity. That being said, if they have real playoff ambitions this season, these games against Los Angeles and Cincinnati are ones they cannot afford to lose.

Report Card: Grading the Steelers’ lousy 24-17 loss to the Broncos

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 6:36am

BTSC breaks out the red pen and assigns grades to the Steelers after their road trip against a tough, but underachieving combatant.

The Steelers matriculated in the Mile High City this week and it’s time to see if they made the grade. Spoiler alert...they didn’t.

Despite my less than prestigious BTSC teaching certificate, I have to issue the necessary disclaimer. You know the story; of course, I’m not a football coach, or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. Before the Steelers traveled to the place where Joey Porter got shot in the ass, I found myself noticing just how equal the two teams actually are despite the disparity in records. And then I realized that these teams both usually battle fiercely in tight contests. Then the game happened and judgments followed.

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 let’s take a look at BTSC’s early perceptions:

Offense:

Why are they not relying on the running game with James Conner? 53 rushing yards on a mere 13 carries is not enough. There was no early deficit to make the run game obsolete. The Broncos rushing defense was ranked 27th going in. Conner’s fumble broke their back. He didn’t need to leave his feet. Ben was pretty good, but the two interceptions were killers. They trump 462 yards. Antonio Brown and Ryan Switzer were pretty good yesterday, but JuJu Smith-Schuster was nothing short of amazing. Xavier Grimble’s fumble is inexcusable. His excuse of wanting to punish his defender instead of scoring easily is unforgivable. Chuks Okafor held his own against Von Miller.

Overall Offense Grade: B- Defense

The defense was definitely not impressive. Ryan Lindsay ate them up on the ground. Case Keenum got just enough time to complete passes. Emmanuel Sanders punished his old team’s secondary and they found themselves struggling against the TE position again. Not having Stephon Tuitt to stop the run is debilitating.

Overall Defense Grade: C- Special Teams

The blocked field goal hurt, but the ST unit wasn’t that bad. I feel like Danny Smith’s unit is finding their way. Jordan Berry is punting so much better. But the fake field goal was innovative and executed well.

Overall Special Teams Grade: B+ Overall Team Grade: C

This was a contest that they should have won. They could have controlled the ball better and they lost by not protecting the ball. There opponent was, however, better than their record. This game can’t be replicated going forward.

Valedictorian: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Honor Roll: Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Switzer, Antonio Brown, Chuks Okafor, Jesse James, Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Al Villanueva, Cam Heyward, Vince Williams

Detention: James Washington, Xavier Grimble, James Conner, Vance McDonald, Joe Haden, Interception Ben

Podcast: Are the Steelers utilizing James Conner incorrectly?

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 5:32am

Time to check in on all things black-and-gold after the Steelers letdown loss to the Broncos on the podcast ‘Steelers Hangover’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers saw their six game winning streak vanish into the thin air of Denver on Sunday. James Conner failed to put up the numbers that he was putting up just a few weeks prior. Is it James or the way the team is using him?

Join Bryan Davis and Anthony Defeo from BTSC for the day after extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”. The Steelers dropped their record to 7-3-1 in a letdown against the Broncos. Tony and Bryan will discuss the game with help from Steeler Nation.

Check out a rundown of the show:

- Reactions

- Grades/Valedictorian and Honor Roll

- Calls

- Are the Steelers using James Conner wrong.?

- Looking ahead to Denver

- and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Black and Gold Links: JuJu Smith-Schuster hits impressive milestone, and his future has never been brighter

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 4:33am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how second year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster hit an impressive milestone in the team’s Week 12 loss to the Broncos, and the future has never looked as bright for No. 19 as it does right now.

Let’s get to the news:

‘Never satisfied’ JuJu Smith-Schuster reaches 1,000 yards in 2nd NFL season

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t the first Steelers wide receiver this century to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in his second NFL season when he reached the milestone Sunday in a 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

He wasn’t the second or third, either.

Smith-Schuster became the fourth second-year player for the Steelers since 2000 to reach quadruple digits, but nobody else did it on a day when they matched the record for longest pass play in franchise history.

Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter put him on the doorstep of 1,000 yards and provided the Steelers with a 17-10 lead, their only one of the game.

Smith-Schuster entered the game with 844 receiving yards and he finished it with 1,055 after catching 13 passes for 189 yards. The 13 catches tied a career high and the yardage total was the second-highest of his young career.

“JuJu is crazy,” guard David DeCastro said. “That’s awesome, he’s an awesome weapon, that’s for sure.”

Smith-Schuster embraced the opportunity to put up big numbers in his second season.

“One of my top goals,” he said. “Obviously, every receiver has yards, catches, pretty much touchdowns, and I reached that goal. But I’m never satisfied.”

Smith-Schuster, who turned 22 on Thanksgiving, is the youngest receiver in Steelers history to have a 1,000-yard season. In the past two decades, Plaxico Burress, Mike Wallace and teammate Antonio Brown also reached the milestone in their second year in the league. (For the record, Hines Ward didn’t get his first 1,000-yard season until his fourth year).

“He had a great game, and I’m really happy for him,” Brown said.

Thanks to a strong second half to his rookie season, Smith-Schuster had 68 catches for 917 yards in 2017. He established a career-high in receptions last weekend against Jacksonville and increased his team lead to 77 catches after his big day against the Broncos. If Smith-Schuster averages five catches over the final five games of the regular season, he’ll reach triple digits.

“He’s reliable, dependable and trustworthy,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I know he is going to be in the right spot.”

Entering the third quarter, Smith-Schuster had eight catches but for just 39 yards. His yards-per-catch average soared when he took a deep pass from Roethlisberger and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone for a 97-yard score with 10:32 left in the third quarter. That matched the distance Smith-Schuster covered as a rookie on a touchdown catch against the Detroit Lions.

“It was single high, and you just kind of pick a side,” Roethlisberger said. “They got pressure early pretty quick. I saw JuJu went inside, and I just let it go. You never really think it’s going to be a touchdown. You just think it’s going to be a completion for a big chunk.”

Brown threw a block downfield that helped spring Smith-Schuster for extra yardage. Inside the Broncos 25, he encountered safety Darian Stewart. Smith-Schuster used a stiff-arm to brush aside Stewart. From there, it was clear sailing into the end zone.

“I saw AB blocking, I took the cut and just turned it up and over,” Smith-Schuster said.

Despite fumble, Steelers need more James Conner down stretch

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

James Conner has been a reluctant star of sorts, wading through the Le’Veon Bell mess while letting his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates and his play talk for him. Players praised him publicly and Conner laid low.

But from his locker Sunday, while visibly frustrated after a 24-17 loss to Denver that featured his late-third-quarter fumble to set up a Broncos touchdown, Conner had a real moment amid the clipped answers.

”Obviously I’m not in a good mood right now,” said Conner, who went 23 yards on a screen pass before the open-field fumble on a Bradley Roby tackle. “Don’t mean to be short with you guys. Just wanted to win the game. I’m a competitor.”

Conner is an ascending player whose star just got chipped on the way up. In Week 11, he dropped two passes in crucial moments against Jacksonville. He has 143 total rushing yards in the three weeks. After 95 total yards Sunday, Conner is still on pace for 1,000-plus rushing yards and is among the league leaders in touchdowns with 10.

But Conner has five more games to rediscover the October surge that earned him AFC offensive player of the month honors. Part of that is usage. Conner has averaged 11.7 rushing attempts per game from Weeks 10-12, compared to 22 per game from Weeks 6-9.

To be sure, matchups and flow of the game affect those swings. And Ben Roethlisberger said the game plan dictated a pass-happy attack, with 56 passes resulting in 464 yards in the air and eight different receivers catching a pass.

”A lot of guys made plays for us,” Roethlisberger said. “Why get away from something you are successful in just to force something else?”

Tim Benz: Old road habits return in Steelers’ familiar-feeling loss to Broncos

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Here’s a tweet I sent out during the second quarter as the Steelers were struggling to come back from a 3-0 deficit in Denver.

