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2020 Steelers Replay, Week 1: Benny Snell’s big day shows the keys to running the ball

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

What we can learn looking back at Benny Snell’s big game against the Giants.

To start the offseason, I’m going to take a look at each week of the Steelers season, and focus on a player that made an impact in that week, and what their film teaches us about the Steelers in 2020. It won’t just be about that player, but more an evaluation of what the Steelers did right, what they did wrong, and what they need to focus on heading into the 2021 season.

For Week 1, Benny Snell is an easy choice. He came in to the game in the second quarter and took over the game, running for 113 yards, the only 100 yard rushing game of his short career. It’s also a nice start to revisiting this season where the run game fell apart so spectacularly by looking at what went so right for Benny Snell in Week 1.

Week 1, 2nd quarter, 11:08. Benny Snell is the running back, Vance McDonald is the tight end (second from left)

Benny Snell showed improved quickness right away on this outside run, and delivers a shot to the cornerback at the end of the run. A key block on this run is the double team from Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald on the defensive end and Vance McDonald getting off the double team to the second level to slow down middle linebacker Blake Martinez, taking him out of the play.

Week 1, 2nd quarter 12:35. Benny Snell is the running back, Stefan Wisniewski is the guard to the left side of the screen.

On the opposite side of the coin, on this play Stefan Wisniewski gets stuck on the double team with Maurkice Pouncey and Blake Martinez is free to make the play on Benny Snell.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 14:18. Benny Snell is the running back, Zach Banner is the tackle to the left of the screen.

Zach Banner gets to the second level, blocks Martinez and Benny Snell is running loose in the secondary. You can see the trend, Benny Snell ran well when the Steelers blockers got off the double teams to the second level, got almost nothing when they didn’t.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 13:41. Benny Snell is the running back, Eric Ebron is the tight end to the left side of the screen.

I love this play design, and the work both Eric Ebron and Matt Feiler do on this play. Ebron starts outside, drawing the defensive end’s attention, then heads upfield like he’s running a route, only to block the middle linebacker. Ebron causes the defensive end to pause, and that sets up the block from Feiler and Snell cuts upfield for a solid gain.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 12:59. Benny Snell is the running back, Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

This play doesn’t go well, and it shows one of my consistent criticisms of the Steeler running backs. Benny Snell cuts a full 2 yards when he changes direction, and is tackled with plenty of room between himself and Maurkice Pouncey. Running tighter to the offensive line makes it harder for the defense to tackle you, and would have added solid yards onto this run.

Also, Snell wastes fantastic work from Pouncey to get out of the lane in two steps. Watch it in slow motion.

Look at Pouncey go from driving the tackle out of the way to getting skinny and leaving Snell with plenty of room to run. Look at when Snell gets parallel to Pouncey, he could have just run straight upfield and the space would have been there. It just requires trust and a little more patience. I’ll go even farther than that, because if Snell is right behind Pouncey, he either gets this lane, or he gets a lane outside, #94 can’t cover both lanes while being double teamed, and Pouncey is trying to get off that block, but it’s already too late.

So while the lineman need to do a better job getting to the second level, there are also times where the backs don’t have the patience or trust to use the lanes that are there.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 2:46. Benny Snell is the running back, Zach Banner is the tackle to the left side of the screen.

Love the job Banner does on this play, provides help to DeCastro and gets upfield where he is a big man to try and get around, he doesn’t even nail the block, he doesn’t have to, he’s big enough to get in people’s way and take them out of the play.

Also take a moment and watch the defensive back to the right side of the screen as the clip starts. That DB started to follow JuJu Smith-Schuster’s motion, then goes back. Smith-Schuster blocks the outside corner and Snell just has to out run the linebackers that the line has slowed down. If you look at most of the runs in this film room you will see motion (or at least the end of it), several others had motion, but the Steelers waited two seconds to snap the ball so I cut it out of the clips.

Motion was a consistent part of the offense early on, and at the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse, it is a key to the offense in 2021. The Steelers were a top ten rushing team for the first third of the season when they were using motion heavily. They need to invest in it, and not give up on it in 2021.

Week 1, 4th quarter, 9:00. Benny Snell is the running back.

Gotta love this run. Benny Snell sees Zach Banner driving a defender back and dives under Banner’s arms for a 5-yard gain. Just find any hole you can and get yards. A five yard run is a win for the offense.

Week 1, 4th quarter, 6:56. Benny Snell is the running back, Alejandro Villanueva is the tackle to the left side of the screen.

Wanted to show a little love for the other side of the line, Alejandro Villanueva isn’t a great run blocker, but he does a good job on this play. Villanueva has done a fantastic job protecting Ben Roethlisberger over the years, and has held his own with many great pass rushers, if he doesn’t return, the Steelers will have a hard time replacing him.

Benny Snell’s great week 1 game had far more to do with the Steelers scheme and execution than it did Benny Snell’s talents. But it is worth noting that Snell has the ability to give a team good play if the offense is well designed and executed.

Re-watching this game is a good reminder that Zach Banner could be the answer at right tackle for the Steelers. If he can bounce back from injury, he brings energy, power and size to the right tackle position that Steeler fans crave. He consistently showed the ability to move a defender and get off double team blocks to reach the second level, something Chuks Okorafor and Matt Feiler don’t do as well.

The takeaway from this film room is the Steelers, with better scheme and execution, can have success running the ball, even with Benny Snell. They need to invest in using motion and keep it going all year, and they need to be more consistent at getting blockers to the second level on their zone runs. That might be achieved with a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach, or it might require adding talent via free agency or the draft, but however they do it, it needs to happen. because the difference between the Steelers offense that was running the ball well and the offense that wasn’t was huge and it wrecked the season.

Bud Dupree and the Steelers still need each other

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 7:15am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

URFA Bud Dupree and the Pittsburgh Steelers still have need of one another.

As I feel certain that unrestricted free agent Alvin "Bud" Dupree Jr. would attest, ACL injuries suck. That statement holds true for all knee injuries actually, but more so for ACL injuries in particular. They happen out of nowhere without warning, therefore they are impossible to predict or avoid. Contact is not required on many occasions. Everyone of us who have experienced a torn ACL cringe whenever we witness another athlete fall victim to the dreaded scourge, and we can sympathize for their long the frequently painful road to recovery. Physical rehabilitation is no walk in the park, but the mental aspect is the toughest hurdle to overcome.

Dupree was enjoying his second Pro Bowl worthy season, he should have been selected the previous season but was snubbed big time, when he was lost for the season due to the injury late in the Steelers home victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He has evolved into a premier edge defender with a well rounded game. He earned top five pay at his position last season after being franchise tagged by the Steelers, and was on schedule for the type of financial security and long-term stability that most NFL players can only dream of. Then the ACL injury threw a monkey wrench into his best laid plans.

The dream can still be the reality, but he would be wise to proceed with caution. The rehabilitation process is both long and grueling, and should never be rushed when your future success; both athletically and financially, depend on a full recovery. Therefore, if I was advising Bud Dupree and his agent, I would highly recommend that Dupree and the Steelers try to work out a mutually beneficial one year contract prior to free agency. Let me try to explain the logic behind that statement.

Trust me when I say this, I only want what is best for Bud Dupree and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The toughest part of the rehabilitation process from ACL surgery, and getting back to your pre-injury form, is the mental aspect. Every athlete must learn to trust that appendage again, because the slightest tweak or sense of instability during one's earnest journey to full recovery can trigger mental anxiety. This inevitable dilemma results in a tendency to be tentative, far more calculating in one's movements than instinctual.

The speed of the NFL game is impossible to duplicate in a rehab or practice setting. Players must quickly process information accurately as it pertains to their responsibilities on every play. This has to become almost second nature, routine if you will, for the player to perform up to their potential within the scheme. It becomes instinctual over time after repetition. Dupree has always been more physical than cerebral, more freakish athleticism than skilled tactician. Dupree has that comfort level in Pittsburgh. It took him years to achieve it, but in doing so he became the Pro Bowl caliber player he is today.

Dupree is familiar with the Steelers physicians and trainers on staff at the facilities. He would be surrounded and supported by teammates and familiar faces. That familiarity creates a comfort level that shouldn't be overlooked or underappreciated in the rehabilitation process. Less outside distractions and menial decisions means more time to focus on the business at hand.

No matter how successful the rehab, Dupree will miss a portion of next season and will not be back to 100% till the following season. This is just the reality of ACL injuries. Any team with the available cap space and the need to pay Dupree top dollar will more than likely expect him to be some sort of pass rushing savior for their defense. No team is going to throw big bucks at a player with Dupree's pedigree and let him settle in as a role player off the bench while he learns the system and adjust to his new surroundings and responsibilities, much less patiently wait as he learns to trust his surgically repaired knee fully once again. If he thinks the pressure from his new comrades and coaches is bad, wait until he gets a load of the unrealistic expectations from the overzealous fanbase that had been praying vehemently for his arrival.

The rehabilitation process from a ACL surgery is tough enough without adding all the additional pressure and distractions I mentioned above. If the Steelers and Dupree can agree to an feasible and mutually beneficial one year contract, I believe that a return engagement to the Steel City might be just what the doctor ordered for the talented young man and his surgically repaired knee. In Pittsburgh he can focus on his rehab; not learning a new system, teammates, and community. He can play more instinctively as he slowly integrates himself back into the fray as the strength and stability returns to his knee. This scenario definitely wasn't part of his original plan, but it may just be the best choice for his long term health and financial well being.

Steelers interviewing Hank Fraley for their offensive line coach vacancy

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The 10 year NFL vet was the offensive line coach of the Detroit Lions in 2020.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to have an interview on Thursday for their vacant offensive line coach position with former Steeler Hank Fraley according to NFL Network‘s Tom Pelissero.

The #Steelers are interviewing Hank Fraley for their offensive line coach job Thursday, per source. Fraley -- a onetime Robert Morris standout who originally signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2000 -- held the same job with the #Lions last season.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 21, 2021

Although his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers was short-lived as an undrafted free agent out of Robert Morris in 2000, Fraley spent 10 seasons in the NFL. When Fraley was waived by the Steelers to start the 2020 season, he was claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles. By 2001, Fraley appeared in all 16 games for the Eagles while starting in 15. In his five seasons in Philadelphia, Fraley started 71 games at center before he was traded to the Cleveland Browns in 2006. After four years in Cleveland, the first three of which he started every game, Fraley finished his NFL career in 2010 with the St. Louis Rams.

