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Black and Gold Links: The time when Art Rooney II speaks, yet says nothing at all

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 4:28am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how on Wednesday Steelers Team President Art Rooney II spoke to the media, went on KDKA in Pittsburgh and even joined the crew at Steelers Live. He did a lot of talking, but what might be the most notable is how he said very little.

Maybe he is learning from Mike Tomlin, or vice versa, but those who were hanging to every word waiting for something significant — were left hanging.

Let’s get to the news:

Tim Benz: Art Rooney II’s take on Steelers ‘circus’ is pure ‘nonsense’

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II had his annual season-ending powwow with the team’s local print outlets Wednesday.

He made one comment that was so far from true, it couldn’t see the truth with the Hubble telescope.

Rooney was asked about the perception that his team is a circus and full of distractions.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s nonsense,” Rooney said .

I’m told he actually made that statement with a straight face and with no fingers crossed.

This year alone, the team’s helicopter-ridin’ star wide receiver skipped practices and meetings — twice — and was sent home for the season finale. He mocked the coach on Instagram with a former team icon, too.

In between those moments, Antonio Brown set a new land-speed record on McKnight Road, threatened a reporter, accused another of racism, threw another sideline tantrum and was in the news for throwing furniture off a balcony.

That team icon — James Harrison — has been on a crusade to undermine coach Mike Tomlin’s authority. Yet he was brought back to Heinz Field for the Super Bowl XLIII 10th anniversary celebration and was given a standing ovation on Rooney’s field.

Another team legend — Rocky Bleier — declared he was “done” with the team on Facebook, then recanted. The starting quarterback openly questioned the draft and criticized his receivers on a few occasions.

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell seemingly welched on an assumed plan to play on a franchise tag, tied up $14.5 million in unpaid cap space and then spent the next few months intermittently mocking the club, laughing at his absence from it and flirting with other organizations.

Meanwhile, his teammates ripped the running back and raided his locker in front of the media.

On the field, the kicker who signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason had a season-long meltdown, and the team blamed an X-ray machine for a loss against the awful Oakland Raiders while gagging away a 7-2-1 record to miss the playoffs.

After that, valued offensive line coach Mike Munchak jumped ship for the same job in Denver, and outside linebackers coach Joey Porter was fired.

Following Porter’s dismissal, reports — from someone who works for the team’s website, radio network and flagship station — were that Porter “was trying to pit the defense against the offense in a divisive manner.”

That was just in 2018.

(For more, click the link in the headline above...)

Steelers brace for ‘tough’ reality of losing top talent

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

No need to tell Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II about the difficulties of finding transcendent talents.

He has seen three absurdly good players -- linebacker Ryan Shazier, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell -- lead his team to victories only to leave the lineup, potentially for good.

When asked about losing top-15 players such as these, Rooney acknowledged the obvious with the trade discussion around Brown: Talent prevails.

“That’s one reason why we haven’t made any decisions on Antonio yet,” Rooney said in a Wednesday interview with a small group of local reporters.

Loose translation: All-Pros are really hard to find, no matter how difficult. That’s why any exchange for Brown must produce serious draft capital. And the Steelers are hemorrhaging top talent. As a result, this offseason is shaping up to be a test of mettle for an organization that must strengthen the roster on the fly.

The loss of Shazier to a severe spinal injury in late 2017, coupled with Bell’s yearlong holdout and the seemingly inevitable trade of Brown, are nearly impossible to replace on the surface. Shazier wants to continue rehabbing for a return to football, and the Steelers plan to help him with that, but he’s not in the plans for the 2019 roster.

To be sure, the Steelers are good enough to win games without those players. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s due an extension this offseason, gives Pittsburgh a chance in every game.

With a little creativity, they can be right back in contention.

They have $27.72 million in salary-cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. They can create more with roster cuts and restructuring the final year on Roethlisberger’s deal.

”We have a lot to things to evaluate,” Rooney said. “Having a little extra cap space always helps, that’s for sure.”

Rooney said the Steelers feel good about their running-back lineup with “two good, young players” in James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. The Steelers haven’t made a firm decision on whether to place the franchise tag on Bell for a third consecutive year, but Conner made a Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and Samuels is a natural pass-catcher. They can roll with those two players if Bell’s situation has become too explosive.

”We feel like we’re in pretty good shape there,” Rooney said. “The linebacker position is still something we need to address. It’s a challenge, no doubt about it.”

(For more, click the link in the headline above...)

Uncertainty remains after Art Rooney II addresses Steelers offseason plans

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In the wake of a nightmare collapse for his team, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II held his annual meeting with Pittsburgh-area beat writers.

Joe Rutter was our representative for Trib. He joined me for our podcast.

Rooney said one thing in particular that I couldn’t believe. I shared my thoughts on that with Joe.

We also tackled Rooney’s view of an extension for head coach Mike Tomlin.

LISTEN: Recapping Art Rooney’s meeting with Steelers reporters

The owner also discusses the future — or lack thereof — for Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh and the state of the coaching staff.

Le’Veon Bell’s status is still uncertain. And the team has no idea what it is going to do about Ryan Shazier.

Aside from that, it sounds like everything is under control.

Analyzing the cap implications of the Steelers potentially signing Ryan Shazier

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 2:10pm

Ryan Shazier will technically become a free agent this offseason, but the team can keep him on board without breaking the bank.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to pick up Ryan Shazier’s 5th year option, they thought they were locking up one of the most talented inside linebackers in the game before he would be eligible to hit free agency. What they didn’t know was that 5th year option would be viewed as a Godsend for Shazier after he was left motionless from the waist down at Paul Brown Stadium in December of 2017.

Shazier got his money, as 5th year options are guaranteed in the case of injury, and the Steelers even gave it to him in one lump sum. This gave Shazier, and his family, his yearly salary up front, to possibly help pay for any additional services necessary for his rehabilitation, but also could have helped the Steelers from a salary cap standpoint moving into 2019.

It was no shock when Art Rooney II took to multiple platforms Wednesday to talk about how the Steelers will try to work out a deal with Shazier, who becomes a free agent this offseason, so he can remain with the organization and continue his rehabilitation.

But at what cost to the team’s salary cap? I know, it sounds horrible, but the Steelers are a business and every dollar needs to be accounted for when it comes to the salary cap. According to Ian Whetstone, who contributes to SteelCityInsider and is a genius when it comes to the NFL Salary Cap, his best assumption is the team won’t owe Shazier that much to keep him in the fold.

Assuming that he again lands on PUP all year, $473,000.

— Ian Whetstone (@IanWhetstone) January 16, 2019

What about the team deferring all Shazier’s money to him early last season? Did that have any significance? According to Whetstone it did.

I think it very likely was a big part of the reason, yes.

— Ian Whetstone (@IanWhetstone) January 17, 2019

The good news here is if these numbers are accurate, it would be very reasonable for the Steelers to give Shazier a one year contract, paying him the league minimum, and allowing him to continue to train and rehab his injury.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the rigors of the 2019 offseason.

T.J. Watt is headed to the Pro Bowl in place of Jadeveon Clowney

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:53pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have another player participating in the annual All-Star game next weekend.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a very talented roster, and for the second straight year they will be sending a handful of players to participate in the Pro Bowl. This year, they have had two players added to the roster as injury replacements.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is ironically replacing Antonio Brown after Brown claimed an injury would keep him out of the game. And now outside linebacker T.J. Watt is headed to Orlando in place of Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans took himself out of the All-Star game due to injury purposes.

T.J. Watt has been named to the 2019 #ProBowl.

MORE: https://t.co/jLf5GOe3lz pic.twitter.com/ndNKJT5SBn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 17, 2019

It isn’t as if Watt didn’t have the numbers to get himself to the Pro Bowl anyway. He had a career year in both sacks (13), tackles (68) and forced fumbles (6).

This isn’t the first honor Watt has received this season, as he was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Weeks 1 and 5 of the 2018 season.

Watt will join Cameron Heyward, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Alejandro Villanueva as the Steelers’ representatives during the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

Getting the low down from Art Rooney II’s year-end Steelers interview

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:26pm

Antinio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Ryan Shazier, and playing in Mexico were all points of discussion.

