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Steelers met with Clemson guard at Pro Day prior to COVID-19 pandemic

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 11:05am
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly met with Clemson guard John Simpson at the team’s Pro Day before the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a need along their offensive line, and this remains true even after the team signed Stefen Wisniewski to a free agent contract just over a week ago. The offensive line is getting a little long in the tooth, so the team is likely to replenish the depth at several positions during the 2020 NFL Draft at the end of the month.

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the sports world, NCAA schools were forced to cancel their pro day visits. With these cancellations, NFL teams were unable to get an extra look at particular prospects, meet with them and get an overall feel for what they could bring to the team if they were drafted.

But not all pro days were cancelled. It has already been reported how the Pittsburgh Steelers met with some players at pro days before the pandemic forced university’s hands to close. Recently, per Jon Ledyard, it was reported the Steelers met with Clemson guard John Simpson at Clemson’s pro day.

Per source, Clemson guard John Simpson met with the #Bucs before his pro day (March 12th). He also met with the #Steelers, #Bills and #Giants personnel during that same timeframe. Simpson is expected to come off the board some time on day two of the draft.

— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) April 2, 2020

For those who don’t know much about Simpson, here is some information about him, per his NFL Draft Profile:

Overview

Broad, well-built snowplow of a guard with the traits and power to turn a crease into a full-fledged running lane. Teams looking to add physicality up front will covet Simpson, but keep in mind he was plenty effective with scoop blocks, pulls, second-level climbs and even screen blocking, which shows the big man can move. Tardiness coming out of his stance and issues changing direction in pass protection are concerns that may not be easily fixed and could lead to matchup-based inconsistencies. However, he plays with good technique and has the tools to become an early starter and a good NFL guard.

Strengths

  • Very big and very strong
  • Prototypical muscle mass and proportional frame for interior lineman
  • Core strength and body composure through contact stand out
  • Accelerates into first contact, creating heavy thud
  • Resets hands and hips to dig out of poorly leveraged positioning
  • Always has eyes on linebacker during work-up blocks
  • Transitions from first to second blocks with timing and surprising accuracy
  • Difficult to bull-rush
  • Unlocks hips and anchors down when challenged
  • Has length and pop in hands to stymie basic interior rush plans
  • Athletic enough to get into space on screen passes

Weaknesses

  • Usually one of the last ones out of his stance
  • Slow starts allow for head-starts from upfield three-techniques
  • Inconsistent bringing feet with him in base blocks
  • Plays with occasional lunging when forced to work on the move
  • Way too many holding and false start penalties
  • Inconsistent angles up to second level
  • Wide rush angles challenge his protection range
  • Slow to reignite feet for redirection against twists and counters

Simpson is projected to be a Day 2 draft pick, which makes you wonder if the Steelers would value Simpson enough to use their top pick, No. 49 in the 2nd round, or if they would prefer to target a more prolific athlete like a wide receiver, running back, edge rusher or defensive back.

What are your thoughts on Simpson? Is he just what the doctor ordered at guard? Could he actually start from Day 1, pushing Wisinewski to quality depth, or is considered more of a project pick?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft at the end of the month.

How accurate were the Pro Football Focus grades for the Steelers defense in 2019?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 9:33am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Some people swear by PFF rankings while others give them no weight at all, but the real answer is probably somewhere in between when it comes to grading the Steelers offense

As the NFL offseason presses on, fans are evaluating how players from their favorite team performed in 2019 in order to determine how they view the position both continuing in free agency and going into the draft. While some positions have much easier data to compare, others are very difficult to quantify with statistics. With many of these positions, fans often turn to the Pro Football Focus (PFF) player grades they issue for the season. There are many fans who swear by the rankings while others dismiss them completely. So how much can fans truly trust these grades?

The first thing which is needed is to understand how PFF breaks down each player in order to come up with an overall score. The first installment looking into PFF grades was two weeks ago just before the flurry of free agent activity began and it explained the process of how PFF determines their grades. After already looking at the offense from last season, this time we are going to look at some of the PFF grades of the Steelers defense from 2019 to help determine how accurate their scores could be.

For this exercise, we will look at the ranking and scores at the defensive positions for the Steelers’ players. The top ranked player as well as the number of players ranked will be listed. These numbers are merely presented in order to help you draw your own conclusion. All scores are courtesy of pff.com.

Interior Defensive Line:

Top Ranked: Aaron Donald (93.7)
Number Ranked: 114
2: Cameron Heyward (91.5)
5: Stephon Tuitt (89.1)
8: Javon Hargrave (83.4)
11: Tyson Alualu (80.1)

Even though he only played in six games, Stephon Tuitt had enough snaps in order to qualify. Having four players who all ranked in the top 11 is unheard of. New Steelers’ defensive tackle Chris Wormley ranked 63rd with a score of 65.6.

Edge Defenders:

Top Ranked: T.J. Watt (91.3)
Number Ranked: 107
1: T.J. Watt (91.3)
24: Bud Dupree (77.7)
N/A: Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (66.0)
N/A: Anthony Chickillo (62.1)

The only Pittsburgh Steelers’ player to rank first at their position, T.J. Watt made a solid argument for Defensive Player of the Year.

Linebackers:

Top Ranked: Demario Davis (90.4)
Number Ranked: 89
12: Vince Williams (76.2)
36: Devin Bush (62.9)
53: Mark Barron (57.5)

While some argued the Steelers should have kept Barron over Vince Williams, the PFF rankings say otherwise.

Cornerbacks:

Top Ranked: Richard Sherman (90.3)
Number Ranked: 112
6: Steven Nelson (80.5)
32: Joe Haden (70.3)
44: Mike Hilton (67.1)
N/A: Cameron Sutton (74.5)
N/A: Artie Burns (61.1)

Although Steven Nelson got the credit he deserved, Joe Haden did not get much love from PFF. Had Cameron Sutton played another 30 snaps he would have qualified in the top 20.

Safeties:

Top Ranked: Anthony Harris (91.1)
Number Ranked: 87
9: Minkah Fitzpatrick (79.8)
59: Terrell Edmunds (63.6)
N/A: Jordan Dangerfield (85.6)

I’m not sure what is more shocking, Minkah Fitzpatrick ranking ninth or the fact Jordan Dangerfield had a higher score.

So do you think PFF grades are reliable source in evaluating a player’s performance based on their assessment of the Steelers defense? Did the players score where you expected? Please vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Steelers Film Room, Derek Watt Part 3: Offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Derek Watt’s skillset on offense and how he could change the Steelers offense.

Part 1 of this series talked about Derek Watt covering kicks and punts, part 2 covered his play on kick and punt returns. Now it’s time to look at Derek Watt on offense. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.

Running the Ball

In his 4 year career Derek Watt has 19 rushes, and only 2 have gained more than 3 yards. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value. Of those 19 runs, 13 have been in 1 yard situations, either on the goal line, or 3rd/4th down and 1 to go. Derek Watt has converted 10 of those 13 attempts, failing on exactly one each of the last three years. In 2019 he converted 6 of his 7 attempts, here’s the one that didn’t work.

Derek Watt is the FB on this play.

The line gets driven back, and when he tries to bounce it to his left he has three defenders on him. There’s no converting on that play.

Here’s a better one, Derek Watt is the FB here, hidden at the start by the RB.

That’s Derek Watt’s primary value as a RB, he finds the right hole to gain a few yards and hits it. That is valuable.

