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Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Vol. 19

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 5:45pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

There is always something to talk about when it comes to the black-and-gold!

It’s Friday again, so it’s time for the six pack of questions. It seems as if Jeff and Dave come to a consensus in cutting to the chase...

This week, I, Dave, will be tasked with the questions up for discussion.

The rules are still the same...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

Procedural Note: Since the title feature has gone away, please feel free to leave your usual title as the first line of your response and even bold it if you can for the ease of others.

So here we go! With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to jump on in. Hopefully this party is exactly what you’re looking for on a Friday night. Here goes:

1. Week 1 of OTAs is in the books. Do you put any stock in reports from OTAs in regards to the upcoming season, or do you just skip over the “football in shorts” period of the offseason?

2. I recently saw a question as to which NFL team has the best home-field advantage. The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the teams on the list. Although I don’t know that they should be number one, I agree they should be in the discussion. Where do you think is the most difficult road stadium for the Steelers?

3. We talked about this on The Steelers Preview podcast Thursday night. Do you feel Keith Butler is solely the Steelers defensive coordinator, or is the job more of a three-headed monster along with Teryl Austin and Mike Tomlin?

4. This was the final question posed on The Scho Bro Show podcast this past Tuesday: Other than T.J. Watt (who has won the previous two seasons), who do you think is most likely to be the Steelers team MVP in 2021?

5. Le’Veon Bell was all over Twitter on Thursday night talking engaging in a number of discussions. One statement he made about the Steelers was, “They should have paid me what I wanted.” Looking back on both how Bell has played since he left Pittsburgh, as well as how the Steelers have run the ball the past several seasons, do you wish the Steelers would have offered Bell more than the reported $45 million for 3 years, or are you glad the Steelers weren’t on the hook for that amount?

6. I recently discovered a new channel (LAFF) which plays one of my favorite TV shows (How I Met Your Mother) every day from 9 PM to midnight. Inspired by this, if you could only watch one TV show for the next three months, what would it be?

Stay safe out there!

And it wouldn’t be a Friday night unless we said...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

We added some new shows and a new platform to our podcasts...if you haven’t checked out Jeff’s new morning show Let’s Ride, Bryan and Tony’s Steelers Retro Show or Dave’s Steelers Stat Geek, or even the new evening shows, give them a try by listening below!

Can Pat Freiermuth have the best rookie season for a TE in Steelers history?

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 2:00pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The competition isn't that strong at the tight end position in Steelers history.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally invested high draft capital to the Tight End position since draft Heath Miller in the first round in 2005! Rejoice! With having a similar skillset to stat monger tight end Hunter Henry one could expect Freiermuth to be set up to break some Steelers tight end rookie records. But can he actually do it?

Let’s start with the obvious name and see what Heath Miller was able to pull off his rookie year. As a rookie, Miller snagged 39 passes for 459 yards and six touchdown receptions. In a 17 game season, Freiermuth would only have to average 2.5 receptions, 27 yards, and one touchdown every three weeks to surpass the Steelers all-time greatest tight end rookie stat benchmark. Freiermuth’s rookie season would be considered a disappointment if he isn't able to pull that stat line off.

.@coachjfranklin thinks @pat_fry5 will fit in quite well here @PennStateFball | Full : https://t.co/xrB9NDSuzi pic.twitter.com/jBOqB9qGjR

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 24, 2021

1990 first round pick Eric Green also had a dynamic rookie year. Although he didn't touch Miller’s reception or yardage totals he did put up a whopping seven touchdowns. Pat Freiermuth would have to turn into Rob Gronkowski himself to surpass that total. There’s just way too many weapons on this Steelers’ offense for him to get that many looks in the red zone. But, if by miracle he does score in more than half of games I would be the first to declare the Steelers landed another stud in the Penn State tight end.

Now that we know the players atop the rookie tight end boards, let’s take a look at the biggest factors standing in Pat Freiermuth’s way. Number one, and most importantly, is Eric Ebron. Say what you will about the North Carolina product, but Ebron is still a former Pro Bowl tight end and has a tight relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It’s possible that Matt Canada might play Ebron more so as a really big receiver, but Freiermuth will have to earn every snap.

Officially official ✍️ pic.twitter.com/YYQJGsqVmP

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2021

The second biggest factor in Freiermuth’s way from rookie dominance is the pure amount of talent ahead of him in the Steelers pecking order. Here are the guys he has to compete with:

JuJu Smith-Schuster
Chase Claypool
Diontae Johnson
James Washington
Ray Ray McCloud
Najee Harris
Eric Ebron

Freiermuth will have to quickly separate himself within this receiving group and become a reliable target for Roethlisberger immediately.

Thankfully for Pat the benchmarks are low enough where he has a fighting chance to break these rookie records. Heck, even just a couple of really strong games could push him close to be the Steelers rookie tight end leader in every category.

But what do you think? Will Pat Freiermuth have the greatest statistical rookie season for a tight end in Steelers history? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Steelers land 2 players on CBS Sports top 25 players under 25

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 12:30pm
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers had one up-and-comer just make the list while another was undoubtedly lower than expected.

In the spirit of being bombarded with various lists of players going into the 2021 NFL season, CBS Sports once again released their top 25 NFL players under the age of 25.

Full article on the Top 25 players under 25 https://t.co/W1Utk0CpwI

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) May 27, 2021

Other than being under the age of 25, what process did CBS use to determine their list? Luckily, they spelled it out for us before even naming a single player:

What goes into the ranking? Both past performance and projection, as well as, to a lesser degree, positional value. So it helps if a player has already been really good for three years, but it also helps if his future outlook is really bright. It also probably helps if the player starts at, say, quarterback rather than running back, for obvious reasons. Try not to get too caught up in whether this ranking indicates where they currently rank or where we think they will rank after 2021; it’s a hodgepodge of where they stand right now and where we think they’re headed this year.

Because past NFL experience is one of the factors, all players from the 2021 NFL draft were not eligible for the list. While players such as Trevor Lawrence might be projected as one of the best players, he is basically put in the same category as a player who has a lot of potential but did not see an NFL snap in 2020.

First up for the Steelers is wide receiver Chase Claypool coming in at number 24 on the list. Here’s the breakdown which landed Claypool in this spot according to CBS Sports:

24. Steelers WR Chase Claypool (23)

There are so many young wideouts to choose from, but Claypool brings so much to the table long term. He’s got size you can’t teach. He was an instant big-play weapon in Pittsburgh. And he’s got Steelers WR history on his side; no one drafts pass catchers like Steel City, and he’s already showcased the tools to be a future No. 1.

Claypool is the fifth of five wide receivers who landed on the list. The others include D.J. Moore (17) A.J. Brown (10) D.K. Metcalf (9) and Justin Jefferson (7). While an argument could be made for Chase Claypool being ahead of D.J. Moore on the list as Claypool has more touchdowns in his one season in the NFL than Moore does over his three year career, Moore did have 1100 receiving yards each of the last two seasons. All things considered, the fact Claypool made the list right call regarless of where he landed.

Where the list seems to go a little bit astray is with the Steelers next selection. Not turning 25 until Week 11 of the 2021 season, Minkah Fitzpatrick still meets the criteria. The fact Fitzpatrick is eligible to be on the list should put him towards the very top as he is the only two-time All-Pro player in the top 25. Despite this fact, he lands at number 13 according to CBS Sports:

13. Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick (24)

A handful of experts scoffed when the Steelers traded a first-rounder to land Fitzpatrick during the 2020 season, but since then, he’s done nothing but establish himself as maybe the game’s top ball hawk on the back end. Nine picks and 20 pass deflections in 30 games with Pittsburgh? When isn’t this guy around the ball? He’s an ideal center-field-style leader.

The fact Fitzpatrick is not in the top 10, let alone the top five, is baffling. I can understand a former league MVP coming out on top of the list in Lamar Jackson, but It appears Fitzpatrick doesn’t play an important enough position to land higher in the list as it is riddled with receivers and quarterbacks. Surprisingly, cornerback Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers did manage to land in the fifth spot despite only one Pro Bowl selection in his three seasons in the NFL.