Since ending his NFL career, Fraley served as the offensive line coach at the University of San Diego in 2012 and San Diego State in 2013. Fraley moved on to be the assistant offensive line coach of the Minnesota Vikings for three seasons from 2014 to 2016 before going back to the college ranks as the offensive line coach at UCLA in 2017. Heading back to the NFL to the Detroit Lions, Fraley was the assistant offense of line coach for two seasons from 2018 to 2019 before Being promoted to the offensive line coach for the 2020 season.

It was also reported that Fraley interviewed earlier this month with the Cincinnati Bengals for their offensive line coach position.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued coverage as the Steelers look to fill out their coaching staff in the coming weeks.

2021 NFL Draft: BTSC Big Board, Quarterbacks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 5:30am
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Ranking and analyzing the top 15 quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite the disappointment of the Steelers’ season ending in the Wild Card round, there was one small silver lining: draft season started a few weeks early.

The NFL Draft has often been described as “Christmas in April” for NFL fans, as their favorite teams get to add an exciting class of new prospects to their roster each year. However, with 32 teams picking players over 7 rounds, as well as through compensatory picks and undrafted free agency, the sheer number of college prospects entering the NFL in a single draft can be overwhelming.

So here at BTSC, we're proud to present the first edition of our new collaborative big board. This year, we’ve taken on the task of ranking and analyzing most of the prospects in the 2021 draft class in an attempt to create a helpful and informative resource that will hopefully bring some more interest to the draft process.

We’ll be releasing the board in segments, focusing on one position at a time, with this edition being on the quarterbacks.

The main rankings and grades are steelerfan11’s, with the “Average Draft Rankings” being an average of where the players were ranked on big boards by other popular draft sites (ESPN, CBS Sports, Draftek, NFL Mock Draft Database, Pro Football Network, The Draft Network, and Fanspeak), compiled by Pittsblitz56. The overall analysis is a collaborative effort.

1. Trevor Lawrence — Clemson

Top graded QB in class

#16, Junior, 6’ 6”, 220 lbs

2020 season stats: 3,153 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 203 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 1

steelerfan11: Lawrence is going to be the number one overall pick, so there is not much need to dive into him as a potential fit with the Steelers. He has the size, arm, and athleticism that coaches dream about, and he seems to be respected in the locker room. If there is one flaw to his game, it is his accuracy and decision making under pressure, but he is one of the cleanest quarterback prospects to come out in a while.

Ryland B: Ever since his brilliant freshman campaign at Clemson in 2018, Lawrence has been seen as a top-tier NFL prospect, with it being all but a guarantee he’ll be selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is an accurate passer with a NFL-caliber arm, and has always been a solid decision-maker with the football. He also has great size and is a surprisingly good runner. Lawrence only lost two games in his college career, always playing well and showing good leadership skills. There’s some minor concerns here and there with Lawrence, but overall he’s the most NFL-ready quarterback to enter the draft in years. The Steelers won’t be landing him, but whichever team does will be getting a good one.

2. Justin Fields — Ohio State

Early 1st round grade

#1, Junior, 6’ 3”, 228 lbs

2020 season stats: 2,100 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 383 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 3.42

steelerfan11: Fields did not have the year many expected, but his performance in the College Football Playoff semifinals was nothing short of spectacular. Fields displays tremendous deep ball accuracy and is a huge threat as a runner. He isn’t ready to start on day one though. He holds on to the ball too long and sometimes struggles to read opposing defenses. His best option may have been to return to school and be the favorite to be the top pick in the 2022 draft, but I expect him to be selected within the top three or four picks in this draft nonetheless.

Ryland B.: Justin Fields spent his freshman year of college backing up Jake Fromm at Georgia before transferring to Ohio State for his sophomore and junior years, where his career would blossom. Following a breakout 2019 season, Fields played rather inconsistently in a COVID-19 shortened 2020, often struggling when facing a rush and making some questionable decisions. However, a near flawless showing against Trevor Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers in the College Football Semifinal restored the faith in Fields as a draft prospect. He has decent size, is very athletic and a good runner, and has an absolute cannon for an arm. Despite having some pocket awareness problems, Fields is very mobile and can throw well on the run. He’s a very accurate passer overall, rarely turning the ball over, although there is some room to grow regarding his decision making. Fields isn’t a perfect prospect, but he’s a solid #2 quarterback in this draft class behind Trevor Lawrence and will doubtlessly be picked in the top 5.

3. Zach Wilson — BYU

Early 1st round grade

#1, Junior, 6’ 3”, 210 lbs

2020 season stats: 3,692 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 254 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 7.5

steelerfan11: Strength of schedule is something that will be an issue for some, but Wilson balled out this season for BYU. His arm is not on the same level as a Lawrence or Fields, but it is definitely above average, and his accuracy is as good as anyone’s. He can deliver it from a slew of different arm angles, but his best attribute may be his mobility in the pocket and decisiveness as a runner. Wilson is a gamer who has everything you want in a franchise quarterback, which is why he will be a top five pick come April.

Ryland B.: For most (including myself), the 2021 quarterback draft class is Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and then everyone else. However, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson has managed to put himself in that top-tier conversation with a fantastic 2020 season. Wilson has an incredible arm, with above-average strength and accuracy. He can throw from different arm angles and has great anticipation. In short, he can make any NFL pass. Wilson is athletic and can be a dangerous runner, however, he might want to bulk up a bit in the NFL to take hits a little better. Wilson has few weaknesses, but could still improve regarding throwing under pressure and his overall decision making. Wilson reminds me of Justin Fields in some ways, with a similar frame, play style, and general strengths and weaknesses. However, while Fields has been playing against college football’s premier teams most of his career, Wilson’s level of competition at BYU has been nowhere as close. Both will likely go in the top 10 of the upcoming draft, and it’s anyone’s guess on who will have the better NFL career.

4. Trey Lance — North Dakota State

Mid 1st round grade

#5, Sophomore, 6’ 4”, 226 lbs

2020 season stats (1 game): 149 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 interception, 143 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 14.7

steelerfan11: Lance played one game in 2020, and it did not go as well as many expected. Overthrowing receivers and making the wrong reads were a common thing, but he did enough in the second half to lead his team to victory. My biggest issues with him are touch and delivery speed. His delivery looked very slow to me on the tape I have seen of him, and his eyes stay on his intended receiver too long, allowing the defender to break on the ball for an interception. Footwork was inconsistent as well. That said, his size, arm, and athleticism make him an intriguing option in the middle of the first round. He is boom or bust at this point.

Ryland B.: Trey Lance may be the most intriguing player in all of the 2021 NFL Draft. He had an incredible redshirt freshman season in 2019, throwing for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 0(!) interceptions in 16 games. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to a FCS championship. Lance was perhaps the fastest riser out of all of the 2021 draft prospects, but would need another successful year in 2020 to show that his previous season wasn’t a fluke at a low level of competition. Sadly, NDSU’s season was reduced to one game that season due to the coronavirus, and Lance didn’t exactly help his draft stock in an up and down performance against Central Arkansas. Lance looked really shaky, and missed his receivers for much of the game, usually throwing high. Lance missed some really wide open receivers as well, opportunities he needed to capitalize on. He settled in later on, showing off his impressive arm strength and some better accuracy, completing some NFL-level passes. It’s worth noting that Lance wasn’t helped much by his offensive line and wide receivers in that game, as Lance suffered from some poor pass protection, as well as some drops by his receivers. He threw some nice balls into tight windows, but those passes were rarely held onto, while his best deep ball of the night was dropped in the end zone. As a runner, however, Lance looked really good. He’s fast, strong, and powerful on the ground, rarely going down on first contact and showing some great vision. Lance did manage to lead his team to a victory, and I think that if he would have been able to play a full season he would have greatly improved as the year went on. Overall, Lance is a raw prospect with high athleticism, a big arm, and enough flashes of brilliance to put him in the top 10 conversation in the upcoming draft. His low level of competition and lack of experience may be an issue, though, especially if you consider his lone game in 2020. He’s a high risk, high reward prospect who will need to sit on the bench his first year or two in the NFL to develop into a starting-caliber quarterback. In essence, Trey Lance is the quarterback you want to pick in the second round, but will have to select in the first if you want him on your team.

5. Mac Jones — Alabama

Early 2nd round grade

#10, Junior, 6’ 3”, 214 lbs

2020 season stats: 4,500 passing yards, 41 passing touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 14 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

Average Draft Ranking - 40.85

steelerfan11: Jones put up gaudy numbers at Alabama this season, and he deserves credit for winning a job that everyone thought would go to Bryce Young, but let’s remember that he was playing with the best running back, receiver, and offensive line in college football. He has a high IQ and throws a nice deep ball, but he lacks mobility in the pocket and does not sense pressure well. I think his ceiling is that of a Jared Goff or Matt Ryan. Considering both went to a super bowl, that isn’t a terrible thing, but they both lost when they got there and needed a stellar supporting cast to get as far as they did. I know that there are fans who want the Steelers to take him in round one, but keep in mind the talent he had at Alabama and the poor offensive line that we currently have. Showing patience at the quarterback position pays off down the line, and drafting Mac Jones would seem to be a move of panic on the Steelers’ part.

Ryland B.: Mac Jones is a bit of a departure from his successors at Alabama, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. While Hurts and Tagovailoa were athletic, high-upside prospects with some concerns regarding their overall accuracy and ability to go through progressions, Jones is more of the opposite. He’s a pocket passer with decent athleticism, while his greatest strength is his accuracy and ability to distribute the football. Jones has a strong arm and throws a pretty deep ball, while also going through his progressions well and delivering the ball on time. He’s not a good runner, or even very mobile for that matter, but he can recognize when to run and can gain a first down with his legs every now and then. One small concern is that Jones has one of the ugliest slides out of any passer in football, sometimes opting just to dive headfirst at the end of runs. This isn’t a huge problem that can be fixed with coaching in the NFL, but remains a potential injury issue for now. Surrounded by superior talent and excellent play-calling, Jones put up some great numbers at Alabama this season. He has a fairly high floor, but doesn’t have the highest ceiling, and will probably sneak into the last few picks of the first round.

6. Kyle Trask — Florida

Early 3rd round grade

#11, Senior, 6’ 5”, 240 lbs

2020 season stats: 4,283 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 50 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 52.28

steelerfan11: Another player who lit up the scoreboard in 2020, Trask matured a lot as a passer this season. His accuracy on throws toward the sideline was something that impressed me. However, it is clear that his arm is average at best and that he has little to no mobility. With a great supporting cast and offensive line, he could become a solid starting quarterback in the NFL, but I believe he is a good college player who will most likely be a high-end backup or low-end starter in the NFL.