In 2019 the Steelers converted 8 of their 15 one yard situation runs. Benny Snell was 5-1, QB sneaks were 3-0, and James Conner (0-3), Jaylen Samuels (0-1) and Terrell Edmunds (0-2) couldn’t convert a single one.

Here’s what it looks like when a RB doesn’t see the quick yards on a third and 1 run. James Conner is the RB.

I don’t have words for that, it frustrates me so much. James Conner is a great guy, and a very good RB, he breaks big plays and he’s a beast as a receiving back. But he infuriates me on plays where he gives up a few easy yards to try and get more, only to lose yards. In this case, he runs into a pile of bodies and sends the punt team to the field. To be fair, Conner was much better in 2018, when he had a FB. Derek Watt could be a key to James Conner being a better short yardage back in 2020.

Compare Derek Watt to the man he replaced, Roosevelt Nix. Nix had 3 one yard situation carries in his career, he scored a TD on a play where the OL opened a big hole and he fell through it, and failed to convert on a third and 1 and a 4th and 1 run, on both he looked heavy footed and easy to bring down. Derek Watt isn’t easy to bring down. Watt is the FB (this is from 2018).

Find the quick hole, put your head down and run through it as hard as you can. That’s Derek Watt’s run style, and if he can replicate his success on short yardage runs for the Steelers, he’ll be a fan favorite pretty quickly.

Receiving

The NFL is a passing league, they have changed a lot of rules to make sure that is the case, and any FB that is going to get decent snaps on offense is going to have to contribute to the passing offense. Derek Watt isn’t going to be a major weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, but he can catch the ball.

Watt has been targeted only 13 times in his career, with 10 catches and 152 yards. That yards per target of 11.7 is impressive, and watching film I think the Chargers should have used him more.

Derek Watt is the FB

Here the defense doesn’t view Watt as a real threat and leave him open for far too long, eventually Philip Rivers settles for the short pass and Watt makes a very nice catch on the sideline.

It’s rare that Watt ran routes straight up, most of the time he starts by helping to sell a play-action fake or chipping a defender.

Here Watt sells the run, and then when the LBs bail back to cover, he beats his LB. Unfortunately the throw is at his shins, and though he can get hands on it, he fails to bring it in. He isn’t a great receiver, he’s not going to make the tough catches, but here you see how he can get open against a LB, and that is important.

On this next play, Watt helps sell a fake, chips an edge rusher, and then breaks a tackle for a big gain. Derek Watt is the back to the left side of Philip Rivers.

I love this play. from the design of the pulling guard picking up the DE, Watt’s really good chip on that end, a good job leaking out and then Derek Watt doing exactly what Derek Watt does, run hard and look to make contact. He even drew a penalty on this play for the helmet to helmet hit from the DB at the end. He sided with the defender after the game, because that’s the kind of player he is. But the best part? This is a play-action pass out of a shotgun formation. You know, the kind of play-action pass Randy Fichtner might actually call.

Using Derek Watt on the Steelers offense

K.T.Smith(chisap) made a great post about the Steelers offense from 2018 and showed how the Steelers used FBs and TEs creatively. It’s a great read and I agree with him, making this part a lot easier. If you want to see what the Steelers could look to do with Derek Watt and Eric Ebron give it a read, or re-read it, it’s worth it.

I want to add to it with some film of how the Chargers used Derek Watt outside of just lining up at the traditional FB spot. Let’s start with the two plays that followed that 8-yard run from 2018.

Watt starts the play outside, he is in motion to start this clip.

The key to this run is the LB on the left, he follows Derek Watt and the Chargers run right at the spot he was. That LB ends up making the tackle, just 17 yards downfield. One thing that frustrated me watching film of Watt on offense is how often the Chargers had Watt in for one play and then took him back out. Derek Watt is dangerous when he’s ignored, and you can play off of that on offense, constantly forcing LBs to gamble on whether they should pay attention to Derek Watt or not, and pulling defenders out of the box, leaving an empty hole for the RB is a big boost to your offense.

The third play of this series, Derek Watt (#34) is on the right side, playing H-Back (off the line, inside the TE).

That’s Derek Watt blocking new Baltimore Raven Derek Wolfe, a 3-4 DE. Watt does well playing from the H-Back position, especially as a blocker. Here they trust Watt to handle a much bigger player and the OL gets up-field onto the Broncos LBs enough that they can’t get outside fast enough to stop the RB from turning the corner.

You have probably heard that Watt played a bit of TE in an emergency situation for the Chargers last season, and he was lined up as the TE for one play where he blocked a safety, but he is much better in this position, and they used him there a good bit.

Watt is on the right, playing H-Back again.

Here he comes across the formation and blocks the edge. You can see the double team by the tackle and guard on the left and Watt stones the edge to create a beautiful lane for the runner. Unfortunately the runner is impatient and runs the other way right before the block gets there. Like so many, many other plays I watch, I just shake my head and say “If that’s Le’Veon Bell it’s a TD.” But that’s not the point, the Chargers use motion to pull all the players to the right side, and send Watt left, it’s a great way to reverse the numbers really quick, esp. with a FB that can block bigger players reliably.

Last play. I want to show you this formation first though, because of the potential it could hold for the Steelers in 2020.

This is 12 personnel, TE, FB, RB. Derek Watt is on the outside to the left of the screen, Hunter Henry is on the line with a WR inside, and Keenan Allen lined up in the TE spot on the right.

Look at this formation and imagine James Conner in the backfield, Derek Watt to the outside left, Eric Ebron on the line, James Washington inside him, and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the right side.

That’s a crazy formation you can run out of, with 2 very good blocking WRs along with a TE and FB, but you also have a lot of receiving weapons, and the other team has to figure out who covers whom. But this play needs two main things in order to work. First, that FB has to be a threat to run an actual route, not even a good one, just a legit route, and second, the TE has to be a solid blocker. Otherwise you take all the promise this formation looks to hold, and end up with something like this.

Look at the LBs, at the start they have no clue what is going on. That’s usually a good thing, except the TE gets driven back, forcing the pulling guard backwards and the RB ends up in front of his blocker. Watt gets pulled back in, because every single time the Chargers lined him up outside they motioned him back inside, which made it easier for the defense to figure out their roles.

So while there is incredible potential for the offense to do interesting things with Eric Ebron and Derek Watt, it all falls apart if the players can’t handle the job. And that is what remains to be seen.

Report Card: Grading the Steelers’ retention of their own free agents

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

BTSC breaks out the red pen and assigns grades to the Steelers after the franchise tagging of Bud Dupree.

The brain trust of the Pittsburgh Steelers felt that retaining LS Kameron Canaday, OT Zach Banner and S Jordan Dangerfield were good personnel decisions for the franchise. It was also deemed prudent to place second round tenders on CB Mike Hilton and OT/OG Matt Feiler. Those two can still be signed by other teams with the Steelers having right of refusal. If they depart, the Steelers get a second rounder. All of these moves will be scrutinized. That’s our job and yours.

For some reason, I’ve been given the responsibility to rate the performance of Kevin Colbert, Omar Khan and company on nothing but speculation. It’s not easy, but I’ll give it a whirl. Despite my less than prestigious BTSC teaching certificate, I have to issue the necessary disclaimer. You know the story; of course, I’m not a football coach, or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. All offseason, I had certain expectations that the Steelers would have to be quarantined because of no cap space...but they found some magic beans.

Grading personnel decisions is even tougher than grading games. We have to wait nearly six months to actually know if our grades our on the money. This time I decided to enlist my friends to help. Since I don’t have any...I recruited a few of my colleagues at BTSC. They resisted, but relented.