Ultimately, these lists don’t affect how players are going to perform on the field in 2021, but it’s just nice to see some recognition. The fact the Steelers are getting some quality play from the younger players will not help during the 2021 season, but also for season to come.

Steelers 2022 NFL Draft Preview: Ole Miss QB Matt Corral

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 11:30am
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

We continue to look at quarterback prospects who will be eligible in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Any time the word “Coral” has been mentioned since last summer, it has generally carried a negative connotation around here. Well, let’s see if that can be changed a little by introducing you to the immensely talented Matt Corral, who many are projecting to be a first round pick next April.

Matt Corral, who was considered one of the top ten players coming out of California in the class of 2018, was redshirted his freshman season after only participating in four games. His second career game is when people began taking notice. Albeit against Louisiana Monroe, Corral went 10 for 10, throwing for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns. Corral did not become the full-time starter in 2019, but he started four games, participated in ten, and led the team in passing yards. In 2020, Corral won the starting quarterback competition and made a big impression in week one of the season. Against Florida, who was ranked inside the top 5, he recorded 395 passing yards and 3 touchdowns while recording 50 more yards on the ground. He finished the season with 506 rushing yards, a 70.9% completion percentage, over 3,337 passing yards, 10.2 yards per attempt, 29 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions.

Corral possesses a strong arm, but what makes him stand out among his peers is his touch on deep balls. He has the ability to put high velocity on his throws, but he displays good situational awareness and knows when to take some velocity off a throw. When targeting a receiver downfield, Corral understands when it is the right time to deliver an arcing spiral rather than a line drive, as evidenced by this pass against Florida.

Matt Corral just had two amazing throws in a row. The first was a laser and then this 46-yard deep ball with fantastic touch. pic.twitter.com/vEzOaWYHSY

— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) September 26, 2020

Corral also does a good job delivering accurate balls under pressure. His willingness to take a hit inside the pocket is something that should most certainly appeal to NFL teams. However, his excellent mobility keeps him from getting hit too often, as he can outrun many linebackers and safeties.

It is not difficult to see Corral’s talent as both a passer and a runner, but there are still a lot of technical issues that need to be ironed out in his game. We talked about his ability to put excellent touch on passes downfield, but there are several instances on tape where Corral will have the touch but not the accuracy. His timing with the Ole Miss receivers seemed to be off for a good chunk of the 2020 season, throwing passes behind his receivers and giving trailing defenders opportunities to pick them off.

Another issue I have with Corral is his predictability, as he eyes his receivers down too long before delivering the ball. He also panics when his primary target is not open. This seems to be a recurring theme with the 2022 quarterback class. The final issue is inconsistency. Corral had impressive performances against Alabama and Florida, passing for over 750 yards, 5 touchdowns, and only 1 interception in those 2 games combined. On the flip side of that, he recorded a 52.6 completion percentage, only 200 passing yards, and 6 interceptions against Arkansas. If Corral is going to make it at the next level, he must become more consistent.

We are going to look at both the Arkansas and Alabama matchups, and you will truly see both the best and worst of Matt Corral. We will begin with the positive side of things against Alabama. Before we begin, I would like to thank SNW’s son, Jacob Bost, for creating these film clips. He will be helping with these throughout the summer.

In this clip, Corral shows his escapability and a flash of pinpoint accuracy under pressure. Ole Miss lines up in the pistol formation.

It looks as if it is planned to be a play action rollout out of the pistol, but Alabama linebacker Christopher Allen is unblocked. After Wright sees that it is play action, he comes after Corral for the sack, but he is unable to wrap him up, as Corral steps up and avoids the pressure. Facing more pressure from Will Anderson, Jr. and Byron Young, Corral runs to the right and delivers a beautiful strike to Dontario Drummond for the first down.

We see another rollout here. Ole Miss is in the pistol once again.

Corral keeps his eyes downfield, sees nothing open, and wisely chooses to take off and run with it. He avoids a shoestring tackle on two separate occasions in the backfield and picks up a solid 14 yards on the ground.

On this play, we see Corral’s arm strength on full display. Ole Miss is in the shotgun formation.

He is not under any pressure in pocket and does not have to make a challenging throw, but he keeps his eyes downfield and sees Elijah Moore running open downfield. He releases the ball quickly and hits Moore on a pass that travels nearly 50 yards in the air. Corral’s release time is among the best in the 2022 quarterback class. If he wants to become a high draft pick next April, he needs to pair that with greater quickness when reading through his progressions. That will help him cut back on the interceptions.

Speaking of interceptions, it is time to get to the ugly part. Against Arkansas, Corral threw six interceptions and could have thrown eight or nine if the defenders would have caught all the balls thrown to them.

A lot of these interceptions are simply because of poor decision making. The first one we are going to look at is a prime example. Corral is under center in a singleback formation.

It is play action, and Arkansas only sends a three man rush, but their defensive tackle is able to get pressure from the interior. Corral forces the ball to Elijah Moore, who finds a small hole in Arkansas’ zone coverage, but there is safety help over the top and a corner underneath. The ball is underthrown, and Hudson Clark comes away with the interception.

Here is another one. Corral is in the pistol.

Corral rolls out to the right, and his first read is the tight end coming across the formation. Arkansas takes that away, which gives him only two other options on the side of the field he is rolling out to. He immediately turns to his receiver Jonathan Mingo. Safety Jalen Catalon reads this one perfectly and jumps on the route as soon as Corral looks that way. Another poor decision by Corral results in another interception.

Here is the next one. Corral is in the pistol once again.

A major issue in Corral’s game is his inability to read, or even notice, the underneath defender. This was an issue Patrick Mahomes had in college, but a redshirt rookie season in the NFL allowed him to fix the issue. On this RPO, Corral’s first read is Mingo once again. He thinks Mingo will get enough separation late to gun it to him near the one yard line. However, he does not read nickel cornerback Greg Brooks, Jr. dropping into coverage underneath. Corral delivers a line drive that goes right to Brooks. Brooks reads the quarterback’s eyes the entire way and comes away with the easy interception.

Let’s move to the next one. Corral is in the shotgun flanked by runningback Snoop Conner.

These constant one-read passes are going to make it difficult for Corral to adjust to the NFL. Cornerback Hudson Clark has his eyes on the quarterback from the snap and knows where Corral is going. Before the snap, Corral had already decided where he was going to throw the ball, as he did not even take time to scan the rest of the field. It is another RPO, and as soon as he pulls the ball away from the running back, he guns it in the direction of Dontario Drummond. As soon as Corral looks toward his direction, Clark breaks on the ball and gets in front of the receiver for the pick.

Here is the final one we will look at. Corral is in the shotgun.

When a quarterback eyes his receiver down too long, bad things happen. This time, Corral keeps his eyes in the same direction for the entire play. Arkansas only sends a three man rush, which gives Corral all the time he needs in the pocket. Corral throws it toward the sideline near Jonathan Mingo, but redshirt freshman Hudson Clark reads the quarterback’s eyes all the way, jumps on the ball at the perfect time, and comes away with his third interception of the game.

There is a lot of upside with Corral, but he has a lot of developing to do as a passer. Whoever drafts him cannot expect him to start in year one. Even if he shows good development this season, he will still need at least a year to sit on the bench and learn once he gets to the NFL.

If highlights are more your thing, here are Corral’s best plays from the 2020 season.

NFL Comparison: Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick had a decent arm and excellent escapability in his prime, but his inconsistency as a passer kept him from ever reaching the next level in his game. He got too comfortable staying on his first read and did not get through his progressions quickly, and when he was under pressure and could not escape, he would throw balls into traffic that would often lead to interceptions. Corral has the same issues, and he lacks the size that Kaepernick had. His arm is better than Kaepernick’s, but he makes the same poor decisions when under pressure. As seen in the clips above, he locks onto his primary receiver too often and makes it easy for defenders to read where he wants to go with the football. Corral may be able to become a starter in the right system, but it is difficult to see him having success in the NFL until he becomes more consistent.