Art Rooney II made his end-of-the-year press interviews on Wednesday, first with a small group of reporters and then on the Steelers Live show on Steelers.com. Thanks to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steeler fans were given some insight as to the private interview. Some of the topics discussed in either instance were the following:

On evaluating the 2018 season, especially not making the playoffs:

“It was a tough way to end the season. It felt like we had a chance, and it really came down to just a few plays here and there in the season, literally at the end there. So it’s disappointing that we didn’t make it. It felt like we had a team, particularly the last three weeks of the season, playing well and playing some of the playoff teams and playing well against them. So it’s disappointing.”

Art Rooney said Steelers season was "tough to swallow." Reason?
"When you feel you're that close and feel you have the team to compete if you got in."

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

“I think the two things that if I had to pick out a couple things that were a problem. One was a kicking game was below average and below where we expected in to be. And second is the minus turnover ratio. That’s always a problem. We can’t be on the wrong side of that.”

On how he would evaluate the players and the coaches:

“I think that when you don’t make the playoffs, nobody is absolved. You just have to say that the players coaches, staff, front office, everybody’s got to do a better job.”

“I think we have a core group of players that can get us back to where we want to be. I look forward to working on this off-season and trying to get the pieces back in place.”

On Mike Tomlin’s performance:

Steelers Art Rooney on Mike Tomlin's job performance:
"When you miss the playoffs, nobody gets absolved . . . I think everybody knows we need to do better, including Mike"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

“I think everybody left room for improvement. When you don’t make the playoffs you look at everything and everyone. Coach (Tomlin) and I have talked about a number of different things. And Kevin (Colbert) the same way. So we have work to do.”

On the promotion of Shawn Sarrett:

“Shawn was probably going to get an opportunity eventually somewhere, and so we’re glad it’s here. He’s been mentoring with Munch for a number of years now. So he’s comfortable in the room and he knows the guys and the guys know him. So we think he’ll be able to step up and do the job.”

On an extension for Ben Roethlisberger:

Art Rooney said one of the goals this offseason is to get a contract extension for Ben Roethlisberger

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

“Ben had a strong year physically and mentally. I think he’s in a good place and, as you look around the league and see guys playing into their 40’s at the quarterback position, there’s no reason to think that Ben can’t be one of those guys.”

On the Antonio Brown situation:

Art Rooney said he still has had no contact with Antonio Brown, which he called "disappointing." He said AB was not a major distraction to the team "until the last week of the season . . . the situation changed the last week of the season"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

“I would have liked to have been able to talk with him and understand a little better from his perspective what went on the last week of the season.”

More Art Rooney:
-- No trade discussions yet for Antonio Brown and while he's keeping doors open, as far as his returning to Steelers there's "not that many signs out there that that's going to happen"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019 On Ryan Shazier in 2019:

“We’re going to continue to work with him and figure out how that works.”

Art Rooney said Ryan Shazier still wants to rehab with the idea of playing football again. His contract is up, so Rooney said they probably would have to sign him as a player this year to allow him to do that

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

“He just continues to be an impressive young man who is making progress beyond what anyone predicted he would make. He was jogging in the workout room the other day, so I wouldn’t underestimate him.”

On Le’Veon Bell:

Art Rooney said he had no idea Le'Veon Bell would hold out the entire season. "How often does that happen in the NFL?"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

“We’ve got a decision to make, so we’ll probably have some discussions with his representative here in the next few weeks and kind of talk through that.”

Steelers Art Rooney said he "feels good about" the running back position without Le'Veon Bell because of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels "two good young players"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019 On playing in Mexico:

“All I can tell you is we keep volunteering to make the trip and would love to go down there sometime. We have a great fan following down there in Mexico.”

On various other topics only answered in the private interview:

Art Rooney said he has talked to Mike Tomlin about having someone assist him with challenge calls on the field, but that would not be that person's only role. He called it "important"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

Art Rooney would not commit to extending Mike Tomlin's contract, which has 2 years left, a traditional Steelers extension time for their coach. "Those are things we'll get to later in the offseason"

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

Steelers Art Rooney took umbrage with those referring to his 2018 team as a circus:
"It's nonsense. We didn't achieve our goal of winning the division but we finished half a game out and had a lot of oppoortunities to get there."

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 16, 2019

Hope is the last thing to die when you’re a Steelers fan

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 11:15am

Even as the Steelers last realistic chance at a postseason berth was snuffed out in Baltimore, I still held out hope for a tie in Tennessee.

In fairness, hope is the last thing to die for a fan of any team, but since this is a Steelers site, I had to customize my title for clicks, baby!

Now that that’s out of the way, I thought it was fitting that the Steelers last bit of playoff hope was tied to, well, a tie between the Colts and Titans on Sunday Night Football in the final game of the regular season. It was fitting because a tie is how Pittsburgh began the 2018 campaign. It was a 21-21 come-from-ahead tie with the Browns in Cleveland on September 9, and I’ll be damned if that Week 1 mistake by the lake didn’t come home to roost on December 30.

There were the Steelers and their fans standing around at Heinz Field following an ugly 16-13 victory over the vacation-bound Bengals, hoping and praying for Cleveland to knock off the Ravens in-order to make the AFC North title, something that seemed like an inevitability just six weeks earlier, the ultimate fantasy brought to life.

This was Pittsburgh’s last realistic chance at the postseason, and after Baker Mayfield and Co. failed to come through in the final seconds at M&T Bank Stadium, everyone who either loved the Steelers and/or worked for them, walked away dejected, the stark reality of another year without a seventh Super Bowl parade at the end of the rainbow quickly sinking in.

But I’ll just bet there were at least a few folks (perhaps more than just a few), some Steelers employees, many more just plain old Steelers fan, who hadn’t quite given up on that one last possibility.

I’m talking about a tie between Indianapolis and Tennessee, a result that, thanks to, well, tiebreakers, would have allowed the Steelers to sneak into the dance as the AFC’s sixth seed.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly hadn’t quite given up hope. Even as I co-hosted my final regular season edition of the Hangover with Bryan Anthony Davis, I was keeping tabs on the score of the game. Even though I was sick as a dog and really couldn’t wait to go to bed after the show was over, I was keeping tabs on the score in Tennessee.

But how crazy was that to even think a tie was even possible? Yeah, sure, ties are more possible now than they’ve been since overtime became a reality in the mid-70’s (thank you, 10-minute overtime periods), but in a do-or-die situation, where the winner cashes in the final postseason ticket, how would either team even allow it to come down to that?

If I’m either team in that situation, and I know there’s only one avenue to the Promised Land, what do I care about taking risks? True, I don’t want to lose, but I also don’t want to walk away without winning. If the game is tied in the final seconds, I’m pulling out all the stops. Even if it leads to a loss, oh well, a tie wasn’t going to get me anywhere but home on my couch, anyway.

OK, now that I’ve cleared up just how unrealistic a tie truly was, I want to take you back to the morning of December 31, 2018. Was I thinking about some rockin’ New Year’s Eve party I would attend later that evening? Was I making a list of all of my New Year’s resolutions I would drop by January 15?

Neither.

I was thinking about the Colts and Titans game, and about how there was no way the Steelers could miss the postseason, especially with 2018 being the 10-year anniversary of the team’s Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals in Tampa Bay.

Did the game end in a tie? Did the miracle happen?

When I checked my phone to see a final score of 33-17 (it didn’t matter who won or lost), I was even more dejected than when Mayfield’s fourth-down pass was intercepted by C.J. Mosley.

I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I held out hope for a tie. I can’t believe I was sad when I found it it wasn’t a tie.

That’s me, I’m a Steelers fan...a Steelers fan all the way to the bitter end.

Steelers sign safety Marcelis Branch to a reserve/future contract

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 9:54am

The Steelers added another player to the roster on Wednesday with the signing of defensive back Marcelis Branch.

The Pittsburgh Steelers added yet another new name to the 2019 roster on Wednesday with the signing of safety Marcelis Branch to a reserve/future contract, according to the NFL’s transaction database. They first brought him in to Pittsburgh for a tryout just over a week ago.

Steelers tryouts reported Friday: LBs Zaire Anderson, Cory James, Tegray Scales (signed to future contract), Robert Spillane; S Marcelis Branch; CB Sojourn Shelton.

— Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) January 8, 2019

Originally signed by the Atlanta Falcons and as undrafted free agent in 2017, Branch was released at the end of training camp before being re-signed to their practice squad. After rejoining the Falcons on a reserve/future contract in 2018, he was once again released at the end of preseason, but was unable to find a place on a practice squad last year.