With that being electronically said, let’s take a look at BTSC’s early perceptions:

Tony Defeo

Zach Banner: B

Could be a starter sooner rather than later.

Kameron Canaday: B

$2.4 mil sounds steep for a long snapper, but it could be a steeper price to not have a good one.

Jordan Dangerfield: B

Solid backup. Solid special teams player.

Mike Hilton: A

One of the best slot corners in the business. May not have played his best football yet.

Matt Feiler: A

Whether he plays guard or tackle, the Steelers have retained a solid starter on the line.

Jeff Hartman

Zach Banner: C

Banner has yet to prove himself as anything other than a run blocker. I’m not sold.

Kameron Canaday: C

I feel like long snappers are a dime a dozen...nothing to see here.

Jordan Dangerfield: C

Dangerfield signing was more impressive as a special teams play than depth at safety. Still need help at safety.

Mike Hilton and Matt Feiler: C

Hilton/Feiler are both starters and needed to be retained. The second round tender is absolutely worth it considering how important they are at their respective positions.

Lance Williams

Zach Banner: C

Banner is just a body that provides depth. Given the cost to retain him, it was a solid move

Kameron Canaday: C

No analysis submitted.

Jordan Dangerfield: B-

The addition of Watt along with retaining Dangerfield stabilizes the Steelers secondary after the loss of Tyler Matakevich.

Mike Hilton: A-

Slot corners are essentially starters and keep a very good one at a second round tender cost was excellent. In addition, it keeps one of the NFLs best secondaries intact.

Matt Feiler: A

Arguably, Feiler was the Steelers best lineman in 2020. Retaining his at the 2nd tender cost is a steal.

Dave Schofield

Zach Banner: B+

Getting Banner for cheaper contract in 2020 and it would’ve been to offer him the RFA tender was a good move to see how much she progresses this season.

Kameron Canaday: C-

Long snapper is not a position where you want to spend more than the league minimum. I’m not sure why the Steelers did it.

Jordan Dangerfield: B

Dangerfield is the only remaining of the 4 core special teamers from 2018–2019. Keeping him around for super cheap was wise.

Mike Hilton: A

Retaining a quality slot corner for another season at the cost of a second round tender makes a lot of sense.

Matt Feiler: A+

Feiler was the Steelers best offensive lineman in 2019 so keeping him was well worth the money.

K.T. Smith (Cliff Harris is Still a Punk):

Zach Banner: B+

Similar to Dangerfield, he’s a guy who knows the system, can provide depth and can contribute in heavy packages. Hopefully he won’t have to start.

Kameron Canaday: C-

We need a long snapper. But a long-snapper with a $2.4 million contract? That seems, um, generous. One bad snap and this guy is gonna get killed on BTSC.

Jordan Dangerfield: B

Good depth signing since he knows the system. He can contribute on special teams. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have to start.

Mike Hilton: B+

He’s a great slot blitzer and a terrific tackler. He’s only average in coverage but I think we can off-set those deficiencies with good coverage disguise and by inserting Cam Sutton into more packages.

Matt Feiler: A

With Ramon Foster retiring, B.J Finney signing with Seattle and no proven depth at tackle, this was a must-have signing.

Bryan Anthony Davis

Zach Banner: A

Banner is more than a great personality. I think he might earn a starting nod if Feiler moves over.

Kameron Canaday: D

Long Snapper is a dime-a-dozen position. Any more than the minimum salary is wasting money. Canaday is no Greg Warren.

Jordan Dangerfield: C

Dangerfield is cheap and good on special teams, but as a safety...he’s just okay.

Mike Hilton: B+

Really can’t lose here. The Steelers have depth if Hilton departs and another team gives up a second rounder to sign him. But he’s an all-around defender and he fits in the “all in” window.

Matt Feiler: A+

Returning starter. With Finney and Foster gone, the versatile Feiler needed to stay. He’s tough and worth the second-round tender.

Now it is your turn to play teacher. Use the polls and the comments section below. We can compare notes in the teachers lounge.

Podcast: Ranking the Steelers top positional needs heading into the 2020 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 5:30am

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

The 2019 season is now over, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the offseason, it is time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Ranking the Steelers’ top needs heading into the 2020 NFL Draft
  • Steelers Trivia
  • Position Breakdown: ILB
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, Bryan Anthony Davis and Dave Schofield walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

The After Party podcast will be published in audio platform after 1:00 p.m. ET, and the audio can be found below:

Black and Gold Links: There is plenty to be excited about regarding the Steelers free agent moves

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done 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 there is plenty to be excited over, as it pertains to the newly acquired members of the Steelers.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Steelers fans might be concerned about 2020, but there is a lot to be excited over leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft.

GM Kevin Colbert discusses offseason additions to Steelers roster

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Taking a respite from evaluating college prospects as the NFL Draft approaches in three weeks, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert provided insight Tuesday about some known commodities that recently joined the team’s roster.

In a conference call with reporters, which followed a similar session he conducted with fans, Colbert spoke publicly about four of the veteran players he acquired since the NFL calendar year began March 18.

Colbert signed three free agents — tight end Eric Ebron, guard/center Stefen Wisniewski and fullback Derek Watt — in addition to trading for Baltimore Ravens defensive end Chris Wormley.

The most expensive contract, a two-year, $12 million deal, went to Ebron, a former Pro Bowl player with the Indianapolis Colts.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Maybe the Steelers taking a QB with their first pick in the draft isn’t crazy.

Why the Steelers could take QB with their first pick in the 2020 NFL draft

By: Brooke Pryor, ESPN

The Pittsburgh Steelers addressed the most glaring gaps in the 2020 roster through free agency, allowing them to target the best playmaker available with their first pick in the NFL draft.

That would put the Steelers firmly in the mix for the second wave of available quarterbacks after top talent like Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa likely come off the board in the first round.

Because the team sent its first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers won’t make their first selection until the No. 49 overall pick in the second round. It’s the first time since 1967 that the Steelers have entered the draft without a first-round pick.

The Steelers have primarily addressed defensive needs with their first picks in the past couple of years, trading up to select LB Devin Bush No. 10 overall last year and drafting safety Terrell Edmunds at No. 28 the year before. The Steelers have also used their top pick to draft OLB T.J. Watt (2017), DB Artie Burns (2016), OLB Bud Dupree (2015), OLB Ryan Shazier (2014) and LB Jarvis Jones (2013). The Steelers haven’t taken an offensive skill player with their first pick since selecting running back Rashard Mendenhall at No. 23 overall in the 2008 draft.

That could change this year, though, as Todd McShay tabbed Washington quarterback Jacob Eason as the Steelers’ top draft pick — which would make him the fourth quarterback drafted by the Steelers since 2013. That would also make him the Steelers’ highest pick used on a quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger was picked No. 11 overall in 2004. Kordell Stewart was the last quarterback picked by the Steelers in the second round, selected with the No. 60th pick in 1995.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Steelers’ Cam Heyward pens letter urging people to take care of Pittsburgh

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Cam Heyward is concerned for the grandmothers in Pittsburgh.

Actually, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle is concerned for everyone in the city, but particularly the grandmothers.

Heyward penned an article titled “A Letter to Pittsburgh” in The Players’ Tribune, which was posted Thursday morning. The article addresses his concerns about the how the elderly is impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

A Pittsburgh native, Heyward tells a tale of his grandmother, Judy Jordan of Highland Park, making a trip to the Target in East Liberty at the outset of the outbreak. He emphasizes that she wasn’t stocking up on toilet paper, but merely returning an item to the store.

