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Joe Haden addresses Sean Davis moving to Free Safety, man coverage and the Jaguars playoff loss

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 2:44pm

The Steelers cornerback took the time to talk with media during the first phase of offseason workouts.

Throughout the NFL’s offseason, voluntary, workouts, there isn’t much news. Players come into the team facility, can workout and meet with position coaches, and that is about it. Every now and then, the team will throw the media a proverbial bone and allow them to speak with a player during these workouts.

Who was the lucky recipient of such an honor? Cornerback Joe Haden.

Haden spoke with the media bout a number of things, one of them being how he feels under new defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, the team may be more inclined to play utilize man-to-man coverage in the back half of the secondary.

Joe Haden thinks the Steelers could play more man-to-man in secondary under new assistant Tom Bradley: "With the players we have in the room, man to man is a thing we can do. We might do a little more of that."

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) April 19, 2018

Might this be a comment which says a lot about Carnell Lake, the team’s former secondary coach? Only Haden knows for sure.

Speaking of the defensive secondary, a lot has been made about Sean Davis possibly moving to the free safety position next year. While Haden doesn’t know for sure if this will happen or not, he certainly thinks Davis is more than capable of such a switch.

Some highlights from Joe Haden availability: He thinks Sean Davis can play free safety, but he hasn't been told that's what will happen yet. Also said with Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton already on roster he believes they have plenty of good DBs for nickel and dime.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) April 19, 2018

The defensive back room is loaded with talent, and this isn’t counting any rookies the team will add in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

When the Steelers signed Haden after his release from the Cleveland Browns, the biggest question mark on him was if he could stay healthy. While Haden did suffer a broken leg midway through the season, he was able to take a week off before having a full offseason to workout and prepare for the upcoming season.

Steelers CB @joehaden23 just met with the media and said he took only one week off before beginning training for the 2018 season. Said injuries prevented him from doing that the previous two years.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) April 19, 2018

So, what have the Steelers been doing in Phase 1 of the offseason workout program? One of the items on the team’s To-Do list was watch the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Round.

Joe Haden said team has been watching tape of the Jacksonville playoff loss during Phase 1 of offseason program: "It's figuring out how we can communicate a little better and figure out what things went wrong."

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) April 19, 2018

While it had to be difficult to watch, it is worth noting there are some pieces on that defense which aren’t on the team anymore. Mike Mitchell is currently unemployed, and William Gay is now a member of the New York Giants. While it is worthwhile to re-live the dreadful defensive performance vs. Blake Bortles and company, it should be taken at face value.

Every team has a new identity, a new core, every year, and it seems the Steelers could be on the verge of greatness starting where they left off in 2017 — from the ground up.

'We have to be on the same page'

Steelers.com News - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 2:30pm
Haden looks forward to sorting out the secondary.

Joe Haden on Steelers' pass defense woes: 'It's a communication thing.'

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 2:06pm

The Steelers returned to work this week for voluntary workouts at the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex, and one of their first assignments was re-watching the AFC divisional round playoff loss to Jacksonville.

Haden: 'We have a lot of room to grow'

Steelers.com Videos - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 1:49pm
Joe Haden on the state of the secondary, preparing for the season, and feeling healthy.

James Harrison has “no problem with the Steelers”, and would return for reunions, if invited

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 1:05pm

The all-time Steelers sack leader opens up about his departure from Pittsburgh, and his feelings about the organization.

When James Harrison called it a career, many who cover the Pittsburgh Steelers, and their global fan base, wondered what Harrison’s legacy would be with the Steelers? Fans forgave him for leaving in free agency and going to the Cincinnati Bengals, but when he was released and went to the New England Patriots at the end of 2017, it seemed as if it were more than just choosing a new home.

It felt personal, and not just with the fan base. Harrison’s teammates ripped him publicly to the media when he was released.

So, what now? What does the future hold with Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers? Harrison recently spoke with Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and talked about everything from why he decided to hang up the cleats, even with the Patriots wanting his services for one more year, to if he would return for reunions.

Does Deebo have beef with the Steelers organization/fan base?

“I have no problem with the Steelers family,’’ said Harrison. “I have no problem with the Rooneys. They made a business decision that was best for their organization. I made a business decision that was best for me and family at the time. We went our separate ways.