As per DraftScout.com, Branch finished his career at Robert Morris University with 251 tackles, seven interceptions and 21 pass break ups. Named North Eastern Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, Branch joined the team as a cornerback and moved to safety in his senior season.

Branch is the 16th player signed to a reserve/future contract by the Steelers so far this offseason.

Antonio Brown responds to criticism from Bruce Arians and Emmanuel Sanders via Twitter

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 8:55am

With so many negative reports circulating about him in the media every day, it is a surprise that Antonio Brown was able to hold his tongue for so long.

It is starting to feel like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown cannot get a day off from the media as of late, thanks in large part to a growing list of former team members more than willing to talk about him in the press. But given that none of theses names who have been adding their two cents over the past few weeks have spent any time in the Steelers locker room this season, it should comes as no surprise to learn that AB has had enough of their opinions.

In the light of the harsh criticism offered by former teammate Emmanuel Sanders over the weekend and the unflattering remarks from his former offensive coordinator on Tuesday, Brown took to Twitter on Wednesday to offer a response.

He didn’t draft me he drafted @ESanders_10 same guy who missed rehab to go on networks to talk about me on situation he have zero clue! Arians now wears kangoo hats n glasses but ima diva! Done seen it all then they say we friends stop lien https://t.co/jALXyhQMAw

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 16, 2019

A comment that would not go unnoticed by Sanders.

@AB84 you know damn well I didn’t travel to LA to talk about you fam. You trippin yo. I went to be a analyst in which you acting foolish was the topic and I gave my analytical opinion. Get off the gas yo. You did it to yourself

— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) January 16, 2019

Brown did not limit his responses to Sanders and Arians, picking out a number of random posts to answer, ones that gave him an opportunity to let everyone know he was paying close attention to all the negativity.

Clearly they feel indifferent about me seeing all these reports the big interview coming! watching my teammates, fans and organization show me how they really feel! Stay Woke https://t.co/CSHNsVI74Q

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 16, 2019

Until Brown finally delivers on his big interview, he will remain the villain for most fans, and even then it is unlikely he will change many minds. Sadly, after Art Rooney II had revealed earlier in the day that no one in the organization had yet heard from their troubled receiver, it would appear that time might be running out for AB to rebuild his relationship with senior management.

Coaches Corner: How the Steelers Offense Attacks Cover 1 defenses

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 7:59am

In a new feature on BTSC, we break down how the Steelers’ attack specific defenses in the Randy Fichtner offense.

Welcome to BTSC Coaches Corner, where we will examine the schemes the Steelers used in various situations throughout the 2018 season. The idea here is to go inside the game by looking at situational football - 3rd down offense, short yardage defense, defending empty formations, etc. How did the Steelers scheme for these situations? What personnel did they use? Why these particular schemes? In doing this we will highlight the philosophy of the coaching staff and the strengths and weaknesses of our players in executing their philosophy. We will also look to the upcoming draft for candidates who may be good fits for some of these schemes.

Our opening article examines how the Steelers offense attacked Cover-1 defenses and how, given the uncertainty at our wide receiver position, we might cope with this coverage moving forward.

Coaches Corner No. 1: How the Steelers Attacked Cover-1

What is Cover-1?

To begin, let’s explain the cover-1 concept. Cover-1 denotes man coverage with a single free safety playing deep in the middle of the field. The man defenders can play one of two basic techniques: “loose” man, where they typically align 6-8 yards off of their receiver, backpedal at the snap and try to keep the play in front of them; and “press” man, where they crowd the line of scrimmage, jam the receiver as he releases, lock on to his inside hip and run with him. The safety generally aligns 15 yards off the ball and is free to help wherever is necessary. He will get depth at the snap and read the quarterback’s eyes to try to anticipate where he is going with the football.

Here are the Steelers in a cover-1 alignment versus a double tight end set from New England. You can see the corner at the bottom of the screen and the slot corner are both in a press technique while the corner to the top plays a loose alignment. The techniques these defenders use are designed to take away or force the offense into certain routes. More on that momentarily.

Cover-1 is reliant upon three things to be successful: athletic defensive backs with man-coverage skills, an aggressive pass rush and a rangy free safety who can get to the football. A deficiency in any of these areas makes Cover-1 risky and susceptible to big plays. However, if teams have the pieces to play Cover-1, they can put tremendous pressure on offenses to execute at a high level. When teams can play man coverage, they can bring creative blitz packages, force offenses to simplify and create turnovers. It is a high risk, high reward defense.

When do teams use Cover-1?

Cover-1 can be played in any situation but teams tend to favor it when they want to blitz and bring pressure or in the red zone, where the amount of field a defender has to cover is reduced. Teams also use Cover-1 when they feel their defensive backs are better or more physical than the opposing team’s receivers. If a defense can jam an opposition’s receivers at the line and run with them, they will eliminate the windows a zone defense provides and force precise throws from a quarterback under duress.

Teams will try to mask cover-1 by rotating to it out of a pre-snap zone alignment so offenses can’t identify it and check to their cover-1 beaters. Offenses will see if a defense is masking its coverage by using motion, like the Patriots are doing in the photo above. They are flipping Gronk from one side of the formation to the other and the Steelers are flipping a defender with him. This suggests a man scheme. Identifying coverage is the first step in attacking it.

How did the Steelers attack Cover-1 in 2018?

There are a variety of ways to attack this coverage. The Steelers tended to utilize the following concepts:

  • Picks and rubs to free targeted receivers
  • Crossing routes that make DBs run laterally
  • 1/1 balls versus favorable match-ups
  • Screens where blockers can isolate man defenders

Here is a breakdown of how the Steelers utilized some of these schemes.

1. Pick concepts

Every team on the planet uses pick concepts, whereby one or more receivers run “routes” that impede the path of a defender to the man or area he is covering. Few teams run these concepts as often or as creatively as the Steelers, however. The Steelers pick for wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, out of bunch sets, off of RPOs, etc. They will pick to get the ball quickly into the hands of their playmakers in just about any situation. Most commonly, though, they pick to free their targets from man coverage.

Here is an example of a great pick concept used on a crucial play of the game-winning drive in Jacksonville. It is 3rd and 10 from the Jags 27 yard line with under one minute remaining and the Steelers trailing, 16-13. The Steelers are in a trips look with TE Vance McDonald off the ball as an H-back, Antonio Brown in the slot and Juju Smith-Schuster out wide. Ryan Switzer is the single receiver to the boundary. James Conner is in the backfield to the left of Ben Roethlisberger.

The Jags are playing cover-1 out of nickel personnel. The corner on Switzer is in press coverage while the corner on Juju is playing a loose technique. Jalen Ramsey is rolled up on Antonio Brown in the slot.

It is interesting to consider why the Jags are in press against Switzer and AB but are loose versus Juju. They are likely pressing Switzer because they feel confident he will not be able to get off the jam and create separation versus their corner. They are likely pressing AB because they do not want to allow him any space off the ball and because they have one of the best press corners in the game in Ramsey. And they are likely loose on Juju because the Steelers have already won twice on fade balls up the sideline to Juju and the Jags are intent on not letting it happen again. Thus, we can see how a defense will mix and match their man techniques based upon what they intend to accomplish.

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner anticipates man coverage here and dials up a beautiful pick concept. He runs a version of the traditional Divide route, which is a cover-2 beater that separates the safeties with deep corner concepts while sending a third receiver up the middle of the field. This is not cover-2, however, so Fichtner tweaks the route to adjust for a man scheme. The adjustment is shown below:

Roethlisberger will have two primary options on this play. First, with the soft coverage to the field, he can throw the hitch to Juju if he likes the cushion. Second, he can look for AB up the mid-seam. AB will be open if Vance McDonald can spring him with a cleverly set pick. McDonald has to fight through the jam of the strong safety to create enough space for AB and he then must delay his route just enough to let AB slip underneath him without blatantly impeding Ramsey. Finally, he must run hard to the corner to help pull the free safety out of the middle of the field. McDonald is not a receiving option on this play but his role is integral to its success.