Wrote Heyward:

“Pittsburgh grandmas always got something to return, man! They live for that customer service window on a Saturday morning. They got the receipts. You know they got the receipts. Pittsburgh grandmas love being out ’n’ about, right? So that’s what we’re up against right now, Pittsburgh.

“And to some extent, you know what? I get it. When you come from a tough, hard-nosed town, and your family is filled with people who have lived through pretty much everything, there’s a tendency to think you’ll always be fine, no matter what.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

What the Steelers’ current QB Depth Chart tell us

The difficulty in evaluating the Steelers’ 2019 depth

What Eric Ebron brings to the Steelers offense

Kevin Colbert talks about the pre-draft visit schedule

  • Social Media Madness

Troy #TBT | @tpolamalu pic.twitter.com/k0WUGyUyQr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 2, 2020

Hall of Famer @JeromeBettis36 dialed into The Mission Podcast to discuss @steelers nation and Coach Bill Cowher being inducted to the Hall of Fame in August.

Full Episode --> https://t.co/Z8pBhhkbxk pic.twitter.com/giTy7H7EnP

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) April 2, 2020

Pittsburgh, we are all in this together. Always. #StayHomeStayStrong

Learn more: https://t.co/AghXN49MRj pic.twitter.com/ISwk5dvENZ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 2, 2020

Roll the tape @JamesWashington pic.twitter.com/nalv81kwRS

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 3, 2020

Kevin Colbert outlines the Steelers’ plans for pre-draft visits as the NFL Draft approaches

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 2:34pm
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The entire NFL is under unique circumstances with COVID-19, but the Steelers are rolling with the punches as they prepare for the NFL Draft.

The sports world, and really the entire globe, has been turned upside down with the coronavirus situation. As it pertains to the National Football League, their offseason has been going off as scheduled, but it certainly looks different.

After the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Pro Days had begun before almost all were cancelled due to the pandemic. This meant scouting departments, and head coaches, haven’t had the one-on-one access to players they usually do. What have they been doing in the meantime? Meeting with players online.

“We have been evaluating these players since last spring.” Kevin Colbert told fans during a Steelers Unite conference call. “The scouts, myself, we have the coaches involved after the season. We are right in the middle of our draft meetings. We have been conducting those for the last week and a half and they have gone very well. We have a lot of information. Do we have all of the information that we would normally get? No. But we are no different than any other team in the league in that regards. But we do feel comfortable with the amount of information we have. When we do get ready to draft a player, we’ll have a combination of five or six opinions between the scouts, myself, assistant coaches, coordinators and Coach Tomlin. We feel good about where we are, we just have to make the most of it.”

One of the questions many fans were wondering was how NFL teams will handle pre-draft visits. These are the 30, or so, official visits which were announced to the media and gave some insight into which direction the organization might be headed in, as it pertains to the upcoming NFL Draft.

As Colbert told fans during that same conference call, the still plan on doing those interviews, and they might start as early as this week, but not in person.

“Actually, we haven’t done any yet. What we are doing—again, this would have been the week we were at owner’s meetings. We would have been heading out to pro days this coming Thursday, and we would have been doing some interviews on site at some places and continued to follow up with the visits the following weeks. What we are going to do, the visits that we had planned when we got back from the owner’s meetings and pro days, the visits we had planned, what we are going to do is a video/audio type interview with that player. Those will start up actually on Thursday. That is good at best. It is not as good as sitting down with a guy in person obviously, but again we will make the most of it and we will get the information we need.”

As Colbert mentioned earlier in the interview, it isn’t as if this is just a Steelers problem. The entire NFL is having to deal with these unique, and crazy, circumstances we are all currently living in. Nonetheless, it won’t stop the team from preparing for the draft, which will go off as scheduled, in hoping to build a Super Bowl championship team in 2020, and beyond.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft at the end of the month.

Eric Ebron on what he brings to the Steelers offense: “I am a playmaker”

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 1:06pm
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Eric Ebron claims he is just what the Pittsburgh Steelers offense needs in 2020, and beyond.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to free up enough salary cap space to make some moves in the first wave of NFL Free Agency last week, and the biggest highlighted addition to the team was none other than tight end Eric Ebron.

Why did Ebron’s signing bring with it a high level of excitement? Simply put, he brings an athleticism to the tight end position the Steelers haven’t had in many years. His durability has been a talking point Steelers fans would like to ignore, but when healthy Ebron is a dynamic threat, especially in the red-zone.

In an interview with Teresa Varley of Steelers.com, Ebron talked about what he brings to the Steelers’ offense in 2020, and beyond. It was simple...he is a playmaker.

“I am a playmaker. That is all I have ever said since I was in college,” said Ebron. “I won’t be vocal as far as telling you things, but I am a playmaker. I just go out there and try to make plays. That is what I want to bring to the team. Another weapon people have to respect, have to honor, have to get out of their coverages and those things. Plus, it helps Ben identify what they are doing, it’s another weapon people have to respect, people have to honor, people have to get out of their disguises and coverages. It helps Ben and makes his job easier, makes my job easier because we are all on the same page. I am just trying to make as many plays as I can, win as many games as I can and be the best teammate I can be. That is ultimately what wins you games. That is it.

”And red zone, that was an area I learned how to manipulate with the Colts and studied hard. I want to make as many plays to help the team get to that area, because if we can get to that area, we have an opportunity for points. It is my job to help us get to the red zone and run after catch is how you do it.”

This is an area of need for the Steelers moving into 2020. In 2018, Randy Fichtner’s first year as offensive coordinator, the Steelers had the league’s best red-zone offense, but without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback in 2019, that trend ended quickly. Ebron will hopefully bring a weapon to the Steelers’ offense across the board, but mainly in the red area when the field shortens and things become extremely precise.

Other than that, Ebron doesn’t think it will take him long to adapt to the Steelers offense, even if it is from afar.

“I should easily adapt. I love football. I study it,” said Ebron. “They sent me some basic information packets about formations and stuff, and it’s stuff I’ve heard before. All I want to do is get with Ben [Roethlisberger] because I want to hear his lingo. Everybody has a different language they speak. I want to understand what language he speaks. I want to understand what he thinks and what plays are his favorite, his go-to. Understanding the playbook should be easy. I just look forward to seeing how Ben sees the game.”

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 crisis, no one has any idea when this meeting/work will take place between Ebron and Roethlisberger. Sure, they could do an online meeting and watch film, but nothing beats the physical work necessary to become a cohesive unit. Nonetheless, Ebron is hoping to become Roethlisberger’s go-to man in the Steelers’ offense.

“I hope to be that safety blanket, that go-to, that loved tight end that everybody wants,” said Ebron. “That is all you hear. That Ben loves his tight end. It’s going to be pretty cool to see what we can do together. I have been texting him asking him as many questions as I can as early as I can. I want to pick his brain. If I can be his best friend and we can think the same, good things happen. That is really all I am trying to do.”

Working with Roethlisberger is just the latest quality quarterback Ebron has caught passes from in his career, but Roethlisberger is a different beast.

“I am excited. I can’t wait. Ben has earned so many stripes in this league. You know you are playing with a guy who is a winner. He is a fighter. He has played through so many tough injuries, done things to will his team to win, and won two Super Bowls. It’s going to be fun to get to learn from him. I came from two really good quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck, who has a genius mind. For me to go to Ben Roethlisberger who is like them as far as competing and willing their team to victory is fun.”