Trick play gone wrong, blocked kick, cant catch the tipped pass for an INT, Grimble screw up. Watt hurt....Steelers laying an early foundation for a loss

— Tim Benz (@TimBenzPGH) November 25, 2018

It was met with the predictable reaction of, “What!? Didn’t you see last week’s game in Jacksonville?”

I did.

Similarly, I wonder if many of those who tweeted such responses saw any of the all-too-common losses — or ties — by the Steelers on the road to inferior competition in the Mike Tomlin era.

The Chicago loss last year. This year’s tie in Cleveland. The slew of such games in 2009, 2012, and 2013 that went a long way toward keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs in those seasons. And, of course, the loss to Tim Tebow and company on the same field in the 2011 postseason.

Before we go any further, the point of this isn’t to rewrite the narrative about favored Tomlin teams faltering on the road. Yet, the Steelers tendency to play down to competition does bite them almost every year when it comes to making the playoffs, or at least having an easier road through them.

To be fair, the Steelers have been solid on the road lately. The stumble in Denver is their only road loss this season. They dropped just one road game last season. And they closed out 2016 by winning their last four regular-season road games and a playoff matchup in Kansas City.

Rather, the point of this entry is twofold.

First, if you thought the Jacksonville game was some type of defining moment that made the Steelers foolproof against lesser teams on the road, you were kidding yourself.

Second, the Steelers familiar formula for defeat in this Denver game must be avoided in the future.

Like in Oakland two weeks from now.

So many of those unfortunate Steelers losses away from Heinz Field follow the same script I alluded to in the above tweet.

Overly fancy play calling. Painful turnovers. Allowing lesser teams to hang around early in games so belief builds in the fourth quarter. Special teams miscues. Red-zone screw-ups. Stat-sheet dominance that isn’t reflected on the scoreboard.

Those items have frequently been at the root of the Steelers undoing in games such as this 24-17 loss to the 5-6 Broncos. They were all on display Sunday in Denver.

Podcast: ‘Steelers Hangover’ returns tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 8:14pm

BTSC recaps the Steelers Mile-Low loss in Denver and opens the phones to you, the listener, to join in.

Join Bryan Davis and Anthony Defeo from BTSC for the day after extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”. The Steelers dropped their record to 7-3-1 in a letdown against the Broncos. Tony and Bryan will discuss the game and look to hear from you.

Check out a rundown of the show:

- Reactions

- Grades/Valedictorian and Honor Roll

- Calls

- Are the Steelers using James Conner wrong.?

- Looking ahead to Denver

- and MUCH MORE!

You can listen to the show live by logging onto our BlogTalkRadio page at 9:30 p.m. EST but WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! What did you think about the game, the upcoming regular season or whatever you want to talk about Steelers related. Simply dial (347) 850-8581 anytime during the show to make your voice heard!

Sometimes you have to reject the love: The value of flying under the radar

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 2:49pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers humbled themselves vs. the Denver Broncos in Week 12, and while it might take the spotlight off them momentarily, that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing,

It’s Christmas season. Some wait until after Thanksgiving to deck their halls. In our home, we’re doing well if we can wait until after Halloween. Radio stations adopt an all Christmas music format. (Does KDKA still raise money for the Children’s Hospital and give away Farkleberry treats?) And on television, the Hallmark channel adopts an all Christmas movie format. My dear wife sits beside me through every Steeler game. It’s the least I can do to sit beside her watching those movies.

Just yesterday we were watching one. You know, the one where the driven career girl doesn’t want to fall for the small town hunk? Yeah, that one. It was still early in the game, but said hunk received the dreaded turn away. This is the physical manifestation of being “friend-zoned,” He goes in for the kiss, she turns her head away. Brutal-the emotional equivalent of an hour’s worth of America’s Funniest Home Video clips of guys getting hit where guys get hit.

That said, this is what I pray our Steelers do when the national media comes courting over the next several weeks. As Kansas City and New England both continue to show they too have their weaknesses, and should the Steelers continue to play at the level they are capable of playing, we may become first, a dark horse candidate for the Super Bowl, and later, even a favorite. We must, however, despite how much we might love the love, turn away and reject it. We must wait until the end of the story, in February.