The Steelers execute this play beautifully. Roethlisberger takes the snap and looks to Juju as his first option. He hangs with Juju for a moment but doesn’t seem to trust the cushion so he pulls off, hitches up and looks to AB. AB has slipped under McDonald’s pick and has just enough space up the middle of the field for Roethlisberger to deliver a perfect strike over Ramsey’s shoulder. AB is tackled inside the 5, setting up first and goal. The Steelers will win the game a few plays later on a touchdown run from Big Ben.

There are several keys to this play’s success. First, Ben hangs with Juju just long enough to draw the safety out of the middle of the field and away from AB. Next, the offensive line handles Jacksonville’s five-man pressure with ease. The pocket for Roethlisberger is clean, which allows him to come off of Juju, reset himself and find AB. But the real key here is that McDonald does a great job subtly setting his pick. Ramsey tries to fight through but he gets caught up. This frees AB and gives him a clear path up the seam. The throw from Roethlisberger is perfect but without McDonald’s crafty pick there would be no room for Ben to drop it in.

This play is well-executed all around. Its success begins with the design, though. This is a great job by Randy Fichtner of using a pick concept to free our receiver from one of the best man-defenders in the league.

2. Fade routes

We said earlier that a defense will try to dictate the routes an offense can run with the technique their man defenders play. Loose technique, for example, guards against the fade route while being vulnerable to slants and hitches. Press technique is the opposite. It takes away the short passing game and invites offenses to attempt low percentage deep throws.

If an offensive coordinator likes the match-up of his receiver against a press defender, he will not hesitate to take those deep shots. This is especially true when press is used against the vaunted “big” receivers so many at BTSC pine for. That thinking is logical. How hard is it to take a 6’4 dude who can jump through the roof like Martavis Bryant and just lob it up to him and have him go get it? Harder than many think. An NFL defensive back employed in press coverage gets paid an awful lot of money to excel at defending the jump ball. It’s amazing how a DB who uses good technique, proper positioning and well-trained ball skills can nullify the athletic advantage of many wide receivers in these situations.

Fortunately, the Steelers have one of the best young deep ball receivers in the game in Juju Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster is not a speedster, nor is he particularly large at 6’1. But he excels in using his strength to create separation from man defenders and he is tremendous at tracking the football in the air. Thus, Juju has become a great target on fade routes versus Cover-1.

As mentioned above, the likely reason the Jags were playing Juju in an off technique on that crucial pick play to AB was because Smith-Schuster had beaten them twice on fade routes earlier in the game. The first time was on a Steelers’ touchdown drive earlier in the 4th quarter. Juju was aligned as the single receiver away from a trips formation and he drew press coverage from Ramsey. With Ramsey pressing Juju into the boundary, quick inside routes like slant would be impossible to throw. The only route Juju could hope to execute, then, was fade. Juju knew this. Big Ben knew this. And Jalen Ramsey absolutely knew this. Fade, then, was a low percentage throw.

When you have a young stud receiver and a Hall of Fame quarterback, low percentage throws be damned. The execution here is amazing. It begins with Juju stutter-stepping to slow Ramsey from jamming him and then taking a strong outside release. Ramsey gets in great position but Juju has enough separation to keep Ramsey from getting his hands on him. That is huge, as it allows Juju to go up and get the perfectly-placed back shoulder dart from Roethlisberger. Honestly, what could Ramsey have done here to defend this throw? This is great coverage but even better execution by the offense. Fade might be a low percentage throw but you can see here why it is built into our passing package when we get press cover-1.

3. Running Back Screens

Todd Haley’s love of the quick receiver screen has rendered it about as popular as influenza in these parts. Fichtner doesn’t use nearly as many receiver screens as Haley did. He does, however, use screens to running backs as a way to combat man coverage. Here’s how:

The running back screen works against Cover-1 because linemen can identify the defender covering the back (usually a linebacker) and get a body on him while wide receivers run off their man defenders. This often creates space in the middle of the field for the back to run after the catch.

Here is an example of a slip screen to Jaylen Samuels versus the Raiders. Oakland is in 4-2-5 personnel with their corners in press and a nickel defender rolled up in the slot. They are actually playing a man-under two-deep concept but the underneath coverage is similar to Cover-1. The right inside linebacker will cover Vance McDonald while the left backer has Samuels. The Steelers will run their receivers off to take the corners out of the picture while McDonald will block his man defender. The offensive line will pass set and then release on the play-side. Right tackle Matt Feiler climbs to the backer assigned to Samuels and does a great job of riding him towards the sideline. Samuels, who is patient in selling the screen, tucks inside Feiler’s block and uses David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey as escorts into the secondary. The play tallies 23 yards.

Any time you can get a running back the ball with this much space, good things will happen. The Steelers found a variety of ways to screen and pick for their backs against man coverage. They ran their backs on wheel routes with crossing receivers rubbing off linebackers. They motioned them out of the backfield and threw them bubble screens. They ran traditional screens like the one above. The result was their running backs had 82 more receiving yards in 2018 than the previous season. Not bad, considering they lost one of the league’s best receiving backs in Le’Veon Bell.

Looking Ahead:

As long as Ben Roethlisberger continues to make some of the throws featured here, the Steelers will be in decent shape against teams who play them in Cover-1. Though Jacksonville, who played more Cover-1 than any opponent we faced in 2018, has frustrated him the past couple of seasons, Roethlisberger’s mix of experience, savvy and big-play ability makes him well-suited for the pressure Cover-1 teams attempt to apply.

The trickier evaluation when it comes to combating this coverage in the future is at the wide receiver position. I’m sure the thought of life without Antonio Brown makes many people nervous. Me too. You don’t remove one of the best players in the league from your offense without having to adjust. No AB would likely mean defenses would feel emboldened to play more man coverage, with a greater focus on stopping Juju. This would put pressure on the other receivers in our rotation to produce. Unfortunately, banking on the likes of James Washington, Justin Hunter, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer to suddenly become reliable man-beaters is a dangerous proposition. Additions will have to be made if AB is no longer around.

If the Steelers were to look to the draft to fill (in part) AB’s shoes, what type of a player might they desire? If you watched the national championship game between Clemson and Alabama you saw two ideal cover-1 receivers in Justyn Ross and Jerry Jeudy, each of whom has good size and speed, is physical and can separate. One problem, however: neither is draft eligible.

What of the eligible receivers, then? This is where I step away and cede the floor to the audience. I spend most of my football-watching time studying schemes, not players. There are many people on this board better versed than me to make suggestions about which wide receivers we could target who could help us here. Drop The Hammer wrote a typically stellar piece the other day on wide receiver prospects in the upcoming draft. We are not evaluating receivers based solely on their ability to beat man coverage, of course. But with deep ball threats like Juju and Washington and zone-beaters like Rogers and Switzer already in the mix, a receiver who is both physical enough to get off press coverage and can also create separation with his speed would be ideal should AB wind up elsewhere.

So have at it, please. Who do you like? Who can alleviate the pressure we can anticipate when teams dare us to beat Cover-1 without AB in the lineup?

Thanks for reading. As always, Go Steelers!

Steelers are expected to name Eddie Faulkner of N.C. State as their new RB coach

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 6:43am

The Steelers next running back coach will be Jaylen Samuels’ former position coach at college according to multiple reports.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers were scouting Jaylen Samuels in 2018, it would appear that he was not the only one who impressed them at N.C.State. In need of a new running backs coach this offseason, it looks like Pittsburgh will be returning to North Carolina to fill their vacant role.

The #Steelers are expected to hire #NCState TEs/FBs coach and ST coordinator Eddie Faulkner as their new RBs coach, sources say. A hire from an unexpected place to work with James Conner and others.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 16, 2019

Eddie Faulkner has been a part of the Wolfpack for six seasons and he is officially listed as N.C. State’s tight ends coach, fullbacks coach, special team coordinator and recruitment coordinator on the team’s website. Once a running back himself at the University of Wisconsin, Faulkner has spent 17 years in coaching with Anderson University, Ball State, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin before joining N.C. State in 2013.

Having recruited Samuels to college and then coached him for four seasons, Faulkner will obviously have intimate knowledge of his former charge and that is likely to help him with his transition into the NFL. The opportunity to reunite with a player he spoke so highly of in college must have made the job in Pittsburgh especially attractive to him too.

“As a coach we can sit here and say, “We want Jaylen to do this.” For some players it would be unheard of because he can’t remember that or do that. All you have to do is come up with a plan and he’ll learn it.”

