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Is Minkah Fitzpatrick on pace to have a better career than Ed Reed?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/12/2020 - 7:15am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 season was a breakout year for Fitzpatrick, as 2003 was for Reed. Both players’ production through two season says a lot for Minkah’s career prospects.

Last week, Steelers Nation received quite the stir when Bart Scott, a former Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets linebacker, in responding to a question from Adam Lefkoe on ‘The Lefkoe Show’ (Bleacher Report) on greatness, said:

This statement incited an inspired reaction from current Steelers’ linebacker, Vince Williams (as covered by Jeff Hartman in his recent article), who challenged Scott’s view by citing the fact Troy Polamalu had more versatility than how he was positioned demonstrated. Williams also pointed out comparing the two was akin to comparing outside linebackers and inside linebackers (or middle linebackers), and argued Troy was so effective in the run and blitz game it would have been silly to stick him in the post.

Over a week later, Scott’s comments continue to be dredged up on social media, with media also covering the story. However, one question continued to plague me as the discussion raged on:

With Polamalu and Reed different players (and mostly playing different positions), how does Minkah Fitzpatrick compare to Reed after 2-3 years in the league? And could Fitzpatrick ultimately have an even better career, especially after a breakout 2019 season for the Steelers?

Firstly, let’s be fair to Reed (as one may have hoped Scott may have been to Polamalu) and acknowledge that through his first four seasons, Reed was classified as a Strong Safety, and then played out his career predominantly at Free Safety. Although, if they had both played a traditional Strong Safety position, Polamalu would have beaten him in that respect too. Equally, this positional change also leaves Reed with the advantage over Minkah Fitzpatrick of playing deep when he was both acclimated to the NFL and already a playmaking Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro safety.

Alternatively, Fitzpatrick has played virtually his whole career at Free Safety, with some snaps at Strong Safety, and has the potential to be much more of a ‘Swiss army knife’ style player in the secondary than he is being used currently (notwithstanding the debate on where he wanted to play snaps with Miami, I believe he simply wanted out of the Dolphins).

Regardless, it’s not hard to see there are comparisons between the two in how they are used or are potentially able to be used, with some fans ready to call or have already called Fitzpatrick and Bush the Steelers’ answer to Reed and Lewis. So, to compare ‘apples with apples’ let’s look at both Fitzpatrick’s career production after two-seasons and Reed’s production (according to Pro Football Reference):

Minkah Fitzpatrick’s Career Statistics - 2 Seasons (to date):
  • 32 Games, 1x Pro Bowler & 1x First Team All-Pro, 7 INTs, 18 Pass Defenses, 2 TDs, 0 Sacks
  • 2 Forced Fumbles, 3 Fumble Recoveries, 1 Fumble Recovery TD
  • 149 Combined Tackles (13% missed), 95 Solo Tackles, 3 Tackles For Loss
  • 1 QB Hit, 25 Blitzes, 1 QB Hurry, 1 QB Pressure, 4 TDs Allowed
  • 92 Times Targeted by the QB, 59 Completions allowed (64%), 754 Yards Allowed
  • 12.77 Yards per completion allowed, 433 Air Yards Allowed, 321 YAC Allowed
Ed Reed’s Career Statistics - 2 Seasons*:
  • 32 Games, 1x Pro Bowler, 12 INTs, 27 Pass Defenses, 1 TD, 2 Sacks
  • 1 Forced Fumble, 0 Fumble Recoveries, 0 Fumble Recovery TDs
  • 156 Combined Tackles, 130 Solo Tackles, 13 Tackles For Loss
  • 299 Yards Allowed, 24.9 yards per completion (based on average yards allowed)

*Pro Football Reference did not record all statistical elements at this stage of Reed’s career.

In comparing these numbers, it’s important to note while snap count and deeper pass defense statistics are available for Fitzpatrick, they aren’t for Reed and so these have been included to give more insight where relevant.

So how does Fitzpatrick stack up against Reed? Both players had one Pro Bowl honor, while Fitzpatrick received an All-Pro in his second season, Reed had more Pass Defenses and Interceptions, Fitzpatrick scored two ‘pick sixes’ to Reed’s 1, with Reed recording two sacks and Fitzpatrick none. Current score: 3-4 to Reed.

When it comes to anything relating to fumbles, which in 2019 showed how lethal Minkah has become and how well he’d adjusted to the Steelers’ defense, Fitzpatrick has more forced more fumbles, made more fumble recoveries and scored more fumble recovery touchdowns. Score update: 6-4 to Fitzpatrick.

Here’s where it gets interesting. As expected, their stats differ substantially in terms of tackles and pass defense, which is to be expected to some degree given their positional designation differences at this point in their respective careers. Reed had more tackles than Fitzpatrick, with a difference of just 6 tackles, made more solo tackles and had more tackles for a loss. Score flips: 6-7 to Reed.

In terms of pass defense, Reed allowed a miserly 299 yards to Fitzpatrick’s 754 yards, while Fitzpatrick allowed almost half the number of yards per completion at 12.77 yards to Reed’s 24.9 yards. Score update: 8-7 to Reed.

Finally, in comparing Pro Football Reference’s ‘Average Value’ (AV) rating for each player - calculated by ‘the weight sum of seasonal AV scores, 100% of the player’s best season, plus 95% of his 2nd-best season, plus 90% of his 3rd-best season, plus 85% of his 4th-best season, etc’ - Fitzpatrick received ratings of 4 (2018) & 19 (2019) in his first two seasons, with Reed scoring a 7 and 11 (and 15 in his third season). Final Score: 8-8 tie.

However, it’s these statistics which demonstrate Minkah’s acclimation to the NFL and rapid progression into being a top tier safety, and potentially a Hall of Fame (HOF) safety, with Reed recording just 6 more tackles and allowing a much higher average of yards despite being closer to the line of scrimmage and playing against the run or short passing downs, than that of Fitzpatrick. On the flip-side, Fitzpatrick’s high tackle count and much smaller average yards allowed per completion demonstrate his potential to have a stellar career, and match or better Reed’s career excellence. Fitzpatrick’s chances look even better when you consider his 0.11 faster 40-yard time (4.46) compared to Reed, his bigger weight and extra two-inches of height which makes a difference when defending the pass.

So, what does Fitzpatrick need to do in year 3 to continue chasing the HOF and his pace of matching or bettering Reed’s career excellence? Bettering Reed’s key third season statistical outputs is a good place to start:

  • 16 Games, Made the Pro Bowl & Achieved First Team All-Pro, 9 INTs, 17 Pass Defenses, 1 TD,
  • 2 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries, 1 Fumble Recovery TDs
  • 78 Combined Tackles, 64 Solo Tackles, 6 Tackles For Loss
  • 358 Yards Allowed, 39.8 yards per completion (based on average yards allowed)

Does Minkah Fitzpatrick have to put up these numbers in 2020 to have a career which reaches that of Ed Reed? Not necessarily. But if he did, it would be great news for both Minkah and the Steelers.

The Steelers plan to revitalize their offense runs through the slot

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/12/2020 - 6:00am
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers look to capitalize on the NFL’s most valuable spots on the field

Slot receivers aren’t the same as they were 10 years ago. They aren’t even the same as they were 4 years ago, when in 2016 the Steelers played Eli Rogers as their main slot receiver. In the current NFL, star receivers who used to line up almost exclusively outside frequently move inside to get different match-ups and drive linebackers like Vince Williams crazy. While Steeler fans should be used to this with JuJu Smith-Schuster playing outside as well as being the teams main slot receiver, it is happening all over the league.

Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen and more all spend significant time in the slot, and they are incredibly productive when they line up there. According to Football Outsiders DVOA, targets to the slot were 7.1% more efficient than targets to the outside receivers. The largest gap they’ve recorded yet.