“Fans get mad because they’re stuck with a team, one team, that’s their team. At the end of the day, it’s a business. Yes, you have loyalties to teams, but when it comes down to it, it’s a job, and when your job fires you, you need to find another job.”

But what about what his teammates, like Bud Dupree and Maurkice Pouncey said?

“There were a lot of things said, and I think a lot of guys said things because, hey, they were hurt, and when you’re hurt, you say things you may not normally say.

“If you go now, you see players say how James Harrison ‘helped me so much, I wouldn’t be the same player,’ etc. You have to look at the situation what happened, then you have to understand who is saying what, and the fact no one else is coming out and agreeing with it.”

Harrison spoke of the message sent by Steelers President Art Rooney II upon his retirement, and, according to Bouchette, is open to returning to the black-and-gold for gatherings and reunions.

Harrison said he saw the message and that there are no hard feelings on his part and, if invited, he will turn out for reunions and other gatherings.

Just like many football divorces, it seems as if time may heal all wounds. For as angry as fans were when Harrison was released and chose the Patriots, you can’t ignore the massive plays he made for the Steelers while donning the black-and-gold. His Super Bowl 43 interception returned for a touchdown, the numerous Joe Flacco sacks, his interception and leap over LaDainian Tomlinson...among many others.

It may sting now, but Harrison seems to be heading into his retirement with a pretty level head about his situation, both personally and with the Steelers.

Misconceptions Surrounding Le’Veon Bell, Part 3: The immature and oft-injured

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 11:47am

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell have a unique relationship. With that said, the Steelers’ All-Pro running back is also extremely misunderstood.

In the first parts of this series, we dove into some of the rumors and misconceptions surrounding Le’Veon Bell’s greed and his unreasonable (or not-at-all-unreasonable) desire to be paid like a No. 1 RB and a No. 2 WR. We also discussed the (incorrect assumptions about) the implications his tag and future contract have regarding the cap. In this part, we’re going to dig even deeper and talk immaturity and injuries. In case you missed the previous articles, the links can be found at the bottom of this article.

Bell’s suspensions have cost him two games in 2015 and another three in 2016. This is one more game than shoo-in HOFer Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended for during his entire career. Does this make Bell a team liability? Keep in mind that young men make poor and immature decisions in the NFL (and outside the NFL) all the time. It’s how one learns from those transgressions and avoids sliding back into those behaviors that is important.

It’s also important to keep in mind that injuries are part of the NFL. Linebackers who are 250 pounds and run a sub-4.6 are commonplace. If Pittsburgh was concerned with Bell’s injury history, or thought his problems were chronic, the team would not even be trying to sign Bell to an extension. Roethlisberger has missed numerous games in his career, but that’s never stopped Pittsburgh from signing him to two giant extensions. Nor is the team concerned with Bell’s past injuries.

No. 1: Bell is a repeat offender in the NFL’s drug policy and, as such, is a liability for future discipline.

Time to set some things straight here. Being busted for marijuana possession and DUI August 20, 2014, pushed Bell into the NFL’s substance abuse program. However, Bell did not fail a drug test before he was handed a three-game suspension in 2016. He did miss multiple drug tests due to miscommunication with the tester.

”I’ve never purposely missed any tests. I’ve never failed any tests,” Bell said, according to the Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley. “I had surgery in November of last year. They tried to test me in November and December and I missed those tests. I couldn’t make it to the facility to get tested and they couldn’t come to me, and I missed those tests. I put all the blame on myself. In April, they tried to test me on a Saturday at 7 a.m. and I was sleeping. I can’t put the blame on anyone but me.”

It’s up to you to decide whether to blame this on immaturity or a real miscommunication issue or a fear he would not be able to pass a test. However, unlike its fans, the NFL does not hold a grudge, and regardless of what you chose to blame his actions on, Bell will transition from Stage 2 of the substance abuse program to Stage 1 come August. Correction, Bell will no longer be in the program come August. No matter how you slice it, he hasn’t failed a drug test or ran afoul of the law in 43 months.

Personally, I’m going to pin the blame on Bell’s immaturity. I am not going to hold his reckless past and poor decisions over his head forever. If you want to jettison one of the best running backs in the NFL because of something he did three and a half years ago, that is up to you. I, on the other hand, will give him the benefit of doubt and not continue to crucify him for something he did at 22. Do you still hold eight-year-old, much more serious allegations against Ben?

