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Why Roethlisberger’s seemingly slow start in 2017 may have been overstated

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 6:35am

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get off to the best start in 2017, but Football Outsiders explains why this point of view might have been mistaken.

When Pittsburgh Steelers fans think back to the beginning of the 2017 regular season, several thoughts likely go through their heads. Le’Veon Bell’s late arrival and slow start might top the list, but Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles in the early going might also be a talking point.

In Weeks 1-4, Roethlisberger didn’t sniff the 300-yard passing plateau, and overall just didn’t seem to find his groove. This was capped off with the dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars game in Week 5 when Roethlisberger did eclipse the 300-yard mark, but had to throw the ball 55 times to do so.

Oh, and he also threw five interceptions in the process.

Steelers fans across the globe were hitting the panic button with force and regularity, so when I had the opportunity to ask Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders some Black-and-gold questions, I had to ask him about Roethlisberger’s early season struggles last year.

Here is what he said:

His “rough start” was somewhat overblown, to be honest with you. Roethlisberger’s DVOA from Weeks 1-4 (so, right up until the Jaguars game) was 21.9%. His DVOA from Weeks 6-17 (so, right after the Jaguars game) was 27.7% -- better, but not exactly a gigantic improvement. His two worst games of the year came in the first five weeks – Jacksonville and Chicago – but his most efficient game of the year by DVOA was Week 2 against Minnesota; while 23-for-35 for 243 yards and a couple touchdowns doesn’t jump off the page at you, it’s the most efficient performance anyone had against the stingy Vikings defense in the regular season. Basically, the Jaguars implosion and Roethlisberger’s post-game “maybe I don’t have it” comments makes his first month or so seem worse than it was.

His DVOA during that Jaguars game was -21.3%, which ranked ninth out of the 16 quarterbacks who started against the Jaguars last year. Jacksonville made a lot of people look foolish last year, though, admittedly, the list of the quarterbacks Big Ben did better than isn’t exactly a who’s-who of great quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, anyone? DeShone Kizer? T.J. Yates?).

That doesn’t mean there aren’t splits we can notice here. In Weeks 1-5, Roethlisberger was throwing deeper and his receivers were getting less yards after the catch than in Weeks 6-17. Some of that is the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster as he replaced Martavis Bryant as the second target. Play selection improved as well – for instance, the Steelers threw 15 wide receiver screens in Weeks 1-5, and just 16 in Weeks 6-16. The Steelers’ three worst routes last season were running back screens, receiver screens and dig routes, and they used each less later in the season.

In my opinion, this explanation and statistical analysis, not only of Roethlisberger’s start, but also of why the offense might not have been up to snuff early in the season is tremendous. While the perception of Roethlisberger having a slow start might have been a bit overblown, it’s great to put some statistical context behind the narrative.

Updated odds make Colts the new favorites to sign Le’Veon Bell in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 5:28am

If you think you know where Le’Veon Bell will be playing his football next year, the bookmakers are prepared to let you put your money where you mouth is

With Le’Veon Bell seemingly quite likely to be playing football for a team not named the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, it’s no surprise to discover the oddsmakers are already taking bets on where he’ll end up next year. The New York Jets were installed as the initial favorites when the market opened earlier in the offseason, but it would appear we now have a new favorite just halfway through the 2018 preseason.

Odds for which team Le'Veon Bell will be on for Week 1 of the 2019 regular season (@BovadaOfficial):

Colts +375
Jets +400
Steelers +400
Lions +550
Browns +500
Texans +600
Raiders +1000
Cardinals +1200
Bills +1500

— OddsShark (@OddsShark) August 19, 2018

Based on the odds from Bovada.lv, the Indianapolis Colts are the new favorites to sign Bell next season, while pushing the Jets down to second favorites along with Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ price hasn’t changed from their initial offering.

The Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have also seen their odds shorten from an early line of +600, as have the Houston Texans who were previously listed at +700 and the Oakland Raiders who were originally at +900. The Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are the only two teams on the list to have drifted in the betting from +1100 and +1200 respectively.

There can be little dispute that Bell would represent an upgrade at running back for all of the teams named among the favorites, although it would be fair to question the value for the Bills and the Cardinals, given the talents they’ve already got at the position.

Pairing Bell with T.Y. Hilton and a healthy Andrew Luck would give the Colts an impressive trio on offense, and they certainly appear to have the funds to afford him — projected to have more $62 million in available salary cap space in 2019 according to OverTheCap.com. However, Indianapolis doesn’t seem like a big enough market for the football player/rapper, so signing with a team like the New York Jets is probably more likely for Bell next year.

Steelers Eli Rogers suspended the first week of the 2018 season due to substance abuse violation

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 3:47pm

The Steelers WR who is battling back from a torn ACL will have to sit out the first week of the regular season no matter what.