Take Mike Evans, a big, strong and fast outside receiver. In 2019 his DYAR (Defense adjusted yards above replacement) on his 93 targets when lined up outside was 171, 7th best in the NFL, and 11.1% more efficient than the average receiver. When Mike Evans lined up in the slot, he was even better. On only 31 targets, he produced 149 yards more than average, an impressive 47.9% better than average on one-third the targets, but only 22 yards short of his added yards from the far greater number of outside targets.

Why does this matter? Because producing average results is what average receivers do. Better players get better results, and it’s the offensive coordinators’ job to put players in the best position to succeed, so the offense can benefit more from their talent.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this means utilizing the slot positions more effectively in 2020.

2019 was a bad year for slot production for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While most of the NFL was utilizing their slot receivers heavily in 2019, the Steelers were not. The Steelers only receiver to post a positive DVOA from the slot was James Washington, who ranked 35th with 81 yards above average, largely due to Washington and Devlin Hodges hooking up for a number of deep passes in the Cleveland and Buffalo games. Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster both were in negative DVOA in 2019.

A big part of the problem came from quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was more effective throwing to outside receivers than to the slot. Rudolph was the third worst (by DVOA) throwing to slot receivers, but just outside the top ten at #11 for the best throwing to outside receivers, ahead of guys like Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.

In fact, if you look at their rankings sorted by the difference between how efficient quarterbacks were throwing outside or to the slot, the quarterbacks who were much more effective throwing to the slot, and not very effective throwing to outside receivers were the best quarterbacks in the league. Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes were the three most extreme in that category, while on the other end of the spectrum, the quarterbacks that were better throwing to outside receivers than to the slot were Dwayne Haskins, Gardner Minshew and Mason Rudolph.

If you look more closely at the quarterbacks that use the slot the best, not only were two of the three playing in the Super Bowl, but they also have some of the better slot weapons on the planet, and not just at wide receiver. New Orleans and Kansas City both have star receivers sliding into the slot around half the time with Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill, while San Francisco used rookie Deebo Samuel in that role. But those three teams had the top three tight ends at slot production in Jordan Reed, George Kittle and Travis Kelce. San Francisco and New Orleans also have backs in Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostert and Alvin Kamara that are leading producers among backs when lined up as receivers.

The Steelers had Vance McDonald at tight end, who is much better tight to the line than he is in the slot. The Steelers did have Jaylen Samuels lining up as a receiver a similar amount as in 2018, but in 2019 he suffered the same fate as the Steelers receivers, recording dismal slot production.

While the best NFL offenses had multiple weapons playing in the slot, and quarterbacks that used them well, the Steelers clearly did not and that was a big problem.

The Steelers have a lot of answers in 2020.

While it is easy to point to Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges and think that Ben Roethlisberger will fix all the problems on the offense, the Steelers were more proactive than that.

The Steelers added one of the top slot tight ends in the NFL in Eric Ebron. Ebron’s production suffered in 2019 with quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who joined Mason Rudolph as one of the ten passers with negative DVOA throwing to the slot. In 2018 and earlier Eric Ebron was one of the more effective tight ends when lined up in the slot or as an outside receiver.

The Steelers also added Derek Watt, a fullback and special teams ace who can also line up on the line as a receiver, both tight to the line and in the slot. The Steelers hired coach Matt Canada, who has a history of using wingbacks and H-backs effectively. Wingbacks and H-backs are the precursors to the slot receiver, and are usually a back or tight end.

The Steelers didn’t just start this focus this off-season either. Le’Veon Bell was one of the best slot backs in the NFL for years, and the Steelers have been rotating outside receivers into the slot since Hines Ward starting slowing down later in his career. After the struggles in 2019 using slot receivers, the Steelers invested even more heavily in that area.

The key isn’t to find a good slot receiver—that’s the old way. The best NFL offenses use a variety of players in the slot, using big tall fast receivers like Chase Claypool, route running tight ends like Eric Ebron, versatile running backs like Jaylen Samuels, and their main outside receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The Steelers have positioned themselves well to compete as one of the top teams in the NFL with their defense, but they have also added key pieces to try and elevate the offense to compete with the leagues best.

Main articles referenced:

2019 slot vs wide: quarterbacks
2019 slot vs wide: runningbacks and tight ends
2019 slot vs wide: wide receivers

Podcast: Don’t worry about the Steelers offensive line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/12/2020 - 5:30am

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

The Steelers offense was down as a whole in 2020. Ben Roethlisberger’s injury hiatus had a lot to do with that. But fingers have definitely been pointed at an aging offensive line. With veteran Pro Bowlers Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva finding themselves on the northern end of 30, fans and skeptics are predicting the demise of the blocking game. But there are others that feel that reports of said early demise are exaggerated. 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 with his show, “Let’s Ride” as he breaks down the Steelers 2020 offensive protectors.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Don’t worry about the Steelers offensive line
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Change is inevitable in the NFL, and that includes the Steelers’ offensive line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/12/2020 - 4:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. With the start of training camp now behind us, it looks like we’ll have to wait until opening weekend to see the Steelers take the field. Just because the NFL has cancelled the preseason doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how change is a fact of life in the NFL, and that includes along the Steelers’ offensive line.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The offensive line is an ever-changing thing, and the Steelers’ group is no different.

Tim Benz: David DeCastro understands O-line changes for 2020, braces for more in ’21

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Amidst two years of non-playoff results, significant injury and roster tumult on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, one thing has remained relatively steady.

The offensive line.

Change is coming in 2020, however. Alejandro Villanueva will remain as the left tackle. Center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro will look to follow up Pro Bowl seasons on the interior as well.

But with Ramon Foster retiring at left guard, Matt Feiler will switch to that position. Either Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner will take over Feiler’s right tackle spot. Longtime center/guard backup B.J. Finney went to Seattle via free agency. So the Steelers signed veteran journeyman Stefen Wisniewski to fill that void. And they drafted guard Kevin Dotson in the fourth round.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Vince Williams knows what it means to be a linebacker for the Steelers.

Camp Blog: All the news from Week 1

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

‘It’s Blitzburgh here’: Last week defensive coordinator Keith Butler made it clear that Vince Williams would be seeing more snaps in 2020 than he did in 2019, with his natural ability as a communicator just one of the reasons why his presence is needed.

Williams’ snaps dropped last season after the team drafted Devin Bush in the first round and added Mark Barron. But Barron is gone, and now it’s Williams and Bush who will be the go-to guys at inside linebacker this year.

“I tell Devin all the time that middle linebackers are vocal communicators in the middle of the field,” said Williams. “The more you make calls, the more comfortable you get with it, the more people get confidence in you making those calls. He is just taking it in stride, watching me, seeing how I do things and learning.

“Devin is making tremendous strides. Just in the small detail like things. For example, he has a nice little system that he is working with. He comes in the building at a consistent time every day. Those are things that you don’t really see from a young guy that doesn’t really have a formula for success. But I am starting to see that he is starting to develop that, and I think he is going to get better with it.”

While Williams is singing Bush’s praises, he doesn’t like to talk much about his own stellar play. A former sixth-round draft pick in 2013, Williams has become a dependable force on the defense, playing with a chip on his shoulder that gives him the perfect edge. He sets his own expectations high. He also doesn’t spend time focusing on what others say, including if there is a misconception that coverage is not one of his strengths.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Training Camp at Heinz Field sure does look different compared to what Saint Vincent College provides to players.

Steelers’ Joe Haden shows off the suite life at Heinz Field training camp

By: Brooke Pryor, ESPN

In a normal year, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be living in dorms and practicing on fields at St. Vincent College about an hour away from Pittsburgh in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

But with the coronavirus pandemic forcing all NFL teams to hold their training camps at home, the Steelers are learning that camp at Heinz Field can be pretty, ahem, sweet.

Players are spending their downtime in the stadium suites. Veterans have their own suites, while the younger guys are sharing their space with one other player.