The hope is the world, including the sports world, gets back to work as soon as possible, and Ebron can get to some real work in hopes of turning the Steelers’ offense into a force to be reckoned with in 2020.

Best Player Available is the Steelers only option in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 11:10am
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers drafting the best player available in the 2020 NFL Draft? Picking at 49, that’s actually the only sound strategy.

Every year right around draft time, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert stands before the media and insists that his brain trust, which includes himself, head coach Mike Tomlin and a host of others, never selects players based on need because that could prove to be detrimental; you know how it goes, you’re desperate to address a specific position, you’re darn sure that a specific player who plays that position will still be there when it’s your turn on the clock—yada, yada, yada, you wake up the next morning next to Artie Burns at a press conference.

But with all due respect to you, Kevin, I mean, come on. Of course you draft based on need. Why wouldn’t you? Obviously, the Steelers were in the market for a cornerback when they selected Burns late in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft—or just one spot after the Bengals snatched fellow cornerback William Jackson III right out from under their noses.

OK, so Burns was a cautionary tale about the perils of teams that draft for need. But unless he has us all fooled, it looks like inside linebacker Devin Bush, who the Steelers traded three premium picks to the Broncos in-order to move into the 10th spot to select a year ago, will be a great example of identifying a specific need and drafting a specific player that addresses it.

I don’t know if Colbert has or will utter his annual mantra about drafting the best player available with the first pick in this year’s draft, but if he does, I’m more willing to take him at his word this time.

Of course I’m taking him at his word. Who wouldn’t this year? I mean, who drafts for need when your first pick isn’t until 49?

That’s right, the Steelers don’t have a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, not after sending it to the Dolphins last September in exchange for the absolute godsend known as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Are the Steelers hoping to address a specific need at a certain position or two? I’m sure they are, but I don’t see them holding out hope for specific players.

It just wouldn’t be prudent. It’s hard enough to predict the first 10 or 20 draft picks, let alone the first 50.

But the good news is, just about everything is on the table for the Steelers at 49.

The Steelers need depth at safety after the free agent departure of Sean Davis, along with the unceremonious release of Kam kelly. As for cornerback, let’s face it, as much as we love him, Joe Haden isn’t getting any younger. Also, Cameron Sutton is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, while Justin Layne, the team’s third-round pick out of Michigan State a year ago, is still just a baby.

What about inside linebacker? Oh, you better believe they need to fortify that position after the release of Mark Barron and the free agent defection of Tyler Matakevich.

What about outside linebacker? That might actually be the most pressing need for the future, considering the Steelers aren’t likely to tag Bud Dupree again next season. If they can’t work out a long-term deal with Dupree between now and the deadline to do so this summer, they’ll likely let him walk next season. If that happens, T.J. Watt, who they’ll never let walk away, will need another bookend to complement him; that bookend could eventually be this year’s second-round pick.

What about defensive line? That unit could certainly use some strengthening after the departure of Javon Hargrave.

Moving on down the road.

This could be the year Pittsburgh starts to revamp its offensive line. As for the running back position? There is a strong opinion among many that the Steelers should bring in a potential workhorse.

And while I don’t personally believe the wide receiver position needs to be addressed in the second round, there are many who disagree with me.

Even tight end and quarterback are on the table in the second round.

As you can see, this really is the year for the Steelers to go BPA with their first pick.

It’s actually the only sound strategy.

What the Steelers current quarterback depth chart is really telling us

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Both general manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II have gone on record as saying they’re comfortable with their quarterback situation going into 2020

The quarterback position for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020 has been a hot topic this offseason. Whether it be the health of Ben Roethlisberger going forward, or the Steelers investing in a viable back up, opinions differ across the spectrum. While Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II appear to be in the minority in thinking the Steelers are in good shape, some feel the Steelers should have addressed the issue in free agency while others think the upcoming 2020 NFL draft could hold the answer.

If the Steelers do not add any more players to the quarterback room for 2020, what is it really saying? Is it that the Steelers believe in their other young quarterbacks? Is it saying they are confident in Ben Roethlisberger‘s health? After pondering this question for some time, I’ve come up with my own answer:

The Steelers believe Ben Roethlisberger is the only quarterback who can win them the Super Bowl for 2020.

Now let me explain. The Steelers’ goal is to win the Super Bowl every season. This doesn’t change. They don’t have seasons where they “rebuild “or thinking they aren’t going to be a team in the mix come January and February. It’s not the Steelers way. This is part of the reason I don’t like using the term “win now” when talking about the Steelers as I feel this phrase implies that the Steelers will not be winning at some other point. I believe the Steelers are “all in.” I also believe they are “all in” just about every season. But for 2020, I believe they are “all in” on Ben Roethlisberger.

Some noted journalists have made it clear they believe Jameis Winston was a viable option for the Steelers in free agency in 2020. While this has not come to fruition, no one can say it’s beyond the realm of possibility because Winston still remains unsigned at this time. But if the Steelers were interested, they may have already done almost everything possible to get the salary cap space and have chose to make other moves. In order for the Winston signing to even occur, he would have to come in with a salary cap number much lower than he was hoping for in order for this deal to happen.

But why didn’t it happen? Why didn’t the Steelers spend money on a different quarterback this offseason? While I have not been a proponent of adding a free agent this year because I feel the Steelers have spent enough money at the position, if they felt it would help them I understand completely if they would have pulled the trigger.

The Steelers not signing a free agent quarterback tells me they do not believe any of their reasonable options could bring them a Super Bowl victory. That’s the bottom line.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel anyone else other than Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ roster could win the Super Bowl at quarterback for the Steelers in 2020. And there’s no argument from me that a player like Jamison Winston wouldn’t be an upgrade. But is simply having an upgrade the goal, or is it to win the Super Bowl? What would be money better spent for the Steelers, upgrading the back-up quarterback position even though the Steelers don’t feel they can lead them to the promised land, or investing in additional pieces to help their current quarterback win a championship?

Even if the Steelers address the quarterback position in the draft, do you think whoever they would take is someone they believe would win the Super Bowl for them in 2020 should Ben Roethlisberger go down to injury yet again? I don’t think that would be their mentality. I think the Steelers put all their eggs for 2020 and winning the Super Bowl in Ben Roethlisberger‘s basket.

With all the restructures and everything the Steelers have done, it is obvious they are focused on 2020. I have no problem with that. I also have a feeling that in 2021 the Steelers are going to make moves in order to be focused on that season as well. It’s how they operate. But for 2020, the moves the Steelers have made, as well as the moves they have not made, give every indication that they are ready to live and die on the ability of Ben Roethlisberger. Whether or not it is the right decision is something Steelers’ fans will have to wait to play out through the 2020 season.

The difficulty in evaluating the Steelers 2019 offensive talent

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Who did well, who did poorly...who can tell?

With the NFL draft approaching, there is a lot of debate over what positions the Steelers should prioritize. In order to make an informed decision, we first need to evaluate the players, and following the 2019 season, that is particularly hard to do.

Lets go through each position group really quickly and cover some of the issues that haunt would-be talent evaluators.

Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger is returning from injury, and he’s not young. Will he return in top form, will he be okay, will he be unable to last the season? These are all questions that put more importance on the backup QB position, and that’s not easy to evaluate either.

