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Report: James Conner expected to be in the lineup for the Steelers in Week 15

Behind the Steel Curtain - 16 hours 20 min ago
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be without JuJu Smith-Schuster, but could get James Conner back for the Sunday Night game vs. the Bills.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has been short-handed for the last few weeks. Trying to get the job done with a third string quarterback, no top tier running back and without their No. 1 wide receiver.

Yet, throughout the trials and tribulations the Steelers have rattled off 3 straight wins.

As they prepare for the Buffalo Bills to invade Heinz Field in Week 15 for a Sunday night showdown, fans of the Steelers already know they will be without JuJu Smith-Schuster, but there is some good news breaking this morning involving the availability of James Conner.

Conner, who practiced fully all week, was officially listed on the team’s final injury report as questionable, but according to multiple sources, Conner is expected to play on Sunday night.

This per Adam Schefter of ESPN:

Steelers’ RB James Conner, listed as questionable for Sunday night with a shoulder injury, is expected to play against Buffalo, per sources.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 15, 2019

This per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network:

#Steelers RB James Conner (shoulder) is expected to return to the field today and he should be treated as the starter. However, expect Conner to split carries with Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 15, 2019

Rapoport brings up a question many have wondered this week when discussing the possibility of Conner returning to the lineup — who will be the odd man out if Conner returns?

Rapoport lists Jaylen Samuels, who missed practice Wednesday with a groin injury but had no injury designation, as someone who will split carries, but the Steelers aren’t likely to dress five running backs in the upcoming game.

So, who is the odd man out?

James Conner
Benny Snell Jr.
Jaylen Samuels
Kerrith Whyte Jr.
Trey Edmunds

All have value on multiple levels for the Steelers, but the tough choice will have to be made. Logic says Edmunds could/should be the odd man out, but there have been questionable choices made in this department before.

Fans should be excited to have Conner back in the lineup, if he can get through a game without re-injuring his shoulder. Conner brings a dynamic playmaking ability which isn’t found in the other Steelers running backs. Conner’s potential return will bring with it a spark, and a wrinkle, to the huge Week 15 game vs. Buffalo.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills: A Complete History of the Rivalry

Behind the Steel Curtain - 17 hours 11 min ago
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

In the NFL’s 100th season, a look at the Steelers and Bills, now and through history.

With all the NFL 100th Season lists, I’ve been thinking about the histories of various Steeler rivalries. So every week for the rest of the year, I’ll post a retrospective preview, considering the two teams and setting up for the upcoming game.

This week: Buffalo Bills 2019 Comparison Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Current Records:

Pittsburgh : 8-5 (2nd AFC North)
Buffalo : 9-4 (2nd AFC East)

2019 Off/Def Comparisons:

....................................... Overall........... Pass ........... Rush........... Score

Pittsburgh Offense........290 (28th).......196 (31st)........95 (25th).......19.9 (23rd)
Buffalo Defense…..........297 (3rd)........192 (3rd).......105 (14th)......16.3 (2nd)

Buffalo Offense...............342 (20th).........207 (27th).....135 (5th).........21.1 (20th)
Pittsburgh Defense.........311 (5th)...........210 (5th)…...101 (9th).........18.6 (6th)

2019 Defensive Comparisons (advanced stats):

Percentage of opponent drives that end in a …score / …turnover / (net difference)


Opponent Passing …TDs / …INTs / (net difference)


*The Steelers gave up 6 passing TDs and grabbed 0 INTs in the two weeks before Minkah Fitzpatrick arrived. That brings their TD/INT difference to +3 over the past 11 weeks.

Opponent Passer Rating:


*The Steelers allowed a passer rating of 131.3 before Fitzpatrick showed up. Their team rating in the last 11 weeks has been 71.5.

Opponent rushing TDs


Opponent Rushing yards per carry


HISTORY: Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images All-Time Records:

Steelers : 664-583-22 (.532)
Buffalo : 438-496-8 (.471)

Steelers have the 4th most wins in NFL history; 11th best all time winning percentage. Buffalo is 23rd in both wins and winning percentage.

Since Merger:

Steelers : 502-315-3 (.614)
Buffalo : 371-425-2 (.467)

The Steelers are the winningest team in the NFL since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger. The Bills are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals at 22nd.

This Century:

Steelers : 212-115-2 (.648)
Buffalo : 136-181-0 (.429)

The Steelers are the #2 team in the NFL this millennium. Buffalo sits at #28.

Coach in Common:

Mike Mularkey (Steelers Tight End 1989-91, Tight Ends Coach 1996-2000, Offensive Coordinator 2001-03; Bills Head Coach 2004-05)

Mularkey made a pro bowler out of Kordell Stewart in his first year as Steelers O.C., then rode Tommy Maddox to a playoff run the following year. His reward was a two-year run heading the Bills, in which a 14-18 record was enough for the Wilson family to pull the rip-cord. Bizarrely, Mularkey keeps getting head coaching opportunities (Jacksonville 2012, Tennessee 2014-15), but never seems to get more than a season or two to turn a team around.

What Number 4 Represents:

Steelers : Four Super Bowl Titles from 1974-79 (4-0)
Buffalo : Four Super Bowl appearances from 1990-93 (0-4)

All-Time Running Back Controversy:

Steelers : Franco Harris (1972-83) vs Jerome Bettis (1996-2005)
Buffalo : O.J. Simpson (1969-77) vs Thurman Thomas (1988-99)

Best Penn State Linebacker:

Steelers : Jack Ham (1971-82)
Buffalo : Shane Conlan (1987-95)

(Note: Buffalo coach Marv Levy drafted three linebackers from PSU in the 80s, explaining, “as Gloria Venderbilt said, you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Penn State linebackers.”)

Longest Stretch of Failure:

Steelers : 1933-71 – zero playoff wins, one (unscheduled) playoff appearance
Buffalo : 2000-2019 – zero playoff wins, one playoff appearance

Division Rivals in another Universe?

Distance Pittsburgh and Buffalo : 214.7 miles
Nearest AFC East team to Buffalo: NY Jets – 373.4 miles
Distance Pittsburgh to Cincinnati: 289 miles
Distance Pittsburgh to Baltimore: 248 miles
* only the Cleveland Browns are closer to the Steelers than Buffalo

HEAD TO HEAD: All-Time Series:

Steelers : 16 – 9

Playoff Series:

Steelers : 2 – 1

Current Streak:

Steelers : 6w

Longest Streak:

Steelers : 6 games (2001-16)
Buffalo : 5 games (1986-93) *includes one playoff game

First game:

October 11, 1970
Steelers : 23
Buffalo : 10

This was the Steelers’ first win in 17 games, having finished Chuck Noll’s first season on a 13 game losing streak, and starting 1970 at 0-3. They’d finish the year on a promising run, going 5-6 after that winless start. But this was not a good team. The defense held O.J. Simpson to 60 yards on the day, and Steeler quarterbacks (Terry Hanratty and rookie Terry Bradshaw) combined for a stat line of 7-22, 50 yards and a touchdown. Yikes. The Steelers young D (already featuring Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Andy Russel, and L.C. Greenwood) records five sacks and five takeaways, and that’s enough to take the day.