How would he fit with the Steelers?

I do not believe the Steelers will care too much about the size of their next quarterback. After all, their job is to find the best quarterback, regardless of size. However, Corral’s 6’1” frame is a bit smaller than what the Steelers typically prefer. In terms of his schematic fit, I think Matt Canada could get more out of him than a lot of other coordinators, but I do not think it would be wise for any team to take him in the first round at this point. It is somewhat baffling that his name is being mentioned among the top quarterbacks of the 2022 class considering the major flaws in his game. He is a player to keep an eye on this fall, but as of now, I would be extremely disappointed if the Steelers took him.

But what do you think? Are you more optimistic on Corral than I am? Do you see him as a potential fit for the Steelers? Be sure to light up the Coral comment section with your thoughts on Corral and all things black and gold!

Podcast: The coaching confidence index for the Steelers’ 2021 defensive staff

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC’s Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis talk news of the day and everything surrounding the Steelers. All of this while mixing in fun and frivolity like only they do.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was one of the NFL’s best the past two years. They have lost some starters on that unit though. How confident are you in the assistant coaches for each position group on defense to keep this unit thriving? This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold and there you have the topic for the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview with Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis. Join the triumphant trio as they combine the down all things Steelers and with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the week
  • How confident are you with the 2021 defensive coaching assistants of the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Trivia

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Offense in Focus: Matt Canada creates run plays out of thin air

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Looking at Matt Canada running the ball out of empty sets.

Last week we looked at Matt Canada’s use of pre-snap motion on a play that ended up an off-tackle run from James Conner.

This week I want to look at the very next play from that 2016 game against Clemson, a TD pass to fullback George Aston.

Let’s start with the formation when the Panthers left the huddle.

This is the same personnel group as the previous play, just lined up in an empty set. Wide receiver to the top, James Conner in the slot, fullback George Aston inside to the bottom of the screen, tight end Scott Orndoff below him and another wide receiver to the bottom of the screen.

A couple things stand out here, first the amount of field this formation takes up, they have wide receivers outside both set of numbers, and no one tight to the formation. Second, while the Panthers threw to James Conner and George Aston quite a bit, the real receivers are all still to the outside of the formation. Often teams put a back or tight end outside and a receiver in the slot to put defenses in the tough spot of either sending a linebacker out to the numbers or covering a wide receiver with that linebacker. Canada did that quite a bit too, but not here. Which is why I think you see Clemson staying tight to the formation, they know enough to expect a run here, even with the Panthers in an empty set.

Last week we focused on the pre-snap motion, and there was pre-snap motion on this play as well.

The Panthers motion the fullback into an H-back alignment (behind the line and therefore a “back,” not an “end”). This motion is what the Clemson defense is expecting. They weren’t buying Aston as a receiver, but now he’s a blocker. If you look at the numbers, the numbers to the top side of the screen are there for a QB run on this play, and the defense reacts by shifting that way and moving one defender up closer to the line.

And now for the payoff.

James Conner comes in motion, giving the Clemson defense exactly what they are looking for. But that’s just one more misdirection and George Aston rumbles up the middle of the field to put Pitt on the board first.

The first takeaway from this play is the most exciting one for me. This is an option run play, with a very similar threat to Baltimore’s Veer option. ignore the formation, and look at the threat James Conner and George Aston present, and compare to this play from week 8.

The Veer is the foundation of Baltimore’s offense in the NFL, and it exists off two simple run threats, one to the outside, and one to the middle. On this play the running back is the threat to the outside, and Lamar Jackson is the threat up the middle. On the Panther’s play, James Conner is the outside run threat, and the inside run threat is the fullback on a shovel pass. Canada presents a similar run threat that the Veer presents, and he does it out of empty set, with a quarterback that isn’t a run threat.

T.J. Watt is a freak of nature and shuts down both options the Ravens have on this play, but look at the Clemson defense, they have both Conner and QB Nathan Peterman dead to rights. In that way the shovel pass option is better than a running quarterback. The offense loses one blocker, but the ball gets past the first wave of the defense on a toss. Check out the blocking in slow motion.

First look at the penetration on both sides of the line. The Panthers leave three defenders unblocked, and they have Conner and Peterman in their sights. But those three players turn an 8 man box facing 5 offensive lineman into 5 blockers on 5 defenders, an easy win for the offense.

If you look at the blocks the line makes, the right guard has the hardest job, he has to move the DT, the other lineman either have smaller players to block or they just have to seal defenders, not move them. The tackle slants up-screen, and that block is won. My favorite block is the right tackle on the defender that is responsible for Aston. He moves to his spot, and waits as his target runs right into him and falls down.

Shovel passes are nothing new to the NFL, and the option threat Canada creates on this play isn’t new to the NFL either. The ability to create multiple “run” threats out of an empty set shotgun formation is a serious positive for an offense with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. If you swap out Aston for James Washington or JuJu Smith-Schuster this play is suddenly being run out of 11 personnel (Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite) and the main difference is the player with the ball is faster and more elusive instead of slower and more powerful. The Steelers use several of their receivers as blockers already, so it wouldn’t be a tell if they do it intelligently.

I love the idea of the Steelers running Najee Harris, Eric Ebron, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster onto the field, lining up in empty set and the defense asking themselves “Are they going to run up the middle or outside?” The Steelers offense was still effective when they were reduced to Ben Roethlisberger operating out of empty sets (at least until the line fell apart), adding run threats to that formation without putting anyone in the backfield? That’s the kind of creativity that could make a serious impact on the Steelers in 2021.

Training Camp Battles: Will the swing tackle be a veteran, or a rookie?

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

With the 2021 NFL Draft a thing of the past, we look ahead to some training camp battles facing the Steelers this season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are still in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, but with the 2021 NFL Draft over the attention now turns to the regular season. There are steps along the way, mandatory minicamp, Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and training camp, but the position battles which will take shape throughout the offseason are worth discussion.

Sure, things could change between now and the start of training camp. Injuries, acquisitions and players emerging can alter the outcome of these battles, but there will be several key battles taking place. In this series, myself and Dave Schofield will be giving our analysis and prediction for each training camp battle which will unfold at some point this offseason.

Today we take a look at a position/battle for the Steelers’ offense. This battle pits veteran free agent acquisition Joe Haeg vs. rookie from Texas A&M Dan Moore. Haeg can play tackle and guard, but what if Moore is the future at the position?

Who wins the battle? Dave and I give our predictions below, but be sure to let us know what you think in the poll below, and be sure to explain your vote in the comment section!

Jeff Hartman

Analysis: When I first thought of doing this camp battle, I thought this would be a slam dunk. A no-brainer. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it might not be as easy of a decision as I once thought. There are a lot of moving parts here. The versatility Haeg brings to the roster shouldn’t be tossed aside, we know how Mike Tomlin loves versatility. But if Kendrick Green wins the job at center, B.J. Finney becomes the backup guard. In that scenario, Haeg wouldn’t necessarily be needed in that capacity. Again, a lot of moving parts here with this decision, and it only makes things more complex.

Prediction: As I stated above, if Green wins the job at center, it changes this camp battle completely. I believe Green will win the job, and this will make it a pure battle at tackle. Nothing less, nothing more. The better man wins. Haeg is the veteran, but Moore is the draft pick, and that matters. I viewed the Haeg signing, and still do, as nothing more than an insurance policy. When they drafted Moore, they don’t need that insurance anymore. Haeg will be in camp in case of injury, but I don’t see him making the team. On top of that, cutting Haeg will help the Steelers’ compensatory pick formula, which is nice. I see Moore being the Steelers’ swing tackle in 2021.