All NFL contracts come preloaded with clauses that carry with them forfeiture of bonus money and an easy out for a team to release a truly problematic player, but Pittsburgh has made no move to do so. And while it would be an issue for Pitt to lose Bell for multiple games due to a suspension, it is not detrimental money-wise, so Bell’s unwise actions didn’t actually cost the team money.

No. 2: Bell’s significant injuries will lead to a shorter career.

While this holds true with Terrell Davis with his chronic knees, nothing leads to think Bell will travel the same path.

List of Bell’s injuries

  • 2013: A Lisfranc sprain suffered during the preseason hindered Bell’s availability for the first three games.
  • 2013: A Week 13 Grade 1 concussion did not result in any missed games.
  • 2014: Bell takes a heavy shot to his knee and suffers a hyperextension that cost him the playoffs.
  • 2015: A Grade 3 torn MCL cost Bell the remaining eight games of the season. The injury resulted in surgery as the MCL was completely torn on a controversial tackle.
  • 2016: Bell suffers a sports hernia that ended up requiring surgery. The injury was never reported on the NFL’s injury report, so it is unclear when it occurred.

None of the injuries Bell has sustained should be seen as career shortening or chronic -- not even the knee ligament tear. When fans think of knee injuries, they always cringe. However, an MCL tear is not a major knee injury. It is quite common. MCLs are like getting a wisdom tooth pulled compared to the more severe ACL tear.

If you do want to argue that the MCL tear will be career shortening, I’ll hold up Frank Gore as the poster child for disputing this idea. Gore tore two ACLs in college -- far more serious injuries than Bell’s MCL tear. Is Gore a superstar at 34? No -- nor should he be expected to be, especially since he was on a horrific team in 2017. And Gore hasn’t missed a game in seven years. He is a surefire HOF RB sitting behind fourth-place Martin by less than 100 yards. Now, Pitt is not looking to sign Bell through age 34, only through 30 or 31. Yet at 34, Gore is still highly effective, rushing for over 1,100 yards each year, and he’s done so with two much more severe knee injuries than what Bell suffered.

No. 3: Running backs have shorter NFL careers.

Well, that’s technically true, but this is a very misleading statement. Let’s delve into this statement further.

  • The NFL career lifespan for all NFL players is 3.3 years.
  • The average NFL career for an RB is 2.57 years.
  • Wide receivers do not fare much better at 2.81 years.
  • Quarterbacks, the huge money makers in the NFL, average 4.44 years.
  • The average career of an NFL player who makes the opening-day roster jumps to six years.
  • The average career of a player who is in the league at least three years jumps to 7.1 years.
  • A player with at least one Pro Bowl appearance/selection jumps to 11.7 years.

I am not saying that Bell is going to get to age 35 as Gore has, but he has already surpassed the average career of an NFL back and does not have chronic knees like Terrell Davis. It is very rare to see Bell lit up by a vicious hit in Sanders fashion. Most are glancing blows or simply regular tackles.

...

Will Bell learn from his past mistakes? Will he continue to remain on the straight and narrow? Only time will tell. Why be pessimistic and believe he will fall back into the lifestyle he was leading nearly four years ago?

Past injuries are not an indicator of future success. Chronic injuries do derail careers, but these types of injuries Bell has not suffered. Terrell Davis was forced to retire after seven seasons, but his last three were not productive because of his injuries. Is there an indication that Bell will not last until he is 34 like Gore? Realistically speaking, he probably will not. But, then, Pitt is not looking to sign him to an 8-year contract.

In the next part of this series, I will delve into fallacies regarding Bell and his statistics along with the idea that this might be a sign that his ability is actually in decline.

Part One: Greed and Loyalty

Part Two: The Steelers Salary Cap Killer

Since Troy Polamalu, the Steelers have struggled drafting safeties

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 11:36am

Kevin Colbert had a terrific record when it came to drafting safeties early in his tenure as Steelers general manager. The first time he picked a safety was 2002, when Chris Hope arrived in the third round. One year later, Colbert recognized future greatness in Troy Polamalu and traded up 11 spots in the first round to secure him.

Trying to navigate through the complicated legacy of James Harrison

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 10:39am

An illustrious, potentially Hall of Fame career was one full of highs and lows.