Most Recent game:

December 11, 2016
Steelers : 27
Buffalo : 20

Le’Veon Bell carries 38 times for a team record 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers shut down a scrappy Bills team in the Buffalo snow. Ben Roethlisberger had an uncharacteristically ugly game, throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns, so Bell had to carry the day, and he did. This Steelers team had started 4-5, before going on a tremendous nine game winning streak (including two playoff victories). This was the fourth victory in the run, and the only one in which they ran for more yards than they passed.

Biggest Game in the Series:

December 22, 1974 (AFC Divisional Playoff)
Steelers : 32
Buffalo : 14

This was the first poststeason step on the Steelers journey to the first of their four 1970s Super Bowl victories. The Steelers scored 26 points in the second quarter, as Franco Harris ran for three touchdowns and Rocky Bleier added a short touchdown reception in the quarter. The Steelers defense held O.J. Simpson to 49 yards, and kept Buffalo to 100 as a team, while they ran for 235 yards themselves. This game was also an example of a suffocating defense, but not a big-play D: the Steelers recorded one takeaway and zero sacks, and yet outgained the Bills by 174 yards. The win sent the Steelers to Oakland for a conference title tilt with the hated Raiders.

Other Memorable Games:

November 28, 2010
Steelers : 19*OT
Buffalo : 16

The Steelers were on their way to their second Super Bowl in three years; the Bills would finish the season 4-12. This should have been a rout, but somehow Buffalo hung in there and knotted the score at 16 at the final gun. On to overtime, where Ryan Fitzpatrick (yup) caught the Steelers secondary out of position and threw the game winner deep to Stevie Johnson, who dropped it. This opened the door for Rashard Mendenhall (151 rushing yards) to set up Shaun Suisham’s game winning field goal.

Amazingly, Johnson logged into Twitter after the game and answered one of the great sports questions: since winners always seem to thank God for their success, why does no one ever blame God when they fail? Johnson’s tweet: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...” Reading about it later, many of us thought this was an Onion headline at first. Nope.

January 2, 2005
Steelers : 29
Buffalo : 24

The Steelers entered the contest at 14-1, having already clinched the AFC’s number 1 seed, while Buffalo needed a win to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. The game seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Bills, as the Steelers rested their starters. Unfortunately, the Steelers JV squad was still the better team. The game is significant in that it completed the only 15-1 season in AFC history. As a side story, since Duce Staley was still injured, Bill Cowher rested Jerome Bettis, and was forced to start an undrafted rookie running back named Willie Parker, who recorded 102 yards in his first NFL start. As so often happened in those days, the game sealing points came from the defense, as a backup OLB named James Harrison brought back a fumble 18 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown.

January 6, 1996 (AFC Divisional Playoffs)
Steelers : 40
Buffalo : 21

The Steelers get playoff revenge for their 1993 loss (see below) by trouncing the fading Bills dynasty. The Steelers will host Indianapolis the next week, and when the dust settles, Pittsburgh will wind up in the Super Bowl to take on the Bills’ nemesis and their own 70s whipping boys, the Dallas Cowboys. It will be the Steelers’ first Super Bowl in 15 years.

January 9, 1993 (AFC Divisional Playoffs)
Steelers ; 3
Buffalo : 24

The two-time defending AFC champion Bills had survived the Wildcard round by executing the biggest comeback in NFL history, defeating the Houston Oilers 41-38 after trailing 35-3. Meanwhile, the Steelers came in fresh, after rookie coach Bill Cowher led them to the AFC’s #1 seed. On paper, the game reads like a passing of the torch, particularly since the Bills would be starting backup quarterback Frank Reich in place of future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Unfortunately, Buffalo is not ready to let go of the conference’s mantle. The Bills defense will sack Neil O’Donnell seven times and force three turnovers without committing one themselves (the Steelers had led the league in takeaways in 1993 with a whopping 46). In the end, the Bills blast the Steelers at Three Rivers, and qualify for their third straight Super Bowl. There, they will be trounced by the Dallas Cowboys 52-17, in a game most famous for Bills wideout Don Beebe running down a showboating Leon Lett before Lett can reach the end zone and score on a fumble return. Kind of an anticlimax, but I guess those happen sometimes.

Podcast: Can the Steelers prove their worth vs. the Bills in Week 15?

Behind the Steel Curtain - 18 hours 9 min ago

The Steelers have only beaten one team with a winning record, but Pittsburgh can silence the doubters with a win on Sunday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the verge of a playoff berth, but there are doubters out there who feel this team has only beaten bad teams and aren’t worthy of the playoffs. Can the Steelers beat the 9-4 Bills and prove to they are indeed worthy?

This is a tough question, and one where they can be multiple responses/answers to. This is going to be the talking point in the latest podcast.

Plenty has to be deciphered here, and Jeff Hartman lays it all out there for the listeners in the latest show...

Check out the show below, and be sure to comment what you think in the comment section below!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out the YouTube clip here, and be sure to subscribe to our channel by clicking HERE:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Distribution Maps: What games will you see in Week 15 before the Steelers and Bills play?

Behind the Steel Curtain - 19 hours 3 min ago

The Steelers are playing the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football. Will you get to see before the showdown?

If you were like me, before I decided to sign up for the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package every week I was wondering whether I’d be able to watch my beloved Steelers in the comfort of my own home, or if I’d have to go elsewhere to watch the game.

Before there were websites devoted to this, it meant a lengthy trip on the television guide screen to see which game was scheduled to air, but now it’s just a click away.

Since anyone with standard cable will get to see the Steelers and Bills go head-to-head in Week 15, check out which games you’ll see in your local viewing area leading up to the prime time showdown.

For those who want to know which game they’ll see, check the map below, courtesy of 506 Sports:

CBS Single Game

RED: Texans at Titans
GREEN: Vikings at Chargers (LATE)
YELLOW: Jaguars at Raiders (LATE)
BLUE: Broncos at Chiefs
PINK: Browns at Cardinals (LATE)
LIGHT BLUE: Patriots at Bengals

FOX Early Game

RED: Bears at Packers
GREEN: Seahawks at Panthers
YELLOW: Buccaneers at Lions
BLUE: Eagles at Washington
GREY: No Game

FOX Late Game

RED: Rams at Cowboys
BLUE: Falcons at 49ers

So, how will you be watching the game? At home? At a bar? Hosting a party? Either way, today is the day to get pumped!!


The 2019 Steelers defense possesses one of the best sack rates in the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 3:16pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the NFL in sacks heading into Week 15, and their sack rate is one of the best in the league.

The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers defense does two things better than any other team in the NFL heading into Week 15. Sack the quarterback and take the football away.

With the black-and-gold the clubhouse leader in both sacks and turnovers, you would think their sack rate would be the best in the league, but you’d have to think again. But first, let’s explain what a sack rate actually is...