Ryland B.: Kyle Trask is a really interesting draft prospect. He was a Heisman finalist in 2020, throwing for 43 touchdowns and 4,283 yards in an impressive senior campaign. He has great size, a good football IQ, and excellent decision-making. So where’s the problem with Trask? He doesn’t have a strong arm, with nearly all of his success being on short and intermediate throws. He isn’t mobile, either, and can’t be relied on to scramble successfully when a play breaks down — he’ll probably end up getting sacked. At 6’5”, 240 lbs, Trask might have some success with quarterback sneaks, but some fumbling issues, along with his subpar athleticism, make it so he’s better off just passing from the pocket or handing it to a running back. Trask has had some inconsistency issues as well, such as having a poor game in Florida’s surprising loss to LSU this season, or a dismal 3-interception first quarter against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, a game in which the senior was benched for the second half. That being said, Trask’s 2020 season was filled with more ups than downs, and he’s a smart player with just enough talent to give him starter upside in the NFL. However, Trask projects best as a mid-round selection and top-tier backup in the NFL, although he’ll probably be drafted earlier with much higher hopes.

7. Jamie Newman — Georgia

4th round grade

#9, Senior 6’4”, 230 lbs.

2020 season: Opted out

2019 season stats (Wake Forest): 2,868 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 574 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns.

Average Draft Ranking - 149.28

steelerfan11: I was disappointed to see Newman opt out of the season, because it would have been interesting to see how he would perform in a pro-style offense. It will take him time to transition to the NFL game, but he has the arm talent and athleticism that will get you excited. He failed to show accuracy on a consistent basis at Wake Forest, which is why he is not ranked higher. He could still be a day two pick, but he really needs a good combine performance and pro day.

Ryland B.: Jamie Newman transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia for his final season, but ended up opting-out the season. Drafting a player who hasn’t played in a game for a year is a big enough concern already, but Newman really needed that season at Georgia to show he could succeed in the SEC and prove that he’s a complete quarterback. Despite those concerns, there’s still a lot to like about Newman. He’s athletic, has a good arm and release, as well as great pocket awareness. He throws a good deep ball, and although he doesn’t have the strongest arm, it’s definitely a strength. As a rusher, Newman has drawn some Cam Newton comparisons due to his powerful running style. He still needs to improve his accuracy, and as steelerfan11 pointed out, needs to show he can play in an NFL-style offense. There’s a lot to like about Newman, but an equal number of questions.

8. Sam Ehlinger — Texas

4th round grade

#11, Senior, 6’ 3”, 225 lbs

2020 season stats: 2,566 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 377 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 218.85

steelerfan11: Ehlinger is a great leader and plays with great toughness, but one has to question whether he has starter upside or not. His accuracy improved each year at Texas, and he showed decent zip on short and intermediate passes. He has the ability to take off and run it when the pocket breaks down, but he isn’t the tallest or the strongest, and he sometimes throws it into traffic when he should not. He will most likely be a backup in the NFL.

Ryland B.: I like Ehlinger a lot as a quarterback. I doubt he’ll ever be anything more than a good backup in the NFL, but he’s a tough player, a good leader, and gives his all every game. Talent-wise, he’s not as gifted as most of the other quarterbacks in this draft class, but still has a solid arm and is fairly mobile. Ehlinger is a smart player with good anticipation, but he still needs to improve on his accuracy. He’s a good runner, who finishes his rushes with some surprising power. When a play breaks down, Ehlinger keeps his wits about him and can gain some yardage, whether it’s through the air or with his legs. In the NFL, he’ll be a great backup and locker room guy who can start a game when needed and potentially turn some heads.

9. K.J. Costello — Mississippi State

Early 5th round grade

#3, Senior, 6’ 5”, 225 lbs

2020 season stats: 1,283 passing yards, 6 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, -65 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 313.57

steelerfan11: I liked what Costello did at Stanford, but this season at Mississippi State was very up and down. He reads defenses well and can identify an oncoming blitzer pre-snap, and he shows great poise in the pocket. He has good arm strength and accuracy, but his decision making has led to a lot of costly turnovers at the college level. His inconsistent delivery could be an issue at the next level too.

Ryland B:. I watched a lot of K.J. Costello when he was at Stanford, and came away fairly impressed. He’s a pocket passer through-and-through, who goes through his reads well and has good throwing mechanics despite some awkward arm angles at times. Costello isn’t very mobile, but can navigate the pocket fairly well and scramble when needed. He’s definitely not a running quarterback, though. He has good arm strength and solid accuracy. At Mississippi State, Costello took a step backwards, letting some poor decision-making take over and passing for an ugly 6-11 touchdown to interception ratio. Still, Costello has a chance at a good future in the NFL, even though he doesn’t fit the mold of the modern quarterback.

10. Malik Cunningham — Louisville

Early 5th round grade

#3, Junior, 6’ 1”, 200 lbs

2020 season stats: 2,617 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 609 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 366.42

steelerfan11: Cunningham does not look natural throwing the football and rarely displays any sort of accuracy. He puts good velocity on short and intermediate passes, but his arm is only solid. He does show good patience in the pocket, and his agility and quickness as a runner makes him difficult to defend, but he seems to be best suited to play another position or be used specifically for special offensive packages.

Ryland B.: Malik Cunningham has some similarities to his predecessor at Louisville, Lamar Jackson. While not quite as dynamic, Cunningham is an athletic runner with good speed and a nice array of moves. As a passer he’s slightly less developed, with decent arm strength and below average accuracy. His pocket awareness isn’t great, either. I watched his tape at Pittsburgh and was rather disappointed, as Cunningham was missing throws the entire game and threw 3 interceptions. He looked like a passer who was very much a product of his supporting cast. Overall, Malik Cunningham is a good athlete with some passing ability, but I wouldn’t be surprised he makes a position switch at the next level.

11. Zac Thomas — Appalachian State

6th round grade

#12, Senior, 6’ 1”, 210 lbs

2020 season stats: 2,189 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 312 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 377.85

steelerfan11: Mobile and accurate, but lacking in arm strength. Thomas is a competitor who I imagine will get a shot to make a roster somewhere, but he just does not have the arm of an NFL starting quarterback.

Ryland B.: One of the more underrated quarterbacks in college football, Zac Thomas is a dual-threat passer who has had quite the career at Appalachian State. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but is accurate and mobile. He’s been a proven winner at Appalachian State, while also being fairly productive. He hit a career low in yardage and a career high in interceptions in 2020, but remains a quarterback with some NFL upside entering this year’s draft.

12. Brady White — Memphis

6th round grade

#3, Senior, 6’ 3”, 210 lbs

2020 season stats: 3,380 passing yards, 31 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 88 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 318.85

steelerfan11: White does not possess a great arm, but he has a high IQ and shows tremendous accuracy in the short passing game. He is decisive with where he wants to go with the football, and he knows when to tuck it and run. In the right system, he could be a solid backup.

Ryland B.: Brady White has been the starting quarterback for an impressive Memphis team over the past three years, leading their program to some unexpected success thanks to his production and skill as a passer. Like many of the other late-round quarterback prospects in this class, White doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he’s been able to make up for it with his accuracy and decision-making. He has solid athleticism and still has some room to grow, and while he’ll likely be a backup at the NFL level, there’s a chance he has the upside to go beyond that.

13. Kellen Mond — Texas A&M

6th round grade

#11, Senior, 6’ 3”, 217 lbs

2020 season stats: 2,282 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 294 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 168.57

steelerfan11: Inconsistency has been a theme throughout Mond’s career up to this point. He flashes arm strength and athleticism, but it never lasts for long periods of time. Accuracy is all over the place as well. While he brings more upside than most quarterbacks at this point, he is a big project and will need to improve his mechanics.

Ryland B.: Mood has been known to be aggressive to a fault when it comes to his decision-making as a quarterback, but he cut down on the mistakes in his 2020 season, hitting a career-low in interceptions with only 3. He led a successful Aggies squad that finished within reach of the College Football Playoff, finishing their season by dominating North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. Mond’s inconsistency is still an issue, as he has a strong arm and is a good athlete, but often fails to capitalize on his talents. He’s shown some good accuracy before and is a good scrambler, and overall is a high-upside late-round prospect.

14. Ian Book — Notre Dame

6th round grade

#12, Senior, 6’ 0”, 206 lbs

2020 season stats: 2,830 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 485 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 303.57

steelerfan11: An experienced starter who was productive in college, Book projects as a backup at the next level. His arm is merely average, but he is a good decision maker and throws the ball with great accuracy. Playing behind a really good offensive line was likely a big part of the success Book had in college.

Ryland B.: Book has led Notre Dame to some impressive seasons during his time at South Bend. Nothing really stands out about him, as he is an average athlete, has average arm strength, and hasn’t made very many glaring mistakes or brilliant plays. However, his record and production are impressive, especially considering that he hasn’t had the weapons other quarterbacks as successful as him have enjoyed. Book has always had a good offensive line protecting him, but besides Chase Claypool, not much big-time NFL talent has passed through Notre Dame as a receiver or running back during Book’s stay there. He is fairly accurate and has above-average mobility. He also brings a wealth of experience to the table, although his play has often fallen off in big games. Book will likely be a solid backup in the NFL.

15. Tanner Morgan — Minnesota

7th round grade

#2, Junior, 6’ 2”, 215 lbs

2020 season stats: 1,374 passing yards, 7 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, -35 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns

Average Draft Ranking - 210.14

steelerfan11: Morgan came into the year as a potential 2nd round pick. He did not have his top two receivers from 2019 in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, which could have been part of the issue. Still, he seemed to take a step back in terms of decision making and accuracy. He will likely go no higher than round six.

Ryland B.: Morgan has a decent arm and is very aggressive, and over his career has been bailed out by star receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, both of whom excelled in contested catches. Without them, Morgan’s play understandably regressed. Overall, Morgan has decent accuracy and anticipation, and is always looking for the big play. He’s tough and plays well under pressure, although he isn’t athletic enough to do much after a play breaks down. He’s a solid prospect who might find a niche with an NFL team as a backup in the later rounds.