Samuels was not the only former player Faulkner saw drafted in 2018 given he also had a hand in the development of Nyheim Hines. Selected in fourth-round by the Indianapolis Colts, Hines had an impressive rookie season as a dual threat in the backfield, recording 314-yards rushing as well as 63 receptions for 425-yards.

Faulkner will fill the role made available when the Steelers opted not to renew the contract of James Saxon who was signed by the Arizona Cardinals as their new running backs coach on Monday.

Podcast: Handing out Steelers RB and WR end of year grades

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 5:36am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-gold from the week that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, but the news is just starting to heat up. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers, including a fun game of “True or False!”

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Recapping the week that was
  • RB and WR season grades!
  • Championship Game predictions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams 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.

Black and Gold Links: Le’Veon Bell not considered the top free agent heading into the 2019 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 4:32am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at the NFL.com rankings for the top free agents set to hit the market in March. One thing which was rather surprising, at least to some, was how Le’Veon Bell didn’t top the list.

Let’s get to the news:

Top 25 NFL free agents of 2019: Defenders dominate rankings

By: Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com

The most interesting expected free agent this offseason isn’t on the list below. Nick Foles has a mutual option in his contract that makes it exceedingly likely he will be set free by the Eagles, especially after they declared Monday that Carson Wentz is their quarterback and will remain their quarterback.

Foles would top a group of available quarterbacks, including Teddy Bridgewater, that is likely to grow as teams begin to prune their salary cap before the March spending spree. That’s something to keep in mind when looking at my way-too-early list of the top 25 free agents in 2019. A lot of names will be added to the market because of cuts and plenty of high-profile players (like Jadeveon Clowney) are unlikely to ever make it to free agency because their current teams will use the franchise tag or strike a long-term deal.

That makes this initial list fun to consider, albeit a work in progress. It’s a free-agent crop that is heavy on pass rushers and safeties, while light on offensive linemen, wide receivers and cornerbacks. Chris Wesseling and I will publish our complete Top 101 Free Agents list in February. In the meantime, feel free to irrationally believe your team is going to sign all the players below and solve all of their problems.

1. DeMarcus Lawrence - DE - Cowboys

Don’t worry about his sack number dropping to 10.5. Lawrence backed up his breakout 2017 (14.5 sacks) with another season as a top-five pass rusher, solidifying his place as one of the league’s best players.

2. Le’Veon Bell - RB - Steelers

This ranking isn’t a prediction of how much guaranteed money Bell will earn. It’s a reflection of his status as one of the transcendent players this century at his position -- and the fact that he’s still just 26 years old.

3. Jadeveon Clowney - OLB -Texans

Using the franchise tag to retain Clowney makes too much sense for Houston, even if Clowney won’t be thrilled about it.

4. Grady Jarrett - DT - Falcons

A 25-year-old game-wrecker from the interior who has improved every year. There’s little chance the Falcons will let Jarrett get away.

5. Trey Flowers - DE - Patriots

While Flowers isn’t a prototypical pure pass rusher from the outside, he can do everything well from a variety of positions, the perfect Swiss Army Knife for a modern defense. And he’s already been the most disruptive presence on a Super Bowl championship team.

(Click the link in the headline for more...)

Analysis: Defense improved in 2018, but not enough

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

The Steelers’ 2018 defense was better than the version that ended the 2017 season. That much is unarguable.

Despite running a gauntlet of top quarterbacks in 2018 -- Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, the ChargersPhilip Rivers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New England’s Tom Brady and Carolina’s Cam Newton among them -- the Steelers finished sixth in the league in overall defense, including 10th against the pass at 231.1 yards per game.

But there’s also no arguing the defense had its shortcomings.

The Steelers forced just 15 turnovers, which, considering they tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, just doesn’t add up. And while it would have stretches where it looked like a top-notch unit, it also showed a propensity to give up leads late in games. Their 123 points allowed in the fourth quarter ranked 24th in the league.

That helped add up to a defense that, overall, tied for 16th in the league in points allowed, too many for a unit ranked in the top 10 in both run and pass defense.

So what were the Steelers lacking? And does it matter anyway? Of the remaining four teams in the conference title games, the best defense belongs to New Orleans (14th). Meanwhile, all four teams were top eight in offense.

So it’s not necessarily great defense but playmakers, short and simple, that are missing. There are solid pieces on the defense. The starting defensive line of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Javon Hargrave was one of the best in the league, helping hold opponents to 96.1 yards per game rushing — sixth in the league — while also combining for 20 sacks.

And outside linebacker T.J. Watt and corner Joe Haden are among the best in the league at their respective positions, even if neither was honored with a Pro Bowl nod this season.

(Click the link in the headline for more...)

VIDEO: Stephen A. Smith wonders why Ben Roethlisberger isn’t criticized like Antonio Brown

Click HERE to watch the video

VIDEO: Potential landing spots for Antonio Brown in 2019

Click HERE to watch the video

2019 NFL Draft: New York Jets are now on the clock

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 2:55pm

In a community draft, we ask our readers who you would take if you had the third overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The pick is in...

With the 2nd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49er’s select Josh Allen Edge/LB from Kentucky.

The New York Jets are now on the clock.

Team Needs: Edge, OL, WR, CB

2018 NFL Draft Selections

1 (3) Sam Darnold, qb, Southern Cal.

3 (72) Nathan Shepherd, dt, Fort Hays State.

4 (107) Chris Herndon, te, Miami.

6 (179) Parry Nickerson, cb, Tulane.

6 (180) Foley Fatukasi, dt, UConn.

6 (204) Trenton Cannon, rb, Virginia State.

...

2019 Draft Order and Selections

Arizona Cardinals (1) Nick Bosa Edge Ohio St

San Francisco 49ers (2) Josh Allen Edge Kentucky

Art Rooney II states the Steelers will only be adding coaches between now and the 2019 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 1:31pm

This will be a tough pill to swallow for the “Fire Keith Butler” contingent...

If you follow the Pittsburgh Steelers closely, you know team president Art Rooney II meets with a select group of Pittsburgh media members after every season. It just happens the past few meetings have been after very disappointing endings.

On top of the overall vibe surrounding the team at the time of the meeting, it seems there is always drama circulating the Steelers — even after the season ended.

In 2017, there was the talk of Le’Veon Bell skipping/missing a walk through prior to the team’s playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. This year it is how Antonio Brown didn’t show up leading to the team’s Week 17 game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.

While this has dominated headlines, there are still those holding out hope for news of the Steelers parting ways with some coaches. Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler and Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith would top most fans’ lists of coaches who they feel should get the ax.

During the meeting between Rooney and the media, he stated after the team parted ways with Outside Linebackers coach Joey Porter and Running Backs coach James Saxon, the organization won’t be getting rid of any other coaches the rest of the offseason.

They will only be adding coaches from this point on.

This from DKPittsburghSports.com’s Dale Lolley:

Rooney said Steelers are done with coaching subtractions at this point. Now will be looking at additions. Said he/Mike Tomlin have talked about having somebody in booth to handle reviews/replays, but the team won't hire someone whose job is that and nothing else. #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) January 16, 2019

Other than replacing Porter and Saxon, the team is also looking to possibly add someone in the booth to help Mike Tomlin with replay challenges — an area Tomlin has struggled mightily in the past few seasons — but it would likely be someone on the current staff, not someone whose sole job is to help with challenges/time management.

For those who are prepared to grab their pitchforks and torches and storm the team’s facility, Rooney did talk about Mike Tomlin, and the entire organization, falling short.

This from the Associated Press’ Will Graves:

More Art on coaches
"I have to say that when you miss the playoffs nobody gets absolved, coaches, players, scouts, front office, so I think everybody knows we need to be better, including Mike and there's no disagreements in the organization about that. We all need to do better."

— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) January 16, 2019

While this isn’t the news many were expecting regarding the coaching futures of people like Butler and Smith, it at least closes the door, and thus ending the speculation, on the topic for the 2019 season.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they continue to prep for the 2019 NFL Draft and free agency.

Steelers continue to meet with draft prospects at East/West Shrine Game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:40pm

Offensive lineman Ola Udoh and linebacker B.J. Blunt are the latest player reportedly having spoken with the Steelers at the East/West Shrine game on Tuesday.