On November 7, 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the living daylights out of the Baltimore Ravens on national television. Festooned in their glorious throwback uniforms—white pants, mustard helmets, and black-but-I-can-be-talked-into-thinking-they’re-actually-brown jerseys—and playing in front of the prestigious honorees from the franchise’s 75th anniversary all-time team (one can assume that, in light of recent developments—e.g. the ascension of Antonio Brown to demigod status—this contingent is subject to change, but that’s neither here nor there), the Steelers led 35-7 at halftime and ultimately won 38-7, the second-most lopsided margin of victory in the Steelers-Ravens series since the semi-annual affair first kicked off in 1996.

That night, in plain view of some of the most monolithic figures in league history, James Harrison played the best game he’s ever played. Peruse this box score at your leisure, but please understand that these figures do little to fully encapsulate the magnitude of Harrison’s performance: 10 total tackles, 3.5 sacks (which cost Baltimore more than 25 yards of field position), one interception (which he returned for 20 yards), and two forced fumbles. (For context, I was, like, 15 or 16 when this game happened, and I still remember its nuances vividly.) If you’re a visual learner, clear five minutes from your schedule and check out this utterly ludicrous compilation of Harrison’s best plays from that game:

If your current situation isn’t conducive to video-watchin’, permit me to break down my two favorite moments from that clip.

The first occurs 25 seconds into the above video; or five minutes and 57 seconds into the game, if that’s how you prefer to go about it. Almost instantly, it becomes evident that the late Steve McNair is in a world of trouble—from the snap, Harrison fired off the line like a dragster and is very much involved in McNair’s life before McNair even had the opportunity to complete his drop-back. Baltimore’s tight end, whose number I can’t see and whose name, given the result of the play, is probably not worth remembering (perhaps it was Todd Heap, but I feel like Todd Heap was way better than to miss a gimme chip block), did nothing to abate Harrison’s path to McNair, while left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, had no cognizance of the chaos unfolding behind his left shoulder. Harrison, who was now in hot pursuit of McNair after initially impeding the Pro Bowl quarterback’s throwing motion on the initial rush, dived toward McNair, dragging him to the turf while simultaneously knocking the ball loose. Apparently unsatisfied by this in-game feat of Herculean tenacity, Harrison jumped in the ensuing scrum and, somewhat miraculously, emerged with the ball in hand. A few plays later, Ben Roethlisberger tossed his first of five touchdowns, and Pittsburgh never looked back.

My second favorite play occurs one minute and four seconds into the above-mentioned video, nine minutes and 14 seconds into the game. The Steelers, still in possession of the seven-point lead that resulted from Harrison’s first sack, punted the ball back to the Ravens. Ed Reed, a Hall of Fame defensive back AND world-class punt returner, scooped the ball up near his own 30-yard line and headed upfield. After evading what seemed like 17 different members of Pittsburgh’s special teams unit, Reed needed probably a single block to find the crease that would’ve allowed him to score a game-tying touchdown. Uninterested in that particular outcome, Harrison—then pulling double-duty on the punt team—raced toward Baltimore’s sideline, where Reed was picking up steam. Have you ever heard about the irresistible force paradox, in which the meeting between an unstoppable force and an immovable object is described? This was not that. Harrison met Reed head on, pivoting the all-world safety parallel to the ground before suplexing him like a ragdoll. Not surprisingly (and understandably), Reed fumbled the ball, which was ultimately recovered by the Steelers’ punt team.

Maybe the Monday night lights sparked something in Harrison, or maybe he was enacting revenge against the same team that released him shortly after shipping him off for a brief stint in NFL Europe. Whatever it was that did it, something caused this man to play out of his mind that night against Baltimore, and things were never, ever the same again. It’s always fun when you can look at this kind of game in retrospect and subsequently pinpoint it as the starting point in X player’s rise to prominence. Harrison entered the 2007 season as a 29-year-old career special teamer, an undrafted former running back who assumed a starting role almost by default after the Steelers cut franchise great Joey Porter—this is to say, his meteoric ascension from borderline NFL washout to Defensive Player of the Year candidate at an age in which many position players see their physical prowess and, by extension, their on-field production decline significantly did not seem to be a predetermined outcome.