Notable prospects who decided to return to school for 2021:

Iowa State QB Brock Purdy

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder

Miami QB D’Eriq King

Nevada QB Carson Strong

Georgia QB J.T. Daniels

Liberty QB Malik Willis

Florida State QB McKenzie Milton

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett

Should the Steelers draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft?

Ryland B.: With reports coming out that Ben Roethlisberger plans to play in 2021, the Steelers have no need to draft another quarterback and should instead focus on strengthening other parts of the team for a potential Super Bowl run. If Roethlisberger does retire, the team will likely take a good look at the quarterbacks available, but with a later pick in the first round it will be hard to select a passer with franchise-quarterback upside. The likely scenario is that the team sticks with Mason Rudolph as the starter after Roethlisberger retires. If Rudolph does well, the Steelers will stick with him in the future. If not, they will draft a quarterback in the future. There is simply no scenario right now that makes sense for the Steelers to draft a quarterback in 2021.

steelerfan11: In the early portions of the 2020 draft season, I was clamoring for Jordan Love in the second round. His stock obviously rose too high by April to be considered a legitimate target, but I do realize the value of grooming a young quarterback behind a veteran. However, the most important thing a team must do when looking to draft a franchise quarterback is to be patient. It is easy to watch Mac Jones and Kyle Trask light up the scoreboard in college and say, “The Steelers have to draft that guy.” It is more difficult to say that when you consider the talent that they were surrounded by in college and consider the many other needs that we have to fill. To me, there are three quarterbacks in this class who are almost certainly high-end starters, with Lance a bit more risky. None of the top four guys will likely be available when we pick, and none are worth giving up what it would take to move up for them. Jones could be an NFL starter, but I don’t see him as a guy who will take an offense to the next level on his own. He’s Jared Goff 2.0. Then we move to Kyle Trask, who looks like a good college quarterback and just doesn’t have an NFL arm. I see him as a backup in the league. After him, the position really dries up. I believe that we need to show patience at the position and wait until that “special” guy that we are sold on is available. If Ben were to retire, bring in an Alex Smith to hold down the fort for a couple years. Mitch Trubisky, who may be an ideal fit for Matt Canada’s system, is another intriguing option. The Browns have forced a quarterback in the draft and surpassed better players at other positions of need for the past two decades, and it hasn’t worked out. If we show patience at the quarterback position, it will pay off in the long run.

This is a collaborative effort, and we are looking for more contributors to add to the board by helping with the rankings and/or analysis.

If you are interested in contributing, or just want to share your thoughts about the draft, please let us know in the comments below.

Stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for more content, including the rest of this big board, as we inch closer to the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Success or Failure, a study in new NFL offensive coordinators

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/21/2021 - 4:30am

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

The Steelers are making a change at offensive coordinator and, although not yet official, all signs point to Matt Canada. But when the postseason comes around, how often do teams make the playoffs after making a headset change on the offensive side of the ball? Will it translate to the 2021 Steelers? This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he breaks out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • How a new OC fare relates to team success
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Conference Championship games featuring Chiefs, Bills, Packers and Buccaneers made possible by a salary cap

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 2:30pm
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

The NFL has always prided itself on parity. Without it, would the Packers, Buccaneers, Bills and Chiefs all be vying for a trip to the Super Bowl this weekend? Highly unlikely.

Man, with Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay and Tampa—four television markets that aren’t New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and/or Philadelphia— involved in this Sunday’s conference title games, good luck getting viewers to tune in to see which two teams the NFL will send to Super Bowl LV, right?

LOL, just kidding. It’s the NFL, and three of the biggest names in the history of the league—Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes—will headline these matchups. Therefore, those ratings will be just fine.

That’s the beauty of a league with a salary cap and a network television package that is split evenly among all 32 NFL teams.

Can you imagine Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay and Tampa as the four markets vying for the right to go to the World Series? The answer is, you couldn’t. For one thing, Green Bay is too small to have a franchise in Major League Baseball, same for Buffalo, a city known more for being a minor league affiliate over the years to teams like the Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays.

As for Tampa, the Rays have been to a couple of World Series in their short history—including the most recent one—but they’ve never won one. Sure, they’ve been to the playoffs numerous times, but they’ve always been more “little engine that could” than actual championship contender. It’s true that the Royals made it to back-to-back Fall Classics in the mid-2010s and defeated the Mets in 2015 to win their first championship in three decades, but they had to blow the whole thing up after that, and now they’re back in their familiar role as one of baseball’s bottom-feeders.

The Rays will likely have to divert from their plan of stockpiling and developing prospects if they’re ever going to truly get over the hump. After that, they’ll have to blow the whole thing up. That much is true for every small-market franchise in Major League Baseball in the current environment of the haves vs. the have nots; that’s a shame since so much of MLB’s history was shaped by teams like the Pirates, A’s, Royals, Orioles, Reds, Twins and Royals.

Those franchises made it to several World Series from the late-’60s through the early-’90s and won a combined 14 championships. Unfortunately, only one of those teams—the aforementioned 2015 Royals—has won a title since I graduated from high school 30 years ago.

What happened? Unrestricted free agency and the explosion of salaries. What didn’t happen? A salary cap.

All of those baseball teams, along with the expansion Rays, are considered small-market franchises, while the likes of the Yankees and Dodgers, the team that vanquished Tampa in the 2020 World Series, are considered big-market teams with access to huge local television and radio deals.

Fortunately for professional football fans, the NFL—led by transformative commissioner Pet Rozelle way back in the 1960s—envisioned a league where all teams would get an equal share of the television pie. When the league finally relented and gave its players unrestricted free agency in the early-’90s, it made sure to include a salary cap as part of the agreement. Once again, everyone remained on equal ground.

How long do you think Mahomes would have remained with the Chiefs without a salary cap and revenue sharing in the NFL? Probably until the end of his rookie deal. Without those things in place, Kansas City would have had little-to-no chance of signing the former NFL MVP to the mega-deal he inked last summer. As for Rodgers, he would have left Green Bay—likely for the Big Apple or LA—a long time ago. And you could forget about the Buccaneers winning a bidding war for the GOAT.

Do you think Super Bowl XLV between the Steelers and Packers happens in a non-salary cap environment? Maybe one of those markets sneaks into the Super Bowl every once in a while, but no way would it ever happen in the same year.

The NFL is the greatest and most popular sports league in America for a reason. One of the biggest reasons is because all teams are treated equally.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Go parity!!!!!

Steelers Championship Anniversary Flashback: Super Bowl XIV vs. Rams

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 1:00pm

Go back into time with BTSC as we relive the Steelers fourth Super Bowl win in unconventional fashion.

The black-and-gold Delorean says that it's January 20, 1980 and Escape (Piña Colada) is number one on the charts, Gary Coleman is captivating audiences on Diff'rent Strokes and Jimmy Carter just announced the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics. But first, let's go back eight days prior and put yourself in my Buster Brown's.

Imagine you are me.

You are barely eight-years old, and your parents call you into the room with smiles from ear-to-ear. "If the Steelers beat the Oilers tomorrow, we're going to the Super Bowl!" You go into a happy dance that would make Snoopy, or that chick from the Liberty Mutual commercial a couple of years back that can't keep a boyfriend to save her life to the extent that she has to name her car Brad, jealous.

Then reality calls.

And you realize that "we" is they without you, and you cry and hysterically flee the kitchen. So the only time in my forty-one years as a Pittsburgh fan, I (kind-of) rooted against the Steelers. That is until the Mike Renfro-thing happened and I found my soul saved from the dark side.

So my parents went to sunny Pasadena, the home of Van Halen. They actually didn't go to Eddie and Alex' house. They wouldn't know Van Halen from Van Husen. I, in turn, got to stay home in snow-infested Johnstown, PA with Grandma (God bless her, she was a good woman) who didn't drive, yelled a lot and didn't fall for any shenanigans. I decided to be happy for my parents, plus I knew they would come home with tons of Steeler merchandise for me out of love, and a lot of guilt. I still have my Jack Ham jersey, and the Steeler/Ram visor they brought home. Actually, I know the visor was legit, but I'm pretty sure No. 59 came from Hills Department Store (home of the greatest snack bar ever).

Anyhow, mom and dad went to the high-priced game ("I can't believe we paid $30 for a ticket.") and I watched intently on the television. Looking back, I can't believe that the Steelers were playing and I was rooting against the future star of NBC's Hunter (Fred Dwyer), soon-to-be legend of Pro wrestling Vader (Leon White), Daylon McCutcheon's dad (Lawrence) and a guy playing with a FREAKING BROKEN LEG (Jack Youngblood)!

The game didn't even start yet and I remember getting scared because I learned Jack Ham and Mike Wagner were injured. Then, I flew into mid-game rage when All in the Family's Carroll O'Connor proclaimed on his own network (CBS) that the hometown Rams, at 9-7, were going to beat the Steelers. I lost a little something for Archie Bunker that day, and started to empathize with Meathead and wish Edith to have a torrid affair with both Irene and Frank Lorenzo next door (Total exaggeration, I was eight. But in fairness, I would wish that now, and it's funny to picture). Actually, I was thinking....I wonder if mom and dad are sitting next to Archie Bunker.

The game began with Cheryl Ladd singing the national anthem and Art Rooney in a vintage car from 1933 entered the playing field for the coin toss. Then there was much rejoicing as the favored Steelers took an early 3-0 lead courtesy of a Matt Bahr field goal, and the legendary Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial debuted. But fortunes quickly took a turn when Vince Ferragamo and Wendell Tyler led the Rams on a sustained drive that culminated in a Cullen Bryant touchdown and a 7-3 L.A. lead to complete the first quarter.

But the Steelers stormed back quickly, when Larry Anderson took the ensuing kickoff 45-yards. Anderson was incredible on the day with five returns for 162-yards. Led by Rocky Bleier, Franco Harris ran wide-right into the end zone from a yard out to regain the lead for the Steelers at 10-7, with Bahr's kick-after.

The young Ferragamo, subbing for an injured Pat Haden, was accurate and consistent as the Rams controlled the ball for the remainder of the first half. Two of No. 15's potential TD passes bounced off of Ram receivers, Billy Waddy and Ron Smith. But two Frank Corrall field goals saved points on those drives. The worst team ever (at that point) to play in a Super Bowl was leading the ten-point favorite Steelers 13-10 at the half.

As the famed "Up With People" were performing their salute to big band music and my dad rolling his eyes listening to my mom complaining about no actual bathrooms at the famed Rose Bowl as they waited in line at the port-a-potties, Steeler Nation stuffed themselves with pierogies and kielbasa in absolute disbelief.