According to NFL Matchup on ESPN’s verified Twitter page, sack rate is the percentage defensive sacks per opponent dropbacks.

In this case, the Steelers have the second best sack rate in the league with 9.8%. Take a look at the top 10 in the image below:

Through Week 14, these teams have the highest defensive sack rate. #GoNiners #HereWeGo #KeepPounding #DUUUVAL #HTTR #GoPats #LARams #Saints #GoBills #Browns #FlyEaglesFly #Skol @gregcosell | @MattBowen41

— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) December 11, 2019

It should come as a surprise to no on how the Steelers’ Week 15 opponent, the Buffalo Bills, also finds themselves on this list of defenses who get after the quarterback. The Bills come in tied for 9th in the sack rate standings, which means Devlin Hodges and company will have to be prepared for the pressure Buffalo will bring on Sunday Night Football.

While stats are tremendous, and great for truly assessing a team’s identity, so much of it comes down to individual matchups on a week-by-week basis. As stated earlier, the Steelers ability in Week 15, not what they’ve done previously, to harass Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen will ultimately set forth a path to the postseason.

If they get to Allen, and force him into bad positions, the Steelers could find themselves catapulted in front of Buffalo to the No. 5 seed in the AFC Playoff Picture. Fail to contain Allen and suddenly the Steelers will be looking at tie breaker scenarios and wondering what will come of this magical 2019 season.

In any way, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Bills to invade Heinz Field in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football.

Crunching the Numbers: Examining how penalties shape the Steelers’ offensive drives in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 1:05pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

When a flag is thrown during a Steelers’ drive, it has a significant impact on the result

I had a question posed to me this week which caused me to dive quite deep into the Steelers 2019 season. When asked about how penalties affect Steelers’ drives, both the person who asked the question and myself assumed we had an idea of the result as we were just looking for the data to back up our hypothesis. But the more I searched, the more the data was telling a different story.

So how do penalties affect the offensive drives for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers? When the Steelers are set back, does it significantly hinder their ability to put up points? Or does it not really make a significant difference in the long run? In this weeks installment of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take a look at all the Steelers’ drives in 2019 and evaluate the percentages of how often they score points when a penalty is enforced.


To set the stage for this exercise, it is important to first look at the Steelers totals for 2019. Of the Steelers 144 offensive drives, they have scored points in some manner in exactly one-third of their possessions. The Steelers have had a drive resulting in a touchdown 22 times (15.3%) and a field goal 26 times (18.1%). The Steelers have had 57 of their offensive drives end in a punt which is 39.6% of their total drives. They’ve had 39 drives end by some other means than a punt or a score. Drives which fit into this “other’ category include a turnover, the end of the half, the end of the game, a safety, turning the ball over on downs, or a missed field goal. Between the other category and punts, they comprises 66.7% of all Steelers’ drives.


Of the Steelers 144 offensive drives, 82 of them have had no penalties accepted for either team. On these drives, the Steelers have only scored nine touchdowns (11.0%) and 10 field goals (12.2%) which means the Steelers have a scoring rate of 23.2%. Surprisingly, the Steelers actually score points at a rate of 10% less than their total average when there are no penalties called. In these drives, the Steelers have punted 35 times (42.7%) and have given the ball up by some other means 28 times (34.1%). So when there is no penalty called, over three-quarters of the Steelers’ drives have ended without points.


Here is where the data starts to take an even more interesting turn. In looking at the 29 drives in where the only penalties accepted were against the Steelers when they were on offense, they score at a rate of 24.1%. With four touchdown drives and three field goals, the Steelers actually score with a slightly higher percentage when there is an offensive penalty then if there was no penalty at all.


So how is the Steelers total scoring percentage higher than when there are no penalties? It’s because of the Steelers overwhelming success rate on drives where there is only a penalty accepted against the defense. Of the 18 drives where the Steelers have not surrendered a penalty but have accepted one against their opponent, they have scored on an overwhelming 88.9%. These scores have come as six touchdown drives and 10 field-goal drives. In all, The Steelers have only punted twice in 2019 on a drive where the only penalty called was on the defense. Along with only two punts, there have been no drives ended by the any other means. The Steelers have scored points on 16 of 18 of these drives .


The only category remaining is the 15 drives in which there were penalties called on both the offense and defense. Many times these penalties were even in number, but not necessarily all. Sometimes there may have been more penalties on the offense while others may have had drives where the defense was penalized more. For these drives, the Steelers have scored on 40% of them with three drives being touchdowns and another three being field goals. The Steelers have punted five times and have given the ball up four times by one of the other categories.


Here was the number which I thought was very interesting. In looking at any drive in which a penalty was called on the defense whether there was a penalty on the offense at some point or not, the Steelers score points on two-thirds of these drives. The scoring rate of 66.7% comes with 27.2% rate of touchdowns and 39.4% for field goals. Only one-third of the time do the Steelers not score points with 21.2% of the drives ending in a punt and 12.1% ending some other way.

In 2019, the Steelers have been held scoreless on 66.7% of all their drives. But if there is an accepted penalty on the defense including drives where the Steelers were also penalized, they score at the same 66.7% rate. So if a penalty is enforced on the defense, the scoring rate is flipped.

When taking the time to look at every drive of the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers, I expected scoring success rates to plummet on any occasion in which they suffered an offensive penalty they had to overcome. Surprisingly, it was not the offensive penalties which significantly changes the outcome of the drive. Instead, it has been the Steelers taking advantage of defensive penalties in order to put points on the board.

As for the Buffalo Bills, they have the ninth most defensive penalties in the NFL for 2019. Averaging three penalties on the defensive side of the ball each game, can the Steelers take advantage to put points on the board? Can their high rate of success in cashing in on the defenses mistakes guide them to a win on Sunday night? Please leave your answers in the comments below!

Steelers fans need to get better at praising Mike Tomlin for the 2019 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 11:39am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to keeping his team relevant despite some critical personnel losses on offense, Steelers fans are finally giving head coach Mike Tomlin credit in 2019....kind of.

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those, “Damn it, I want you to apologize to Mike Tomlin and do or say it in such a way that everyone can see or hear it!” articles. Believe me, I know how those can go.

And, hey, if you don’t want to praise the man at all for the job he’s done keeping the Steelers (8-5) relevant in 2019 despite the loss of so much integral offensive personnel, that is your right. As the great Christopher Carter pointed out last week, #FireTomlin is still a thing on Twitter. Therefore, wanting Tomlin gone as the Steelers head coach is obviously a hill that some will simply always want to die on.

But can you do me a favor? If you are going to acknowledge the tremendous work that Tomlin has been doing in 2019, can you please just do so without so many qualifiers and reminders of previous failures?

Below are just some responses I’ve seen from people who have swallowed their pride (kind of) and decided to praise Tomlin for his coaching performance in 2019. (Some of these may actually be word-for-word apologies by actual people from the Internet and not just written by me for comedic effect.)