Cornerback Joe Haden gave fans a couple of glimpses into his setup on his Instagram story on Wednesday and Thursday.

“I ain’t gonna lie, I got so much love for Latrobe, but training camp in the stadium is so much better,” Haden said on video as he opened the door to his suite Wednesday.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

The Steelers are near the Top 5 on the latest Power Rankings

Can Calvin Taylor make the Steelers’ roster as an UDFA?

David DeCastro gives a rundown on the state of the offensive line heading into 2020

Steven Nelson wants to be the best in the NFL in 2020

Cameron Sutton expected to have an expanded role this year

Is Stephon Tuitt the answer to the Steelers’ defensive questions?

The Steelers’ offense doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel this year

Just Layne is back off the Reserved/COVID list

  • Social Media Madness

Super Bowl XL: Antwaan Randle El’s 43 yard Touchdown Pass to Hines Ward! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/STc1G9BdfN

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 11, 2020

Minkah and Conner! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/tMbImzTqdG

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 11, 2020

Starting the week off strong @budlight | #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/Ccr82nxOWX

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 10, 2020

@MaurkicePouncey pic.twitter.com/l3FN6d0pGw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 11, 2020

RT if you know what happens next #TouchdownTuesday | #SBXLIII pic.twitter.com/oPpDwBnMh0

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 11, 2020

Minkah Fitzpatrick attributes his 2019 success to the Steelers simply letting him play his game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 4:30pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Joining the Steelers in Week 3, Fitzpatrick jumped on the moving train and took it for a ride.

In an interactive phone call with Steelers fans on Tuesday, Steelers All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick discussed various topics asked of him by members of Steelers Nation Unite. From work out tips to ways to improve for the 2020 season, Fitzpatrick had great interaction with fans throughout the call.

One question in particular asked of Fitzpatrick was what about the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed him to come in and have success right away during the season.

“I think they really simplified it for me,” Fitzpatrick responded. “They really told me to just ‘go out there and do what you do.’ They weren’t worried about me making mistakes. They weren’t worried about me not being in the right spot because I just got there. So they knew was going to make mistakes. They just told me to go out there, fly around, have fun, communicate, and just do what you do.”

Fitzpatrick made his presence known right away for the Steelers when he had his debut in Week 3 in San Francisco against the 49ers. With an interception and a forced fumble, Fitzpatrick played every snap on defense and his first game with the Steelers after only a handful of practices.

In his first eight games with Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick had five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, along with a fumble recovery which was returned 43 yards for score as well. In those eight games, Fitzpatrick only missed one defensive snap.

Even as Fitzpatrick had more time to get familiar with the Steelers, he still was ultimately asked to just play his game and do what he does best.

“Then, week to week, obviously I was learning the defense,” Fitzpatrick explained. “So that responsibility came along. I think what allowed me to be myself is they trusted me in my preparation, and they said ‘do what you do.’”

As the 2019 season rolled on, teams began to avoid Fitzpatrick after seeing the danger in throwing in his direction. While it was frustrating for the All-Pro safety to not have the opportunities he had seen earlier in the season, Fitzpatrick continued to work hard to make the Steelers the best defense it could be.

When it comes to 2020, Fitzpatrick has gone on record with his willingness to do more within the Steelers system. Exactly what this will look like has yet to be revealed, but for the Steelers to not utilize the skill set Fitzpatrick brings to the table, especially after he’s been fully acclimated with the defense, would be a waste of talent.

And there is one thing both the Steelers and all of Steelers Nation knows for sure: Minkah Fitzpatrick has high-level talent.

The NHL playoffs show the NFL can have the least compromised COVID champion

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 3:00pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins quick exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs to an inferior team is further proof that the NFL sure did luck out with being able to conduct a fairly normal regular season amid the ongoing pandemic.

Friday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had a 40-23-6 mark when the NHL regular season came to a screeching halt in March due to the ongoing pandemic, were eliminated from the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in four games by the Montreal Canadiens, a team that, with a record of 31-31-9, needed binoculars to see the top of the Eastern Conference wildcard standings when the regular season came to a close nearly five months ago.

No Penguins fans were obviously in attendance at the Eastern Conference playoff bubble in Toronto, but if they were, in addition to screaming “Shoot the puck!” they likely would have complained about Pittsburgh’s lack of effort—for a fourth-straight game.

How bad was this loss? I saw at least one reporter on Twitter describe it as the worst one in the history of professional sports. I don’t know if I’d go that far—as a huge Pirates fan, I’m still in therapy over the ending of Game 7 of the NLCS. But you know the saying about how, if two teams played each other 100 times, one would win 99 times?

Maybe the lone triumph for the inferior squad is more prone to happen when the postseason begins immediately after four-plus months off.

In other words, perhaps there was a reason the Penguins looked listless and lifeless during the four-game series.

I know I said recently that past championships won after shortened seasons were never really questioned in terms of legitimacy. So why should it be the case for one that occurs during a COVID crisis? But I didn’t truly consider the dynamic of beginning the playoffs immediately after a lengthy layoff.

Think about it, after four-plus months away, I don’t care how good a team’s record is, it’s basically starting a brand-new season once it resumes play. The team chemistry will likely be different. The team rhythm will likely be different, and playing in a bubble without fans certainly doesn’t help when trying to rediscover such things.

Yes, the NFL had a lengthy work-stoppage in 1982, which cut the regular season down to nine weeks, but at least teams still got to play seven more regular season games before the playoffs began.

MLB was shut down for nearly two months a year earlier due to the 1981 players’ strike, but play resumed two months before the start of the postseason.

It’s one thing to enter the playoffs after a shortened season, it’s quite another thing to begin them immediately after a lengthy layoff.

Obviously, there wasn’t much the NHL could do, other than scrap the Stanley Cup playoffs or go with the NBA’s plan of having a two-week finish to the regular season. Neither option is nearly as attractive as the NFL’s current plan—staying healthy and playing a full regular season schedule.

So, the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and all the teams who will be vying for the postseason this January have once again been blessed with the gift of time. Contenders will also be blessed with chemistry, rhythm and momentum as they enter the playoffs.

Although, if they lose, the idea of playing in a bubble city without fans may look a lot more appealing in the future.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Stephon Tuitt

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Continuing with part 79 of our 90ish-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man (now 80-man) roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at returning defensive end:

Stephon Tuitt

Position: DE
Height: 6’ 6”
Weight: 303 lbs
College: Notre Dame
Draft: 2nd round, 46th overall In 2014

2019 Stats

6 Games played
22 Tackles
3.5 Sacks
6 Tackles for loss
7 QB Hits

Contract remaining

Expires in 2023
$14,940,750 salary cap number (7.44% of total cap)
$5,940,750 Dead money each of the next 3 seasons
$9,000,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. Before Stephon Tuitt tore his pectoral muscle in 2019 he was arguably the defense’s best player. He’s been a dominant force since he first donned the black and gold back in 2014. Not only is he not going anywhere, Tuitt will be looking to earn his first Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors. The Steelers are better when he is on the field and I have no doubt Tuitt will pick up where he left off in 2019.

2020 projection

If Stephon Tuitt returns to the level of play he was producing in 2019 before his oinjury, then the Steelers defense might become one of those all-time units that gets talked about for generations. They almost drug a nearly offense-less team to the playoff last year, so what could they do with 16 games of Stephon Tuitt in the mix! I expect greatness, and the only thing that will challenge Tuitt’s stats is his teammates beating him to the quarterback for sacks.