Just when you thought the Pittsburgh Steelers sent the player they had on their roster with a substance abuse problem to the Oakland Raiders, Eli Rogers finds himself suspended for the first week of the 2018 regular season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Here is a statement from General Manager Kevin Colbert, via the Steelers official website:

We are disappointed that Eli Rogers has been suspended for Week 1 of the regular season as part of the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

The suspension will begin following the final roster cutdown on September 1. He will be allowed to continue his rehabilitation and attend meetings at team’s headquarters, but he will not be permitted to practice with the team during his suspension or attend the Week 1 game.

This was the released statement from the NFL regarding Rogers’ suspension:

Eli Rogers of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been suspended without pay for the first game of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.

Rogers will be eligible to return to the Steelers’ active roster on Monday, September 10 following the team’s September 9 game against the Cleveland Browns.

Rogers is eligible to participate in all preseason practices and games.

While disappointing, there is no guarantee Rogers would have been healthy enough to play in Week 1, as he is still nursing a torn ACL and is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but there is no guarantee Rogers would even make the team with the new talent blossoming at the wide receiver position.

The Steelers have options with Rogers being on the PUP list, and don’t have to act anytime soon. There is a strong possibility Rogers would remain on the list until near midseason when the team would be forced to activate him to the 53-man roster.

Stay tuned as more details of this story are released...

When it comes to safety in the game of football, you truly have to pick your poison

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 1:38pm

Make the game safer, but decrease the quality of the product. There is no right answer in this scenario.

The Greek hero Odysseus faced his share of challenges in getting home. He succeeded where others failed in sailing between the monster Scylla while still evading the whirlpool Charybdis. Every summer, and happily, often in late December, the Steelers find themselves trying to pick their poison: Fail to truly prepare for what’s ahead, or get hurt trying to prepare.

Over the course of just a few weeks we have had injury scares from the Steelers’ two biggest stars. Antonio Brown, depending on whom you ask, either did or didn’t limp off the field as practice ended, and Ben Roethlisberger certainly ended his practice early with what was thought to be a potential concussion — thankfully it wasn’t.

These are both dodged bullets, but they highlight the struggle.

Much was made last season about the drop off in blocking across the league. The presumed culprit? The Collective Bargaining Agreement, and its strong limitations on padded practices. No pads means no hitting. No hitting means less learning. Less learning can easily translate into more franchise faces on the IR.

A critical injury to just one player can derail an entire season. Ask the Texans. On the other hand, an atmosphere that treats all players, or even just some, with kid gloves can create a perennial loser. Ask Todd Haley. All of this cashes out in real games, whether early in the season, where Le’Veon Bell shows rust, or late in the season when coaches are forced to consider the implications of sitting stars when playoff positioning is set, or nearly so.

All of this, though, is just a smaller manifestation of the bigger issue facing the NFL, the looming battle between player safety and the product on the field. I think it likely that my children’s grandchildren may grow up in a football-less world, that they will look back at our sport the way we look back at boxing before Queensbury.

All attempts to have football be football and football be safe are delusional. You can not have your cake and eat it too. Either the monster of mayhem will destroy brave men, or the whirlpool of safety will make shipwreck of the game.

I don’t pretend to know the solution. I only know that pretending is no solution. I know that I fear to look too deeply into my conscience, because I know what I want. I want to watch the real game, the way it once was. At the same time, like many professionals who play it, I want to watch the real game that I would not allow my children to play.

There is a reason the Romans had gladiatorial games. The reason is that the Romans, like us, liked bloody and violent sport. There are distinctions to be sure. The object of our game is to hit pay dirt. But stadiums, like the Roman Coliseum, erupt when our guy brings down their guy hard. My living room erupts in the same way, and for the same reasons. As a boy I loved watching the grace of Lynn Swann but I wanted to be Donnie Shell. There is storage space in my brain for the memory of Swann falling like a feather, cradling the ball in Super Bowl X. But that scene where Shell took out Earl Campbell on Monday Night Football, that is stored in my brain in high def, complete with the crunch of breaking ribs in surround sound.

My plan is to enjoy it while it lasts, and pray for the health of my heroes.

Ben Roethlisberger confirms he did not suffer a concussion but unsure how much he will play against Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 11:27am

Cleared from concussion protocols, Ben Roethlisberger is keen to get his first snaps of the preseason, even though he knows they will be limited

The third preseason game of the year is generally the one in which most of the starters will receive a significant amount of playing time, but that might not necessarily be the case for all of the Pittsburgh Steelers starters on Saturday when they play the Tennessee Titans.

When speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, Ben Roethlisberger seemed unsure how many snaps he would see at Heinz Field on the weekend.

“I am not really sure. I haven’t spoken to Coach (Mike Tomlin) on it.”