Say what you want about the myriad contributors to last season’s debacle against the Jaguars, but you can’t leave off that list looking ahead to the Patriots. We got full of ourselves, and played like we’d OD’ed on tryptophan. I’d argue that we started this season with much the same problem. The offense, anyway, was the darling of the league. Happily, 1-2-1 can light a real fire. The window closing on Ben Roethlisberger’s career is not a sufficient motivator. Wanting to prove to the world that you’re not a bunch of past-your-prime players may well be. But that means not believing the fawning praise that is likely now coming.

Don’t know if any of you saw it, but some clever gent pieced together sundry clips of Stephen A. Smith going back and forth between choosing Kansas City and New England as the top AFC team, and tweeted out a link. For a while it irked me he never made mention of the Steelers. Then I got what I’m saying here- a lack of respect by the media can translate into a lack of respect by the opposing team. And that can be good for the black-and-gold. Not only can it motivate, it can squelch the motivation of other teams. Let Kansas City look ahead to New England. Let New England look ahead to Kansas City. And let them both look at their TV’s when the Steelers win the AFC championship game.

AFC North Roundup: Steelers take a step backwards after loss to Broncos

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 1:00pm

Taking a look around the AFC North heading into Week 13.

With Week 12 of the NFL schedule officially in the books, it’s time to take a look back at those teams who call the AFC North home to see how they fared and what the standings look like after this week’s action.

The first goal for each team in the NFL is to win its division. Doing so guarantees both a playoff spot and a home playoff game, so even these early-season games are important when it comes to divisional rankings.

Let’s take a spin around the AFC North to check on the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Week 12 Results

Baltimore Ravens - 34
Oakland Raiders - 17

Lamar Jackson is 2-0 as a starter, and was helped largely due to a special teams and defensive touchdown on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Nonetheless, the 6-5 Ravens have inserted themselves back into the AFC Playoff Picture for now. The question for Week 13 is simple — who will start at quarterback? Joe Flacco or Jackson? Inquiring minds want to know...

Cleveland Browns - 35
Cincinnati Bengals - 20

Don’t look now but the Cleveland Browns have won consecutive games, and may have single-handedly knocked the Bengals out of the playoff picture. What is crazy to consider is how many overtime games the Browns have lost this year. If a few bounces go their way, you are looking at a team who is a lot better than 4-6-1. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, will this finally be the year Marvin Lewis gets canned? If so, we can only hope they hire Hue Jackson in his place.

Denver Broncos - 24
Pittsburgh Steelers - 17

The Steelers had every opportunity to win this football game, but continued to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly. If the Steelers end up having to play in the Wild Card Round of the AFC Playoffs, this game will be on fans look back on and say they let this one slip away.

Week 13 Schedule

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans - Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals - Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons - Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers - Sunday Night Football, 8:20 p.m. ET

AFC North Standings

Pittsburgh Steelers - 7-3-1
Baltimore Ravens - 6-5
Cincinnati Bengals - 5-6
Cleveland Browns - 4-6-1

...

Let us know what you think about the division after Week 11 in the comment section below. Do you see this being a powerhouse division? Which teams are contenders and which ones are nothing more than pretenders?

Winners and Losers after the Steelers’ 24-17 loss to the Broncos

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 11:46am

After a game, we take note of certain players who performed well and others who didn’t. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos took part in a big prime time game in Colorado in Week 12, and the Steelers presented their loyal fan base their first loss in the last seven games after a 24-17 loss to the Broncos.

During the game, some perform well, while others fall short of the standard. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in. After the game, when the dust settles, we decipher who falls into which category.

As always, feel free to comment on the list in the comment section below. Be part of the conversation!

Winners

JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stat Line: 13 receptions on 17 targets, 189 yards, 1 TD, 14.5 average

There will be a trend here in the winner column after the team’s loss in Week 12. Unbelievable plays/performances which were spoiled by the outcome. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 189 yard outing, capped by a 97 yard touchdown reception, would have been the highlight of the game, but now it is just a footnote in a weird and strange loss.