Mason Rudolph won games, and until that dreadful Cleveland game had a 93 passer rating and a very good 11/4 TD/INT ratio. Here’s a chart of the QBs that threw between 100 and 285 passes last season. I included Mason Rudolph’s totals and his pre-Cleveland numbers. These are Mason Rudolph’s competitors for backup QB in 2019 that actually played.

Mason Rudolph rates pretty well on this chart until that Cleveland game. his film is all over the place too. I think his best film was the week before he faced Cleveland, the Rams game, when he was getting passes out on time and moving the ball against a very good defense. But we all saw how he played the following week.

Devlin Hodges made the incredible leap from FCS to NFL starter with very little investment put in him, and he kept his head above water for weeks before teams figured him out. If Mason Rudolph didn’t get injured in the Jets game where he was playing better again, Hodges doesn’t look as bad. Can he turn moxie and a few NFL quality traits into a career as a backup QB, or is the story of Hodges’ NFL career already over?

You can’t even just draw conclusions from their production alone either, in large part because of what was going on with their receivers.

Wide Receiver

JuJu Smith-Schuster started the season hot, when the entire rest of the team was cold, accounting for 23.7% of the teams yards through week 5, and that includes the Cincinatti game where the WRs combined failed to account for even 1⁄4 of the team passing yards. That percentage of team offense is matched by only two of Antonio Brown’s seasons. JuJu was pulling an Antonio Brown sized load of the offense through 5 games. After that. . . not so much. Returning to the team toward the end of the season, JuJu Smith-Schuster barely did anything, as he and Devlin Hodges couldn’t connect at all. And yet when Mason Rudolph returned against the Jets Smith-Schuster caught a few good passes.

Diontae Johnson was an alright #2 WR all season, until the last few games when the offense was getting destroyed as teams pounced all over Devlin Hodges. then Diontae Johnson was the only WR doing anything. What can we expect from Diontae Johnson in year 2? Was it a breakout end to the season, or just that he was the WR Devlin Hodges had the most chemistry with when other teams stopped respecting him as a passer entirely?

James Washington might be the worst player to evaluate on the team. For 11 games he was nobody. But for 4 games from week 9-12 James Washington produced like an all-pro while filling up highlight reels.

Are the Steelers boasting one of the deepest 3 WR sets in the NFL, creating headaches for opponents no matter who they cover? Maybe. Or maybe James Washington is a one-trick pony without the speed to make it work once teams figured him out, Diontae Johnson is a solid depth WR with good chemistry with the Steelers bottom of the depth chart QB, and JuJu is solid but not good enough to create opportunity for the other guys. We can look at history and tell that JuJu is productive, but we don’t have any history with the other 2.

Running Back

Running back is another position with 3 players that could be good or could be nothing, and we don’t really know. James Conner followed a strong 2018 that ended with injury, with another injury riddled season where he had one game of 60+ rushing yards. Conner ran for 154 yards, 31% of his rushing for the season came in one of his ten games. James Conner was the most boom or bust RB for the Steelers in 2019, leading the team in runs that failed to gain a yard and also in runs that gained 10 or more yards. Conner also led the entire team in receiving yards twice in 2019.

Benny Snell was a more reliable runner, and the team posted a 4-1 record when Benny Snell led the team in rushing, compared to a 2-6 record when James Conner led the team in rushing. Yet Benny Snell was far from impressive as a receiver and not nearly as big a threat to break a longer run. An interesting note here is that Snell had the highest percentage of runs against a loaded box of any RB in the NFL (via Rotounderworld’s player profiler) and the sixth highest average number of defenders in the box.

Jaylen Samuels was mostly a pass catching back who struggled with pass blocking much more this season than last season, but then James Conner struggled blocking too. Should we blame them, the QBs, the offensive changes Randy Fichtner put in to help the young QBs?

The Steelers two main rushers, James Conner and Benny Snell faced more men in the box and a higher percentage of loaded box fronts than league leader Derrick Henry did in 2019. The Steelers also put more WRs on the field than the Titans did, averaging 2.54 WRs per snap while the Titans averaged 2.37 WRs per snap. Benny Snell averaged 7 men in the box, James Conner 6.9 and Derrick Henry 6.8.

Who do you blame for that? The WRs, the offensive play-calling, the QBs?

The offensive line struggled, but with teams putting more players in the box than they would against other teams that were run-based, how can we expect them not to?

Take a look back at the week 6 win against the Chargers in LA, the Steelers got a rare win on the West coast in a game when James Conner accounted for 59.1% of the teams receiving yards while the leading rusher was Benny Snell. Combined they accounted for 208 of the teams 256 total yards, while the leading WR had 2 catches for 14 yards.

Do the Steelers potentially have one of the best 2-back combos in the NFL? Are all the WRs trash? Is Devlin Hodges just that bad and Randy Fichtner drew up a great game plan to get a win by attacking the Chargers LBs in different ways? I mean someone did something right there, who do you want to give the credit to?

Heading into the draft the Steelers have to evaluate a team that frankly, could contain 7 pro-bowl caliber players on offense or zero. And everyone in Steeler nation has their own opinion as to what players are legit and which ones aren’t. What players on this offense do you think are legit starters? Which ones aren’t worth a roster spot?

BTSC Watch Party: Discussing the Steelers 17-10 victory over the Patriots in 2018

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It’s time to discuss our first game for the watch party as well as learn about the next game to be viewed

Welcome to the BTSC watch party! Join us as we catch all the Steelers’ action as Behind The Steel Curtain will view and re-live various games together. In order to join in on the fun, the first step is to make sure you have a signed up for your free subscription to NFL Game Pass which will last through the end of May. In doing so, you will have access to all NFL games dating back to 2009. If you have not yet signed up for Game Pass, click HERE.

Here’s how the process will work. Last Sunday we announced the first game we would all watch in order to join in the discussion. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the game yet, the condensed version only take a little over 30 minutes (although they missed Stevan Ridley’s 12-yard run when the Steelers were pinned at the 1-yard lane). In the comment section below, we will begin a discussion from the game. I will wait and give me thoughts in the comments as well. Here were the 5 questions to get things started:

1. What was the key moment in the game which led to the Steelers victory?
2. Was there any particular player who stood out for having an exceptional game?
3. Was there one particular play which kept the Steelers from a more decisive victory?
4. Was there a moment in the game where everything went the Steelers way and if not it could have been a turning point?
5. What was your most favorite moment of the game?

Next, we will all watch another game (listed below) sometime between now and next Sunday. On Sunday morning, Behind The Steel Curtain will once again publish an article to discuss key elements from the game in the comment section. Additionally, the next game to be watched will be announced. So whatever you do, make sure you scroll all the way to the end of this article in order to vote on the next game to be a part of the watch party.

While some people liked the idea of doing an open thread at a set time to watch the game, there are still some details which would need to be ironed out such as which version of the game to watch. Please let us know in the comments if you watched the full broadcast, All-22, or the condensed version.

Now on to the next game! The watch party for this Sunday will be…

2017 Week 14
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers December 10, 2017
Result: Steelers 39 Ravens 38

It was a back-and-forth game which came down to the foot of Chris Boswell. After having a slight lead at halftime, the Steelers gave up 17 points in the third quarter only to storm back in the final period. Scoring the final 10 points in the last 3 1/2 minutes, it was also rookie T.J. Watt who ended the game with a strip sack which ran out the clock to secure the Steelers victory.