Dave Schofield

Analysis: I haven’t made it a big secret, but I haven’t talked much publicly about how much I did not like the Joe Haeg signing. I didn’t like the fact that Steelers spent enough money on a player to count against them in the compensatory formula for someone who did not appear to handle starting responsibilities very well in Tampa Bay. I don’t feel that Haeg was brought in to be a starter, and I felt his $2.3 million average over two years was too much for someone who you ultimately don’t want to put on the field. If the Steelers were going to spend money at tackle, I wanted them to get better quality in return.

Prediction: Based on my analysis, you should be able to tell that I believe Dan Moore Jr will be the Steelers swing tackle for the majority of the 2021 NFL season. I believe they could go ahead and put him in that role right away but could hold him back a little if they feel he’s not ready. Being the eternal optimist, I say he’s ready Week 1 and the Steelers roll with Big Dan.

Other Training Camp Battle Breakdowns:

Updating the Steelers’ salary cap situation after signing 8 draft picks

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 7:15am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Only one player from the Steelers’ 2021 draft class remains unsigned.

The Pittsburgh Steelers now have 89 players under contract for the 2021 offseason. The only player remaining is third-round draft pick Kendrick Green who is yet to sign his rookie deal. With the announcement of Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth signing their contracts this week, along with numbers finally coming in for the salary for Arthur Maulet, it’s time to update the Steelers’ salary cap space

First, Arthur Maulet is yet another player who qualifies under the veterans salary benefit. Set to make $990k for 2021, only $850k will count towards the salary cap. With Maulet displacing James Pierre out of the top 51 and his cap hit of $783k, he only counts $67k against the salary cap.

Although Harris signed his contract earlier in the day then Freiermuth, it was the new Steelers tight ends whose numbers came through first. Freiermuth will count just over $1 million on the 2021 salary cap, but displacing Buddy Johnson’s nearly $785k cap hit leaves Freiermuth only adding a little more than $300k against the 2021 cap.

Last, but certainly not least out of the new players whose contracts numbers came through, Najee Harris is set to count $2,372,263 against the 2021 salary cap according to spotrac.com. Harris knocks out the salary from 2020 draftee Carlos Davis from the top 51. After factoring in the displacement, Harris reduces the Steelers salary cap space more than $1.5 million.

Another amount which is being recorded at this time was actually something charged against teams back in April. While not every salary cap website had taken it into account, teams had to put the money on the books for paying their players for offseason workouts. If players do not show up to the workouts, any money not spent will be reimbursed to teams by the middle of August at the latest. For now, this amount comes out at $792k. Knowing that all 90 players did not show up for all 32 days, this number will be lower but exactly how much remains to be seen.

Now where do the Steelers currently stand with the 2021 salary cap? Before free agency kicked off, the Steelers were little more than $6 million under the salary cap. Since then, the number has fluctuated due to various moves.

To determine how much each player changes the Steelers’ salary cap space, their cap number must be adjusted due to roster displacement. As a reminder, roster displacement is taking into account only the top 51 contracts for a team count towards the salary cap during the offseason. As a larger contract comes on the books, it bumps a smaller contract out of the top 51. Therefore, it’s only the difference in those contracts that increases the salary cap number. The Steelers displaced the last $660k salary and have now moved through the $780k group, meaning displacement amounts will continue to grow lower and vary from player to player.

Here is the approximate breakdown of the Steelers salary cap space based on their recent moves by my own calculations. The numbers are strictly the salary cap hit, or change from what it previously was, for each player in 2021.

Steelers salary cap space heading into free agency: Approximately $6 million

Ray-Ray McCloud: Reported $1 million salary; After displacement: -$0.34 million
B.J. Finney: Reported $987,500; After displacement: -$0.3275 million
Cam Sutton: New report of $1.7 million; After displacement: -$1.04 million
Zach Banner: Reported $2.875 million; After displacement: -$2.215 million
Vince Williams: Saved $4 million salary; After displacement: +$3.34 million
Chris Wormley: Reported $1.6 million; After displacement: -$0.94 million
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Reported $2.4 million; After displacement: -$1.74 million
Tyler Simmons: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Joe Haeg: Reported $1.5 million; After displacement: -$0.84 million
Miles Killebrew: Reported $987,500; After displacement: -$0.3275 million
Steven Nelson: Saved $8.25 million salary; After displacement: +$7.59 million
Cassius Marsh: Reported $950,000; After displacement: -$0.17 million
Eric Ebron: Reportedly saved $3.904; No roster displacement: +$3.904 million
Tyson Alualu: Reported $2.0375 million; After displacement: -$1.2575 million
Jordan Berry: Reported $950,000; After displacement: -$0.17 million
Kalen Ballage: Reported $920,000; After displacement: -$0.14 million
Rashaard Coward: Reported $850,000; After displacement: -$0.07 million
Matthew Sexton: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Jarvis Miller: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Jamir Jones: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
T.J. Carter: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Abdullah Anderson: Reported $780k; not in the top 51: -$0
Vince Williams: Reported $850,000; After displacement: -$0.07 million
Joshua Dobbs: Reported $900,000; After displacement: -$0.12 million
Mason Rudolph: Reported $2,193,066 cap number; After increase: -$0.945199 million
Dan Moore Jr: Reported $834,475; After displacement: -$0.054475 million
Buddy Johnson: Reported $784,836; After displacement: -$0.004836 million
Arthur Maulet: Reported $850,000; After displacement: -$0.067 million
Pat Friermuth: Reported $1,096,033; After displacement: -$0.311197 million
Najee Harris: Reported $2,372,263; After displacement: -$1.568887 million
Offseason Workouts: 90 players x $275/day x 32 days: -$0.792 million

Approximate salary cap space: Approximately $7.3 million

Note: Miles Killebrew was the final contract displacing a $660k salary. From Cassius Marsh on, the displacement is a $780k salary. Buddy Johnson was the final contract displacing a $780k salary, so from that point on the contracts will vary which will be displaced.

So where does this number compare to those reported by the major salary cap websites?

According to overthecap.com, the Steelers are $8,958,879 under the salary cap. OTC has all of the above contracts on the books except for Najee Harris. Once taking into account Harris’s contract, our numbers are very close.

For some time, OTC had the Steelers cap number lower than what I thought it should be. Due to some research by one of the members of the BTSC community (KiwiSteelerFan), he was able to find the discrepancy came in the offseason workout cost. This number ($792k) was taken off the Steelers salary cap with no previous explanation. Now that we know the reason, I went ahead and added it to my salary cap information and now the numbers line up much more reasonably.

Another credible salary cap website is spotrac.com, which has the Steelers at $7,921,653 under the cap. The once contract they are missing is that of Arthur Maulet. Also, spotrac does not have the offseason workouts on the books at this time. One last discrepancy comes from where they are counting the prorated signing bonuses of players not in the top 51 toward the salary cap. If adjusting for these things, their number is also about the same as mine. As for those signing bonuses they are counting, they will count toward the salary cap if the player makes the 53-man roster, but ultimately should be a savings as they would be replacing a player with a higher cap number. If the player does not make the team, their signing bonus will count as dead money for 2021 as well as 2022.

As for the Steelers last draft pick, Kendrick Green’s contract will slide into the top 51 and will ultimately bump out Dan Moore Jr’s contract. The ultimate cost after displacement for Green’s contract will be about $52k once it gets made official.

Also, the Steelers will need as much as an additional $10 million (a very high estimate, with $7 million coming in on the low end) come September when they need to account for all 53 players on the roster, sign their practice squad, and have some carryover in order to do business throughout the year.

The Steelers currently have about the right amount of cap space for the season (if looking at the low end) for the time being. If the Steelers were to spend more at this time, they would have to move some things around before September.

Zach Banner and Devin Bush both on track to return for Training Camp

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The two players who were lost in 2020 with torn ACLs are on track to return in full before Training Camp.

The 2020 NFL season was forgettable for a lot of reasons. Hardly any fans at games, games being delayed/rescheduled and of course injuries. The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered three key injuries, all torn ACLs, and two of those players are still with the team.