The Steelers star quarterback has already been cleared from concussion protocols and Roethlisberger confirmed that he hadn’t actually suffered a concussion at all when discussing the hit with the reporters at team facilities.

“You don’t expect to get hit, and then to get hit from the blind side, Gil [Marcus Gilbert] just happened to be pushing the guy around and caught me just right. It knocked the wind out of me a little bit too.”

Despite appearing to holding his head for a while on the ground after the hit, it seems Roethlisberger was always confident the knock was nothing to worry about, as he told reporters when asked how long it took him to realise he was okay.

“Pretty quick, I think the scary thing is the verbiage, concussion protocol. I think what a lot of people don’t realize, players included, that doesn’t mean you have a concussion. You go into a protocol system to get tested for a concussion. Right away no symptoms. I took thee test when I got back to the facility, then when we got back here and everything came back perfect. I think everyone, because of the reporting and lack of knowledge, assumed I had a concussion but I never did. That was the good thing.”

“Hopefully the hardest hit I take all year is from Gilbert and then we can laugh about it at the end of the year.”

Ben Roethlisberger talks about his concussion scare from last week:https://t.co/3CI5drRE0f

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 21, 2018

With the coaching staff keen to give their younger quarterbacks as much playing time as possible, it would not be a surprise to see Roethlisberger’s snaps severely limited on Saturday, but he is just looking forward to getting back onto the field with his teammates.

“I am excited to get out there. I am sure there will be some jitters and rust. It will be good to get out there with the guys.”

That being said, it does not sound like Roethlisberger is asking for that many snaps if everything is clicking on offense.

“Obviously, that would be ideal to just get out there. I think usually the amount of plays determines how we do series-wise, are you going three-and-out, are you sustaining drives, stuff like that. Obviously, this is the first time we all will be on the field at the same time, so it would be nice to put together a couple drives and then find a way to finish them off and stay healthy.”

Tomlin is due to speak with the media at the end of practice on Tuesday and once he has revealed his plans for the quarterback rotation against Tennessee, we will sure to bring you that news.

How the Steelers’ WR corps in 2018 will be better than last year with Martavis Bryant

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 10:07am

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some new faces in their receiving corps, and despite the absence of Martavis Bryant, they should be even better in 2018.

If you’re like me, when you were watching the 2018 NFL Draft and saw news of the Pittsburgh Steelers sending Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders, you had mixed emotions.

First, you were happy to see the Steelers get something of value for the troubled receiver — but then you wondered who would fill his shoes in the offense this season. Shame on me for questioning Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert when it comes to drafting wide-receiver talent, but I know I wasn’t alone in these concerns.

Even though rookie James Washington has had a tremendous rookie preseason, you have to wonder if he’ll be able to do what Bryant did last year, and in previous years. That was to take defenders’ eyes off of Antonio Brown and take the top off of a defense.

While Washington has shown during training camp and the preseason he’s got the skill to make people say, “Martavis who?” I asked Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders what he thought of the Steelers’ 2018 wide-receiving corps, and he thinks they’ll be even better next season.

I think the receiving corps will actually be better in 2018. Smith-Schuster was better than Bryant in essentially every way in 2017, so that already bodes well. He had taken Bryant’s role as the secondary target by the end of last season, and there’s no reason to expect any issues there in 2018. The question is how quickly Washington can rise to fill the third receiver role.

Our Playmaker Projection had Washington as the ninth-best receiver in this year’s draft, despite his nation-leading receiving yards last season. He has limited experience with a full route tree and he isn’t as smooth a pass-catcher as some receivers. That matters a lot less when defenses have to worry about Brown and JuJu first and foremost. I like Washington a lot better as a WR3 than as a WR2, because the Steelers can just play to Washington’s many strengths, rather than need him to be The Guy in the offense right away. He’ll be a deep threat and stretch the defense, allowing everyone else to work underneath. Last year, Smith-Schuster and Bryant combined for 108 catches and 1,520 yards. I expect Smith-Schuster and Washington to surpass those totals, if everyone stays healthy.

Some solid analysis, and statistics, to back up the belief that Smith-Schuster and Washington will do enough in 2018 to beat the numbers put up by Smith-Schuster and Bryant last season. But what do you think? Do you think the Steelers’ wide receivers will be just fine, or will they miss the man they called “The Alien”?

Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald is starting to look like an unreliable player

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 8:05am

It’s late summer and Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald is dealing with yet another injury. This raises the question of whether his constant physical setbacks make him an unreliable player.

Ever notice how some NFL players just seem so talented and physically gifted, you can’t stop gushing about them or heaping tons of praise and ever-greater expectations upon them? Like a lot of other people this spring and summer, I thought it was a sexy idea to predict tight end Vance McDonald, with his size, speed and athleticism, would be a difference-maker for the Steelers’ already potent offense in 2018.