Projected stats:

16 Games played
60 Tackles
10 Sacks
16 Tackles for loss
21 QB Hits
4 Passes defended

Summary

The 2020 season projects to be the best statistical season in Stephon Tuitt’s career. He was pacing a double-digit sack season a year ago and I believe he does it if he plays in all 16 games. The challenge facing oppositions offensive coordinators when game planning the Steelers front four of T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Tuitt will prove to be an interesting one when it comes to figure out who's getting double teams. Three of those names have double-digit sack seasons under their belts, and Stephon Tuitt will probably get his first one this season. These four guys are going to feast on opposing quarterbacks and it’s going to be so much fun watching it happen.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett -Cut
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney -Cut
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden
J.C. Hassenauer
Quadree Henderson -Cut
Dewayne Hendrix -Cut
Cam Heyward
Alex Highsmith
Mike Hilton
Devlin Hodges
John Houston -Cut
Anthony Johnson
Diontae Johnson
Jarron Jones
John Keenoy
Tyree Kinnel -Cut
Christian Kuntz -Cut
Justin Layne
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart
Paxton Lynch
Dan McCullers
Vance McDonald
Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henry Mondeaux
Christian Montano -Cut
Alexander Myres
Steven Nelson
Spencer Nigh
Chuks Okorafor
James Pierre
Maurkice Pouncey
Kevin Rader
Dax Raymond
Ben Roethlisberger
Mason Rudolph
Jaylen Samuels
Tuzar Skipper
Wendall Smallwood
Juju Smith-Schuster
Benny Snell Jr.
Robert Spillane
Cameron Sutton
Ryan Switzer
Calvin Taylor

Teryl Austin sees an expanded role for Cam Sutton

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 12:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The saying is you can never have too many quality defensive backs, and Cam Sutton is proof of just that.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been known for a poor secondary. This narrative dates back to Bill Cowher’s time in Pittsburgh, but even though the vast majority of Mike Tomlin’s tenure with the Steelers has been a mix-and-match look at defensive back.

Entering the 2020 season the Steelers shockingly sport one of the league’s top secondaries with the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Steven Nelson and Joe Haden. At cornerback, the position is bolstered by Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton, and Sutton is a player who very well could see an expanded role within the defense in 2020.

During a virtual press conference Tuesday, defensive assistant/defensive backs coach Teryl Austin foresees Sutton seeing more playing time during the upcoming 2020 regular season.

Teryl Austin said Cam Sutton will have an expanded role, has a lot of versatility, and is a super smart guy. He said he is strong in pass defense.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 11, 2020

Hilton is the incumbent slot cornerback in the team’s most popular defensive package, the nickel, with Sutton filling out the role as the dime defensive back. But could things change entering this season?

Both Hilton and Sutton are entering the final year of their current contracts, and the odds of them bringing both back in 2021 is highly unlikely. Hilton might be more of a proven commodity, but it isn’t as if Sutton hasn’t produced during his time with the Steelers since being drafted out of Tennessee.

In his three years in Pittsburgh, Sutton has seen an increased role in the Steelers defense. In 2019, Sutton played in 25% of the defensive snaps where he logged an interception, a sack, and five passes defensed. He was targeted 25 times in 2019 with 14 completions. Most importantly, Sutton gave up no touchdowns according to Pro Football Reference and also had the lowest yards per completion of anyone in the Steelers secondary at 9.4 yards.

With the phrasing of “having an expanded role” and having “versatility” may mean Sutton could be used in a variety of positions in the Steelers secondary. Sutton has already proved he can be used in the safety position as well, so should the Steelers have a need at some point in the season they could call on Sutton to fill-in just about anywhere a need would arise.

One thing is for sure, having a player such as Cameron Sutton who can step in at so many different places with high quality play is a far cry from what Steelers fans have had to endure in the secondary in years past. But more than just the fans, seeing secondary coach Teryl Austin praise Sutton and say his role will be expanded in 2020 is a huge vote of confidence for the young defensive back entering the final year of his contract.

Steven Nelson wants to be recognized as one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 11:16am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Other than interceptions, Steven Nelson’s 2019 season lined up with the top corners in the league.

In an interview on Tuesday, Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson talked about his goals for the upcoming 2020 NFL season. One of the things Nelson wants to do is to feel he is getting the recognition around the NFL this year he should have received in 2019.

Steven Nelson said he feels like he is underrated. He said one of his goals is to be recognized as one of the better corners in the league.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 11, 2020

Of course, Nelson does want more than being recognized for just himself. Nelson also wants to be recognized for what he brings to the Steelers secondary, and defense overall, as they are working together as a unit towards winning a championship.

“I definitely feel that I’m underrated,” Nelson stated. “I think a lot of people feel that way as well. This year, one of my goals is to be recognized as one of the better corners in the league, and just my role on this defense just being a professional, veteran guy that’s going to come to work and do my job so we can all reach that same goal.”

Nelson came to the Steelers in 2019 with what is currently the largest free agent contract the team has ever signed. Nelson’s three year, $25.5 million contract with the Steelers came on the heels of the 2018 season where he recorded four interceptions and 15 passes defensed along with 68 tackles as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

While Nelson’s interception and passes defensed numbers were higher in 2018, one thing which did come crashing down in a good way in 2019 was touchdowns allowed. According to Pro Football Reference, Nelson gave up five touchdowns as a member of the Chiefs in 2018 while he did not allow any in Pittsburgh last season.

Hopefully the 27-year-old is seeing his production more on the rise after a year in the Steelers defense. Paired alongside Joe Haden, they form one of the better cornerback duos in the NFL. And with All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick also lurking in the secondary, the Steelers have a chance to really make some noise in 2020. Hopefully the noise they make will give Nelson the recognition around the league he should have already received.

Nelson’s complete statement about being recognized in 2020 can be seen here courtesy of Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Steelers CB Steve Nelson’s goal for the 2020 season is to be recognized as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL pic.twitter.com/6RN4p18pkp

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 11, 2020

Podcast: Is a hot start more crucial then ever for the 2020 Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Q&A” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at the Steelers starting the season strong in 2020.

The Steelers did not start hot in 2019. They were 1-4 after five weeks and still were in competition for a playoff berth. The same thing happened with the 2018 Steelers who started off 1-2-1. In 2017, they were only 3-2. In an unpredictable Covid-19 season, starting out slow can kill a team quickly. So just how hot do the Steelers need to start in 2020 to not die on the vine? This is the inquiry that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Q&A Show. 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
  • Is a hot start more crucial then ever for the 2020 Steelers?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Bryan Davis and Tony Defeo of BTSC 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!

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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’ offense doesn't need to reinvent the wheel this season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 9:45am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to do some soul searching if they are going to be a serious contender this season.

In every journey of personal growth and self improvement there lies the danger of forgetting everything one does well by concentrating all our efforts on the one or two areas we are striving to improve on. Nothing wrong with wanting better if you truly value what you already have. In other words, stop trying to fix what isn't broken.

If the Steelers are going to end their current two year playoff drought, and become honest to goodness contenders once again, they are going to have to remember who and what made them special in the first place. No need to reinvent the wheel, just make sure it is rolling in the right direction.

Sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one.

Comment boards are filled everyday with well meaning suggestions from the Steelers multitude of faithful followers. We all have the Steelers’ best interest at heart, because of our love for the franchise. But in the end, all that matters is the truth, and it's up to the Steelers themselves to know what that is. The Steelers have to be honest with themselves about who they really are.

Contrary to popular belief, the Steelers don't have to run the ball more frequently. They just have to run it more efficiently and effectively when they do. This year’s roster doesn't have the personnel to suddenly become a power running team. The whole ‘run the ball to set up the pass’ suggestions look great on paper, but they are not practical if you don't have the players to pull it off.

Run the ball, dominate the time of possession, and let your rapidly improving defense put you in favorable field positions regularly sounds great in theory, but you have to get first downs to make that plan achievable. The Steelers have a solid, but in no way spectacular, stable of running backs. The offensive line, as currently constructed, is a finesse line, better suited for pass blocking than imposing their will in the running game. This offensive line was built with their future Hall of Fame quarterback in mind.