Offensive tackle Zach Banner and ILB Devin Bush are the two who are still in Pittsburgh, while Bud Dupree left via free agency to the Tennessee Titans, and both are continuing their path back to the field.

Banner is more outspoken than Bush, but if you follow both on social media you have had a glimpse of what their rehabilitation has been like the past several months. Banner, who was injured in Week 1, and Bush, who was injured vs. the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field, both are on schedule with their rehab/schedule.

This from Banner during an interview with media Thursday, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Zach Banner and Devin Bush are on schedule with their rehab. Banner said he expects to be ready for training camp. He said anytime we see him with a brace on it’s so he can get used to the brace and break it in, not because he necessarily needs it now.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) May 27, 2021

The Steelers are currently going through their third, and final, phase of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and both Banner and Bush were present on field for the first time since their injuries in 2020.

Here is some visual evidence of Devin Bush doing some linebacker drills:

Devin Bush taking part today @KDKA pic.twitter.com/bc1iQyqwFh

— Rich Walsh KDKA (@RichieWalsh) May 27, 2021

Likewise, here is some video of Banner doing some basic offensive line drills on Thursday:

Zach Banner confirmed that he and his mini-twin, Devin Bush, were on the field today. Expects both to be ready for training camp. pic.twitter.com/9vpSg5WO0S

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 27, 2021

Getting both of these players back will be huge for their respective positions. Without Bush, the Steelers lacked a true athlete at the ILB position. Robert Spillane filled in admirably, but when he was hurt and the team had to turn to Vince Williams and Avery Williamson, it was a recipe for disaster.

Likewise on the offensive side of the ball Banner, who won the camp battle with Chuks Okorafor in 2020, could be the road grader the team needs on the edge to jump start their running game. People want to criticize Banner, but he has yet to be given a true opportunity to prove himself.

The Steelers will welcome both of these players back with open arms, and the hope now is they are able to not just be ready for Training Camp, but can stay healthy for all 17 regular season games, and hopefully beyond. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Assessing the Steelers’ leadership heading into 2021

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman brings an AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

For any NFL team to have success, they need to have more than just great play on the field. It is imperative for there to be a strong group of leaders in the locker room and in the practice bubble. How do the Steelers rate when it comes to leadership? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the flagship morning show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Assessing the Steelers’ leadership heading into 2021
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Kevin Dotson talks about his second year, expectations and Adrian Klemm

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 2:30pm
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers guard opens up about his second season, and his expectations for the Steelers’ offensive line.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 NFL Draft class was unique in many ways. There were only six players drafted, the lowest number since 2003 when the Steelers traded up to draft Troy Polamalu, they found three starters with their first three picks and those rookies entered a league dealing with the global pandemic.

For second year guard Kevin Dotson, with his rookie season out of the way he is now able to look back and realize how different his second year is compared to that first season.

“I just feel more prepared. I know what’s to come. Last year all of the COVID stuff, I had no idea when I was supposed to come to Pittsburgh. I had no idea what we were going to do, what type of practices.” Dotson told reporters after Organized Team Activities practice Wednesday. “Now I can expect it and I know what to work for. I worked for it all offseason.”

Knowing what to expect is a huge advantage for someone like Dotson. He was able to use his experience and help him get better this offseason. As for the actual X’s and O’s, Dotson is preparing to start for the Steelers at left guard. This is to be expected considering David DeCastro will be manning the right guard position.

“They wanted me to train more left,” said Dotson. “That is where they have me now. That is what I did the whole offseason was train for the left side. Just to be a little more comfortable in it. Last year when I played in it, I really wasn’t too comfortable. I feel like I am way more comfortable now.”

There will be more change for Dotson other than playing the left side, gone is his first offensive line coach, Shaun Sarrett, and promoted was Adrian Klemm, who was the Steelers’ assistant offensive line coach in 2020. Dotson was asked about Klemm, and his response spoke volumes.

“I feel like there is a little more intensity,” said Dotson of Klemm’s approach. “There is more aggression even the way we come off the blocks. Even the verbiage he uses in meetings is way more aggressive. Not just saying ‘get the blocks,’ but ‘run through his face.’ He is using more aggressive terms and I feel like that pushes our mindset in that way.

“I want to be more of that aggressive guy. I am kind of aggressive already. I want to be that guy that they just know he is going to do extra; you better make sure you are ready for this game type of guy for the defensive line. I am trying to improve upon that. I want to be conditioned enough to be able to go the whole game, going 100 percent.”

Outside of Klemm, the Steelers have seen a tremendous amount of turnover this offseason. Alejandro Villanueva left for the Baltimore Ravens via free agency, Matt Feiler also jettisoned via free agency to the Los Angeles Chargers and Maurkice Pouncey called it a career.

How will the Steelers adapt to so much change? Who will step up, and when will these new leaders become clear?

“We’ve just got to adapt,” said Dotson. “My offensive lines of any team I have been on, we have been able to plug people in and still be able to do what they need to get done. We are going to miss the leadership of Pouncey and them, but we are going to have to adjust. We can’t hold on to it. We have to move on and start our own stuff.”

“I feel like it’s going to be one of those things where somebody falls into that role,” said Dotson. “It’s not known right now, like he will for sure be the leader. I think it will be around Game 2 or 3 that we will find out who the leader of the offensive line will be.”

Could it be Dotson who steps up as the leader of the offensive line alongside DeCastro? It isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and it would also mean Dotson is playing at a level where others want to follow his lead. That is called a win-win in the NFL.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Alex Highsmith motivated by NFL Draft experts suggesting the Steelers take an OLB

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 12:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher has used some NFL Draft talk to motivate himself heading into his sophomore season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping their small, but significant, 2020 NFL Draft class will continue to transform the team in their second year as professionals. The team’s top three draft picks, Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson, will all be starters in 2021, and expectations couldn’t be higher.

When it comes to filling the shoes of their predecessor, Highsmith has the biggest shoes to fill. Bud Dupree might not have been the dominant player most expected, but by the end of his time in Pittsburgh he had put together a very solid career. A career which saw him paid handsomely for his efforts in free agency by the Tennessee Titans.

Unlike Claypool, who took the NFL by storm, Highsmith is still carving out his own niche within the Steelers organization, and the NFL. Not being considered a known commodity yet, many NFL Draft experts suggested the Steelers take a pass rusher early in the 2021 NFL Draft. Some even had the Steelers taking an EDGE/OLB with their top pick.

Highsmith heard/read these comments, and didn’t hang his head and sulk. Instead, he used it as motivation. Motivation to prove the doubters wrong.

“I did see some reports about that,” Highsmith told reports after Organized Team Activities (OTAs) Wednesday. “That gave me more motivation, just be the best that I can be, continue to work harder. I think it shows they have faith in me to come in and earn the spot and role. It gave me more motivation to work harder.”

The faith Highsmith speaks of is the fact the Steelers did not draft a pass rusher until the 6th round when they took Quincy Roche out of the University of Miami. Taking a pass rusher early would have been a shot across the bow for Highsmith and his overall potential within the Steelers organization.

But he realizes the situation he has ahead of him. The ability to make plays the same way Dupree did in years prior.

“I feel like when the opportunity is presented to me, I have to take advantage. That is something I have been working for this offseason and I am going to continue working for the last couple of months of this offseason. It’s exciting. I am ready for the challenge.”

Players like Highsmith have a very high intelligence when it comes to their approach to the game. They are constantly evaluating and thinking of ways to improve their craft. With that said, what does Highsmith see as something he can work on as he approaches the 2021 season as a starter?

“I feel like I can always just continue to work on my mental game, study more film and just have the best IQ I can have,” said Highsmith. “One thing I came into this offseason wanting to do was get stronger, gain a few pounds, just put on a lot of muscle. I feel like I have done that. I feel like I have gotten stronger. Just be strong in the run game, strong in pass rush. Also, just polishing my moves. I feel like it’s been a great offseason so far. I am ready for people to see all that I have been working on.”