Things to consider when watching the game:

  1. What was the key moment in the game which led to the Steelers victory?
  2. Was there any particular player who stood out for having an exceptional game?
  3. Was there one particular play which kept the Steelers from a more decisive victory?
  4. Was there a moment in the game where everything went the Steelers way and if not it could have been a turning point?
  5. What was your most favorite moment of the game?
  6. Was there any thing in particular you had forgotten about this game?

Of course, these questions are simply designed to start discussion. Be prepared on Sunday to give any of your thoughts about the game.

Make sure you let us know which game you would like to have for the next Steelers watch party. Articles will be on Sundays and Thursdays. If there’s a particular game not on the list, please leave the suggestion in the comments below so it can be included in the next article.

Podcast: How will the Steelers offense succeed in 2020?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 5:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is over, and although there are no more games, the news is still ongoing. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • How will the Steelers’ offense succeed in 2020?
  • Diagnosing the issues with the Steelers using statistics
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Black and Gold Links: Steelers to finish 3rd in the AFC North? Say what?!

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done 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 some gambling sites have the Steelers to finish 3rd, yes 3rd, in the AFC North.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping for a bounce back, but one gambling site doesn’t see that happening.

Betting site: Steelers more likely to place 3rd in AFC North than to win it

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

There are myriad futures betting options available for those who follow the NFL, from wagering on the Super Bowl winner to each division’s champion to over/under individual team wins. Another is betting on what place a team will finish in its division.

At least one site believes it’s more likely the Pittsburgh Steelers place third in the AFC North than they are to win it.

Odds released by BetOnline, give 7-to-4 odds for the Steelers to place second for the upcoming 2020 season (assuming it is played, with the world currently grappling with the coronavirus pandemic). BetOnline offers the same odds for the Steelers finishing fourth.(The line means a $4 wager will return $7 in winnings).

The Steelers are at 7-to-2 to win the AFC North and 11-to-2 to finish in last place.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Should the Steelers trade in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft?

Tim Benz: Steelers have good reasons to stay put in the draft. Should they trade up anyway?

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When the NFL Draft rolls around in three weeks, the Steelers will not have a first-round pick.

Wait. Give it a second.

Hear it? It’s coming.

MINKAH! MINKAH! MINKAH! What about Minkah Fitzpatrick?! Minkah counts as the first-rounder in 2020! And he’s an All-Pro. MINKAH! MINKAH! MINKAH!

OK. Good. That’s out of the way. Now we can continue.

I wanted to save you pounding away on your keyboards in the comments section.

Yes. The Steelers got safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami last September for the 18th pick they would’ve had in the first round in 2020. And he proved to be worth the price that will be paid in a few weeks.

But that is a significant price to be paid. And now the bill is due.

That leads to a different question. Would Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert be willing to pay another price to get back into the first round by trading away future picks or current players?

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Eric Ebron is beyond excited to play with his new team...

Ebron is excited about his new team

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

I didn’t need to see Eric Ebron’s face during our call on Wednesday morning to know he was smiling.

It was in his voice, in the energetic way he talked about his new team, in the passion he had answering every question I asked him.

”That is just me. People have no idea,” said Ebron. “It’s going to be so much fun. I am a fun-loving guy. When it comes to football, that is what I want to do.”

Ebron, the free agent tight end the Steelers recently signed after he played for the Colts and Lions, is ready to bring that energy to the black and gold.

”You never hear anything bad about Pittsburgh,” said Ebron. “No matter who I talked to, former players, players who are there now, they all told me the same thing. It’s fun to be here. You can be yourself.

The Steelers know how to run an organization. They are winning and they do it in the right way. That is all I ever heard.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

How the Steelers will “go big” in 2020, just like they did on offense in 2018

The new Steelers NFL Draft hats are LEGIT

A great read on April Fool’s Day

Will the NFL Schedule be released on time, or will it be delayed?

Ben Roethlisberger just got PAID...again.

  • Social Media Madness

Fooled ya

Boz ➡️ Big Al#AprilFoolsDay pic.twitter.com/O6Tel7JFi9

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 1, 2020

“We can’t wait! We’re going to have so much fun together!”@Ebron85 is ready to get to Pittsburgh! pic.twitter.com/9cGM8q16UK

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) March 31, 2020

.@StanLoveTheShow interviewed #HallofHonor & @ProfootballHOF member @DermonttiDawson to discuss @CowherCBS being inducted into the Hall of Fame, playing for Chuck Noll & Bill Cowher, his mentors on the team & more.

: https://t.co/8oQ8wCOdBY

NOMINATE: https://t.co/h5xCBHlLCu pic.twitter.com/R8BcCypXEN

— SteelersNationUnite (@SteelersUnite) April 1, 2020

Tomorrow on the Mission Podcast: @JeromeBettis36 discusses the @steelers & his former Coach Bill Cowher being inducted to the Hall of Fame in August.

Guarantee your spot at the 2020 Enshrinement to celebrate the Class of 2020: https://t.co/8jAaewMhzS pic.twitter.com/COylXK3REK

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) April 1, 2020

The NFL expects the 2020 season to be played in full, and on time

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/01/2020 - 2:18pm
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While admitting things can change, the plan is for the NFL season to kick off without any delays

In a report by the NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport, NFL executive Jeff Pash says the 2020 season is expected to begin on schedule and to be played in full.

NFL exec Jeff Pash says on a conference call “our planning, our expectation is fully directed at playing a full season and starting on schedule. … Just as we did in 2019. Am I certain? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow, but I’m planning on it. That’s what we talked about."

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 31, 2020

With a little more than five months until the NFL is expected to play their first regular season game on Thursday, September 10, 2020, there is still plenty of time for life in the United States to get back to normal in time for the NFL season. With the other major professional sports seeing a stoppage to their contests being held, the NFL has proceeded with “business as usual” as much as possible throughout their offseason. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep people confined to their homes as much as possible, looking to the future when tens of thousands of fans can gather in a stadium had to remain in the back of the minds of those in the NFL office.

As team’s offseason training activities are unable to get underway this month, being prepared for the 2020 season is going to look different than in years past. With the first game of any sort being the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio for the Hall of Fame game on August 6, 2020, there is definitely still time before the NFL must make major changes to its schedule.

Although this announcement from the NFL can help bring comfort to some, it is really the only reasonable approach at this time. Continuing on with a plan for games in five months is a wise decision as preparations for the NFL schedule need to be done at this point. With the release of the schedule reportedly coming by May 9, making the plans to conduct business in the fall needs to continue as long as it is not putting the NFL’s employees at risk.

These are uncertain times in our country. To move forward with absolute certainty with the 2020 NFL season would be naïve. But to not plan on being able to conduct business as usual this fall would be even worse.

Ben Roethlisberger gets $5 million dollars richer today thanks to a signing bonus

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/01/2020 - 12:35pm
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Ben Roethlisberger hits a big pay day thanks to a deferred signing bonus.

The way the Pittsburgh Steelers structure their contracts often leads to deferred signing bonuses to players, and on April 1st those signing bonuses come due. What does this mean? It means Ben Roethlisberger is now $5 million dollars richer since the calendar flipped to April.

This from Field Yates of ESPN:

Players with deferred signing bonus payments due by today:
▪️Russell Wilson: $35M
▪️Bobby Wagner: $8M
▪️Shaq Thompson: $8M
▪️Ben Roethlisberger: $5M
▪️Gerald McCoy: $2M (from Carolina)
▪️Eric Reid: $1.5M (from Carolina)

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 1, 2020

Roethlisberger has restructured his contract to help free up needed salary cap space for the Steelers this offseason, but he still remains to be the lone contract which is severely weighing down the team as it maneuvers throughout the 2020 offseason.