As the practice sessions continue at the East/West Shrine Game, the reports about meetings between the Pittsburgh Steelers and potential draft prospects continue to emerge with two new names added to the interest list on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter Trevor Sikkema of the Pewter Report was the one with the news once again, the first to note a meeting between the Steelers and offensive lineman Olisaemeka Udoh of Elon University.

Team-Prospect meetings Day2 of #ShrineWeek
(East):
LB Ulysees Gilbert: NYG, CAR, HOU, GB
LB Sione Takitaki: MIN, DEN, WAS, MIA, DAL
OT Lamont Gillard: ATL, BAL, NYJ, CHI
OT Oli Udoh: NYG, NYJ, PIT, TEN, GB, PHI
WR Jesper Horsted: TB, TEN, ATL
WR DaMarkus Lodge: NO, WAS

— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) January 15, 2019

Named a First Team All-CAA Football honoree in 2018, Udoh started 11 games for an offensive line unit that allowed a conference low 16 sacks last season and was second in the conference with 199.5 yards rushing a game. Invited to play in both the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the East/West Shrine Game, Udoh is the first Elon player ever invited to play in a postseason bowl game. Reportedly seeing snaps at both guard and tackle during practice, the 6-foot-5, 336-pounds prospect appears to have caught the eye of those in attendance.

Udoh is seeing reps at both G and T. I’ll reiterate what Fran said. Impressive two practices for the massive lineman. https://t.co/VzPswxGiEf

— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 15, 2019

.@elonuniversity OT Oli Udoh (RT) just threw DE Jordan Brailford right out of the club: pic.twitter.com/Ob5TYNc1lh

— The Draft Network (@DraftNetworkLLC) January 15, 2019

With a warning not to read too much into all these meetings at practice, we will still pass along this observation from Jon Ledyard of The Draft Network after he noted general manager Kevin Colbert talking with linebacker B.J. Blunt of McNeese State.

Lot of scouts talking to players so that’s rarely a big deal, but #Steelers GM Kevin Colbert personally went over to McNeese State LB B.J. Blunt and chatted with him for awhile. 2 good practices for Blunt

— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 15, 2019

A convert from defensive back to linebacker during his junior season, Blunt would record 102 tackles, with 20 for a loss and 11 sacks in his senior season. And given his previous experience in the secondary, it should also come as no surprise to note that the 6-foot-1 and 215-pound prospect believes he has strong coverage skills for a linebacker.

Bruce Arians’ remarks about Antonio Brown suggest he has no interest in trading for his former wide receiver - ‘Too much diva’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:35am

If Antonio Brown is to be traded this offseason, it seems very unlikely it will be to the Buccaneers after Bruce Arians spoke out about his former player on Tuesday.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to move Antonio Brown via trade this offseason, it would appear they can take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off the list of interested teams. Despite having having worked with Brown before, or perhaps in part because of it, Bruce Arians sounded like a man who had no interest in bringing his former receiver to Tampa Bay now he is the new head coach of the Buccaneers.

Speaking with Adam Schefter of ESPN on his podcast, the Steelers former offensive coordinator painted a rather unflattering picture of Brown’s problems in Pittsburgh.

“From afar, there’s too much miscommunication, too much ... diva. I’ve heard so many stories. I like Antonio, he plays as hard as anybody on Sunday and he practices hard. He’s just gotta make better decisions off the field, be on time, do some of those little things.”

While still acknowledging that AB was really not a problem in his time with the Steelers.

“He was the hardest working. He and Emmanuel Sanders, boy they went after it, because Mike Tomlin used to tell them, ‘Two dogs, one bone.’ At that time, we had Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, we had a pretty good room for one of them to get on the field and by the end of the season, they were both winning for us to go to the Super Bowl.”

Arians was the man in charge of the offense when Brown was drafted in 2010 and they spent two years together until he was let go at the end of the 2011 season. Although AB would only see 16 receptions for 167-yards in his rookie season, he would break out under Arians in his second season, recording 69 catches for 1,108-yards and the best yards per catch average of his career with 16.1-yards a reception.

That being said, even if Arians was interested in trading for AB, there is a chance the Steelers star receiver might have rejected him instead. In light of a post he made on Instagram back in June, it would appear that Brown still holds some resentment about the way he was viewed by both Arians and Mike Tomlin when he was first drafted.

View this post on Instagram

Bruce Arians said he’s a special team guy he caint learn the plays hots n sites. Not Smart Enough Coach T Bench me on a bye week ; said two dogs one bone. God bless em #putsomerestpectonmyname

A post shared by Antonio Brown (@ab) on Jun 4, 2018 at 12:39pm PDT

Given how much it would seem he feels disrespected in Pittsburgh, it is hard to imagine Brown wanting to play for a coach who once believed he was nothing more than a special teams player who was not smart enough to learn the offense.

When it comes to Ben Roethlisberger’s production, more isn’t always better

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 10:15am

Seasons where Ben hasn’t missed time have not always turned out the way Steelers fans would expect.

I was just recently reminded of the cryptic text message I received back on January 22, 2017 immediately following the AFC championship game. The text was from me, and it was sent back in time from 2019 in order to offer some encouragement. The message was as follows:

“I know you’re disappointed in this loss, but the only game Ben Roethlisberger will miss in the next two seasons will be to rest for the playoffs.”

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. The question wasn’t if, but how many Super Bowls this would bring. Could they win it in both seasons? Never did I envision the Steelers not even winning a playoff game in this scenario.

Obviously I have not (yet) used my Physics degree to manipulate the space/time continuum via text message. And if I did, I’m sure I would not use it to merely offer encouragement, but would instead take the Biff Tannen route and offer sports betting information, even if it were only to take down Jeff Hartman and Bryan Anthony Davis in FanDuel. Regardless of what evils I would use time-texting for, the point of this exercise was to bring up the notion of the perceived success of the Steelers based on the health of Ben Roethlisberger.

The 2016 season had Steeler fans concerned about Roethlisberger’s long-term health before the first regular-season game was played. After missing 5 starts in 2015 with knee and foot issues, Roethlisberger missed time in the wildcard game against the Bengals after hurting his shoulder. Ben did come back to play the following week, although Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams were all out of action against the Broncos. Even being far from healthy, the Steelers managed to have a late lead in the game before losing it on… let’s not hash that out again.

As 2016 got going, Ben ended up needing surgery for a torn meniscus which cost him the game against the Patriots leading into the bye week. With a shaky start coming out of the by where the team didn’t score until almost halfway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers dropped the game to the Ravens and the following week to the Cowboys. But as the team got healthy, they won their final seven games of the season with Ben sitting out the last week to get some rest.

After the loss to the Patriots on that ill-fated January night, many Steeler fans felt very optimistic going into the next season. If only Ben and the rest of the squad could stay healthy, a seventh Lombardi was within their grasp. After all, it was Ben’s health which affected their standing in 2015, and it was the game missed which kept the Steelers from getting a first-round bye in 2016.

Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger playing in every regular season game has not always equaled playoff success. The obvious exception was the first season in which Ben played every game in 2008 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl. But the other three seasons in which Ben has started 16 games, the Steelers have a postseason record of 0–1 having made the playoffs only once. If lowering the standard down to 15 games started for Rothlisberger, it actually begins to look worse. In those five seasons, the Steelers made the playoffs three times, but once again couldn’t find a single victory, giving a record of 0-3. So in the nine seasons in which Ben has started 15 or more games, the Steelers have won the Super Bowl once, and not won a playoff game in the other eight.

In the six seasons Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 4,000 yards or more, the Steelers have not won a playoff game (0-3). In any season in which Ben has thrown 30 or more touchdowns, the Steelers have not won a playoff game (0-2). As for passing attempts, when Rothlisberger has thrown 500 or more passes in the season, the Steelers only have one year in which they won any playoff games (two in 2016). How many playoff wins do you think the Steelers had in the three years Ben had a quarterback rating over 100? That’s correct- zero.

I realize that a lot of the seasons are duplicates. Obviously Ben has a chance to throw more touchdowns or more passes in seasons where he plays more games. The quarterback rating is one which wouldn’t matter how much time he played, but that’s the only one. What all these number support is this: Ben Roethlisberger carrying the Steelers for 16 games is not the determining factor of the team’s success.