“Dear Coach Cheerleader,

I have been a critic of yours for years, and I really don’t think you know X’s and O’s at all. Also, I really think you’ve wasted the latter part of Big Ben’s career. However, I will give credit where it’s due, and I must acknowledge that the job you’ve done this year has been pretty good. But, now that I say that, why should I give you credit for doing your job? What’s next? Am I going to start tipping my server for bringing me my beer?”

“Dear Coach Tomlin,

I think that fake punt in the Cardinals game the other day was one of the dumbest coaching moves I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what was rolling around in that empty head of yours, and I fear that you will do something equally stupid if the Steelers qualify for the postseason. Having said all of that, though, Coach, doing what you’ve done with a team that is lacking its franchise quarterback has been remarkable. I just wish you wouldn’t have wasted the previous 10 years when you had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, as well as the greatest collection of offensive talent in the NFL.”

“Dear Tomlin,

If was me who was responsible for the billboard on Route 19. You know the one that showed you dressed as a clown? And it was me who created the domain name: And it was me who started the GoFundMe page in the hopes of raising enough money to send to Art Rooney so he could buy out the remainder of your contract. Having said that, however, the job you’ve done this year without a healthy Ben Roethlisberger has been exceptional. I still think you have a hard time getting your players up for lesser competition—including this season. I also don’t think I’ll ever get over that playoff loss to the Jaguars two years ago. Did you know I re-mortgaged my house in-order to buy Super Bowl tickets? I took a bath selling them to some cheap Eagles fans on the secondary market. Thanks for nothing, Coach.”

“Dear Leader of the Cheer Squad,

I still don’t know what you actually do as a coach to help your team win. Sure, there was that thing that one of your players said about how you went all “high school coach” at halftime of the Browns game and made the necessary adjustments that led to victory. But why did it take until halftime for you to adjust? Why weren’t your players prepared as professionals and not high schoolers? Anyway, I always thought you won in-spite of yourself in previous years thanks to all the Super Bowl talent you were handed right out of the gate. But this year, I must say, you’re doing a really decent job.”

“Dear Coach Tomlin,

I’ve basically called you “Coach Dumblin” for the entirety of your career in Pittsburgh, but this year, I must say, not bad.”

“Dear Coach,

Three playoff wins since 2010? I mean, come on! Having said that, though, Coach, I must give credit where it’s due for the remarkable job you’ve done in 2019. Not sure why you didn’t have a suitable veteran backup quarterback in waiting to take Ben’s place, but that’s why I have that picture of you taped to my punching bag. That and that fake punt!”

“Dear Coach,

I still think you’ve always done less with more, while every other coach—including Bill Belichick—has done more with less. But I must say, this year, a year in-which you have done so much more with so much less, not bad. I mean, it IS your job to keep the performance at a high level even in the face of adversity. But what do I know? I only coached high school football for 17 years. #HireJimHarbaugh.”

“Dear Tomlin,

While I will continue to reserve judgment on you until you win a Super Bowl (yes, I know you’ve won one already, but that was with players willed to you by Bill Cowher, who, believe me, wouldn’t put up with half the shenanigans from his players that you do), I have to respect the job you’ve done this season.

PS, I still can’t believe you lost a playoff game to Tim Tebow.”

There you have it, just some of the acknowledgements from just some of Mike Tomlin’s long-time detractors.

The Steelers defense needs a "Rinse and Repeat" of last week's performance

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 9:47am
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to devise a defensive gameplan similar to the one utilized last week against the Cardinals to achieve victory Sunday night versus the Buffalo Bills.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers defenders review this week's defensive gameplan for their game Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills, it may be similar to reading the back of a shampoo bottle. Instructions reading something along the lines of "Rinse and repeat", because if the Steelers are to achieve victory versus the Buffalo Bills Sunday night they will need a repeat of last week's performance against the Arizona Cardinals.

At first glance, the Bills and the Cardinals don't appear very similar. The surging Bills squad has already clinched a winning record and is smack dab in the middle of the AFC playoff race, while the floundering Cardinals are playing out the remainder of the season with hopes of a brighter future at the top of their holiday wishlist.

However, a closer look reveals some intriguing similarities. Both teams are being lead by young, strong armed, athletic QBs. Kyler Murray for the Cardinals and Josh Allen for the Bills. Each quarterback stresses your defense with their ability to extend the play and create big plays out of the pocket. Both men possess excellent arm strength, but struggle at times with accuracy and decision making.

At this point in their young careers, the biggest threat they present to opposing defenses is the ability to move the chains with their legs. Last week the Steelers were able to contain Murray for the most part by limiting his opportunities to unleash his legs. They achieved this in part by utilizing a gameplan slightly out of character for this current Steelers defense. Although the Steelers excel in man coverage and do so more than years prior, the Steelers utilized a majority of zone coverage against the Cardinals uptempo offense.

This turn of events seemed to both surprise and confuse Murray. The Steelers were able to collapse the pocket with a four man pass rush, they alternated using spies on Murray on occasion, and by playing zone on the backside the defenders were able to avoid losing visual of Murray and opening up running lanes as a result. This well executed gameplan resulted in five sacks, three interceptions, and a Steelers victory. This week the Steelers need a "Rinse and Repeat" of that performance against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.

Josh Allen is a rising young star at quarterback, with maybe the strongest throwing arm currently in the NFL. That being said, he still struggles with some of the same concerns that many scouts had about him during the predraft process. Touch and accuracy are both still a work in progress. Surprisingly, for a man blessed with incredible arm talent, Allen struggles mightily on throws over twenty yards downfield. He repeatedly overthrew open receivers deep downfield last Sunday in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens. To be fair to the young man, the weather conditions were far from ideal, with strong winds swirling throughout the game. However, this has been a recurring theme during Josh's young career.

Allen also struggles when facing pressure in the pocket. His efficiency rating drops from 13th to 31st under such circumstances. These numbers maybe slightly skewed if we are being honest, because of Allen's tendency to turn his vision from downfield to look for running lanes when forced from the pocket. This has greatly impacted his passing statistics in such situations, but he has managed to stay productive as a QB for a winning football team because of his superior running ability.

Allen in the open field is the equivalent to Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket, tough to bring down. Blessed with size and strength, Allen is just as likely to bulldozer or hurdle a defender than he is to run away from larger defenders with excellent speed for a man of his stature. This makes it imperative that the Steelers limit Allen's opportunities for chunk plays. No Steelers fans want to see diminutive Mike Hilton struggling to bring Allen down in the open field.

First and foremost, the Steelers need to minimize the Bills running game, creating multiple 3rd and longs. Then maintain rush lane discipline, collapse the pocket, and force Allen to make plays in the passing game against the Steelers outstanding, playmaking defense.

If the Steelers are able to create this narrative against the well coached Buffalo squad, then the opportunity for sacks and turnovers should present itself, resulting in improved odds of a Steelers victory. Sounds simple, but easier said than done.