This year’s fourth round selection of powerhouse guard Kevin Dotson leads me to believe the Steelers are looking to improve their power across the line in the near future, but that will be down the road and the Steelers have to live in the here and now. It would be great if the Steelers could effectively run the football right off the bat this season, and take some of the pressure off Ben Roethlisberger as he attempts to get back in the swing of things, but that could prove easier said than done.

Roethlisberger, like most prolific quarterbacks, likes to throw the ball early in games to develop a rhythm and get his timing down. Early in Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers were a dominate running team that controlled the time of possession behind the rugged running game of Jerome Bettis and company, but often struggled to put points on the scoreboard because they repeatedly stalled out in the red zone. Roethlisberger rarely threw the ball early in many games due to the coaches sticking with the running game, thus never getting into a rhythm, and the Steelers played far too many close games with lesser opponents as a result.

Maybe the mere presence of No. 7 under center will illicit enough respect from opposing defenses to prevent the stacked boxes witnessed last season that made running the ball a nearly impossible endeavor. That would be nice, but I fear that won't automatically be the case right out of the gate. The more probable scenario is that opposing defensive coordinators will want to see what Roethlisberger has left in the tank and therefore test his resolve. See how he reacts to some overload blitzes and getting knocked on his behind a few times, penalties be damned. Trust me, if you don't think the Baltimore Ravens plan to do just that, you don't know the Ravens.

This is where the Steelers have to know who they are, and not try to outsmart themselves. The Steelers fortunes begin and end with Roethlisberger, and they must game plan accordingly. Based on their actions during free agency and the draft, I believe they are fully aware of this reality.

Ben Roethlisberger and an impressive group of receiving targets are the Steelers’ bread and butter, their meal ticket to another championship opportunity. Kevin Colbert has added multiple weapons to the Steelers’ arsenal with that reality in mind. It will be up to Randy Fichtner, and to a lesser degree Matt Canada, to work with their future Hall of Fame quarterback and company to formulate the best plan of attack moving forward.

Honesty is always the best policy. That would be a good place to start.

Steelers activate Justin Layne off Reserve/COVID List

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 8:43am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Layne will make his first appearance of the 2020 Training Camp coming off the Reserve/COVID list.

The NFL returning to play amidst the coronavirus pandemic has been interesting in many ways, and one of those ways has been players who have tested positive and been placed on the Reserve/COVID List.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had four players placed on this reserve list, and they are:

Aarion Springs
James Washington
Jaylen Samuels
Justin Layne

Springs, the first to be put on the COVID-19 list, was recently taken off the reserve list and immediately released. Just last week Washington was activated off the reserve list and returned to Training Camp with this teammates.

Today it is second year cornerback Layne who will join his teammates at Heinz Field for the first time in 2020.

We have activated CB Justin Layne off the reserve/COVID-19 list and released CB Breon Borders.@BordasLawhttps://t.co/0ACIYT7eWg

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 11, 2020

To make room for Layne, the Steelers released cornerback Breon Borders.

Layne is an intriguing prospect to watch this Training Camp. The second year cornerback out of Michigan State has the physical tools to be a legitimate player in the league, but playing behind Steven Nelson and Joe Haden doesn’t always lend itself to opportunities.

In 2019 Layne was relegated to special teams duties, but was able to overtake Artie Burns as the team’s special teams gunner on kick coverage teams. Layne filled in for Burns while Burns was out with injury, but never gave up the job when Burns returned healthy.

There is a lot of hope in Layne as the next outside cornerback for the Steelers when Haden is ready to call it a career, and Layne will finally get to put his best foot forward in 2020 as he heads to Training Camp at Heinz Field for the first time.

The only player left on the Reserve/COVID List is running back Jaylen Samuels, who should be coming off the reserve list as soon as he is symptom free and tests negative for the coronavirus.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2020 regular season.

Steelers fans need to temper expectations on Chase Claypool and the 2020 rookie class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The 2020 class of Steelers draft picks have the deck stacked against them and expecting greatness in year one isn't fair to the players

There is a learning curve to the NFL, and rookies don’t typically waltz in the league and put up 5,000 passing yards or 2,000 rushing yards. It takes some growing and maturing before that even happens for the all-time greats. That being said, NFL fans are passionate and expect some level of production out of their high-round draft picks in year one. The last thing any athlete wants to be labeled is a bust, so the pressure is high.

But this year is different, as obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting each and everyone of us. In the NFL, rookie camp, mini camp, OTA’s, and preseason games have been cancelled. Teams can't even run one-on-one drills. Basically, the first NFL reps these rookies will face will be in Week 1.

Chase Claypool also has the dubious honor of being the highest overall selection the Steelers made in April, which makes it easy to forget he’s not a first-round pick. Usually all the media attention hones in on that first-round player, but because there isn't one all eyes are quite literally on Claypool. Now typically first-round receivers are expected to come close to 1,000 yards in year one while expectations are a lot lower for second rounders and below. Also factor in Claypool is already getting Calvin Johnson comparisons for having nearly identical testing numbers and there is a recipe for crushing a young mans confidence.

"Chase (Claypool) is going to play a lot and he's going to be good." -- Steelers WR coach Ike Hilliard.

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) August 3, 2020

Just take this quote for Steelers receiving coach Ike Hilliard “Chase is going to play a lot and he’s going to be good.” Sure that's a really good sign that a coach already thinks highly of a player but again it raises the expectations for Chase. Just take a look at some of the responses following Coach Hilliard’s quote.

That size, speed and leaping ability, makes him almost impossible to defend. He makes what Mike Tomlin refers to as the "Combat Catch." He will be a major factor.

— Wayne Moody (@WaymooMoody) August 3, 2020

i am fully prepared for chase claypool to win afc roy https://t.co/nMklMopTGB

— yinzer (@yinzzzerr) August 8, 2020

I’m a little concerned if Claypool puts up, say a 30 reception, 400 yard type season, the fan base will turn their collective backs to him. Angry social media interactions have shot guys confidence in the past, as guys like Chris Boswell had to distance himself from hate messages to regain his composure.

The moral of the story is we need to let go of any expectation for the rookie season of the 2020 class. If any individual player shows flashes then we can be excited for the future, but don’t trash a guy if he’s not producing.

This rookie class will be fine, they will just need a little bit more time than in a normal year.

What do you think? Are Steelers fans expecting too much too soon out of its 2020 draft class? Let us know down in the comments below!

An infusion of talent should make the Steelers a better red zone offense in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 7:15am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After 2018, it was tough for the Steelers red zone offense to get any better. After 2019, it’s tough for them to get any worse.

Opening weekend in the NFL is just one month away, but with no preseason games to analyze and limited access to training camp information, it’s difficult to write about on-field developments with the Steelers.

We can, however, play the speculation game. Last week, I examined why the Steelers’ red zone defense was so effective in 2019. This week, I’m offering ideas on what we might expect from the red zone offense in 2020.

The Steelers’ have ridden the metaphorical see-saw when it’s come to red zone offense the past two seasons. In 2018, they finished first in the league in red zone touchdown percentage at an impressive 73.5%. Last year, with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined most of the season, they plummeted to 32nd with a dreadful 35% rate. That’s the rare and ignominious “first-to-worst” achievement. The Steelers must reclaim, to some degree, their 2018 form if they expect to make a playoff run in 2020.

With Roethlisberger returning to the lineup, improvement in the red zone is virtually guaranteed. However, the Steelers’ league-leading 2018 red zone offense also featured Antonio Brown, whose six red zone touchdowns tripled the combined total (2) of James Washington, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson last season. Brown’s production must be replaced for the team to become a potent red zone offense again.

How can the Steelers do so? Here are some likely ways.

Vertical Stretches

One element sorely lacking from the offense last year was a vertical red zone threat. Tight end Vance McDonald led the team with three red zone touchdown receptions, only one of which—a three-yard catch—came on a “vertical” concept.