I spent a lot of times scouring through the statistics of the Steelers best playoff years with Ben Roethlisberger. Obviously the years in which they reached the Super Bowl (2005, 2008, and 2010) are on top of this list. I also like to throw in 2016 since it was the only other season in which the Steelers won multiple playoff games. And looking at all the stats, there isn’t anything which separates those years out from the others. Having a top ranked defense was part of the success for the Super Bowl teams, but the Steelers still made quite a run in 2016 with just an average defense, and the Steelers had a highly ranked defense in the other seasons early in Ben’s career which did not lead to playoff wins. I searched through rushing yards, rushing attempts, interceptions, completion percentages, and all sorts of different statistics. But there was no magic number which popped out with why the Steelers had the playoff runs in the years they did.

I’ve always been one of the first fans to shout about Ben‘s health being what will determine if the Steeler season is successful or not. I’ve always felt if the Steelers lose Rothlisberger for the year, the season is basically a wash. Although the numbers don’t support it, it is still a very important factor. But it’s the unmeasurable things that really push the Steelers toward success. Teamwork. Balance. Camaraderie. Confidence. Ironically, many of these are things the team could develop to “overcome adversity” in seasons when Ben misses a stretch of games.

Ben Roethlisberger can put up record-setting numbers every year for the rest of his career, but until the Steelers can have success with the unmeasurables, the statistics are not going to paint a good playoff picture.

Breaking Down the Steelers Team Needs: Part 5, Running Back

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 9:05am

Part 5 of the series. Should Pittsburgh look for depth, or a change of pace weapon?

Article No. 5 on ways the Steelers could improve what should have been a championship caliber roster. After articles on the Corner, ILB and Edge classes we’re going to shift focus over to the offense for once. There aren’t a lot of holes on this side of the ball but RB may be the clearest. Consider: the Steelers drafted Jaylen Samuels in 2018 to be the #3 guy behind Leveon Bell and James Conner. With Bell gone he became the #2, leaving a roster spot that could be improved.

Here is the current roster:

  • James Conner. Grade: “Budding Superstar.” If he isn’t Leveon Bell, he’s the next best thing. And he might be just as good or [gasp!] better when the stories get written 20 years from now.
  • Jaylen Samuels. Grade: “Starter, and he was only a rookie!” Was there a noticeable step down when the Steelers moved from Conner to Samuels? Yes, obviously. But don’t forget how much Conner had improved after his own fitful and halting rookie season. Samuels looks like a definite keeper.
  • Stevan Ridley. Grade: “Backup.” He does the job but the team would lean heavily on Big Ben if Ridley was pushed into being the starter. The occasional bout of fumbleitis is probably his biggest flaw.
  • Rosie Nix. Grade: “Fullback is NOT on the Board. Period.” Yes, I am biased. Rosie Nix was one of my draft crushes back in the day and I gloat about that to this very day [See?]. He’s also one of the best special teams aces in recent memory.

The main question here is what the team should look for. Lev Bell, Conner and Samuels have enough in common to say there is a Steelers prototype for the bell cow Running Back. The team values size but asks those bigger men to keep their weight down for added quickness. The preferred style requires patience and burst through the hole as it cracks open, while busting the hole open is secondary. (That may change with the surprise departure of RB coach James Saxon, but why speculate about the team changing an approach that’s worked?) Vision, contact balance, and the strength to break tackles are essential, and pass catching just as much so. RB’s won’t start if they can’t help in pass protection too, but that is a skill the team assumes it can teach. Finally, no one denegrates speed but it hasn’t been as important to Pittsburgh as it seems to be for other teams.

What are the other prototypes? Let’s call them the “Change of Pace” guy whose main assets are speed and agility, and the “Power Back” who will physically create a yard or two when the line hasn’t made that easy.

The Steelers have two Steeler Type RB’s plus Ridley, who also fits that mold better than the others. Should the team look for more of the very successful same, or broaden its scope to include a different way to attack? Here is a list of the Round 3-4 talent from the initial BTSC Big Board that Nick Farabaugh and I have been compiling. Please note that Round 1 and 2 talents have been artificially dropped to 3:01 on the grounds that Pittsburgh should not spend a pick on RB until Round 3 at the soonest. That creates an artificial cluster that a neutral, all-teams Board would certainly spread out. [fn]

And since names alone aren’t a lot of help...

  • 3:01 RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis. 5’9”, 200 lbs. The catch-me-if-you-can king of the 2019 draft class.
  • 3:01 RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama. 5’10”, 216 lbs. The #1 Running Back on most Boards. Jacobs is an electric playmaker who can break any run with pure speed while still delivering the wood on impact. There is not a lot of film to show his prowess in pass protection but he has looked like an able receiver when used that way. Jacobs also comes with one of those tough, poverty-stricken backstories that make you believe in his fundamental grit. Here is a solid write-up from the Luke Easterling.
  • 3:01 RB David Montgomery, Iowa St. 5’11”, 216 lbs. He needs to work on his receiving and lacks breakaway speed but other than that he fits the Steeler mold to a tee. Tough, hard running, patient, and hard to bring down. This October scouting profile describes him as “a shiftier version of James Conner,” a description this gif-supported October scouting report would agree with.
  • 3:12 RB Damien Harris, Alabama. 5’11”, 213 lbs. A 5-star recruit who lacks explosiveness but has just about everything else you’d want including receiver-like abilities in the passing game.
  • 3:12 RB Elijah Holyfield, Georgia. 5’11”, 216 lbs. Evander’s son shares his famous work ethic and is good in all the subtle ways like shifty quickness, contact balance, toughness, contact balance, vision and determination.
  • 3:12 RB Miles Sanders, Penn St. 5’11”, 211 lbs. A big play threat with good speed and great agility who’s also a decent blocker. Mild downgrade for inconsistent vision and unproven ability as a receiver.
  • 3:12 RB Darwin Thompson, Utah State. 5’8”, 200 lbs. A prospect who can legitimately dream of becoming the next Tarik Cohen or Dion Lewis. Short, yes, but he is also stout, strong and has some of the best contact balance in the class. Add in his proven receiving ability and Thompson projects to be a fantastic change of pace back if he can stand the rigors of the NFL game.
  • 3:24 RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma. 6’1”, 219 lbs. Anderson has shown more as a receiver, less as a blocker, is a bit on the long-and-lean side, and could be questioned for coming out of a wide open spread offense, but overall he is another fine prospect for a RB similar to Conner. Grade lowered for an injury red flag (3 season enders, ow!) Here is a good December scouting profile.
  • 3:24 RB Justice Hill, Okla. St. 5’10”, 190 lbs. A really fine overall prospect who’s just a bit smaller than you’d hope, which forces him to wriggle, twist, and squirm through tiny cracks rather than moving the pile. This goes to a good, four-reviewer December scouting profile.
  • 3:24 RB Bryce Love, Stanford. 5’9”, 196 lbs. Small but stout even though he’s been unlucky on the injury front with ankles & etc, the most recent being a mild tear to his ACL from which he hopes to return in time for the Combine. Has breakaway speed and elusiveness that is almost elite but the contact balance has been so-so. Could be a bargain if the injuries held him back and are not going to be a constant moving forward.
  • 3:24 RB Jordan Scarlett, Florida. 5’10”, 213 lbs. A speed demon with some of the best balance in the draft.
  • 4:01 RB RyQuell Armstead, Temple. 5’11”, 216 lbs. A feisty and powerful RB who simply won’t go down on first contact. Has also flashed decent pass blocking and receiving ability, but isn’t the most agile guy and has some bouts of fumbleitis.
  • 4:01 RB Devin Singletary, Florida Atl. 5’9”, 200 lbs. Unbelievable production that needs to be discounted for irregular competition and the inflation of a spread offense, though he’s played very well against the better competition too. Very elusive with great jump cuts, patience, and contact balance. Moderate breakaway speed. So durable that tread on the tires may be a concern.
  • 4:01 RB Benny Snell, Kentucky. 5’10”, 223 lbs. Turns no yards into one and three yards into five, but unlikely to break any run into 20. A good, hard driving tough guy and leader who also knows how to succeed without relying on that power.
  • 4:01 RB Mike Weber, Ohio St. 5’10”, 215 lbs. A good, well rounded back with quickness, power, receiving ability and vision. Injuries ruined 2017 but he bounced back well in 2018.
  • 4:01 RB James Williams, Wash. St. 5’11”, 195 lbs. A classic receiving weapon out of the backfield who possess wonderful hands, contact balance, and a solid combination of speed and quickness. A tough minded, hard driving player too who will be a fan favorite. But he really is on the slighter side, would get pounded to bits if asked to be a bell cow back, and can only hope to cut block if he has to pick up a blitzing linebacker. The Patriots’ James White is a good pro comparison. Here is a January scouting profile.
  • 4:16 RB Tony Brooks-James, Oregon. 5’9”, 190 lbs. A speed demon and breakaway threat with just about everything you want in a RB but consistent vision. He has also become a dynamic receiver who can line up anywhere.
  • 4:16 RB Karan Higdon, Michigan. 5’10”, 202 lbs. A good, patient runner who hits the hole hard and has some big play ability, Higdon is significantly smaller than the recent Steeler model, a fact that raises questions about his long term durability and his ability to pass block. No obvious reasons to question his hands but he was rarely used as a receiver, even on a team that could use one. A genuine boost to this RB class, here is a New Year’s scouting profile.
  • 4:16 RB Wes Hills, Slippery Rock. 6’2”, 215 lbs. A small school star from a school just north of the Burgh, Hills has been all but impossible for D-II tacklers to handle. Fantastic contact balance, great vision, good speed, and a sophisticated ability to use his blockers are the high points. Some question his overall agility and athleticism, his skills as a receiver are unknown, and his blocking is… Let’s be nice and call it “D-II”.