But Harrison, as he had done frequently to that point, shifted the paradigm. The lumbering, five-time Pro Bowler, who retired from the NFL last week, amassed 80 of his franchise-leading 85 sacks after his 28th birthday. In 2008, at age 30, Harrison collected a franchise-record 16 sacks, earned his first first-team All-Pro nod, and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That same year, he also won his second Super Bowl ring—his first as a regular contributor—and delivered maybe the most monumental play in Super Bowl history:

This play had everything. Watch Harrison expertly disguise his coverage assignment and jump the route. See him carom off several Cardinals defenders like a bulky, reckless pinball before tip-toeing Arizona’s sideline with the delicacy and grace of a Tchaikovsky score. Observe him use Pitt legend Larry Fitzgerald as a literal springboard to thrust himself into the end-zone. Notice Harrison’s soul visibly exit his body to wonder aimlessly for all eternity in an unknown ethereal plane. I’d never seen someone so desperate for oxygen. The Santonio Holmes catch won the game, but this is my generation’s Immaculate Reception.

But when I think back to that play—or to Harrison’s 2007 performance against Baltimore; or a 36-year-old Harrison posting 5.5 sacks in 2014 despite deciding, almost on a whim, to un-retire several weeks into the regular season; or that time he tackled some rowdy Browns fan—I’m reminded that Harrison is a singular, awe-inspiring, and. . . divisive figure in Pittsburgh’s mythos.

We’ll start with his 2017 departure from the Steelers, which was ostensibly the result of Mike Tomlin et al. depriving Harrison of the promissory defensive snaps alluded to the previous offseason. That (presumed) animosity eventually led to Harrison’s divorce from Pittsburgh. This bad blood, coupled with Harrison signing with New England—debatably the Steelers’ most hated rival and closest proxy in a top-heavy AFC—led teammates and fans to call Harrison’s legacy into question, with longtime teammate Maurkice Pouncey going as far as saying that it had been “erased.” To suggest that leaving a team that wasn’t utilizing his talents in favor of a Super Bowl frontrunner that pledged to carve out a more pronounced role would somehow “erase” more than a dozen successful years—not to mention a pair of Super Bowls and the conferral of the highest honor afforded to defensive players—is obviously ridiculous, but Pouncey’s sentiment is one to which I’m sure a sizable pocket of the fanbase (and, frankly, the locker room) currently adheres.

Another contributing factor is Harrison’s public persona, which, so far as I can tell, was deliberately and unapologetically brash. In an interview with Men’s Journalan interview that remains one of the most insane things I’ve ever read—Harrison lobbed thermonuclear verbal bombs at several of his contemporaries, calling Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews “all hype” and indicating that then Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing is “juiced out of his mind” (in fairness to Harrison, the Cushing thing is pretty spot-on). Harrison also aspersed his own teammates, including Rashard Mendenhall (who he called a “fumble machine”) and Ben Roethlisberger (who he blamed for throwing two critical interceptions against the Packers in Super Bowl 45). Most troublingly, though, is that Harrison, instead of calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a crook, a corrupt wrongdoer, a brazen clod, or one of many apt qualifiers, settled on a horribly offensive and derogatory term used by scumbags to describe homosexuals.

Going a bit further back in time, following Pittsburgh’s 27-23 victory against Arizona in Super Bowl 43, Harrison opted to skip the requisite White House visit. While Harrison is obviously not the first (and definitely will not be the last) professional athlete to decline this honor, he just might be responsible for providing the single most certifiably looney explanation as to why: “If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl. So as far as I’m concerned he would have invited Arizona if they had won.” Uhh........yeah, James. Standard operating procedure, my guy. Could you even imagine the logistics (and cost!) of organizing a random face-to-face meeting between a professional sports organization and the President of the United States?

And if we’re discussing Harrison’s various off-field “transgressions,” it would be unfair to exclude an incident that occurred between Harrison and Beth Tibbott in 2008. Following an altercation at their home—one that led to Harrison breaking down a locked door and snapping Tibbott’s cell phone in half—Harrison slapped Tibbott across the face, an incident he later corroborated to the police. Though Harrison was released from custody and the simple assault charge levied against him was eventually dropped, he is, by definition, a former contributor to the NFL’s league-wide domestic violence issue.