Vertical routes are difficult to execute in the red zone. With a reduced amount of field, coverage tightens and the windows in which to throw get smaller. Vertical routes in this area are almost always defended one-on-one, especially outside the hashes as safeties do not have the room to align deeply enough to provide help. A receiver who can win these one-on-one matchups, like Brown often did, is extremely valuable.

While quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges were not particularly adept at making these types of throws last season, they lacked a target who excelled in this area. The Steelers look to have remedied that problem by acquiring two promising vertical red zone threats. The first is tight end Eric Ebron, whose 6’5” 250-pound frame and excellent leaping ability has already made him a Pro Bowler. Ebron led the league with eleven red zone touchdown receptions in 2018 and is a problem against both press and off-man coverage.

Here’s Ebron attacking off-man while with the Colts in a 2018 game against New England. Ebron, aligned along the left hash, gobbles up real estate with his long strides and is big enough to simply shield defenders from the football. New England’s Devin McCourty cannot make up the ground between he and the tight end once Ebron pushes outside off of his vertical stem. Ebron’s stride and body positioning are too great for McCourty to recover, creating a relatively simple throw for quarterback Andrew Luck.

When teams choose to press Ebron, they run the risk of having him out-jump or out-muscle their smaller defenders to the football. In the photo below, Ebron is matched against Washington safety Montae Nicholson (circled), who attempts to disrupt the timing of a quick outside throw by jamming him at the snap.

Nicholson does an excellent job of getting both hands into Ebron’s chest and shoving him backwards off of the ball. But Ebron recovers, fights to get vertical and maintains enough real estate to the boundary to allow Luck to throw him open. It’s a nice throw and a great adjustment to the ball by Ebron. Despite the solid coverage, the Colts score six.

Ebron isn’t the only new vertical threat the offense has acquired. Top draft pick Chase Claypool, all 6’4” 238 pounds of him, is a red zone mismatch as well. Claypool is not a quick-twitch player but his size and ball skills make him a threat to the post or on fades and back-shoulder throws. It will take strong, aggressive corners to deny him in these situations.

Take this play from Notre Dame’s game at Georgia last season. This is solid press technique from the corner guarding Claypool at the top of the formation. It’s not enough to defend the back-shoulder throw, however.

A more careful examination of the play shows just how difficult Claypool is to cover. The corner gets a nice jam and tries to ride Claypool into the boundary. In an effort to defend the fade, however, he stays a bit too high, failing to attach himself to Claypool’s inside hip. Claypool seizes on this slight mistake and uses his size and strength to shrug the corner off and create separation, allowing him to work back to the football. It’s not a great throw (the quarterback misses slightly inside rather than taking Claypool towards the pylon), but Claypool is too big and strong for the defender to knock the ball away.

Although Claypool missed important training time due to the COVID restrictions, he has drawn praise from receivers’ coach Ike Hilliard. Claypool seems bound for plenty of action in 2020, with red zone offense a likely starting point. A red zone package that includes both Claypool and Ebron seems certain, giving Roethlisberger two big candidates to replace the vertical threat previously posed by Brown.

Horizontal Stretches

The possibility of throwing down the seam or to the post in the red zone should, if nothing else, discourage opposing safeties from squatting on crossing routes. This in turn should open up the more commonly-executed horizontal passing game, where players like Johnson and Smith-Schuster can flourish.

Teams like horizontal routes in the red zone because, while the length of the field shrinks, the width remains the same. Also, because defenses play a lot of man coverage in the red zone, offenses can free receivers by executing the picks and rubs that come with horizontal stretches.

Take this route, for example. This is Mesh, one of the Steelers favorite route concepts. Notice the natural picks that occur as Brown and James Washington cross in the middle of the field and the horizontal stretch on the defense created with the flat routes from JuJu and James Conner (Conner is late releasing here as he checks for a blitz):

Washington rubs the defender assigned to Smith-Schuster (#36) to free JuJu for an easy pitch-and-catch. This is a great red zone concept versus man coverage because of the clutter defenders must navigate to stay with their assignments.

Here’s Y-Cross, another Roethlisberger staple. On Y-Cross, the Steelers run off with the outside receivers while stretching the interior pass defenders with a trio of crossing routes:

As you can see, Cincinnati voids the middle of the field with a blitz and drops a safety from the sky to cover the release from the back. Roethlisberger sees the drop and knows there is no one to help on the deep cross to Smith-Schuster. The horizontal stretch creates too much ground for JuJu’s defender to cover, allowing him to gain separation:

We didn’t see much Mesh or Y-Cross from the offense last year because Rudolph and Hodges were not adept at reading the middle of the field. Expect those concepts to return, particularly in the high red zone (+10 to +20).

Another intriguing horizontal red zone threat is fourth-round draft pick Anthony McFarland Jr. McFarland is a speedster who excels in open space and seems a prime candidate for flat and swing routes or jet sweeps. A pick concept like the one below is perfect for McFarland, where a linebacker or safety has to chase him through a host of bodies to the flat:

With the weapons the Steelers have added on offense, it feels like they can force defenses to pick their poison in the red zone. Do they worry about defending Ebron and Claypool over the top or about chasing players like Smith-Schuster, Johnson and McFarland across the field? Few defenses can defend all of it, and with Roethlisberger back, chances are whatever holes they leave will get exposed.

The Canada Effect

Finally, there’s the much-anticipated matter of how new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada may impact the offense.

When reviewing Canada’s tenure as a college play-caller, it was often a wrinkle on a traditional play rather than a revolutionary idea that made his offenses effective. Take the previous GIF featuring McFarland. That play was from 2018 when Canada coached at the University of Maryland. The play design looks fairly simple, with slants from the play-side receivers providing interference for McFarland as he releases.

Watch it is again, though. It’s actually more intricate than it seems. Rather than have all the back-side linemen hinge in pass protection, as would be the case on most sprint-out passes, Canada runs a power-shovel concept. The back-side guard pulls and wraps to the play-side linebacker while the tight end comes with him as the pitch man for a shovel pass. The quarterback reads the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS) for his key. If EMLOS sits inside, he runs the sprint-out. If he expands, the quarterback shovels the ball to the tight end, who follows the pulling guard into the hole.

(The EMLOS is indecisive here so the QB takes the simple throw to McFarland).

It’s a brilliant wrinkle that combines two traditional concepts and gives the quarterback the opportunity to make the defense wrong no matter how they react.

Here’s one more. This is Canada’s 2016 offense from his time at Pitt. Look at the formation in which the Panthers align on this 1st and goal play:

There are three tight ends and a fullback on the field. The formation is so compressed that all 22 players are packed tightly into the area traditionally referred to as “the box.” Given this alignment, would you expect the Panthers to:

A) call a power run up the middle

B) run a play-action concept to one of the tight ends

C) run a jet sweep with their fullback

A and B are the logical choices, of course. But this is a Matt Canada offense:

It’s jet sweep to the fullback, who turns the corner and reaches the end zone untouched. By compressing the formation and combining it with an element of surprise, Canada put a clever wrinkle on a simple concept to exploit an unsuspecting defense.

I can’t be sure we will see this exact scheme in Pittsburgh, although it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The Steelers did sign a fullback, Derek Watt, in the offseason. And Ebron, who was a wildcat quarterback in high school, did once score on a two-yard run for the Colts. Whether it’s this scheme or tweaks and adjustments on others, Canada’s impact on the offense, particularly in the red zone, should be compelling.

The Steelers went from first to last in red zone offense between 2018 and 2019. They may not make it all the way back to the top in 2020. But with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and a host of new weapons at his disposal, I expect them to rebound nicely.

David DeCastro details the offensive line heading into the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When asked about the upcoming season, DeCastro had words for each of his fellow offensive lineman.