Larry Anderson ignited Steeler Nation's flame of excitement once again as he went on a 37-yard kickoff jaunt to start the second half. Terry Bradshaw went deep to a leaping Lynn Swann over two defenders for a 47-yard score to take a 17-13 lead. But Ferragamo went long himself to Waddy for 50-yards and then McCutcheon found Smith on some trickery with a 24-yard hookup and their third lead of the game. Corrall missed the extra point and the score was 19-17 Rams.

Los Angeles tightened up the running lanes giving Franco and Rocky nowhere to run, while Rod Perry knocked Swann out of the game with a jarring hit. Bradshaw threw two of his three picks in the third quarter and a fourth Super Bowl title looked bleak.

In the fourth quarter, the Steelers woke up. Bradshaw went deep again to John Stallworth for a 73-yard score when No. 82 outreached and burned Rod Perry with a gorgeous touchdown and a 24-19 lead. But the Ray Malavasi's Rams weren't done.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Ferragamo went deep to Drew Hill and Bryant ran all over the vaunted Steel Curtain defense. But despite a J.T. Thomas sack, the Rams kept driving and looked like they were going to get the job done. But then Ferragamo made his only mistake. Like another Steeler linebacker from Kent state nearly 30 years later, Jack Lambert dropped into coverage and halted the Rams scoring drive with an interception of Ferragamo at the Pittsburgh 15 with 5:24 to go. Ferragamo didn't notice a wide-open Waddy in the post.

With the lead, Bradshaw went deep again to Stallworth for another beauty that netted 44-yards. Five plays later, Franco scored his second one-yard TD and the Steelers iced the game 31-19.

Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images

The Steelers closed out the 70s with their fourth title in six years, No. 12 was named MVP, there was much rejoicing once again and Grandma yelled at me for being out of bed.

4 Steelers players who hurt the salary cap if they are released in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Due to signing bonuses and guarantees on contracts with multiple seasons still remaining, some players would actually create more of a cap issue if they were released

With the Pittsburgh Steelers dealing with a difficult salary cap situation for the 2021 season, much discussion has been made about which players may become cap casualties this offseason. While there are several players who can save the Steelers a significant amount of space under the salary cap, there are several players on the team which would cost more against the cap than to keep them for the season.

Here is a list of the four Steelers who would be more beneficial to stay on the roster than it would be to release them for the 2021 season. Granted, most of these players the Steelers would not consider moving on from anytime soon based on their on-field production. But even though their departure would be highly unlikely even without their salary cap situation, it never hurts to know the numbers. All figures listed are courtesy of overthecap.com and reflect if the player was a pre-June 1 cut.

Devin Bush $6,004,654

Only a fool would suggest a team who traded up in the first round of the draft to select a player should release them after only his second season, especially when it was cut short due to injury. Devin Bush is not going anywhere with the Steelers for a long time. Not only would it cost just over $6 million in 2021 with a pre-June 1 cut, it would cost over $3 million as a post-June 1 cut and would push the cap hit into future years. There would be no cap savings for cutting Bush next season either. It’s a good thing the Steelers won’t even consider the notion of moving on from Bush.

Cam Heyward $1,650,000

The reason Heyward is on this list and has the salary cap implications he does is due to being the player who received the new deal during the 2020 offseason. Currently one of only for non-rookie contract players under contract in 2022 and the only one under contract in 2023, Heyward is the lone Steeler of any type who has a contract through the 2024 NFL season. Because he is so early in the new deal, it would not save the Steelers anything if they were to release Hayward unless they did so with a post June 1 designation. Either way, the Steelers would be on the hook for the same amount of dead money, it would just be spread out over future years.

Chase Claypool $1,186,050

Going into his second season as the Steelers top draft pick of 2020, I’ll be at in the second round, Chase Claypool would have more money going towards the salary cap based on his signing bonus than he is due to make over the next two seasons. Of course it is foolish to cut any player on their rookie deal as the cost of replacement it’s so much more, Claypool’s production alone highly outweighs his current salary.

Minkah Fitzpatrick $0

Yes, releasing Fitzpatrick wouldn’t cost more money like the others, it would not save the Steelers even one dollar as Fitzpatrick’s contract signed by the Dolphins was fully guaranteed. Given the various factors of the Steelers giving up a first-round pick for Fitzpatrick, his two-time All-Pro status, and the fact he is on his rookie deal which costs the Steelers minimally towards the salary cap, Fitzpatrick will be in Black & Gold in 2021. Also, look for the Steelers to pick up Fitzpatrick’s fifth-year option this offseason.

So these are the only four players where it would not benefit the Steelers salary cap by releasing them prior to June 1. While there are plenty of other players who would carry a large dead-money value which would detract to the team for moving on, actually costing the Steelers cap space (or not gaining a single dollar) by their departure means these four players won’t be going anywhere. Of course, this is strictly from a numbers perspective. When factoring on-the-field performance, it would be difficult for the Steelers to cut ties with any of these four players.

Stay tuned to BTSC for upcoming articles on players whose dead money outweighs their savings as well as players who give the most cap savings versus the dead money hit.

Podcast: Steelers contracts, know when to hold’ em and when to fold ‘em

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 11:00am

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Steelers 2021 season has 19 unrestricted free agents already for the Steelers to have to deal with. There are big names like Bud Dupree. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Al Villanueva and James Conner to name a few who need to be addressed. The Steelers also have some difficult decisions to make with players going into the last year of their contracts. Who will the black-and-gold be able to retain and who will Steeler Nation have to say goodbye to? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment on the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • What contracts are too much for the Steelers to handle in 2021?
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

The Steelers face a daunting future in the young, loaded AFC

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 10:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers face a disconcerting future in the AFC conference filled with talented young quarterbacks.

The NFL is a quarterback driven league. The simple truth of the matter remains you either have a QB capable of winning the big game, or you don't. If you don't, you better find one by whatever means necessary. Draft one, trade for one, or sign one in free agency: the means doesn't really matter, just the final results. This doesn't bode well for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who's franchise QB appears to be on his last legs, quite literally. He appeared to struggle with backpedaling when taking snaps from center after injuring his knees against the Dallas Cowboys. This impacts the running game and the ability to utilize play action. Arthritic knees has been deemed the culprit, which can be managed but not cured. Just one of the unwanted byproducts of a long athletic career.

I have zero concerns about Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired throwing arm after a season where he displayed the arm talent necessary to still make all the throws. That was truly impressive coming off rather extensive elbow reconstructive surgery. Fellow greybeards Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still posses NFL caliber arm strength, but neither have had their throwing arms rebuilt. This season we saw elder statesmen Phillip Rivers and Drew Brees have efficient seasons while dealing with some injuries and serious decline in arm strength. Rivers was unable to reach the end zone from near midfield on a last second Hail Mary against the Buffalo Bills in their playoff game that turned out to be the last pass attempt of his season.

The greatest opponent for all the aforementioned Hall of Fame caliber signal callers mentioned would undoubtedly be Father Time, although the incomparable Brady continues to defy the odds. Even if the physical ability remains strong, the mental resolve and internal desire to commit to the whole process necessary to compete at the highest level often fades over time. That's when many elite QBs realize it is time to walk away. When that moment happens is impossible to predict, evidenced when former Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck walked away unexpectedly.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers face plenty of huge decisions this off season that will impact their franchise for years to come, none bigger than how to handle Roethlisberger's troubling contract situation. For Ben, the decision to return or retire turns out to be multifaceted. Tough questions must be asked, and answered honestly by all parties involved.

If the Steelers doubt in anyway that they have a realistic opportunity to be a contender next season, does Ben want to put his body through the grind of another season? Especially with the very real possibility that the pandemic could negatively impact the experience yet again next season. Only he knows how much it impacted his enjoyment and experience this season, how much it affected his family and personal life. There are no guarantees if and when life will return to some sort of normalcy.

I feel certain that Ben doesn't want to return for one last long shot at a title if the salary cap ramifications damage the Steelers chances of remaining competitive for an inordinate amount of time after his retirement. He loves and respects the franchise and wants to be remembered as the Steelers legend he is. It wouldn't shock me to see him remain with the franchise in some capacity in the future after his playing days have ended. Roethlisberger and the Steelers have that type of rapport and nobody wants a repeat of the strained relationship former Steelers great Terry Bradshaw had with the franchise.

There are no easy answers to the situation at hand; particularly with the time and cap constraints. The manner in which the Steelers approach free agency will be greatly affected by Roethlisberger's decision. His decision will have ramifications on many of his teammates contract negotiations moving forward. Can any team not considered a realistic title contender justify having possibly two of the highest paid defenders at their positions tying up an inordinate amount of the salary cap without the presence of a franchise QB on the roster?

For parts of the past decade, the Steelers were offensively top heavy, talent wise and financially. Regrettably they were unable to field a superior offense and defense necessary to bring home another Lombardi Trophy at the same time. Once Ben Roethlisberger does hang up the cleats the Steelers very well could find themselves in a similar but opposite dilemma. The Steelers must avoid looking back over the next five years and lament wasting the full impact of a championship caliber defense due to a offense not quite holding up their end of the bargain.

Many Steelers fans have lost faith in Roethlisberger's ability to lead the Steelers to a championship. The suggested solutions and possible replacements have been both numerous and creative, if often ill conceived. Steelers fans are nothing if not passionate, and many are frustrated. Frustration is justified, after another late season collapse and unfathomable losses to both the Bengals and Browns.

The path to any Super Bowl aspirations used to pass through New England for any AFC hopeful, but that is no longer the case. Both the defending champions Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes; and their challenger in this week's conference championship game, the Buffalo Bills with Josh Allen, appear primed to battle for the conference supremacy for years to come. If the Steelers are to remain competitive in their own division, much less the conference, the Steelers brass will have to be both fearless and efficient in their transactions, with more than a little good fortune thrown in for good measure.

We all have our own ideas about what needs to transpire moving forward, but the only opinions that truly matter belong to the Steelers hierarchy and Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers desperately need to rebuild the offensive line to provide Ben Roethlisberger with some semblance of a rushing attack to take the pressure off their veteran leader. A more balanced offense is an absolute must, regardless of who ends up playing QB next season.

Maybe it's because of my Black and Gold glasses, or what I hope to be the wisdom acquired from being a faithful Steelers fanatic for over four decades, but I have faith that Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers management know far more than I and will decide on what's best for the franchise. Keep the faith, Steelers Nation!