Javon Hargrave
Stat Line: 4 Tackles, 1 Solo, .5 Sack, .5 TFL, 1 QB Hit

Hargrave has been playing like a man possessed the past few weeks, and he has been getting to the quarterback. A half sack doesn’t fully show how dominant he was rushing the passer from the interior. The question now remains when the team will start keeping Hargrave on the field, and keeping Daniel McCullers on the bench.

Chuks Okorafor
Stat Line: 2 Sacks Surrendered, 6 QB Hits

Sure, Okorafor received some help throughout the game when going against Von Miller, but Okorafor also held his own on occasion. He did more than enough to protect Ben Roethlisberger, and not only is this a huge feather in Mike Munchak’s cap, but also for the future of the tackle position for the Steelers. Will Okorafor remain the primary backup moving forward? Only time will tell, but he put some pretty good stuff on tape in Week 12.

Cameron Heyward
Stat Line: 3 Tackles, 2 Solo, .5 Sack, .5 TFL, 1 PD, 1 QB Hit

Similar to Hargrave, Heyward was wrecking the interior of the Broncos’ offensive line almost every time Case Keenum dropped back to pass. Between the two interior defensive linemen, you can’t ask much more from that group as a whole.

Chris Boswell/Alejandro Villanueva
Stat Line: Boswell 1/1 passing, 1 TD — Villanueva 1 reception, 1 TD, 1 target

Another great play, and great play call, spoiled by the outcome. Instead of Villanueva celebrating post-game with his offensive linemen, he was taking blame for the loss due to not protecting Ben Roethlisberger better. This was the play which should have turned the tide, but, like Smith-Schuster’s 97 yard touchdown, becomes a footnote in a dud of a game.

Losers

James Conner
Stat Line: 1 costly fumble

It felt a lot like Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble in Denver during the 2015 AFC Playoffs, and it had a similar effect on the team. Conner’s fumble came at a critical juncture in the game, and turned into 7 points for the Broncos. If you want to know the biggest difference between Conner and Le’Veon Bell at this point, ball security is the only thing which separates them.

Xavier Grimble
Stat Line: 1 costly mistake/fumble

I was celebrating the touchdown when suddenly I looked up to see the officials huddled around talking about something. As it turns out, my celebration was a bit premature as Grimble was ruled to have fumbled the ball out of bounds, and into the endzone. The result? A turnover and touchback. The Steelers went from being up 7-3, to trailing for nearly the rest of the first half. I wasn’t mad at Grimble taking on the safety, but protect the ball!

3rd Down Offense/Red-Zone Offense
State Line: 3rd down Offense: 5-for-14 / Red-Zone Offense: 1-for-2

The conversion stats weren’t pretty for the Steelers. Any time a team is below .500 on 3rd down, and fails to convert on a 1st-and-goal in the waning minutes of the game deserves to find themselves on the loser list. Conversion downs/situations are huge, and the Steelers weren’t very good in this area in Week 12.

Turnovers/Takeaways
Stat Line: Team was -4 in this ration

The Steelers entered Week 12 with a -3 turnover/takeaway ratio, and that number will inflate to -7 heading into Week 13. If this defense isn’t capable of getting turnovers, and it looks like that might be the case, the offense has to be able to protect the ball better. Period. If not, their chances of winning it all are slim-to-none.

Penalties
Stat Line: 5 penalties for 34 yards

Sure, the total wasn’t bad, but the ill-timed penalties by the Steelers continue to haunt them throughout the season. The officiating was bad for both teams, but special teams in particular has been penalized entirely too much this season, and gives the offense horrific starting field position almost weekly.

Turnovers, not the overall competence of the team, doomed the Steelers in Denver

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 10:43am

While some fans might think the Steelers aren’t as good as we thought they were, you can chalk this loss up to one thing — turnovers.