Highsmith weighed about 250 lbs. his rookie season, and said he is fluctuating around 253-254 lbs. entering OTAs. Not a huge difference, but putting on just three pounds usually indicates putting on the right kind of weight. Those pounds are muscle.

“It’s a good three pounds,” said Highsmith. “I am trying to maintain that going to camp this season. I am just coming in with the expectation, the mindset to be the best that I can be. I am coming in stepping into this role. I am excited and blessed to have this opportunity and I just know I have to go in and make the most of it.

“I feel like when the opportunity is presented to me, I have to take advantage. That is something I have been working for this offseason and I am going to continue working for the last couple of months of this offseason. It’s exciting. I am ready for the challenge.”

The Steelers have led the league in sacks the last three seasons, and they will need Highsmith to produce if they want that to turn into four years. At their pinnacle, Dupree was good enough to take pressure off T.J. Watt. Defenses couldn’t sell out to stop one of them, and this is what happened when Dupree tore his ACL in the waning weeks of the 2020 season. It will be up to Highsmith to pose enough of a threat to allow Watt to roam, as he did with Dupree.

It won’t be easy, but if anyone has proven the doubters wrong it would be Highsmith. After all, he was a walk-on at Charlotte, and turned that into an NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Steelers OTA Tracker: Compiling various reports from Day 3 of Steelers team activities

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 11:30am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex preparing for the 2021 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are continuing their organized team activities on Thursday. With the workouts being volunteer, and the NFLPA encouraging players to not participate, exactly who and how many players showing up for the Steelers each day remains to be seen.

With limited access to information during these workouts, we here at Behind The Steel Curtain are doing our best to compile the information into one spot as to what is going on at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as the Steelers begin their on-field preparation for the 2021 season. Below is a compilation of information from various Steelers beat reporters who have limited attendance during the workouts. Information will come in chronological order from top to bottom to the best of our ability.

A familiar face on the Steelers offensive line gets some individual work Thursday on third day of OTAs. pic.twitter.com/S0ZZNMVG4L

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 27, 2021

Practice is over from a nearly perfect day in Pittsburgh. Here’s a look at the QBs today. pic.twitter.com/jmz3KhPC90

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) May 27, 2021

And, while I can’t tell you who’s here or not here, I can say this is the first time I’ve photographed a No. 55 during stretch. pic.twitter.com/0ixaPflL9I

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) May 27, 2021

Zach Banner confirmed that he and his mini-twin, Devin Bush, were on the field today. Expects both to be ready for training camp. pic.twitter.com/9vpSg5WO0S

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 27, 2021

Podcast: Will the Steelers double-dipping of Aggies spread nothing but joy?

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC broke down what the Steelers’ draft needs from specific universities before the NFL Draft and now they talk to the correspondents from the universities that boasted all nine of their draft selections.

The Steelers have double-dipped a lot in drafts in recent years like Oklahoma State in 2018, Michigan in 2019 and Maryland in 2020. This year, the Steelers nabbed two players from Texas A&M in the fourth round. This week, join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict to talk about the additions of Dan Moore Jr. and Buddy Johnson. Jeff Tarpley from 247 Sports joins in on the fun.

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guest: Jeff Tarpley from 247 Sports
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael and Geoffrey walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Steelers’ linebackers top the AFC North according to Pro Football Focus

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers have the AFC North’s top inside linebacker and edge rusher on PFF’s top 32 lists.

As more lists of the top players at their positions are getting cycled through heading into training camp for the 2021 NFL season, we continue to scour the lists looking for members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pro Football Focus has been shooting out their lists left and right as of late as teams are in the OTA stage of the offseason.

And here comes my standard PFF disclaimer yet again, especially after the shot they took at Ben Roethlisberger on Wednesday:

It seems like I can’t write an article about PFF without giving the typical disclaimer of how their projections can be highly questionable. Even their grading of players after the fact can be picked apart, so expecting them to do well in the prediction business is not something which I’m ready to bet the farm on based on their conclusions.

The latest positions on the list given by Pro Football Focus are edge rusher and linebacker. According to PFF, the Steelers have the top player in the AFC North at both positions.

Khalil Mack
T.J. Watt
Joey Bosa@PFF_Linsey ranks the top 32 EDGE defenders in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season ⬇️ https://t.co/jxUAPTNpar

— PFF (@PFF) May 25, 2021

Despite being the other member in the two-horse race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 along with Aaron Donald of the Rams, T.J. Watt did not end up as the top ranked player when it comes to edge rushers. Here is the breakdown from PFF placing him at number two:

2. T.J. WATT, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Going purely off of pass-rushing production, it’s difficult to top what Watt has been able to do over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. He leads all edge defenders in sacks (29.5) and quarterback hits (46) since 2019, falling just short of Shaquil Barrett in total pressures. Watt turned in PFF grades of 91.3 and 91.6 in those two seasons; he has developed into a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL.

So who would possibly be in front of Watt in the rankings? PFF basically had to talk themselves into selecting Khalil Mack in the top spot. What do I mean by that? You can judge for yourself:

1. KHALIL MACK, CHICAGO BEARS

Mack falls outside the top 10 edge defenders in the NFL in total sacks over the last two seasons, but that is just one number that doesn’t reflect how dominant he has been on the field. PFF’s wins above replacement metric, PFF WAR, pegged Mack as the league’s most valuable edge rusher in 2020, and that dominance extends back to his rookie season in 2014. Mack has recorded an overall grade above 85.0 in each of his first seven NFL seasons.

To compare to the rest of the AFC North, Watt obviously has the top spot compared it to anyone else and division. The Cleveland Browns landed both Myles Garrett (4) and newly signed Jadeveon Clowney (20) on the list. Keeping with the newly signed players theme, the Cincinnati Bengals landed Trey Hendrickson (29) on the list after coming over from the New Orleans Saints. Getting away from the trend of quality Ravens pass rushers, Baltimore failed to put land a player in the top 32 for 2021.

One other player of note is former Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree. Despite getting very little love from PFF during his time in Pittsburgh, Dupree lands at 27th on the list.

Along with edge rusher, PFF also ranked the top 32 linebackers. Dominated by NFC players at the top of the list, Devin Bush ranked 17th.

Bobby Wagner
Fred Warner
Eric Kendricks@PFF_Sam ranks the top 32 LBs in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season ⬇️ https://t.co/gmpbPnGMr5

— PFF (@PFF) May 26, 2021

Here is the breakdown on Bush which lands him on the list despite missing the majority of the 2020 season:

17. DEVIN BUSH, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

We have yet to see everything Devin Bush is capable of at the NFL level. His rookie season for the Steelers was solid but not spectacular, and then injury robbed us of seeing his sophomore improvement after just a few games. Bush has flashed impact playmaking ability, but he needs to show clear improvement in consistency in Year 3.

When it comes to the AFC North, not only was Bush the highest player on the list out of the division, he was the only one. Another interesting player to compare Bush to is his 2019 draft counterpart Devin White of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who finished behind bush at number 25.

While the Steelers were well represented by one player at each position, there is plenty of opportunity for others at the position to make a splash in 2021. Although these rankings going into the season can either give encouragement or act as motivation, being able to say a player was at the top of their position after this season when assessing their performance is the ultimate goal.

Film Room: How the Steelers offense could benefit from the Pistol formation

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers could turn to this unique offensive formation to help their offense in 2021.

In the never-ending quest to crack the code on what new coordinator Matt Canada’s offense might look like when it’s unveiled in a few months, here are some thoughts on the Pistol formation and why we are likely to see more of it in Pittsburgh in 2021.

What is the Pistol formation?

First off, let’s be clear: the Pistol, much like the “Spread,” is a formation. It’s not a system. Formations are simply alignments; systems are philosophies. Formations include Trips, Ace, Trey, Deuce, Wing, etc. They are names given to the arrangement of players at the line of scrimmage just prior to the ball being snapped. Systems are packages of plays that work in accordance with each other to comprise a philosophy on how to attack a defense. The Wing-T. The Air Raid. The Triple Option. The Run and Shoot. The West Coast.