Contrary to popular belief, being an offensive coordinator is the hardest job in sports

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Fans love to think they could call plays, but it isn’t as easy as you may think.

The recent dismissal of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has been met with joy throughout Steelers Nation. Fichtner was widely regarded as an ineffective play-caller who served more as Ben Roethlisberger’s caddy than as a legitimate coordinator. His firing triggered a slew of remarks in the comments sections of numerous articles here at Behind The Steel Curtain and elsewhere that suggested, given the talent the Steelers possess, anyone with a remedial understanding of offense could have done a better job calling plays.

Granted, Fichtner struggled mightily in Pittsburgh. The rushing attack disappeared, finishing last in the league in 2020, and the scheme devolved into a simple menu of quick passes from static 11-personnel formations. As opposing defenses caught on, Fichtner had no Plan B, and a once-promising season that began with an 11-0 start flamed out spectacularly.

Fans were right to be angry. They deserve more from their coordinator than Pittsburgh got from Fichtner. His dismissal was justified.

The perception many have of what it takes to be an offensive coordinator, however, is misguided. Again, there is legitimate reason for frustration with the offense in Pittsburgh. But to suggest nearly anyone could have done better is naïve. I don’t write that to be demeaning or condescending. It’s simply true.

The coordinator position is, in a word, grueling. It requires a tireless work ethic and a mastery of organization, anticipation, attention to detail, strategy and, on game day, high-level thinking not found in many individuals. It requires abnormally thick skin, too. Few jobs in America are second-guessed as frequently as NFL play-caller. Randy Fichtner failed in Pittsburgh, but the thing at which he failed is something few are qualified to do. It is the most challenging coaching job in sports.

To understand why that is, and why being a coordinator is so much more than simply calling plays, it’s worth taking a closer look at exactly what the job entails. I reached out to Paul Callahan, who is the offensive coordinator at the high school where I coach, and asked him to summarize his task-list as he prepares for an opponent. Paul has over 30 years of coaching experience and is one of the brightest football minds, at any level, I have ever been around. He is a former high school head coach, has coached for several successful college programs and, at our school, has been the offensive coordinator for the past six seasons. Under Paul’s guidance, we have produced four consecutive All-Conference quarterbacks and a host of school records. We refer to him as “The Quarterback Whisperer” for his ability to develop players at the game’s most important position.

“The key to being a good coordinator,” Paul said, “other than putting in the work, is to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to work towards both of those - playing to the strengths and working around the weaknesses.

“For instance, I might like throwing to the backs but if the backs aren’t great at that, we don’t do it. Or we may like throwing intermediate routes but bad things happen when we do — sacks, incompletions, interceptions — so we stop throwing them. It’s not about what you want to do, it’s about what you can do. The goal is to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.”

Paul’s comments about strengths and weaknesses resonate as they pertain to the 2020 Steelers. Early on, as they bolted out to their 10-0 start, the Steelers were mitigating their weaknesses (a middling run game, an immobile quarterback with diminishing deep-ball skills) by getting the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hand quickly, targeting rookie Chase Claypool on deep throws and mixing the pass with the run. As the season progressed, defenses caught on and adjusted. Fichtner eliminated the corresponding weaknesses but never identified or developed a strength to replace them. This crippled the offense by making the Steelers simple to defend.

As for Paul’s comment about “putting in the work,” it is mind-boggling how much study and preparation running an offense requires. Paul assembled a list of his weekly duties in order to have us prepared for our games on Friday nights, which I have posted below. This is a list for a high school coordinator, mind you, where time is limited. For professional coaches, the prep work runs much deeper.

Offensive Coordinator - Weekly Duties

Saturday

  • Watch game from previous night; break down details to discuss with team and individual players
  • Speak to individual players about the game - mostly QB-related or things needing to be addressed immediately
  • Watch film of upcoming opposition - just to get a feel for their defense
  • Start preliminary list of new formations, motions, shifts, pass/run schemes for this week

Sunday

  • Break down opposition’s defense - focusing on the front vs formations and coverages - how will they defend us? Who have they played that is most like us? What is their philosophy on defense?
  • Study opposition’s defensive personnel - Who are their best players?
  • Study opposition’s scheme and players for weaknesses
  • Continue preliminary list of new formations, motions, shifts, pass/run schemes for this week
  • Break down Friday’s game film for Efficiency study - Situations, run/pass, field position
  • Compare efficiency of game to previous games - Identify areas in need of improvement
  • Grade position groups and make notes on Hudl for the different position groups from Friday night’s game - send notes to players
  • Make notes on opposition’s film for our players - send notes to players

Monday

  • Study opponent’s defense based on situations and field positions
  • Put yourself in opposing Defensive Coordinator’s shoes - Big question: How would I defend us, if I were their DC based on their philosophy?
  • Start preliminary game-plan based on situation and field position
  • Narrow down list of new formations, motions, shifts, pass/run schemes for this week
  • Prepare practice outline for the week - which plays will be emphasized on what days - what individual position work needs to be addressed based on new things and past week’s game?
  • Check protection scheme for potential problems with opponent’s blitz/stunt
  • Prepare practice schedule and script for Monday’s practice
  • Finalize new install for week
  • Speak with QBs about install
  • Install new offense with team
  • Drill new install with team
  • Drill with position groups things that need to be addressed
  • Watch film to finalize game plan for the week
  • Compile a list of run and pass plays for the week and from what formations/shifts/motions they will be run - Continue to game-plan plays based on situations/field position
  • Compile preliminary list of plays to run in Tuesday’s practice scripts (Group Run, Pass Skelly, & Team)

Tuesday

  • Finalize Tuesday practice schedule: times and individual periods/areas of emphasis
  • Plan Routes on Air (QB/Receivers) and Run Frame (QB/RB)
  • Finalize Tuesday scripts for Group Run, Skelly and Team
  • Script Group Run, Skelly and Team based on formation, field position and hash
  • Finalize Pass Protection and script Defensive Stunts/Blitzes for OL/RB Pass Protection Period
  • Script scout defense coverages/blitzes for Pass Skelly
  • Script scout defense front, blitzes/stunts and coverages for Team offense
  • Practice with QB/RB in option run game
  • Practice with QB/WR/TE in Pass Routes on Air
  • Practice with QB/RB/OL in Group Run
  • Practice with QB/RB/Receivers in Pass Skelly
  • Practice with Team
  • Meet with individual players and coaches after practice if necessary
  • Watch Practice Film of Group Run, Skelly and Team
  • Put comments on Skelly and Team for QB, RB and WRs on Hudl
  • Compile Preliminary list of plays to run in Wednesday’s practice scripts (Group Run, Pass Skelly, & Team)

Wednesday

  • Finalize Wednesday practice schedule - times and individual periods areas of emphasis
  • Plan out Routes on Air (QB/Receivers) and Run Frame (QB/RB)
  • Finalize Wednesday scripts for Group Run, Skelly and Team
  • Script Group Run, Skelly and Team based on formation, field position and hash
  • Make any changes to Pass Protection and Script Defensive Stunts/Blitzes for OL/RB Pass Protection Period
  • Script scout defense coverages/blitzes for Pass Skelly
  • Script scout defense front, blitzes/stunts and coverages for Team offense
  • Practice with QB/RB in option run game
  • Practice with QB/WR/TE in Pass Routes on Air
  • Practice with QB/RB/OL in Group Run
  • Practice with QB/RB/Receivers in Pass Skelly
  • Practice with Team
  • Talk with QB about call sheet - likes and dislikes
  • Meet with individual players and coaches after practice if necessary
  • Watch Practice Film of Group Run, Skelly and Team
  • Put comments on Skelly and Team for QB, RB and WRs on Hudl
  • Compile Preliminary list of plays to run in Thursday’s practice scripts (Group Run, Pass Skelly, & Team)

Thursday

  • Finalize & Script Red Zone/Goal Line Offense based on hash mark
  • Narrow down offense to 48 plays (including Red Zone/Goal Line) for Thursday’s walk-through practice
  • Script Team offense practice schedule based on field position/hash/formation and situation
  • Eliminate plays/formations from game-plan based on practice this week
  • Finalize gadget plays for game-plan
  • Script scout defense front, blitzes/stunts and coverages for Team offense and Red Zone/Goal Line
  • Practice with Team
  • Meet with individual players and coaches after practice as needed
  • Watch Practice film and contact individual players or coaches via Hudl for anything that needs to be addressed
  • Eliminate plays from game-plan based on Thursday’s practice
  • Begin to finalize game-plan based on situations

Friday

  • Finalize run game/RPO plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize pass game-plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize shot-plays in game-plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize situations in game-plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize field position game-plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize openers in game-plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize game-plan against other potential defenses/coverages
  • Finalize ways to get ball to best players in game-plan based on formations/motions/shifts
  • Finalize Script - 1st play must be good vs any potential look
  • Fill out call sheet
  • Identify opposition’s defense ASAP on game day and make adjustments to game-plan as called for
  • Call the game

If you made it through all of that, you’ve probably realized it’s an incredible amount of work. Why is it so much work? Because defensive coaches are similarly detailed. If you aren’t pathologically thorough in your preparation, your weaknesses and tendencies will be exposed.

You may have noticed that the final item on Paul’s list — the very last thing — is the thing so many fans focus upon: calling the game. Clearly, this is not a spontaneous process. There are moments of spontaneity in real time, when decisions are made based upon instinct or sudden revelation. But calling a football game is the result of meticulous preparation. It is the culmination of a process, not its inception.

Still, an OC must be a great in-game play-caller. He can do all the prep in the world but if he can’t apply it to a live situation it’s worthless. To get an idea for how difficult play-calling in real time can be, try this exercise. The next time you’re watching a game (casually), try calling plays between snaps. Figure you have about eight seconds from the time a play is blown dead to the time you have to get a call to your quarterback. You have to include personnel group and formation in addition to the actual play-call and must consider down-and-distance and the likely defense you’re going to face. You also must think about the calls you’ve made previously so your opponent won’t anticipate them, as well as the calls you’ve made that have worked or not worked. Do all of that in eight seconds. Again and again and again.

I make no excuses for Randy Fichtner here. Even the most casual fan could see his offense was dysfunctional. Those who ascend to the coordinator level in the NFL are among the best in the world at what they do. We should expect from them a performance befitting those qualifications. Let’s not demean the job by suggesting it is simple, however. A resume built on playground football and Madden doesn’t disqualify anyone from criticizing poor play-calling. It doesn’t make them capable of running an NFL offense, either. Sometimes we forget that.