Mike Tomlin summed up the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 21-14 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 12 at the start of his post-game press conference:

“We didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the ball, and we also didn’t do a good enough job of getting the football, and I think, I just finished telling the team that, you gotta look at it at from that perspective. It is a dual responsibility. We didn’t take care of the ball well enough, and we didn’t balance that out by getting the ball, so when you are minus-whatever we were in the game it is going to be tough to win. We have some work to do.”

Yep.

The tale of the game for the Steelers was, by far, the turnover ratio.

Steelers turnovers - 4
Broncos turnovers - 0

Of those four Pittsburgh turnovers, several took points off the board, and 14 Denver points were scored off those turnovers. Talk about significant plays.

When you look deeper, the Steelers’ turnover margin is curious to say the least. Pittsburgh entered the Week 12 AFC showdown with a -3 in the turnover/takeaway stat line, and when you add the -4 on Sunday in Denver, the whopping -7 puts them well into the bottom third of the league.

In fact, based on the statistics heading into Week 12, their negative turnover ratio is joined by the Baltimore Ravens (-3) and Tennessee Titans (-3) as the only teams with a negative ratio, yet still having a record of .500 or better.

The turnovers can be pin-pointed when it comes to assigning blame. Ben Roethlisberger’s final pass of the game, which was intercepted at the goal line, is inexcusable — on a play that looked “off” from the start. James Conner’s ball security is certainly an issue and Xavier Grimble’s fumble was about as bad as they come.

Speaking of takeaways, it’s more difficult to diagnose why the Steelers can’t take away the ball away more often. Maybe the Steelers stopping the run better and putting offenses in predictable down-and-distance situations is the key to pinning their ears back and forcing quarterbacks to throw into tight windows. Maybe the defensive backs on the field simply aren’t of the caliber to be ball hawks capable of making splash plays. Maybe the team isn’t forcing enough fumbles due to the rules in place for those jarring hits which often take the ball away from the opponent?

Whatever the case may be, the biggest factor, as was on display in Denver, is the turnovers. You can survive without taking the ball away, but rarely while giving it up. With much bigger fish to fry coming down the stretch, the Steelers might want to get a grasp on the turnovers, and quickly.

The Steelers’ banged up OLBs mean it should be Ola Adeniyi time

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 9:45am

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been rolling with 3 OLBs on their roster all season, and that needs to change moving forward.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been playing with fire throughout the 2018 regular season. No, I’m not talking about their propensity to want to give the football to the opposition at inopportune times, but by just carrying three outside linebackers on their roster.

The plan they had in place with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as the starters, and Anthony Chickillo being able to rotate from both sides to spell one or the other had worked for 11 weeks of the regular season.

Then Week 12 against the Denver Broncos happened.

But I might be getting ahead of myself slightly. In the waning minutes of the Week 11 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chickillo suffered an ankle injury which put him on the injury report for the majority of the week. The injury was enough to have the Steelers move rookie Ola Adeniyi form the Injured Reserve (IR) list to the designated to return list. This means the Steelers have a couple weeks before deciding on putting the rookie pass rusher on the roster.

With Adeniyi waiting in the wings, the loss to the Broncos brought forth more injuries to the position in the form of a wrist injury to Watt, and a shoulder injury to Dupree. Yes, both players re-entered the game, but combine that with Chickillo’s bum ankle and the Steelers are in dire straits at the position.

Am I suggesting Adeniyi is some kind of savior at the position? No. Not a chance. But I am suggesting he is a healthy player who could help the Steelers down the stretch in specific situations.

Adeniyi showed very good pass rushing technique throughout the preseason, and looked to be a lock to make the roster before a hamstring injury landed him on IR. While his promotion would be more out of necessity than novelty, the team would have to let someone go to make room for him on the 53-man roster. A player like Justin Hunter or Brian Allen certainly could be on the chopping block to make room, but at this point the team doesn’t have much of a choice.

The Steelers host the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13 at Heinz Field, and it very well might be Adeniyi’s first NFL action of his young career. If not, then the Steelers must be very confident in the health of the aforementioned OLB corps moving forward.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for Philip Rivers and company in prime time next week.

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