Film Room: There are plenty of reasons why everyone is talking about the Steelers’ secondary

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 8:26am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the Steelers coverage schemes and why they are drawing attention.

I’ve been working on a Terrell Edmunds film room for weeks now. It’s not an easy breakdown to do because his value is heavily determined by the coverage schemes the Steelers use, and the role Edmunds plays in them.

Fortunately, this week, I gained some help from outside sources. On Wednesday, Dec. 12th, Brett Kollmann dropped a video about Minkah Fitzpatrick, and the next day Football Outsiders film room did a piece on the Steelers defense that covered the secondary quite a bit. Both pieces do a great job of covering things that I wanted to cover, and neither require a membership or paying anything. For this film room I want to dialogue with those pieces instead of just adding my own version of the same information. While I would suggest you check out both, I’ll try to make it all make sense if you choose not to.

I’ll start with Brett Kollmann’s video on Minkah Fitzpatrick. (<-link) Go ahead and watch it now if you want (~20 minute video, but really good).

Terrell Edmunds is the Ryan Clark to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s Troy Polamalu

Terrell Edmunds had a tough rookie year. It’s pretty well known that when Steelers add a safety that safety usually struggles their first season in the system. Terrell Edmunds started every game of his rookie season, played the second most snaps on defense, and tied Ramon Foster and Allejandro Villenueva with 1189 total snaps, a three-way tie for first place.

As we go through the film and outside resources I want you to remember that Edmunds played with Sean Davis, and had to support Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, and the outside LBs that were dropping into coverage. That’s a rough job for a rookie, but it was good preparation for his second season, and supporting Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Brett Kollman does a great job showing that Minkah Fitzpatrick liked to play more shallow than most FSs, and that he also freelances a good bit. Edmunds is the guy most commonly tasked with taking the deep responsibilities and making sure the Steelers don’t get burned deep.

Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety towards the bottom of the screen.

The play starts with 2-deep safeties in a zone defense (for the most part). When Odell Beckham Jr. gets past Vince Williams he throws his arm up as he runs into the gap between the deep safeties. But he isn't’ as open as he thinks, because Terrell Edmunds picks him up and covers him through the end of the play. If you watch Minkah Fitzpatrick (the other deep safety) you can see his reaction to Baker Mayfield scrambling as he drops shorter to help cover any trows to the sideline. Baker Mayfield throws the ball to Beckham Jr., but Edmunds has made the window really small and Mayfield throws it over everyone and out the back of the endzone.

This play stands out for another reason. The Steelers are defending this empty set with their 3-4 defense package. T.J. Watt is in coverage in the endzone at the end of the play, as is Vince Williams. The Browns went empty set with Odell Bekham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Kareem Hunt and two tight ends. The idea worked, as it got Odell Beckham Jr. matched up with Vince Williams. This is why I talk about Terrell Edmunds being a mismatch eraser, because when Beckham Jr. gets past Williams, Edmunds carries the assignment the rest of the way and nothing comes of it.

Lastly this play shows the match-zone principles Kollmann talks about the Steelers running, with Edmunds side of the field playing zone and Fitzpatrick’s side running match zone. That’s how they usually divide it up, as it lets Fitzpatrick read the play and attack instead of being concerned about zone responsibility.

Covering for blitzers

Football Outsiders Film Room (<-link) talks a lot about how the Steelers blitz their slot, or “apex” position player. When they do this it is mostly Terrell Edmunds covering their assignment.

Mike Hilton is the slot corner to the top of the screen, Terrell Edmunds lines up behind him.

While Edmunds picks up the slot receiver Hilton rushes and ends up getting his only sack of the season so far. If you’ve been reading my other film rooms you may remember several sacks where Hilton or Mark Barron take up a blocker that would have been able to help block another rusher. The important step is adding a rusher that throws off the blocking scheme and creates an opening for someone to make a play. Edmunds’ ability to man cover anyone from George Kittle, DK Metcalf, Jarvis Landry or Keenan Allen enables the Steelers to send that extra attacker without creating too much risk of a big play.

It’s not just Minkah and blitzers. . .

Take a look at Joe Haden’s big interception that ended the Cardinals long 3rd quarter drive.

Haden is at the top of the screen, Edmunds is the deep safety to that side.

Joe Haden jumps the route as soon as he sees it is an out route, and Edmunds is running to cover the outside receiver as soon as Haden takes off. That’s good communication before the play allowing Haden to make an interception while minimizing the risk of a big play if Murray doesn’t throw to the out route.

Did you notice the defensive scheme? It’s a match-zone cover-2. You can tell it isn’t just a normal cover-2 because there’s no defender dropping into the deep middle to protect the gap between the safeties.

Putting it all together

It gets really fun when Keith Butler starts getting creative.

In this play Mark Barron is the ILB to the top of the screen, he will loop outside past the slot receiver.

This play starts out looking like the cover-6 match zone that Kollmann shows in his film room (he attributes it as a Minkah Fitzpatrick creation, but that’s just Kollmann’s hyperbole) but then Barron loops outside and rushes while Joe Haden is in man on the outside. The wide side is match zone in front of Minkah Fitzpatrick, but while Edmunds’ side looks like it’s going to be a cover-2 zone style scheme it’s man with a blitzing Barron. When Baker sees Barron blitzing he takes the bait and throws to Kareem Hunt, but Edmunds is there to stop it for no gain. This play was in the 4th quarter, 2nd and 10 after the awful interception, a third down sack would push the Browns out of field goal range. On this play every yard mattered and Butler trusted Edmunds to make the play, and he did.

This next play is one of my favorites from the win over Cleveland. Terrell Edmunds is to the top of the screen by the number 30, Mike Hilton is moving to line up over the slot.

This is such a beautiful play. Edmunds lines up deep over the slot first, then as Hilton is getting into his spot you can see the right tackle pointing out Hilton. You also see Baker Mayfield start stomping his foot to try and get the snap off quick. The Browns see the slot blitz coming and Mayfield wants to get the ball snapped and hit his hot receiver for an easy gain. But when the snap comes there’s no blitz, no wide open hot receiver, and Baker Mayfield is already outside his progression and timing, and Bud Dupree is pressuring him. This play was 3rd and 7, first Cleveland drive of the 4th quarter to force a punt.

I plan to do a more personal look at Terrell Edmunds, but first I needed to cover how this defense uses Edmunds as the safety valve for a lot of the gambles and aggressive plays that we love to see. Terrell Edmunds may not be making a lot of splash plays, but he is the guy keeping the damage to a minimum when the gambles don’t work, and because of the versatility he has Keith Butler can do a lot of stuff that makes life miserable for opposing teams.

Preparing to face off against Buffalo it is important to note that the biggest difference between Buffalo and Arizona’s offense is Josh Allen has the 6th highest average intended air yards (how far his target is downfield when he throws them the ball) in the NFL, while Kyler Murray ranks 32nd. (37 passers qualified)

The only QB who throws farther downfield more than Allen that the Steelers have faced this season is Russell Wilson, and that game was before Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the team. This week should be an interesting test for the Steelers defense.