The offensive holes may be few and far between but the Steelers will look to fill them. It might be on the O-line, especially if one of the current players serves notice that he plans to retire in the foreseeable future, or the team doctors suggest that the recent spate of injuries suffered by Marcus Gilbert and Jerald Hawkins are likely to continue. It might be a bargain steal on yet another receiving weapon. But the most likely target will be that RB #3 spot.

Which direction would you go, and who would you hope to get? Let us know in the Comments (with due understanding that a lot of those 3:01 and 3:12 grades would be a solid round higher if Conner or Samuels gets abducted by aliens on his way to the gym). For that matter, please answer this question that Nick Farabaugh and I have been bouncing around: Should the Steelers pick any RB before Round 4 given the current roster and situation? If the consensus is “No” we can install a hard floor and move all the earlier names to a group at 4:01.

[FN] For those who don’t know, we organize the BTSC Big Board by a grade called “Highest Value”. An HV of 1:20 means the player is a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 20 overall but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting that player in the early 2nd would be fine, while getting him at 2:12 would almost be a steal. Yes, this system results in a certain amount of grade inflation for positions of need because we are talking about the “highest” grade rather than where a player is expected to go; but it’s balanced by never, ever pushing a grade up because of need. Players with the same HV# are more-or-less equivalent and organized alphabetically.

James Harrison believes Mike Tomlin has Steelers heading in the wrong direction

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 8:00am

The former Steelers linebacker shared a number of opinions about the drama in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but as usual, saved his harshest words for Mike Tomlin.

When James Harrison was in his prime with the Pittsburgh Steelers and still happy to be on the roster, he was a joy to watch. Sadly for many fans, the same cannot be said of television career. From outward appearances, Harrison has revelled in the Steelers dysfunction, using a lot of it to his advantage. With Pittsburgh a constant topic for the national sports talk shows, the former linebacker has become a popular guest thanks to his willingness to share his insights about the Steelers.

Thanks to his good friend and former teammate Antonio Brown, Harrison was able to enjoy some more airtime on Tuesday, appearing as a guest on both Undisputed on Fox Sports 1 and The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

Among suggestions that Brown wanted to have more of a voice within the organization, had issues with JuJu Smith-Schuster winning team MVP and had a strained relationship with Ben Roethlisberger, Harrison struggled to see how AB could remain in Pittsburgh. But as is often the way, he saved his harshest criticism for Mike Tomlin. Telling Skip Bayless on Undisputed:

“I think he’s a good head coach, I wouldn’t put him as great because I feel like a great head coach takes good players and does great things with them. I think he has great players over there and he hasn’t done good things with them this year. With the roster and the guys that he’s had over there, I think they should have been a little further along.”

“My feeling is this. The more control or the more that he has to do with what goes on around there, I feel like the further the team is getting away from the goal of a Super Bowl. I feel like the more he gets his people in place and the more he gets the people he wants there, I feel like they’re getting further away from their goal. That’s just my feeling.”

When it comes to the problems with the Steelers defense, that is also Tomlin’s fault according to Harrison.

“I felt like the Dick LeBeau situation was a move to try and, like you say, get him out of there so Tomlin could put more of his hand into it. Coach Butler, he’s a great coach, but I don’t feel like he’s got, at least from when I was there, he didn’t get a chance to D coordinate and actually do the job. He had it in title.

“Mike Tomlin’s hand is in a lot of that and that’s why I believe you haven’t seen a change on the defensive side of the ball too much other that letting guys go whose contract are up, because he has so much of a hand in that defense.”

Aside from some amusing anecdotes about playing in cold weather or picking up tells from an opposing offensive player, his remarks about the problems in Pittsburgh with Cowherd were basically a shortened version of his comments on Undisputed. Acknowledging Brown had not told him he wanted to leave the Steelers, Harrison still maintained his belief that AB wanted to be playing elsewhere in 2019.

“I sense from everything that I’m reading now and seeing, with the withdrawal of Steelers things from his social media and all that stuff, I would feel that with the interview and what Jerry said, I would think that he wants to get a fresh start somewhere else.”

For those wondering how much longer this torture will go on, it is worth noting that no trades can be officially signed until March 13 at 4 p.m ET at the earliest. So basically, much longer than you can stand hearing about it, and the offseason is barely two weeks old!

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Pre-Draft visit Tracker

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 6:50am

Keep tabs on who the Steelers have met with at each stage of the offseason leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with almost every other NFL team, are preparing for the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft, and all are doing their diligence interviewing prospects. There are several stages where teams interview prospects, and it can actually start at All-Star games. Teams will take a look at prospects at the Senior Bowl and the Shriner game, but the biggest event is the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine.

With All-Star games underway, and the Scouting Combine just around the corner, reports of teams meeting with prospects are raging. We here at BTSC will keep you updated with the prospects who have met with Pittsburgh at every step along the way. The Combine, Pro Days and of course the ever-important Official Pre-Draft Visits.

Check out the latest list below:

Updated 1/15 East/West Shriner Game

Kendall Blanton, TE, Missouri
Justin Hollins, LB, Oregon

Senior Bowl Game

Event has yet to take place

NFL Scouting Combine

Event has yet to take place

Pro Days

Will take place after the Combine

Official Pre-Draft Visit Rumors

Will take place after the Combine

Official Pre-Draft Visits

Will take place after the Combine

Pre-Draft Visits, By Position

None yet

Podcast: Who is the more hated Steelers athlete? Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 5:38am

The drama continues in the Steel City, which begs the question who is the more hated athlete in Pittsburgh? Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell?

Pittsburgh Steelers fans have had a tough few years. Sure, they always root for a competitive team, something many fan bases cannot say, but the drama which has constantly been circling this team is downright exhausting.

It started with Martavis Bryant’s suspension(s).

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrett Blount.

Le’Veon Bell’s franchise tag craziness.

Le’Veon Bell’s franchise tag craziness, Part II.

Now Antonio Brown walking out on his team.

Throw in some Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger drama and you have a full fledged three ring circus.

To get back to the point of this podcast/article would be to wonder who is the most hated Steelers athlete, at the current moment?

Inquiring minds want to know, and this was the was the crux of the new podcast ‘Steelers Burning Question’ which aired last night on our YouTube channel.

In the podcast I go into greater detail on what spawned this idea. In other words, I saw on Le’Veon Bell’s Instagram Story how he was doing his best impersonation of a rapper, and it sort of jogged my memory on how despised Bell was earlier this season.

A lot can change, and fans certainly do have a short-term memories when it comes to this type of drama, but I try to do my best and guess which player is most hated.

Plenty has to be deciphered here, and I lay it all out there for the listeners in the latest show...

Check out the show below, and be sure to comment what you think the Steelers should do with Brown in the comment section below!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out the YouTube clip here:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

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

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