Most NFL teams are considered “Pro-style,” which suggests a system that borrows from many of these philosophies. They often use some basic run schemes (inside zone, outside zone, power, counter-gap) and surround them with an array of passing concepts (4 Verts, Shallow Cross, Y-Stick, Mesh, Smash, etc.) out of a multitude of formations in an effort to create complexity.

In Pistol, the quarterback aligns about four yards behind center with the tailback directly behind him at seven yards. This puts the quarterback at shotgun depth but aligns the running back as though he’s in the I-formation. Thus, the Pistol is a hybrid-of-sorts between the shotgun and the under-center approach of the I.

Some teams add a third player to the backfield, who often aligns adjacent to the quarterback in King (strong side) or Queen (weak side) formation. This additional player can be a second running back, a fullback, a tight end or even a receiver, depending on how the coordinator plans to use him.

The Ravens in a typical one-back Pistol formation What are the benefits of using the Pistol?

The Pistol provides several benefits. With the running back aligned directly behind the quarterback, it prevents a defense from setting its strength to the back, as many do when the back is off-set in the shotgun.

For the running back, the Pistol provides depth by alignment. This is important when executing zone schemes since it gives the back a good look at where the seams in a defense are developing. In the shotgun, with the back tighter to the line of scrimmage and initially moving laterally to take the handoff, those seams can be harder to locate. The Pistol also lets a back get “downhill” faster, meaning he can attack the line with his shoulders square and up the field.

For the quarterback, the Pistol gets him away from the line of scrimmage at the snap. This is essential in Pittsburgh given how uncomfortable Ben Roethlisberger has become operating from under center. It also allows him to turn his back completely to the defense when executing play-action, something a quarterback cannot do when the back crosses his face from the typical shotgun alignment. The benefit of hiding the football from the defense during play-action has a significant impact on the ability to “sell” run action on the play.

The Pistol is also a great formation for read-options with a mobile quarterback, which is why the Baltimore Ravens use it so often. The running back can attack the A-gaps between the center and guards easier from the Pistol, forcing an unblocked read-key (usually the edge player) to close aggressively to tackle him. This can open up the edge for the quarterback to pull the football and run. Zone-reads won’t be on the table in Pittsburgh as long as Roethlisberger is the quarterback. Down the road, though, they may be a further step in the evolution of the formation for the Steelers.

How might Canada use the Pistol in Pittsburgh?

Canada did not use the Pistol excessively as a college coordinator but it was included in the offense nearly everywhere he coached. He is bound to see it as beneficial for 1st-round draft pick Najee Harris, who is expected to become the day-one starter at running back. Harris is a big back at 230 pounds and, while he has the burst to be an effective outside runner, is best attacking a defense between the tackles. The depth the Pistol provides should get him downhill quickly and compliment his already-excellent vision and anticipation.

Look at this play from Harris’s 2020 season at Alabama. This is an inside zone run against Auburn. Had Harris been in shotgun alignment to the left of quarterback Mac Jones, he would have had to cross Jones’s face moving to his right to take the handoff. This would have put him on track to attack the line of scrimmage to the right of center, making it almost impossible for him to see the backside cut. From Pistol alignment, he is square to the line and his field of vision is greater. Harris makes the cut easily and picks up 12 yards:

In Pittsburgh, Canada is likely to combine the Pistol with some of his signature pre-snap motion to benefit Harris. Here is a clip from his offense at Northern Illinois back in 2011. He’s in 12 personnel and initially aligns in a 2x2 spread set with one of his tight ends split wide to the bottom of the screen. This forces the defense into a two-high shell. Canada then brings the tight end in motion and has him kick the back-side edge on an inside zone run to the right. The presence of the second tight end in the box creates an extra run gap and the Pistol formation allows the runner to see the back-side cut. He winds the play to the left for a nice gain.

Here’s another. The Steelers love to get their linemen out in front of the running back on sweep plays. These marry nicely with the downhill run game in the Pistol. This is Northern Illinois running a pin-and-pull sweep called “Horn.” The video quality is poor but you can see the center and left guard lead the back on the sweep while the frontside tackle, tight end and motion man all block down inside. The thing that makes this play effective is how the back starts downhill on a path that looks like inside zone. Once he gets the handoff, though, he bounces the run wide. His initial steps muddy the read of the linebackers and keep them from flying over the top to the football.

While rookie center Kendrick Green won’t be as accomplished in space as was Maurkice Pouncey, he moves well enough to be effective. Green’s mobility should allow the Steelers to keep pin-and-pull sweeps as a part of their run game.

The Pistol will also help Roethlisberger. With the now 39 year-old signal caller fairly adamant about being in the shotgun, the Pistol is a nice way to back him off the ball at the snap while retaining the benefits of the play-action passing game that being under center provides.

Watch this red zone play from Alabama. Out of a run-heavy 12 personnel formation, the Tide bluff a counter-gap play to the left. The combination of pulling linemen and Mac Jones’s ball fake freezes the linebackers and allows receiver John Metchie (8) to slip behind the defense for a touchdown:

By being in Pistol, Jones was able to turn his back to the defense, flash the football to Harris and create a realistic impression of a run play. This is a more effective way of holding the linebackers than having to play-fake with the back in front of the QB like in the shotgun. It also allows the fake to occur more quickly than it does from under center, where he must bring the ball back to the runner.

Here’s NIU using Pistol play-action to create space for the tight end up the seam. This is something I’d love to see the Steelers do more of in 2021. With a pair of big, long tight ends in Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth, the Steelers have great targets for concepts like this. The quick play-action is just enough to attract the attention of the linebackers while the short drop should give Roethlisberger both the time and space necessary to read coverage. The Steelers did not mine this area of the field effectively under Randy Fichtner. Canada should reach back into his old NIU playbook and dust off this concept for the Steelers:

The big sell, of course, involves Roethlisberger. He has seemed resistant to running play-action from under center for two reasons. First, he doesn’t like having his back to the defense for an extended amount of time. Second, by the time he fakes, turns and faces the defense, the pocket is already collapsing around him. Out of Pistol, he would fake and get his depth faster while being able to turn and face sooner. This may make Roethlisberger more willing to embrace play-action. If Canada can convert him, the offense will improve significantly.

While the Pistol will not revolutionize Pittsburgh’s offense, it will benefit its two most important players — Harris and Roethlisberger. It will allow Canada to run his entire scheme, use myriad shifts and motions and create greater deception, especially in the play-action game. It should also forge an acceptable compromise between the offense Canada wants to run and the one in which Roethlisberger is most comfortable. For that reason alone, the Steelers should use it more frequently in 2021.

Podcast: What potential lies in veterans on the edge and an old rookie for the Steelers?

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 8:25am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room.

There is plenty of speculation regarding the Steelers Week 1 roster and if all of the 2021 roster is currently affiliated with the team. There are veteran EDGE rushers that could be signed for depth and an intriguing rookie that was signed as an USFA that is older than most. Join BTSC’s Matt Peverell for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the newest addition to the BTSC family of podcasts and stay a while with Matty in The War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • 5 Pass Rushers for the Steelers to consider picking up: Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon, Everson Griffen, Melvin Ingram and John Simon - based on 2020 & their career performance.
  • Deep dive into a decade of picks, how many are still with the Steelers and what does it tell you about getting the first two picks right.
  • A quick profile on Mark Gilbert the UDFA out of Duke and why even as an older developmental rookie he might just offer the Steelers some value.

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

In 2020 Ben Roethlisberger needed to do more, but in 2021 he needs to do less

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 7:15am
Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a year makes when it comes to the narrative in the regards to the Steelers future Hall of Fame quarterback.

As much as nobody would like to return to the year 2020 based on how much life changed during the global pandemic, I find myself thinking back to this time last year in regards to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After Ben Roethlisberger only played six quarters of the 2019 season, fans were looking for all kinds of indications to see if they could catch a glimpse of any sign of a successful return.