How the Bills defense will try and stop the Steelers offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 6:33am
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at how the Buffalo defense will try to stop the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 of the 2019 regular season. Entering the game with an 8-5 record, the Steelers prepare to host the Bills at Heinz Field for the huge AFC grudge match.

While this could be a familiar matchup for some of the Steelers, there are some new faces many fans want to know more about. Sure, there are the big name players in the matchup, but what about all those other players who can make a difference?

So, I wanted to get a lowdown on what the Bills might have in store for the Steelers by talking with Buffalo Rumbling’s, SB Nation’s Bills website, writer Corey Giacovelli to pick his brain on the upcoming matchup.

In this first of many installments, I asked Corey what he thinks the Bills defense will do when the Steelers have the ball. Check out his response:

On defense especially with a young quarterback, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will try to cause some confusion pre-snap. There will probably be seven or eight guys crowding the line of scrimmage to get the offense guessing on who is blitzing and who is going to drop back into coverage. This formation is especially common on third and long situations. You can also expect cornerback Tre’Davious White to follow JuJu Smith-Schuster, if he is healthy enough to play on Sunday.

At the time of this submission, Smith-Schuster had returned to practice and looked like a viable option for the Steelers heading into Week 15. He has since been ruled out of the Week 15 matchup.

With that said, the rest of what Corey said is pretty much spot on. Any good defense, and the Bills’ defense is good, will want to try and confuse a young quarterback. You saw the Steelers do it to Kyler Murray in Week 14, and the Bills will want to get Devlin Hodges thinking one thing, while they do another.

Playing at home helps, especially when it comes to the cadence and hard count, but the Steelers offense will have to run the football and keep the Buffalo defense off balance. Easier said than done, but it is one of the best ways to take an aggressive defense and force them to play your game, not the other way around.

Pittsburgh’s offense has been mediocre at best, but has seen more success with Hodges at quarterback compared to that of Mason Rudolph. Third downs and red-zone trips will be of paramount importance, and the unit which wins those downs likely will have the upper hand when the dust settles.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to keep tabs on BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Bills in Week 15.

Podcast: The Steelers have to do whatever it takes to keep the defense together

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 5:33am

In a brand new show titled ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense used to be their Achilles heel, but not anymore. The once maligned defense has turned elite, and it is paramount the organization does everything in their powers to keep this unit together for the long term.

This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams tells fans how wrong he was so far this year...this will be good!

Time to deliver the goods on the latest show.

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!

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

Black and Gold Links: The Steelers receiving corps will continue to be tested without JuJu

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 4:33am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 15 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Buffalo Bills we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the next game starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the Steelers’ wide receiver corps will be tested, again, with JuJu Smith-Schuster missing his fourth game in a row.

Let’s get to the news:

  • No JuJu, no problem? That has been the case so far, but will it continue with the talented Bills defense coming to Heinz Field?

Without JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers receivers ready to step up

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Deon Cain have been drafted since JuJu Smith-Schuster joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. That Smith-Schuster still remains the wide receivers corps’ youngest member doesn’t mean he’s not the most accomplished or experienced.

“He’s always in our ear giving us advice for running certain route,” Washington said of Smith-Schuster. “Things he’s played and positions. It’s all good. It helps us.”

Unfortunately, that’s the only help Smith-Schuster will provide the Steelers’ offense Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. For fourth consecutive game since he suffered a knee injury Nov. 14, Smith-Schuster will not play. After leaving practice early Thursday and missing it altogether Friday, the player who is supposed to be the centerpiece of the Steelers’ skill-position group was ruled out when the injury report was released later that day.

“We gonna take it day by day and try to get healthy,” Smith-Schuster said.

“It wasn’t a setback. It was moreso like I pushed myself too hard. I’ve got to settle myself down. I am so competitive, just to get out there and be great, and I’ve got to take it slow.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

With Vance McDonald out, Steelers’ Nick Vannett looks to prove himself

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Nick Vannett impressed the Pittsburgh Steelers with how quickly he adapted to a new offense after being acquired in September in a trade with Seattle.

Since then, the fourth-year tight end’s opportunities have been limited to mostly a blocking role.

That should change Sunday night, as Vannett is expected to start for the Steelers (8-5) against the Buffalo Bills (9-4) at Heinz Field. Vance McDonald has been ruled out with a concussion he suffered at Arizona.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Vannett said. “I’m looking forward to it, to prove to my teammates that they can trust me and prove to everybody in this organization that they can rely on me to get the job done.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Don’t look now, but the Steelers’ offense is leaning on the ground game to win games...

As season goes on, Steelers increasingly reliant on running game

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Over the past three games, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had 105 running plays.

That accounts for three of their top four high-carry games of the season and makes for a 16-game pace of 560 carries. That’s a figure they have not topped since 2004.

By comparison, the Steelers had just 345 rushes last season.

“I think it’s fun,” right tackle Matt Feiler said of an older-school approach on offense. “It kind of takes the pressure off of us in pass protection, as well. Run-blocking is fun, especially when you get the momentum going.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • James Conner Media Availability

@JamesConner_: "Have to play great, have to play together, have to believe in one another."

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 12, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

.@missi_matthews sits down with @rell_island6 and Trey Edmunds to speak about the upcoming matchup with the Bills, being on the field at the same time as their brother, Tremaine Edmunds, and more.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 13, 2019

Always finding ways to help others.@MaurkicePouncey | #WPMOY | @Nationwide

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 12, 2019

#OTD in 2010, @tpolamalu took to the skies.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 12, 2019

"HE WILL GO 8️⃣5️⃣ YARDS!" @Juiceup__3 + #ProBowlVote

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 13, 2019

Jeron X. Grayson Community Center to spread some holiday cheer and have some fun with the kids!

: | @Nelson_Island

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 14, 2019

Predicting the Steelers’ Week 15 inactive list vs. the Bills

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 2:05am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When it comes to the Steelers’ running backs, who is active on gameday is difficult to determine

The players who are going to be available for the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills has shifted significantly throughout the week. As the excitement of James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster returning to practice as full participants early in the week had Steeler fans anxious to see them take the field, their injury designation does not exactly instill confidence. With Smith-Schuster already ruled out along with Vance McDonald, seeing James Conner as questionable after practicing fully all week does not give Steelers’ fans an overwhelming sense of hope in seeing his return.

Game Status

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee)
TE Vance McDonald (concussion)

RB James Conner (shoulder)

Here are the possibilities to end up inactive for Week 15:


WR JuJu Smith-Schuster- reports were mixed when JuJu was unable to finish practice on Thursday. But being held out Friday sealed his fate as he will miss his fourth straight game of 2019.

TE Vance McDonald- unable to clear the concussion protocol, the fact McDonald was limited on Thursday and did not practice on Friday is not a good sign even as he moves into next week.

Most Likely:

QB Paxton Lynch- another week, and another paycheck for Lynch to not even put on the pads.