Can we please stop saying the Steelers have wasted talent over the last 10 years?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire

Have the Steelers been wasting talented rosters year after year, or have they made those players better while wearing the Black & Gold?

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 season is over. And before it even takes place, the Steelers did not win the Super Bowl this season. In fact, it’s been 10 season since they have even been to the big game.

As is usually the case when a team, like 30 others in the league each year, comes up short on the season, the fan base comes out in droves saying exactly what is wrong with this team.

Well, there’s a lot wrong with this team.

The Steelers are getting older in places where they need to get younger, numerous players are no longer under contract going into next season, players that are still under contract have inflated salary cap hits due to constant restructuring, and the team just can’t find a way to run the football.

Did I hit the major points?

Oh yeah, and then there’s the coaches.

Trust me, the coaches should not get a pass for places they have come up short and doing their jobs in making the Pittsburgh Steelers the best team it can be every season. Just like a quarterback should be blamed for overthrowing a receiver and giving an easy interception, coaches should be blamed when making poor decisions or failing to develop a reasonable scheme.

But as we often do as fans, we sometimes take our narratives to the next level. Sometimes, this level is quite unreasonable. One statement I’ve seen floating around on various places discussing the Steelers on the inter-web is how the Steelers have wasted their talent during the Mike Tomlin era.

Not only is a statement almost impossible to prove, it makes a whole lot of assumptions which should not be made.

First, define talent. Is it making Pro Bowls? Is it being selected in the first round of the NFL draft? Is it just who you think is good and like to cheer for? The problem is, talent is relative. What someone may deem as being very talented, others may not. As Steelers fans, we are very biased and unreliable evaluators of talent. We have players that we love that we claim are better than they really are. More often than the previous example, there are plenty of players on the Steelers where the fan base are sure they are terrible and yet the team keeps around.

As fans, I would say our track record is pretty bad. We’re terrible evaluators of talent as a whole. Obviously, some people are better than others. But remember, it wasn’t long ago Bud Dupree was a big mistake for the Steelers in drafting him in the first round. And now, there are many who can’t stand the thought of losing him to free agency.

For those who are among the crowd that says the Steelers have wasted their talent for the last 10 years, I want to give a counter argument: The Steelers have over-performed with their talent they have and, therefore, cannot draft high enough to constantly get game-changing players every season.

I’m not saying I believe this argument, but it is just as valid as saying that the talent was wasted. In this case, we can actually look at players who have gone on from the Pittsburgh Steelers to help shape the argument. If the Steelers are so terrible at wasting their talent, then I’m sure players are just tearing up the league the moment they get out of Pittsburgh. We all know how true this statement is, right?

Let’s look at the extensive list of former Steelers who have gone on to make the Pro Bowl since they have left Pittsburgh. Since it’s been 10 Years since the Steelers made their last Super Bowl, let’s start that far back. Here we go…

Emmanuel Sanders.

And we’re done. The only player to go on from Pittsburgh in the last 10 years and have more success than what they did with the Steelers was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Earning two Pro Bowls when he played in Denver in both the 2014 and 2016 season, Sanders only had 2,000 yards in four seasons and 11 touchdowns in Pittsburgh. But when another wide receiver drafted in the same year constantly outperformed Sanders, he became expendable.

Speaking of that other receiver drafted the same year as Sanders, the Steelers have recently had two All-Pro players leave the Steelers and found very limited success. Granted both of these players are still alive in the 2020 postseason, their contributions to their current teams are nowhere close to what they were doing in Pittsburgh. So in looking at these types of players, it appears they over-performed in Pittsburgh and their talent is being wasted on their current teams.

Let’s just look at the players who moved on from the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and how they performed in 2020. If their talent was wasted in Pittsburgh, I’m sure they were all named to the Pro Bowl this season.

The biggest name who left the Steelers in free agency after the 2019 season was defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Moving to the Philadelphia Eagles, Hargrave didn’t jump onto the scene anymore in Philadelphia they what he already had in Pittsburgh. With fewer tackles than he had the previous two years, Hargrave did have 4.5 sacks in 2020 where he only had 4.0 in 2019. But Hargrave’s 2018 season had 6.5 sacks while he was in Pittsburgh. In looking at PFF grades, Hargrave went from a top 10 interior defender to ranked number 76 in the league in 2020. His replacement on the Steelers, Tyson Alualu, slid into that top 10 position according to PFF as he finished ranked 8th.

Another player who left the Steelers this past season was Tyler Matakevich who had a very equal season in Buffalo to what he did in Pittsburgh. B.J. Finney left the Steelers for Seattle but didn’t earn a starting spot or even last the season. Finney ended up being traded to the Cincinnati Bengals and did not have a single offensive snap in the 2020 season for either team.

Other players who left the Steelers were tight end Nick Vannett who did have one more catch for 33 yes the large in Denver this season but did actually have a touchdown. The other player lost was Sean Davis to the Washington Football Team who ended up releasing him and he signed back with the Steelers. Artie Burns did go to the Chicago Bears, but suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.

I’m still trying to figure out if the Steelers are wasting so much talent why players aren’t exploding onto the scene the minute they get out of their dreaded black and gold uniform.

Maybe it’s the players the Steelers aren’t letting go which people deem to be the superior talent. After all, the defense is loaded with a lot a first round draft picks. Looking at the players who started in Week 1 for the Steelers, there were eight former first-round picks with the only exceptions being Stephan Tuitt, Steven Nelson, Vince Williams, and Mike Hilton. Of those eight players, three of them were not drafted by the Steelers. While the Steelers did use the first round draft pick to acquire Mikah Fitzpatrick, both Joe Haden and Tyson Alualu were cast offs from their previous teams. And what have they done since joining the Steelers? Alualu had arguably the best season of his career this past year in Pittsburgh while Hayden earned Pro Bowl honors last season which was something he hadn’t done since 2014. It’s just extremely difficult to prove that these players would be so talented other places that are being wasted in Pittsburgh.

Am I saying that Steelers Nation should be complacent with not winning a playoff game since 2016? Not at all. But winning in the NFL is tough, and winning in the playoffs is even tougher. It’s not something every franchise can do.

I’m sure there is a large number of NFL fans from various fan bases who won’t win Super Bowl LV who feel their talent was wasted by not bringing home a championship. It’s just how it works.

Saying the coaches are wasting the talent is actually a pretty big cop out, but it’s not one without reason. Right now, at this point of the season, the only thing teams out of the running can do is change their coaching staff. They can’t sign new players until March. They can’t draft the next big thing as that won’t happen until the end of April. The only thing teams can do right now is make changes to their coaching staff. Therefore, that’s got to be what needs changed.

Any time a team comes up short of winning the Super Bowl, it’s easy to say they wasted talent. But asking yourself if the team was really as talented as you thought they were might also be something to ask yourself before calling for the head of every coach at every position. It might just be those coaches getting the most out of their players after all.

Steelers have three players listed on ESPN’s Top 50 Free Agents list

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There are some big names on the list, and the Steelers have all there in the Top 25.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long list of Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) who are about to hit the open market, and some on that list are some pretty big names. When you have players like Bud Dupree, James Conner, Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton, among others, who are not guaranteed to be back in 2021, fans take notice.

Of all the players, who are the biggest names on the Steelers’ list?

ESPN put out their Top 50 Free Agent list for 2021 NFL Free Agency, and the Steelers had three of their own make the list. In fact, those three players made ESPN’s Top 25.

Take a look at who made the list, and where they rank below:

7. Bud Dupree, Edge

2020 team: Pittsburgh Steelers | Age entering 2021 season: 27

Since the start of the 2019 season, Dupree has more sacks (19.5) than all but seven players in the NFL — and that’s despite missing the final five games of this season because of a torn ACL. A significant injury in a contract year isn’t ideal, but it’s also not the market buster that it once was. Assuming there are no reported complications, a pass-rusher like Dupree is going to find significant interest on the open market.

21. Alejandro Villanueva, OT

2020 team: Pittsburgh Steelers | Age entering 2021 season: 32

Even if his best days are behind him, Villanueva plays a position that is very difficult to replace in free agency. Teams consider it a win to find a serviceable left tackle in free agency, and he certainly qualifies in that regard.

25. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

2020 team: Pittsburgh Steelers | Age entering 2021 season: 24

There’s no other way to put it: Smith-Schuster had a confounding contract year. Playing in the Steelers’ short passing game, he caught 97 passes — ninth most in the NFL — but averaged only 8.6 yards per catch. That was the third lowest among the wide receivers who caught at least 50 passes in 2020. The performance isn’t likely to change teams’ perceptions of his potential as a downfield receiver, but it could prompt at least a closer look.

Of the aforementioned free agents, which would you like to see the Steelers keep? Of course, the salary cap plays a huge role in the decision, but which player would you love for the team to bring back?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for NFL Free Agency and the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.

Listen to the Hall of Fame Selection Committee vouch for Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 5:00am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers could have two more members enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and

The Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of members of their organization enshrined forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. There are so many Steelers busts in those hallowed halls many who vote on who gets in, and is left out, think there are too many Steelers in the Hall of Fame.

That is what we like to call the Steelers bias.

Nonetheless, there are two prominent figures vying for induction in 2021, and with the vote/announcement just around the corner, members of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee spoke on behalf of those who are hoping to get the good news phone call in just a few weeks.

For the Steelers, the two who are finalists to be inducted in the Class of 2021 are Alan Faneca and Bill Nunn. Faneca has been a finalist the past several years, with this being Nunn’s first time being considered for induction.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame shared the video of the Committee members speaking for those involved, and you can see the two speeches below:

Ed Bouchette of The Athletic speaking on behalf of Alan Faneca

The HOF Selection Committee is meeting virtually today to discuss the candidates for the #PFHOF21 Class.

Next up: Selector @EdBouchette presented on behalf of Modern-Era Player Finalist @afan66.@steelers pic.twitter.com/qeyR4TQB7r

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 19, 2021

Former NFL executive Bill Polian speaking on behalf of Bill Nunn

The HOF Selection Committee is meeting virtually today to discuss the candidates for the #PFHOF21 Class.

Next up: Selector and HOFer Bill Polian presented on behalf of Contributor Finalist Bill Nunn. @steelers pic.twitter.com/9z3OdNuHlU

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 19, 2021

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as Faneca and Nunn hope to join Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell getting inducted in the summer of 2021.