The 2019 season saw the emergence of the Steelers defense to a level they had not seen in several years. After trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick and things starting to come together, getting the Steelers two-time Super Bowl Champion back in the huddle for 2020, even if it wasn’t exactly at full capacity, could have been the one thing the team was missing in order to make a championship run.

The bottom line is, Steelers fans wanted more from the quarterback play they saw in 2019. Roethlisberger, even if he was not what he once was, gave the team an instant upgrade at the position. The Steelers could do so much more with Ben Roethlisberger.

The first part of the 2020 season really seemed to have this line of thought ring true. Roethlisberger was doing his thing, and Steelers rolled off a franchise record 11 straight victories to start the season. But one win over their final six games and it seemed like everything was erased.

So what about 2021? Is it that Steelers fans want even more from Roethlisberger then what he offered to start the 2020 season?

In fact, it’s the opposite. Most people want less Roethlisberger.

It’s not that they don’t want Rothlisberger as quarterback, although some fans were quite adamant about that early in the offseason. What the Steelers fan base, as well as the team, is looking to do for 2021 is not have Roethlisberger be everything to the offense.

They need a run game.

The 2020 season was all about Roethlisberger‘s return and what he could add to the Steelers. Right now, the 2021 season is about keeping Roethlisberger from having to throw the ball 50 times a game. It’s not that he can’t, it’s more about the Steelers are a better team if he doesn’t have to.

The Steelers have given us a taste of a couple different possibilities of their offense. The 2019 season showed that subpar quarterback play really affected how far a team could go. In 2020, Steelers fans were given a glimpse of how a completely quarterback dependent offense could carry the team for a while, but simply was not a sustainable as teams figured out how to counter the Steelers offense.

So other than a new offensive coordinator, what will 2021 bring? Will the Steelers find the delicate balance of having a quarterback to do the job while not having to depend on him for the entire offense?

Honestly, I believe that’s what both the Steelers organization and their fans are looking for. If the Steelers can get back to where they can at least run the ball at an average level compared to other NFL teams, it will open up so much more to their offense. By doing so, Ben Roethlisberger could have a fantastic season simply by not having to do as much.

8 phrases I’m glad I no longer have to tolerate after the 2021 NFL Draft

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 6:00am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft is officially in the rear-view mirror. With that in mind, here are eight phrases I’m glad I don’t have to hear or read again until the 2022 NFL Draft.

Now that the 2021 NFL Draft is officially in the rear-view mirror—the players have been picked, the classes have been graded and the glee and angst have subsided—I’d like to present to you the eight draft-related phrases I’m glad I don’t have to read or hear again until the next NFL Draft.

1: Check out my latest mock draft!

I did read yours. I couldn’t get to yours, however. But yours was great! I just didn’t have time to read yours, unfortunately. As for yours, I have a question: why did you have the Steelers picking Elvis Presley in your Mock Draft 222.0? Must have been a slow news day. Anyway, there were just so many mocks leading up to the actual draft that I didn’t have the time or energy to check them all out. For that, I sincerely apologize. Having said that, I am glad I won’t be asked to check out any new ones for a while, save for those “Way Too Early 2022 NFL Mock Drafts.” I won’t have time to check those out, unfortunately.

2: Bruh, your mock draft was wack, bruh.

Look, bruh, all mock drafts are inherently wack, bruh. It’s hard to get the first five picks right, let alone the first round. As for the rest of the draft, good luck. A great example would be the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that picked fifth. Everyone spent months assuming they would take Oregon tackle, Penei Sewell. But when the real thing arrived, Cincinnati went with LSU receiver, Ja’Marr Chase. It’s like the weather; you just never know, bruh.

3: Did you watch his tape?

No, I didn’t watch his tape. Why do you keep asking me that? Everyone knows I don’t break things down. I mean, I do watch highlights on YouTube after the draft, but that’s just so I can get all jacked up about Najee Harris or Pat Freiermuth!!!!!! Anyway, I may not know how to break down offenses or defenses, but I am pragmatic and know basic math. Therefore, if a prospect addresses a need and has an appropriate big board number, I’m pretty confident I can present an opinion that is almost as strong (or even AS strong) as the tape watchers.

4: Are you smoking crack?

That’s another mock draft thing and a typical rhetorical question asked when someone thinks one is wack, bruh—at least when it’s posted on Facebook. I can’t speak for anyone’s habits, nor do I know if that substance is linked in any way to creating wack mocks. Perhaps I should look into that before next year’s series of mock drafts are exposed to the Facebook community. I’ll let you know what I find.

5: The Steelers need to draft the best player available. Period.

This is usually written as a kind of “mic drop” response to any nuanced article about who the Steelers might select. I believe it’s said in every comments section of every article posted during every draft season. I don’t know who originally came up with this phrase, but they should have made sure it was copyrighted. Think of the royalties. Anywho, with so many big boards and wack mocks flying around out there, bruh, who’s to say who the best player available is at any point of any draft? Therefore, if the Steelers decide to pick the fourth-best tackle (24th, overall, on one of the big boards) instead of the second-best cornerback (17th, overall, on one of the big boards), is that so wrong—especially if the tackle addresses a bigger need?

6: If they draft him, I will smash my remote!

I’ve covered this a million times. Stop saying that. It makes me feel uneasy and uncomfortable. I hate violence. Also, you know how hard it will be to program the universal remote you’re going to have to buy to replace that television remote you smash into tiny pieces? I can never figure those things out, which is why I choose peace and serenity.

7. He offers great draft value.

No matter how many times this is explained to me, I can never truly grasp its meaning. All I know is it’s a huge deal for a lot of folks. For example, if the Steelers draft a player late in the first round, that could constitute horrible draft value. However, if another team selects that same player early in the second round, that could represent great draft value. Even if that player is selected in the first round and goes on to have a productive career, some will still say he should have been selected in a later round. What if he wasn’t available in a later round? Doesn’t matter.

I obviously don’t believe in draft value. Do you know what really represents great value? Holiday candy that’s slashed in half the day after a holiday. It’s one of the few scams that benefits the consumer. Oh, you can’t eat that Santa-shaped chocolate now that it’s December 26? Sure, I’ll mark it down 50 percent. No, it’s a totally reasonable thing to expect. It shouldn’t matter at all that it won’t expire until 2024. You can’t be eating candy that’s shaped like Frosty and Rudolph on New Year's.

Draft choices aren’t the equivalent of marked-down holiday candy. Do you know what every single draft choice—even Trevor Lawrence—would be in the supermarket world? That 25-cent can of whatever that doesn’t have a label. Sure, it could be beef stew (great value), but it could also be dog food (totally devoid of value if you are petless or have a cat). You never know what a draft choice is until you break out the can opener.

8: The Steelers filled a need by drafting (insert player here).

This might be my biggest draft pet peeve. So many people do it. So many speak in absolutes when discussing draft choices. Grades are predicated on this very notion. However, there’s a huge difference between filling a need and addressing one. It’s like when you go to the doctor and are given a prescription based on the symptoms that you present. Your doctor isn’t going to say, “Well, that’s all I need to do.” No, the medication is simply an attempt to address the problem. The doctor usually wants to do a follow-up where he or she conducts more tests and then studies the results as they do that doctor thing where they place their index finger under their nose and their thumb under their chin while folding one arm under the other.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will likely strike that same pose this summer as he watches his new rookies partake in their first NFL training camp. Unfortunately, it might take a little longer for him to truly know if his new draft picks will fill any of the needs that he addressed during the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Where do the Steelers need to improve most in 2021?

Thu, 05/27/2021 - 4:30am

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

The Steelers were 11-0 in 2020 before the bottom dropped out on the season, Plenty of improvements need to be made for a successful season come Autumn. Where do the Steelers need to better themselves the most to ensure that a championship window is open? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Where do the Steelers need to improve most in 2021?
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

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