OT Chukwuma Okorafor- unfortunately for Chuks, the Steelers offensive line has remained quite healthy in 2019

LB Tuzar Skipper- as happy is Steelers’ Nation was to see him back in black and gold, they haven’t had the chance to watch Skipper actually take the field on game day.

CB Artie Burns- returning from injury last week, the Steelers decided Justin Layne was playing well enough on special teams to keep Artie Burns on the sideline. Once they have set the precedence, it’s hard to think they will do otherwise until they show things have changed.


RB James Conner- it’s quite a surprise after practicing in a full capacity all week that Conner would still be considered questionable. Perhaps the Steelers are not ready to test his shoulder again as another setback could end his season.

RB Trey Edmunds- if Conner is able to play against the Bills, it’s extremely difficult to dress five running backs. Even though he has seen snaps at fullback, Edmunds has been the least utilized of the four RB’s who have dressed over the last three weeks.

CB Justin Layne- the Steelers could make the change back to Burns as the back up corner, but getting Layne some playing time on special teams is only going to help his development in the longrun.


TE Zach Gentry- he’s been inactive for all but three games in 2019, but for the Steelers to go into Sunday night with only one tight end would be foolish. Therefore, Gentry gets a helmet again.

Projected Inactive List:
  1. JuJu Smith-Scuster
  2. Vance McDonald
  3. Paxton Lynch
  4. Chuks Okorafor
  5. Tuzar Skipper
  6. Artie Burns
  7. James Conner

I can’t say for sure why I have this impression, but it just feels like the Steelers are going to sit James Conner for another week. If Jaylen Samuels groin would have kept him out, I think Conner may have at least dressed and seen a little action. But with four other healthy backs, the Steelers have to decide how much they would want to utilize Conner and if it would be worth the roster spot. But there still a chance the Steelers could make the move for Conner’s return, even if in a limited capacity.

As always, feel free to list your projected inactives in the comments below.

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Bills, Week 15 Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 5:45pm
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

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

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

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

1. Starting this on a serious note, assuming all running backs are able to play Sunday night, who is the odd man out on game day?

2. What makes you confident about the upcoming game? And what makes you nervous?

3. The Pittsburgh Steelers remaining schedule:

vs. BUF
at NYJ
at BAL

How do they finish? Has your prediction changed much over the past few weeks?

4. OVER/UNDER on sacks of Josh Allen Sunday — 4.5

5. Because every upcoming game is so huge, what is your prediction for the contest in Week 15? How do you see it playing out?

6. Caption this photo

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what, always remember...



Steelers Injury Report: JuJu Smith-Schuster out on Sunday against the Bills

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 2:03pm
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After leaving practice early on Thursday, Smith-Schuster will have to wait another week to attempt a return

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their final practice of Week 15 as they prepare to take on the Buffalo Bills at Heniz Field this coming Sunday night. According to the Steelers PR Department, there are two players who have been ruled out with another questionable.

Both wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner returned fully to practice on Wednesday for the first time since sustaining their injuries in Week 11. On Friday, Conner continued as a full participant for the week, but is still listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. While being able to practice is key, the Steelers may be concerned one bad hit could knock Conner out long term if he returns to game action too soon.

As for JuJu Smith-Schuster, he was unable to participate in practice Friday after leaving early on Thursday. Unfortunately, even though he hoped to return, Smith-Schuster is listed as out for Sunday.

JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t practice today, he said. And he doesn’t know when he’ll return. Said it’s up to coach Tomlin.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 13, 2019

Running back Jaylen Samuels suffered a groin injury against the Cardinals on Sunday. After missing practice Wednesday, he returned the rest of the week and carries no injury designation.

Tight end Vance McDonald is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after leaving last Sunday’s game in the second half and was unable to practice on Wednesday. Returning to limited action on Thursday, he did not practice Friday and is out against the Bills.

One player who missed practice on Thursday was wide receiver Johnny Holton due to an illness. He returned Friday and carries no injury designation.

As for the Buffalo Bills injury report, it can be seen below courtesy of

Buffalo Bills Participation/Injury Report, Week 15

Game Status

OG Jon Feliciano (Illness) - Questionable

DT Corey Liuget (Knee) - Questionable

OT Ty Nsekhe (Ankle) - Out

Friday, December 13

OG Jon Feliciano (Illness) - DNP

RB Frank Gore (Illness) - Full

DT Corey Liuget (Knee) - Limited

OT Ty Nsekhe (Ankle) - DNP

DT Jordan Phillips (Knee) - Full

Mike Tomlin mic’d up during the Steelers and Cardinals game is pure gold

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 12:34pm
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach was mic’d up during the team’s Week 14 win over the Arizona Cardinals, and it was awesome.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were victorious in their Week 14 game vs. the Arizona Cardinals on the road, and while the team has moved on to the Buffalo Bills coming to Heinz Field in Week 15, fans can still look back and enjoy the last win.

There are several ways to enjoy the 23-16 win at State Farm Stadium. You can watch highlights. You can watch/listen to analysis. Or you could check out a video of Mike Tomlin mic’d up during the game.

I suggest you do the latter.

Check out the video, which was a part of Showtime’s Inside the NFL show:

Mike Tomlin mic'd up is a must-way to start yinz morning.

"That's it, Benny Snell, run his ass over!"#Steelers

— Steel-Videos (@sdextrasmedia) December 12, 2019

Say what you want about Mike Tomlin, and most of you will, but the man wears his passion on his sleeve. He is almost as amped up for the game as the players on the field, and it shows.

Whether he is praising Devlin Hodges for his strong-armed throw to Diontae Johnson for the touchdown, or celebrating a Vince Williams sack of Kyler Murray, listening and watching Tomlin is pure gold.

There are two types of coaches in the NFL. Those who love the thrill of the game and are emotional on the sidelines, and those who don’t show emotion. I think it is clear which camp Tomlin falls into, but it doesn’t make one right or wrong. It’s just who he is as a coach.

Hope you enjoyed the video, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football in Week 15 at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh Steelers CB "Mighty" Joe Haden is enjoying a career revival

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 11:15am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Don't look now, but Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden looks reborn and is enjoying arguably the finest season of his distinguished career.

The NFL fraternity needs more Joe Hadens. The quintessential professional and stalwart in the community, Haden is the gold standard of NFL perseverance. Let's take a look at Haden's journey to Pittsburgh for some clarity.

After starring for his high school basketball and football teams, excelling as a two way star on the football field, Joe took his talents to burgeoning football powerhouse Florida Gators. There he teamed with college football legend, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, to help the Gators win the 2008 BCS National Championship. Haden would go on to be named the Sporting News Defensive Player of the year and an unanimous All American selection after the 2009 season.

Joe decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Joe was sitting on top of the world, looking at millions of dollars coming his way in the near future. Haden the player had only known success through his fledgling athletic career, but Haden the individual had managed to maintain his humility.