Forgive me for the inflammatory remarks. My intention is not to indicate that, because James Harrison made some poor decisions 10 years ago, he is now an unwelcome entity in Pittsburgh’s history books, but rather to highlight some of the highs and lows of one of this city’s most colossal public figures. Harrison, despite five Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro nods, two Super Bowl rings (four appearances overall), and a handful of franchise records, is considered a fringe Hall of Famer, at best. Indeed, I suspect Harrison’s Hall of Fame candidacy will be the subject of heated debate in the years ahead and, honestly, I don’t think he’s gonna make it. It took Terrell Owens three tries to earn his jacket, for goodness sakes.

Regardless of where James Harrison ends up, I’ll always remember him as an imposing, but complicated personage who provided me with the most exhilarating sports moment of my lifetime. How will you remember James Harrison?

Ready for the schedule

Steelers.com News - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 9:05am
Today is the day for the 2018 Steelers schedule to be released.

Stewart: 'It felt right'

Steelers.com News - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 8:00am
Kordell Stewart felt right at home in Pittsburgh with Colorado teammates on the roster.

Despite the Steelers’ pre-draft visits ending, news of meetings continues to leak

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 7:58am

Official Pre-Draft visits have concluded, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t still news coming out on that front.

All NFL teams have concluded their official pre-draft visits with the 2018 NFL Draft just over a week away. As most know, each team is allowed 30 official visits, with the exceptions of players who grew up or attended school within a proximity of the NFL franchise.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it has become clear the player the team reported visited, and the players who actually visited are two completely different things.

Leighton Vander Esch came in unannounced on a Saturday, when no media would be present, and on Tuesday Justin Reid of Stanford visited but wasn’t listed on the official report from the team.

Some call it gamesmanship, some call it paranoia, but either way you slice it the truth is the team simply doesn’t announce all of their 30 visits.

This was clearly evident recently when Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network reported Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison has a private meeting/workout with the Steelers:

Alabama S Ronnie Harrison (No. 38 prospect on @MoveTheSticks' Top 50) had private meetings/workouts with PIT, NYG, DET, TEN, JAX, MIN, CIN, CAR, SEA, HOU, NE, and PHI. Versatile player who should go Round 2.

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) April 17, 2018

The ending total for pre-draft visits, if you include Reid, ended with 22 visits, according to our BTSC Pre-Draft Visit Tracker. Teams don’t have to use all of their pre-draft visits, but it is rare a team like the Steelers doesn’t utilize as many visits as possible.

Why would a team not report their visits? First, they don’t have to. Also, they might not want to tip their hand regarding prospects they are interested in where rivals might want to take a player off the board before the Steelers pick.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on these reports as the team continues to put the final touches on their pre-draft prep work done before the big event on the 26th.

Throwback Thursday: A second half Steelers surge in Cincinnati

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 6:47am

BTSC flashes back to a signiture comeback in the Queen City.

As we turn the dials on the Delorean for Throwback Thursday this time around, the time circuits are set to November 19, 1995. It was a time when Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his first campaign as POTUS, OJ was looking for the real killer on golf courses across the United States, Toy Story was the first Pixar movie ever released and captivating audiences at theaters and radio listeners were tuning in to Name by a trio from Buffalo, the Goo Goo Dolls. Meanwhile, it was a very captivating season of football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After falling just short in the AFC championship as an upset victim against San Diego in January, William Laird Cowher’s crew had excitement surrounding them. Gone was RB Barry Foster, while the ultimate utility weapon that was Kordell Stewart joined the franchise. However, Rod Woodson suffered a debilitating knee injury that sidelined him for the entire regular season and the team fell to 3-4 after an embarrassing home loss to the Bengals. After a three game winning streak, the 6-4 Steelers charged into the city known for their own style of chili. The team was competing for a playoff berth and every game was as crucial as consuming a bottle of Tums before enjoying the local delicacy.

Cincinnati started the game off hot from the opening kickoff. The Bengals David Dunn fielded the Norm Johnson’offering around the 8 yard line, sold the return and then proceeded to throw the ball all the way across the field to David Hill, who ran the ball 62 yards all the way to the Steeler 35. After Jeff Blake converted a 3rd and 8 for 25 yards to Carl Pickens at the 10, the East Carolina QB found Darnay Scott, who beat Willie Williams, for a four-yard score. 7-0 Cincy early on.