And he still might be when all is said and done. After all, we’re talking about a player who came into the league as a second-round pick by the 49ers in 2013, a man who was the fourth-rated tight end in that year’s draft class, according to McDonald’s Wikipedia page.

We’re also talking about a player that was given a five-year, $35 million contract extension by San Francisco near the end of the 2016 season — an absolute bargain, given his aforementioned attributes.

But with slightly under three weeks to go before the start of the 2018 regular season, let’s just say I’m not all that confident McDonald will be doing anything but missing a lot of games this year.

Only days into the start of Steelers’ training camp last month, McDonald exited practice with a foot injury, and really hasn’t been heard from since. In and of itself, this would not be much of a concern — after all, injuries happen all the time in football. Only problem is — injuries seem to happen all the time to Vance McDonald.

Through five full NFL seasons, McDonald, 28, has yet to play all 16 weeks of a regular season, and he’s missed 22 of a possible 80 career games.

If you examine McDonald’s injury history, courtesy of the site, Sports Injury Predictor, you’ll see a proverbial laundry list of ailments that date all the way back to college, where he had two shoulder surgeries.

McDonald, who missed five games with the Steelers last season, was placed on Injured Reserve twice in the years before he came to Pittsburgh. Will his latest injury send McDonald to the IR for a third time?

That remains to be seen, but even if he beats this latest physical setback, what confidence could anyone possibly have that McDonald will make it all the way through 2018 unscathed?

That’s the thing about confidence. It’s one thing for the fans and the media to lack it in a player, but when his coaches and teammates start to lose confidence, it’s often curtains.

In addition to his injury-prone history, McDonald also carries the reputation of having bad hands. How can McDonald realize his potential if he can’t hold onto the football? And how can he work on his hands if he misses so much time due to injury? And if he can’t hurdle the two greatest obstacles preventing him from reaching his potential, how can McDonald help the Steelers in 2018?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if some fan or writer has lost confidence in Vance McDonald. But the question is, have the Steelers? If they haven’t already, it might not be long before they finally do.

Steelers release an updated depth chart ahead of preseason game against Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 6:33am

James Washington, Damoun Patterson and Jon Bostic are the most obvious movers on the Steelers’ depth chart after the team made some changes to the list on Monday

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ current depth chart may not reflect the true status of all the players on the roster quite yet, but it’s still interesting to note the changes the team made to the order of some position groups on Monday. While most names remain where they were when the first depth chart of the offseason was released a few weeks ago, one or two players have seen a significant shift in their places in the pecking order after two games.

The most obvious changes on offense are at wide receiver, where rookies James Washington and Damoun Patterson have moved from the bottom of the depth chart. Washington is now listed as the next man up behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, with Patterson listed behind Antonio Brown and Justin Hunter on the other side. For a player like Marcus Tucker, dropping behind the two young wideouts in the listings might not bode well for his future with the team.

Simon Chester Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 depth chart - Offense preseason Week 3

Although relative newcomers to the team such as offensive linemen Oni Omoile and Zach Banner have seen their names slotted ahead of two players who’ve spent most of the offseason with Pittsburgh, this likely is because of their experience in the league, rather than any suggestion they’re necessarily rated higher by the coaching staff.

Running back Jaylen Samuels is one of only two other movers on offense, having jumped up a couple of slots on the list, ahead of Stevan Ridley and James Summers. Wide receiver Trey Griffey, also has leapfrogged Tevin Jones.

Perhaps the most noticeable changes to the depth chart have come on defense where Jon Bostic has been listed as the starter alongside Vince Williams, and there has been a reshuffling of the safety positions. Morgan Burnett, Terrell Edmunds and Malik Golden are now listed at strong safety, while Sean Davis, Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield move to free safety.

With the exception of inside linebacker Matthew Thomas, who has moved ahead of Matt Galambos on this updated depth chart, the rest of the players on defense and special teams are unchanged from the positions they held prior to Week 1 of the preseason.

Simon Chester Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 depth chart - Defense and Special Teams preseason Week 3

Watch Steelers’ highlights from the Family Fest practice at Heinz Field on Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/21/2018 - 5:30am

The Pittsburgh Steelers showed off for their fans, and we have some video of the event.

A large majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base doesn’t live in the 412 area code, but that doesn’t make them any less fans. For those who never get to Saint Vincent College to see training camp, or to the Family Fest practice at Heinz Field, we try to take you there — no matter where you live.

I personally didn’t attend the Sunday evening practice at Heinz Field, but one of our social media coordinators was on the scene. He was able to post some video on our Facebook page, and I just knew our readers would love to dissect the practice footage.

He has video from the ‘7 Shots’ segment of practice, as well as from the 2-minute drill to end the practice. Check out the video, and if you didn’t already know, you can follow us on Facebook by clicking HERE!

HERE WE GO!!

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