Podcast: Why the Steelers should target a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/20/2021 - 4:30am

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

The Steelers have many needs on their draft board for 2021, with offensive line, running back and linebacker hovering at the top of the list. But it is paramount that the Steelers target a quarterback in the draft as well. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Why the Steelers should target a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Predicting the rest of the Steelers’ offensive coaching staff

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From guys that have directly worked under Matt Canada to guys with NFL experience, here’s how I predict the offensive coaching staff to round out.

With rumors heavy leaning toward Matt Canada getting promoted as the Steelers next offensive coordinator, I decided to take a hard look at the rest of the Steelers offensive coaching staff and try to figure out who they will hire to fill their coaching vacancies. At the end of the day these positions will be filled by the discretion of head coach Mike Tomlin, but I would anticipate that Canada will have some say in the matter.

Kicking things off, let’s quickly look at the offensive coaches the Steelers have retained. Only two positional coaches remain from the 2020 season, those being Eddie Faulkner who will reprise his role working with the running backs, and Ike Hilliard will once again lead the receiving group. Outside of that the Steelers have two offensive assistant coaches on the roster in Adrian Klemm, who was the understudy of former offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, and Blaine Stewart who helps out coach Hilliard.

This leaves job openings at offensive line, tight ends, and quarterbacks which I think should be a separate person than Matt Canada. Assistant positional coaches are impossible to predict as they really could be anybody with college/pro experience. But I will put on my guessing cap to deduce who will lead the remaining positional groups.

Tight Ends Coach: Dave Bucar Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Coach Bucar worked under Matt Canada during Canada’s time as the university of Marylands head coach. Bucar worked as the Terrapins tight end coach but has since moved on to become the assistant head coach, offensive line coach, and run game coordinator for FCS’ Valparaiso Crusaders. Matt Canada himself was quoted as saying Coach Bucar is “one of the great young minds in the game of football today. He is a tremendous teacher and has a work ethic that is unmatched.”

Offensive Line Coach: Doug Marrone Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The former head man in Jacksonville has found himself out of work. While he failed as a head coach, Marrone did lead the Jaguars to their best season since 2007 when he led the Jags to a 10-6 and an appearance in the AFC title game. Marrone got his start in coaching as an offensive line coach before working his way up the ranks until he earned the top position in the game.

Marrone does have a link, albeit small, with the Steelers having spent the 1991 training camp as a guest coach under Chuck Noll. The Steelers coaching staff should see its average age dropping this offseason I think the Steelers need someone like Marrone who Canada could lean on for guidance while he rebuilds the struggling offensive line. This hire would be a no brainer to me.

Quaterbacks Coach: Tim Kelly Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This was by far the hardest coach to predict. The Steelers love going with guys with some sort of ties to the organization like Pittsburgh area native, Ben McAdoo. Or maybe someone with more experience like Jay Gruden. But I really think the Steelers need to follow the trend of employing a younger coaching staff.

Kelly is just 34 years old and by all accounts is a bright young mind of the NFL. Thankfully for the Steelers, Kelly was apart of a dumpster fire Texans organization that will likely keep him from getting an offensive coordinator job for at least another year. Kelly has done a fabulous job of developing Deshaun Watson into one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and his tutelage could really help guys like Mason Rudolph and whoever the Steelers choose to one day replace Ben Roethlisberger. This would be a major win if the Steelers could land this guy.

What do you think? Do you agree with my choices for the Steelers next offensive positional coaches? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Chase Claypool named to PFWA All-Rookie Team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 12:51pm
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Steelers 2020 second-round pick was one of two rookie wide receivers selected to the team.

The Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-Rookie Team was announced on Tuesday and the Steelers’ top draft pick for the 2020 NFL draft was selected to the team. Wide receiver Chase Claypool was the only member of the Steelers to earn All-Rookie honors.

Congratulations to @ChaseClaypool for being named to the @PFWAwriters All-Rookie Team!

: https://t.co/yJZzVRhQMK pic.twitter.com/UyhTBIqTOe

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 19, 2021

The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the 32 NFL teams on a daily basis. They are made up of sports writers from various sources such as The Athletic, ESPN.com, profootballtalk.com, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Newsday.

Chase Claypool tied the Steelers rookie record in receiving touchdowns (9) and total touchdowns (11) in 2020. Both marks were tied with Louis Lipps in 1984 and the total touchdowns also is tied with Franco Harris in 1972. Claypool also led the NFL in receiving touchdowns among rookies.

Claypool finished the regular season appearing in all 16 games where he had 873 receiving yards along with his nine receiving touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. In the Steelers Wild Card Game, Claypool added another five receptions for 59 yards and two more touchdowns.

Claypool was joined on the All-Rookie team by fellow wide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.

Interesting enough, Claypool did not end up on Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie Team as he was edged out by Jefferson, Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals, and Brandon Aiyuk of the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, two other Steelers rookies made the PFF All-Rookie Team in guard Kevin Dotson and outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, neither of which were selected to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. Dotson was not selected in place of Damian Lewis of the Seattle Seahawks and Mike Onwenu of the New England Patriots. As for Highsmith, PFWA selects their team where edge rushers are included on the defensive line. For 2020, three defensive tackles were chosen and only one edge rusher in Chase Young, who was also PFWA’s 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The entire PFWA All-Rookie Team can be seen here:

Chargers' Herbert PFWA Rookie and Offensive Rookie of the Year, Washington's Young Defensive Rookie of the Year; 2020 All-Rookie Team named #PFWAAwards https://t.co/hvjJX4nojT

— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 19, 2021

Congratulations to Chase Claypool on his selection and an outstanding rookie season in 2020.

Reports of Matt Canada being the next Steelers offensive coordinator might have been premature

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 11:15am
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers still haven’t picked an offensive coordinator, despite rumors over the weekend.

As Pittsburgh Steelers fans checked several social media platforms over the weekend, there was a significant amount of news surrounding their favorite football team. Coaches who weren’t coming back, reports of Ben Roethlisberger’s return and also reports of Matt Canada being promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.

Immediately fans reacted to Canada’s promotion, but maybe the reports were false. Maybe someone jumped the gun on this news?

According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that very well might have happened.

Here is what he had to say about the situation:

“A team source would only confirm to the Post-Gazette that Canada is “a candidate” for the position vacated when Fichtner was not rehired last week. Coaches and several offensive players have not been told if Canada, who turns 49 on Tuesday, will get the job, though the move would appear to be a logical one if the Steelers plan on Ben Roethlisberger returning for the 2021 season.

“Canada would keep the offensive terminology the same, which would be important for Roethlisberger, who, at 39, would not have to learn an entirely new system.”

The fact the Steelers didn’t interview any other candidates, at least they didn’t make those lists public, should have been a red flag the news might have been a bit early. The Steelers would have to follow the Rooney rule, which would require the interviewing of minority candidates.

That doesn’t mean Canada won’t become the team’s next play caller, but it just means these early reports might have put the cart before the horse.

In the meantime, make sure you stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes not just on this story, but all things Pittsburgh Steelers, as the 2021 offseason gets underway and the organization prepares for free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Could the Steelers be repeating recent history?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at the last regular season game of the 2020 season.

The Steelers did not renew the contract of Randy Fichtner and stayed in-house with Matt Canada. Is their overhaul of the coaching staff getting off to a good start? This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast, The Steelers Hangover. On this show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1

Part 2

Building the Steelers’ 2021 backfield

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The Steelers need to add some juice to the running back position

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to fix some serious issues in their backfield this offseason. This isn't an issue they can really brush off for another season. The Steelers can, and will, help these guys by injecting some new blood into their offensive line, but they still need something different in the backfield. But at the end, of the day, the Steelers still had the lowest total rushing yardage in the league and the lowest yards per carry. A team cannot justify not improving the position with stats like those.

.@JamesConner_ scores from a yard out

NBC https://t.co/tI5aUTu7te pic.twitter.com/d4pfNAFOKz

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 11, 2021

Let’s start off with the backs currently on the roster. I anticipate NFL rosters going back to normal next year and shrinking its practice squad size. That means the Steelers wouldn’t have any use in keeping Wendall Smallwood on the roster. Next, Jaylen Samuels rarely played as the team’s fourth runner will have a hard time holding onto a roster spot. Anthony McFarland Jr. showed great explosive ability, but lacked the vision of an NFL runner. McFarland will be on the team, but more likely in a scat-back type role. Benny Snell Jr. fell out of favor with the Steelers coaches after his 100 yard performance way back in Week 1. To be honest, I can't see the Steelers carrying four running backs again, and with a poor training camp Snell could be cut or traded. Lastly, that leaves free agent James Conner. Conner has never made it through a season 100% healthy, nor has he ever cracked 1,000 yards on a season. However, with the value of a running back at an all-time low, and Conner being a Pittsburgh guy, I can see him playing on a home town discount contract.

Here’s the thing with Conner, if he comes back he will be the teams 1B to whomever they select in the 2021 NFL Draft. As far as returning players go, I predict it will be Anthony McFarland and James Conner as the back ups to somebody completely new to the roster. That new guy, in my opinion will come to the Steelers by virtue of the second round. Before I get to who that player could be, I should reiterate the importance of improving the offensive line and doing so in the first round.

There is one running back that checks every box the Steelers like when they draft players. Javonte Williams, from the North Carolina University, is an underclassmen that's just 20 years old. On top of that, he only has 416 NCAA touches in his career. He has a ton of tread left on him and if you're going to invest any high draft capital into a running back you better be able to get at least his rookie deal out of him. Williams has breakaway speed unseen in the Steelers backfield since Willie Parker. Standing at 5’10” and weighing in at 220 pounds, Williams also brings the power running game. He’s the combination of size, speed and power that teams drool over, and he has patience compared to that of Kansas City Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell...

Steelers twitter drafts: Najee Harris
-Senior
-23 years old
-718 NCAA touches
-Projected 4.5-4.6 40 time
-Feature back
-First round pick

Steelers draft: Javonte Williams
-Underclassmen
-20 years old
-416 NCAA touches
-Projected 4.35-4.4 40 time
-Runs well in comity
-Day 2 pick

— Michael Beck (@MichaelBeck56) January 18, 2021

If it was up to me, James Conner and Javonte Williams would be a one-two punch in the backfield until Williams becomes the feature runner. McFarland, can play as the Jet motion, occasional third down type back, and if his vision develops can be the change of pace runner to pair with Williams in the future.

What do you think? What will the Steelers backfield depth chart look like come Week 1? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

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