Neil O’Donnell and the Steelers started to move the ball impressively on their opening drive, but Ernie Mills fumbled the ball after a short gain due to being hit by the recivering Bracie Walker at the Bengal 47.

After Kevin Greene sacked Blake to halt that drive, the Steelers moved the ball again courtesy of positive runs by Erric Pegram and Stewart, the drive stalled with a sack as well at the Cincy 33 and Johnson put three points on the board from 50 yards out, 7:56 into the first.

After a short kick return by a Kimo Von Olhoeffen (who would haunt his former team ten years later as a Steeler), Blake staged a long drive and countered the Steeler FG with a rollout TD run from the one with 2:40 left in the quarter. Levon Kirkland hit Blake deep in the end zone and was penalized 15 yards on the kickoff. The score after one was 14-3 and the Steelers were playing clumsily and bleeding profusely.

The Steelers started to move again, but on a 4th and 1 on the Bengal 40, Leon Searcy’s false start led to a Rohn Stark punt. With 3:40 gone in the second quarter, the Bengals started to absolutely pour it on when Blake orchestrated a 93-yard drive that concluded with a one-yard pass to Pickens, who dominated Carnell Lake on the drive. It was now 21-3 Bengals.

Starting from their own 13, O’Donnell started the ascent from the deep hole that his team had dug. After Bam Morris knocked off some big runs, No. 14 found Mills from 42 out it was Mills’ fourth TD of the year courtesy of an O’Donnell pump fake that froze Corey Sawyer. The Cincy lead was cut to 11.

On the very next drive, the Bengals picked on Lake again. The safety, filling in for Rod Woodson (injured in Week 1), was called for pass interference when he grabbed onto a flying Darnay Scott. The penalty was for 41 yards and set up Cincy at the 15. Doug Pelfrey kicked a field goal and, after a 32-yard catch from Charles Johnson, Norm Johnson countered with a three. Bengal coach Mike Shula made an odd choice when he had Blake kneel on his own 25 with 53 seconds remaining in the half. It was 24-13 at intermission.

After halftime, Pittsburgh received the second half kickoff, but after an impressive run, Pegram fumbled the extra effort and Walker collected his second fumble recovery at the Steeler 34. The rout was indeed on when Cincinnati TE Tony McGee capped off another drive with Blake’s third TD pass with 4:29 gone, a 20-yarder. At 31-13, the Steelers seemed doomed to inevitable embarrassment.

But teams with championship dreams refuse to die. Bill Cowher’s band of warriors wiped the Riverfront turf dust off of their gold pants and regrouped. After a Cincinnati PI infraction by Rod Jones on Ernie Mills, O’Donnell went to work. After first down passes to Mills and Yancey Thigpen, the Steelers went to the ground with Pegram and Byron “Bam” Morris. When the burly Bam went airborne into the end zone from the one, the seeds of hope were being planted. It was 31-20.

The league’s number two defense behind Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Darren Perry, Ray Seals, Jason Gildon and Carnell Lake started to clamp down. After a three and out, Pittsburgh embarked on an 83-yard scoring drive that ended when Andre Hastings caught a 15-yard pass for a TD. When Pegram took the option from Stewart and ran in the 2PC, the league’s worst defense saw a lead of 18 dwindle down to three with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.

Then 35 seconds into the fourth, the Steelers electric rookie known as Slash caught a ball over the middle from O’Donnell and blazed 71 yards to glory and the first Steeler lead of the game. At 35-31, Pittsburgh would never look back. The Bengals offense and defense would completely unravel in epic fashion. Morris added his second and third rushing scores in the fourth quarter and Greg Lloyd would force his fifth fumble of the year with a sack on Blake which Bill Johnson would recover. The Steelers would triumph by a score of 49-31. Down 18, the Pittsburgh offense would reel off 36 unanswered points.

One of the greatest comebacks in franchise history would place Pittsburgh three games up in the AFC Central with five games to play. This resilient team from the Steel City would eventually reach the Super Bowl, only to lose to Dallas. But this game was definitive of the sheer grit and innovation of a special Steeler squad.