Good thing, because immense hardships were about to strike. Haden was the seventh selection of the first round by the equivalent of football purgatory Cleveland Browns. A man who had only known winning was heading to a franchise renown for losing.

So what did young Joe Haden do? Did he complain and pout, refuse to show up or demand a trade? No, he displayed the character of a man who was thankful to be drafted and have the opportunity to earn a fortune playing the game he loved. Not only did Haden show up, but he played to the best of his abilities, even through all the losing. He was a team leader, and behaved as an individual, on and off the field, that the Browns franchise could be proud of. Joe is a gentleman with a charitable heart, a staple in the community.

After seven years of losing football, the Cleveland Browns did Joe a huge favor. They released Haden in a salary cap cutting maneuver, after Joe refused to accept a pay cut. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and the Steelers quickly signed Joe to a contract. Joe immediately became the best cornerback on the Steelers roster, easily the most talented Steelers CB since Ike "Hands of Stone" Taylor.

However, even super talented players need talented players surrounding them to reach their full potential, and the Steelers secondary lacked both talent and experience. The Steelers defense continued to struggle, even with the addition of Mighty Joe, and many disappointed fans started looking for a scapegoat. Joe's salary made him a easy target.

So what did Joe do? Did he fire back at his critics on Twitter, or blame others and demand a trade. No, he continued to work hard and set an example for his talented young teammates. He continued his work in the community. He remained the leader of the secondary, and a beloved teammate and humanitarian. Again Joe handled a difficult situation the only way he knows how, with humility and class.

Joe is quietly enjoying arguably the finest season of his distinguished career. Just as Vince Williams has suddenly remembered how to play again since being surrounded with talented newcomers Bush and Barron, Haden's game has flourished with the additions of Nelson and Fitzpatrick. Haden looks revived, and is back having fun on the football field.

In a league currently being plagued by selfish, disrespectful malcontents, Joe Haden is a role model for class and professionalism. He has joined with his talented teammates this season to gift Steelers Nation with a defense we can all be proud of.

NFL Expert Picks: Experts don’t trust the Steelers in huge game vs. the Bills

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 9:42am
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in prime time at home, but the experts like the Buffalo Bills to steal the show.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-5, winners of their last three games and seven of their last eight games. Entering their Week 15 game vs. the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football, there aren’t too many teams who are hotter than the black-and-gold right now.

There are a lot of “extra” factors in this game which you would think would have the NFL Experts who produce weekly picks seeing the Steelers holding serve at home. Outside of their winning streak the Steelers are playing in prime time at home, where Mike Tomlin has a very good record, they are wearing their Color Rush uniforms, they haven’t lost a game wearing those uniforms, and the defense is markedly better at Heinz Field than on the road. In fact, the defense averages 5 sacks a game at home, compared to 2.2 away from home.

With all that said, there are a large majority of experts who are leaning towards the Bills to win on the road. Time to take a look at some expert picks...

At ESPN, who has the largest expert panel, only 4 experts out of 10 think the Steelers have a shot to win this Sunday night. A similar story could be told at SB Nation, where only 3 of the 8 experts like the Devlin Hodges winning streak to continue this Sunday.

If you are looking for a pro-Steelers site, check the folks at CBS Sports. Only there are the majority of experts leaning towards the home team to hold serve and win their fourth game in a row.

At CBS Sports, Pete Prisco gives a little more thought, and explanation, to his selection for the week. See what he has to say about the upcoming Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo game:

This Sunday night game is enormous for both teams. The Bills are coming off a physical loss to the Ravens, but they did a nice job on Lamar Jackson. Defending Devlin Hodges will be a lot easier. Josh Allen will have a tough go of it against the Steelers defense as well, but I think Buffalo will make a few more plays to win it.

Pick: Bills 19, Steelers 14

These are just a handful of sites who produce weekly picks on a weekly basis. What about all the other sites? This is where our friends at NFL Pick Watch come in and lend a helping hand. They take all expert picks and put them into an easy-to-read graph, and according to them the majority of experts, 57%, are leaning towards the Steelers.

Yeah, this game isn’t just huge, but has those who make picks every week unsure which direction to go. How do you see this game playing out? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold heading into Week 15.

Film Room: Devlin Hodges was nearly perfect in the first half vs. the Cardinals, but were there issues?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 8:40am
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie quarterback had a tremendous opening half vs the Cardinals, but was there more than meets the eye?

Devlin Hodges made his third career start against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. As Steelers Nation has seen over those starts, and the two other games that he has played in, Hodges is not making devastating mistakes that could cost the Pittsburgh Steelers wins. He is not taking the NFL by storm either.

Completing 9/10 passes is solid, but for just 90 yards against one of the worst pass defense teams was not impressive. How many of those completions did he make the correct decisions, and were there other plays which show that will only show up on the film?

Let’s dive into the film and answer the above question...

Hodges did have a couple of what I like to refer to as “WOW” moments, but overall his play was mundane, yet effective. He continues to make safe and accurate throws while continuing drives and putting the team in position to score. His pocket presence and footwork is still a work in progress, and is far from being a finished product. Hodges continues to limit costly mistakes to keep the Steelers in the playoff hunt.

How will his second half of the Cardinals game compare to the first half? Be sure to come back tomorrow to catch the second half film study.

Report: JuJu Smith-Schuster re-aggravated knee injury Thursday, unlikely to play vs. the Bills

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 7:20am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers were hopeful to get JuJu Smith-Schuster back for their Week 15 game vs. the Bills, but that doesn’t look like it will be happening.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense can use a boost, and they thought they would be getting this from the return of two injured starters for their Week 15 game vs. the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football.

James Conner (shoulder) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) have been out of the lineup the past three weeks, and while both were full participants on Wednesday, Smith-Schuster was downgraded to limited on Thursday.

What was the setback? Was there a re-injury of his knee? According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter that is exactly what happened, and it means the Steelers will likely be without Smith-Schuster for a fourth straight week.

Steelers’ WR JuJu Smith-Schuster now Is not expected to play Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills after he aggravated his knee injury during practice on Thursday, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 13, 2019

What actually happened at practice? Beat writers aren’t allowed to directly report what goes on in practice, but SteelCityInsider’s Jim Wexell gave some insight into Smith-Schuster exiting practice early Thursday.

While running in the open field

— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) December 13, 2019

Not good news for the Steelers, but especially for Smith-Schuster’s health. The Steelers could be without their top wide receiver for the rest of the regular season if he indeed had a setback with his knee injury.

Nonetheless, while Smith-Schuster’s availability is certainly in doubt, Conner was a full participant for the second straight day which bodes well for him returning to the lineup in the biggest game of the year to date.

Conner would join the likes of Jaylen Samuels, Kerrith Whyte, Trey Edmunds and Benny Snell Jr. in the backfield, but it is unlikely all of those players will be active if/when Conner returns. Who is the odd man out in the running back corps?

A tough decision indeed.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers and their preparation for the Bills, as well as the latest on the injury front heading into this prime time game at Heinz Field Sunday night.


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