In his interview with the local Pittsburgh media on Monday, Steelers’ right guard David DeCastro answered a variety of questions about the upcoming season. Throughout the entire question and answer session, he managed to mention all of his starting fellow linemen in one form or another. Here is what DeCastro had to say about his teammates:

Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor

One place where the Steelers are unsure who will be the starting lineman for 2020 is at right tackle. When asked about lack of practice time in preparation for 2020, DeCastro talked about how the offensive line is a veteran group and will not be affected as much as other places. Even with the uncertainty as to who is starting at right tackle, both Chuks Okoroafor and Zach Banner have been with the Steelers for a couple years and have logged snaps for a greater body of work.

“You got guys in Banner and Chuks with game-time experience as well,” DeCastro explained. “So I think it bodes well for us and I’m excited see that competition at the right tackle spot.”

Whoever earns the job at starting right tackle will be playing next to DeCastro and will ultimately factor into how he approaches each game in 2020. He mentioned later on in the interview a second time about how he’s excited about seeing how the competition plays out.

“First of all I’m excited for the competition. I know both of those guys are really hungry. It’s going to be a tough battle for that right tackle spot.”

Matt Feiler

DeCastro was asked if there was concern over the shifting around of Matt Feiler who is moving from right tackle to left guard at least for the time being. While many choose to focus on the amount of time Feiler has played at tackle recently, DeCastro pointed out he has played almost every position across the offensive line.

“Even though Matt’s moving to the left guard, he’s got snaps before—game snaps. He’s played that position a lot. He’s bounced around before.”

DeCastro was asked if he had any advice for Feiler as he made the move this season to the interior of the offensive line. Understanding Feiler has been doing this job for some years, the Castro downplayed the move.

“As far as Matt goes, I see Matt as pretty veteran,” DeCastro stated. “I don’t think he needs any tips. He’s played all around.”

DeCastro also discussed his appreciation for Feiler playing next to him for the greater part of the last two seasons.

“I’m gonna miss him at right tackle. I had a really good time playing with him last year. But it’s obviously best for the group for him to be at left guard. It’s a good choice. I think we’ll be really pretty solid. He’s a tremendous player. He’s built very low. He looks in great shape to play guard. He’s even like stockier and more anchor-ish than before, so he’s ready to go.”

DeCastro was asked a follow up question about if being “stocky and more anchor-ish” is important for the transition and if it will serve Feiler well at guard.

“Yeah, for sure. You’ve got to sacrifice a little; bulk up a little bit. You deal with some bigger guys, not maybe necessary as athletic and quick, but you deal with big, strong freaks in the middle.”

Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva

Of course DeCastro was questioned about the return of Ben Roethlisberger and what he brings to the huddle, the Steelers offense, and particularly the offensive line. When discussing Rothlisberger‘s leadership skills, DeCastro drew the comparison with his fellow All-Pro teammate center Maurkice Pouncey.

“It’s similar to Pouncey in a way that true leaders aren’t just good players in their own right,” DeCastro explained. “You have to have that ability, but they demand your best when you’re out there and you know, you kind of you fall in line. That’s a true leader.”

When it comes to taking pride in the offensive line being one of the strengths of the Steelers offense and entire team, DeCastro also knows that nothing last forever. After losing Ramon Foster to retirement following the 2019 season, the three starters on the offensive line for the Steelers who are not scheduled to change position this year are all over the age of 30 entering this season. Not knowing how much time they have left together, DeCastro is attempting to appreciate the ride for as long as he can.

“We’re all enjoying it. We all know we’re old. It might be Al’s last year. Pouncey and I are getting old, too. Who knows what’s going to happen? So we’re all just trying to enjoy it the most we can.”

Podcast: Rocky Mountain High, Steelers Style

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 5:30am

Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo convert their look back into Steelers lore to an AM studio show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Check out the latest episode of our newest offering. the “Steelers Retro Show“.

Its always fun to go back in time. Sure the Steelers have a rich history when it comes to the playoffs, but many don’t associate the 80s with that success. But in 1984, the 9-7 Steelers played a memorable game in which they shocked the football world. The Steelers visit to Denver to close out 1984 on December 30th of that year is the main topic that will be discussed on the Tuesday episode of the AM slate in BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC’s veteran duo of Tony Defeo and Bryan Anthony Davis as they set adrift on memory bliss in the year that brought as a Reagan reelection, Ghostbusters, Madonna in a wedding dress and the Steelers on the doorstep of the Super Bowl.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • 1984
  • A look back at the Steelers vs. Broncos 12/30/1984
  • and MUCH MORE!

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You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Matt Canada knows, and understands, his role with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/11/2020 - 4:30am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. With the start of training camp now behind us, it looks like we’ll have to wait until opening weekend to see the Steelers take the field. Just because the NFL has cancelled the preseason doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Matt Canada, like others before him, know their role with the Steelers.

Let’s get to the news:

  • New quarterbacks coach Matt Canada understands what is being asked of him in Pittsburgh.

Labriola on ‘Matt Canada gets it’

By: Bob Labriola, Steelers.com

On Jan. 11, 2018, Tomlin hired Teryl Austin, whose resume included stints in the NFL as both a secondary coach and a defensive coordinator, and with the Steelers his title became Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary. Translating that job description into reality, Austin joined Tom Bradley in working with the defensive backs and he also brought his coordinator experience to the weekly defensive game-planning sessions.

• Based solely on resume study, Canada could be viewed as the offensive version of the Austin hiring, because he has spent time as a coordinator at seven different college programs, including LSU, and he also spent a season as the head coach at Maryland. But because one of those college stops as a coordinator was at Pitt, which shares the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with the Steelers, the growing assumption outside that building became the hiring was more than adding someone to work with the young quarterbacks.

• “Obviously, (Canada brings) expertise in years of coaching quarterbacks, years being around offensive football. Years of being a play-caller and experience being a head coach,” said Fichtner last week. “It is more knowledge in the (offensive meeting) room. It is one more opportunity to throw ideas around … I also know that when it comes to ideas and thoughts and things you can bring to the table every week, what he can bring to the table might be different than I would in that room, (which) is going to be really fun to see and watch develop.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

How Steelers have supported their favorite painter during pandemic

By: Brooke Pryor, ESPN

Artist Cody Sabol’s phone lit up with a FaceTime call from a number he didn’t recognize.

When he answered, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush’s face filled his screen.

“Hey, Cody,” Bush said, “what are you doing tomorrow?”

When the nation shut down in early March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sabol became one of many small-business owners to watch helplessly. The 25-year-old Pittsburgh-based artist makes almost all his income speed-painting at live events — and he has an infant son along with a new mortgage payment for the house he and his wife just bought.

Suddenly the future was uncertain, and it was scary.

That changed when Bush extended an offer: Spend the next week transforming the walls of his basement — and soon-to-be personal gym — from plain cream to colorful murals that would remind Bush of his journey and motivate him as he worked out.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Steelers Pro Bowler David DeCastro never considered opting out, ‘not afraid’ of health risks

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of only three teams that did not have a single player opt out of playing this season, as is permitted in 2020 by the NFL out of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the Steelers’ highest-paid and longest-tenured players said he didn’t give sitting out the season all that much thought.

“I’ve always had that mindset of just being all in,” Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro said Monday during a video conference call with media. “Football being No. 1, it’s almost sort of a religious experience, plus that gift for myself. I love the game. I always have. It’s done so much for me. You can’t really think about the money and whatnot when you’re playing. You just have to be all about football, attacking that day and having that routine. It just makes life a lot easier.”

DeCastro, who is entering his ninth NFL season, said he has not changed his personal routine during the covid-19 pandemic. The league and his team have dramatically altered the day-to-day minutia of training camp and the layout of their facilities. But DeCastro’s at-home, family life is largely being conducted as normal.