I will never forget this game. I was 23 and had just recently moved from Johnstown to the town of Elkins in West Virginia for a radio job. Because I had to work and would not be able to be with my family on Thanksgiving for the first time in my life, my parents insisted that we celebrate together four days early. When the Steelers went down 31-13, I grabbed my keys and said my goodbyes for the three-plus hour drive home. I started up my Chevy Celebrity Eurosport and started out of the driveway. But something told me to stop and retreat back to the house. I then witnessed one of the most satisfying comebacks of my fanboy life with my dad. After the game, he looked at me and smiled and I will never forget what he said next. “I’m glad you came back. Remember... never give up until there’s zeroes on the clock.”

Ray Fittipaldo's Steelers seven-round mock draft: April 19

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 6:45am

The NFL draft prep is almost done. The combine, free agency, pro days and top 30 visits are over. It’s T-minus seven days until draft day and an entire year’s worth of work will be boiled down into three frantic days.

Steelers “Sour 16” Bracket Round 2: Daryl Sims vs John Rienstra

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:31am

BTSC continues the “Sour 16” bracket of first round picks that didn’t pan out.

The second round of the Steelers “Sour 16” continues with another Noll Region matchup. Last time around, Huey Richardson had 341 tallies, which was 72% of the vote over Tom Ricketts and advances to the third round.

Reluctantly competing to join him in the finals of the Noll bracket will be Daryl Sims and John Rienstra. Two picks from 1985 and 1986 respectively. It was a two-year stretch of less than stellar picks. Thankfully, they were sandwiched by Louis Lipps and Rod Woodson

Sims lasted two seasons in Pittsburgh and never replicated his success as a Defensive Tackle at the University of Wisconsin. The Badger was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 1981, 1982 and 1984. Sims had 24 tackles for a loss in 1982, one of the best in school history. He is in the top 10 with 11 collegiate sacks. With the Steelers, the current Chancellor and Athletic Director at Wisconsin Oshkosh had three sacks and zero career starts.

Rienstra, like Sims, spent two years after his Steeler career with Cleveland. The 6’5” and 273 lb Guard from Temple started 48 games in five years with the Steelers, but never had the career expected from the ninth pick of the 1986 draft. Rienstra was described by Tunch Ilkin in a Steeler Sports Report from 1998 as being one of the most committed players to staying in shape that he ever played with, however stress, vomiting and ulcers hampered “Rhino”, as well as a 24-day rookie holdout, a broken foot on the first day of rookie camp and the ire of Chuck Noll.

Who is moving on? You decide. And as always, keep checking in to BTSC for the “Sour 16” and everything Steelers.

Asked and Answered: April 19

Steelers.com News - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:00am
Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

James Harrison says there's no hard feelings with the Steelers

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 3:18pm

Bill Belichick talked to James Harrison about playing one more year for the New England Patriots, but the thought of leaving Pittsburgh again was too much for him.

2018 NFL Schedule to be released Thursday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 1:15pm

One of the best days of the year is almost upon us!

The last time Pittsburgh Steelers fans saw their favorite team on Heinz Field they were losing in stunning fashion to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Round. After watching Super Bowl 52 conclude, the offseason has been brutal.

Images of the Jaguars running all over the defense. Missed opportunities at every turn. However, there is hope on the horizon. The 2018 NFL Draft is just over a week away, but the NFL will deliver a nice package to tide you over until then.

The 2018 regular season schedule.

Schedule news! The 2018 NFL Regular Season Schedule will be announced this Thursday, April 19 at 8:00pm ET live on NFL Network with the 2-hour 2018 NFL Schedule Release.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 18, 2018

For me, this is one of the best days of the year. The opponents and locations are known, but this is when you can really sink your teeth into what is awaiting for your favorite team.

How many prime time games will they have?

Are they playing on any major holidays (again)?

Any back-to-back divisional games?

So many scenarios and so many talking points when the schedule is announced, and you can count on BTSC to have this information for you the moment it goes public!

In case you forgot, here are the opponents and locations for the Steelers this season:

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Roster Recap: So many changes

Steelers.com News - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 1:15pm
The Steelers roster has taken on a new look this offseason.

Draft day will be special for this fan

Steelers.com News - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 12:15pm
Season ticket holder Steve Contizano will enjoy the ultimate NFL Draft experience.

Ed Bouchette: Drafting a QB is playing football roulette

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 12:00pm

Since 1981, NFL teams drafted 84 quarterbacks in the first round. The Steelers drafted one.

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