“I’ll be honest, I’m not too afraid,” he said. “That’s just my personal opinion of it. I haven’t really done anything to — I don’t know really much what you can do if it’s worth taking those risks to completely isolate yourself. To me, I don’t really see that as beneficial. I’d rather be with my kids and family and take that risk. I haven’t changed that at all.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

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  • Social Media Madness

Devin Bush in High School! @_Dbush11 #Steelers pic.twitter.com/3yb5anyE9M

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 9, 2020

Duck Hodges with the WR’s! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/nQ1NVsrwrQ

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 10, 2020

Buggs getting after it today! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/f88oQpKURE

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 10, 2020

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— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 10, 2020

Working on a Sunday @budlight | #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/EnxLcKxbN4

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 10, 2020

Get the latest New Era Pittsburgh Steelers face coverings

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/10/2020 - 6:00pm
Fanatics

If you are forced to wear a face covering for your job or in public, you might as well do so rocking the black-and-gold.

In 2020, the mandates for citizens to wear facial coverings in public spaces, and indoors, has many wondering what they will do for these new guidelines.

If you’ve been in public, you’ve probably seen people will all sorts of face coverings. Some are decorative, some are bandannas and some show support for their own cause. If that is the case, you might as well wear a face covering showing your love for the black-and-gold.

Check out the latest Steelers facial coverings below, made by those at New Era. Click the links if you are interested in ordering:

Fanatics New Era Adult On-Field Face Covering for $20 Fanatics New Era Adult On-Field Neck Gaiter for $20

If the above facial coverings don’t strike you as appealing, there are other Steelers facial coverings you might like. Some with more of a design than just the logo on the side of the facial covering.

Check out those alternate facial coverings by clicking the link HERE. Also, be sure to stay up-to-date with all things Steelers right here at BTSC as the team prepares for the upcoming regular season.

Power Rankings: Steelers a Top 10 team based on 25-and-under talent

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/10/2020 - 3:00pm
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers come in near the Top 5 on the latest Power Rankings.

When you look at an NFL roster, one of the areas you should keep an eye on is young talent. Having a quarterback on his rookie deal, and costing less, could be a team’s guide to immediate success.

However, having major contributions from any player who is young is a huge boost for the team. Not only for the salary cap savings, but for having a player who entered the league already developed enough to actually contribute in a big way.

Recently, ESPN did their NFL Power Rankings based on players who are 25-and-under. Some of the teams on this list are well known, while others might raise some eyebrows. For instance, when many people think of the Steelers, few think of young players. Most people think of an offensive line getting long in the tooth, and an aging Ben Roethlisberger.

However, according to ESPN, the Steelers find themselves in the middle of the Top 10 according to those parameters.

Check out the Top 10:

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. New York Giants
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Buffalo Bills
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. Pittsburgh Steelers

2019 ranking: 8

Blue-chip players: Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS; Devin Bush, ILB; JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

Notable graduated players: T.J. Watt, OLB; James Conner, RB; Mason Rudolph, QB

Lost in an anemic offense without normal quarterback starter Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ defense matured into a top-three unit against both the run and the pass despite key members being under 25 and inexperienced. Star pass-rusher T.J. Watt missed the cutoff for these rankings, but 2019 first-rounder Devin Bush started 15 games as a rookie, called the defensive plays from his middle linebacker position, and justified his three-down role with a 60% coverage success rate. If he can make just modest improvements to his 18.3% broken tackle rate, he’ll deserve Pro Bowl consideration.

With five interceptions and both an interception return and a fumble recovery return for a touchdown in 2019, in-season trade acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick was at the center of the Steelers’ unsustainable turnover luck; they ended 19.0% of their opponents’ drives with a turnover, 1.7% more frequently than even the Patriots in second place. Still, there’s no doubt that Fitzpatrick is a blue-chip player and, at 23 years old and with three years left on his rookie contract, well worth the first-round pick the team traded for him. The Steelers’ own 2018 first-round safety, Terrell Edmunds has been less productive in his two seasons. But he did offer impressive totals of 41 run stops and 15 run defeats to counterbalance an uninspiring 46% coverage success rate. With Fitzpatrick behind him, Edmunds should be able to play as a de facto linebacker with confidence.

After standout rookie and sophomore seasons, JuJu Smith-Schuster can have a pass for a down 2019 season with dreadful quarterback play. Incredibly, he’s still just 23 years old. Meanwhile, even without Roethlisberger, the Steelers continued to develop a reputation as wide receiver university. James Washington authored an efficient sophomore season with an 11.2% DVOA despite seeing just 10 of his 25 deep targets be catchable. One would figure those deep passes should be his specialty given his speed; his 21.25 mph top speed was the fastest at the 2018 Senior Bowl. Diontae Johnson led the team with 92 targets and 59 receptions in his rookie season. And second-round rookie Chase Claypool has the size at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds and physicality to round out a receiving corps with the necessary attributes to target any kind of defensive weakness. They even added a speedy, receiving-capable fourth-round running back in Anthony McFarland to complement the still-young power back Benny Snell if often-injured veteran James Conner is unable to withstand his presumed three-down workload in 2020.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Cleveland Browns
9. Houston Texans
10. Kansas City Chiefs

What do you think of the Steelers’ ranking in these Power Rankings? Do you think they should be higher? We all know these mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, but they are good for quality discussion and debate. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Calvin Taylor

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/10/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Continuing with part 78 of our 90ish-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man (now 80-man) roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at the Steelers tallest player:

Calvin Taylor

Position: DE
Height: 6’ 9”
Weight: 310 lbs
College: Kentucky
Draft: UDFA in 2020

2019 Stats (NCAA)

13 Games played
8.5 Sacks
36 Tackles
9.5 Tackles for loss
4 Passes defended
3 Forced fumbles

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021
$610,000 salary cap number (.3% of total cap)
$3,333 Dead money
$606,667 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Doubtful. The Steelers defensive line is virtually set in stone. Except for one spot which will see an open competition. Thats the spot of seventh year pro Dan McCullers. Somehow McCullers just finds a way to make this team year in and year out as nothing more than a depth defensive tackle. This year it might be time to go in another direction. The two names that will push McCullers for the position are former XFLer Cavon Walker and the 6’ 9” Calvin Taylor.

Taylor is even taller than Big Dan but he’s not really built like an interior defensive lineman. Taylor will have a hard time making this team outright and is a more likely suitor for the practice squad.

2020 projection

I don’t think there's a spot for Taylor on the 2020 Steelers 53-man roster. That being said his shear size might be enough to convince the coaching staff to give him a shot on the practice squad. You can't teach size, and Taylor has tons of it. The Kentucky alum has had more success the further outside that he has played, and with both Cameron Heyward and Chris Wormley becoming free agents after this season there might be a spot available for Taylor in 2021.

Projected stats:

N/A — Practice squad

Summary

The Steelers defensive line is full of top tier veterans, who's spots on the team are basically set in stone. Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Wormley will garner the majority of playing time anyway, which renders whoever else makes the roster a back up/role player.

A year on the practice squad might do Taylor some good, and he can get another crack at the roster again in 2021.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett -Cut
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney -Cut
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden
J.C. Hassenauer
Quadree Henderson -Cut
Dewayne Hendrix -Cut
Cam Heyward
Alex Highsmith
Mike Hilton
Devlin Hodges
John Houston -Cut
Anthony Johnson
Diontae Johnson
Jarron Jones
John Keenoy
Tyree Kinnel -Cut
Christian Kuntz -Cut
Justin Layne
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart
Paxton Lynch
Dan McCullers
Vance McDonald
Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henry Mondeaux
Christian Montano -Cut
Alexander Myres
Steven Nelson
Spencer Nigh
Chuks Okorafor
James Pierre
Maurkice Pouncey
Kevin Rader
Dax Raymond
Ben Roethlisberger
Mason Rudolph
Jaylen Samuels
Tuzar Skipper
Wendall Smallwood
Juju Smith-Schuster
Benny Snell Jr.
Robert Spillane
Cameron Sutton
Ryan Switzer

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