Finances are certainly an issue, but on-field performance is something different altogether. Roethlisberger’s surgically repaired elbow leaves the Steelers facing a giant question mark on their roster heading into the new year.

Can Roethlisberger return and remain healthy?

Will he be able to make all the throws as he once did after surgery?

It is easy to guess on just how these will play out, but no one knows how Roethlisberger’s elbow will respond once it is put through the rigors of training camp, the preseason and a full regular season.

Roethlisberger’s price tag is high, but if he is able to return and perform at a high level the price won’t matter...because winning is all that matters. If/when a healthy Roethlisberger joins with the team’s up-and-coming elite defense the Steelers have the look of a contender.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft and the uncertainty of the offseason.

A 2020 Steelers Mock Draft guaranteed to make you laugh

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/01/2020 - 11:15am
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

With the real NFL Draft less than a month away, I bring to you my latest Steelers Mock Draft.

(Editor’s Note: Before reading further, look at the date on the device you have in front of you.)

With the 2020 NFL Draft literally right around the corner (less than four weeks away), things are certainly in full-swing in-terms of rising and falling stocks, analysis, speculation and rumors.

And with the first big wave of unrestricted free agency already behind us, I figured I’d ramp up my own analysis and speculation with my latest Steelers mock draft (Steelers Mock Draft 24.0). What do they need? What positions should they address early and/or often? Will having no first-round selection decrease their odds of finding an impact player? Could they possibly trade back into the first round? We will cover all that and more in my latest Steelers Mock Draft (24.0).

Let’s get started, shall we?

Round 1 (2nd, overall), Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

That’s right, the Steelers finally find their quarterback of the future in Tagovailoa, the consensus number one overall pick heading into the 2019 college season. Unfortunately for the lefty slinger, he suffered a severe hip dislocation that required surgery and wiped out the rest of his junior year. Fortunately for all the Steelers faithful out there, Tagovailoa’s recovery went so well, he decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the 2020 NFL Draft and his back up there at the top of most big boards.

You might be asking how and why the Steelers, a team that lost its first-round pick last September when it traded it to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, could draft a player in that round at all, let alone second overall? As you well know, that move to acquire Fitzpatrick—trading a future number one pick—was out of character for the Steelers. But then, they’ve done some very “unSteeler-like” things in the very recent past. Take last year’s draft, for example, when Pittsburgh traded its first and second-round picks in 2019, along with its third-round pick of this year’s draft, to move up from the 20th spot to the 10th spot to select inside linebacker Devin Bush from Michigan.

The Steelers went into last year’s draft with a major need at inside linebacker, and they knew the Devins—both Bush and White—were the only two prospects really capable of filling it. So they did what they had to do.

I see the same thing happening this year. With the Dolphins sitting at three and clearly coveting Tua, the Steelers simply have no choice but to act boldly and swiftly and give the Redskins, who own the second pick, a bounty in return. How much of a bounty, you ask? Try Stephon Tuitt, along with their 2021 first-round pick and their 2021 second-round pick. Steep price? Not when you factor in things like Tuitt’s injury history. Yes, moving Tuitt would leave the Steelers with over $15 million in dead cap money, but like the guy from Bleacher Report said in his article about cutting Ben Roethlisberger, the team should just look at that figure as a sunk cost and move on. As for those premium picks from next year’s draft? Hey, the Steelers need to find Big Ben’s heir apparent sooner rather than later. History shows that the best way to do that is either by signing an established and high-priced veteran in free agency or with a top-five draft choice.

I think it’s in the Steelers’ best interests to go the latter route.

Round 1 (8th, overall), Josh Jones, OL, Houston

That’s right, the revamping of the once-dominant and decorated offensive line begins now. With Alejandro Villanueva struggling off and on the past two seasons, and with the right tackle position a bit of an unknown at the moment (could Matt Feiler jump to guard in 2020?), the Steelers need to think about who will emerge as Tua’s future protectors on the outside. One of those could easily be the 6’5”, 319 pound Jones.

Yes, the Steelers are back in the first round yet again. This time, their trading partners are the Cardinals, a team more than willing to accept the services of cornerback Steven Nelson (he can be the replacement for the always disgruntled Patrick Peterson), as well as Pittsburgh’s second and third-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft (the third-round pick is compensatory).

Trading Nelson might seem like an unorthodox move, but the Steelers drafted Justin Layne in the third round last year for a reason: To start at corner sooner rather than later. If it’s a little later for Layne, well, isn’t it about time they take the floaters off of Cameron Sutton, a third-round pick in 2017, and find out if he’s figured out how to swim by his fourth season?

Round 1 (14th, overall), Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU

The Steelers love drafting wide receivers, but not since 2006, when they traded up to select Santonio Holmes, have they done so in the first round. That changes now with the tall and fast Jefferson, who led the National Champion Tigers with 111 receptions in 2019. According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, Jefferson has a chance to excel as both an inside and outside possession receiver, plus he has the ability to make the contested catch and do so quite well. Let’s see, 111 receptions, great on both the inside and outside, loves the contested catch. Jefferson is also 6’1” and 202 pounds. Does that remind you of anyone? It should, and his name is JuJu Smith-Schuster. And with Jefferson teaming up with JuJu, and the two of them being complemented quite nicely by James Washington and Diontae Johnson, the Steelers receiving corps will be the envy of the NFL for many years to come.

No, you’re eyes aren’t deceiving you, my friend. Yes, I have the Steelers selecting in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft for a third time. And this time, their trading partners are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that just landed the services of the legendary Tom Brady and already has a fairly-stocked cupboard in terms of weapons for him to throw to. But what the Buccaneers don’t have is a bookend outside linebacker to go along with Shaquil Barrett, who recorded 19.5 sacks a year ago. Barrett is the Bucs’ T.J. Watt, and just who could be their Bud Dupree? I got it, how about Bud Dupree? Yes, I know Tampa Bay just placed the franchise tag on Barrett to the tune of $15.8 million, but the Buccaneers have plenty of room under the cap, certainly enough to take on Dupree and his $15.8 million franchise tag. The question has been asked a bunch of times in recent weeks: Should the Steelers tag and trade Bud? Here’s your answer.

In addition to Dupree, the Buccaneers also get Pittsburgh’s initial fourth-round pick in this year’s draft (124th, overall), its third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and its second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Round 1 (30th, overall), Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame

The fourth time is the charm for the Steelers taking players in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. At best, Pittsburgh finally gets its big-play tight end in the still improving Kmet. At worst, it gets some insurance for both Vance McDonald and the newly-signed Eric Ebron and their histories with injuries and drops.

Thankfully, the price the Steelers have to pay the Packers for moving into the latter portion of the first round isn’t quite as steep as earlier in the first round. Instead of active players, Pittsburgh parts with its second fourth-round pick in 2020 (135th, overall), sixth-round pick (198th, overall), fourth-round pick in 2021 and first-round pick in 2022.

Round 7 (232nd, overall), Sterling Hofrichter, punter, Syracuse

The Steelers finally find their replacement for Jordan Berry.

There you have it. My latest Steelers mock draft. There’s still a ways to go before the actual draft begins on April 23, of course, but check back with me frequently for many more mock drafts between now and when the real thing begins.

Will the NFL release the 2020 schedule when expected?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/01/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The league does not normally announce when the schedule will be released until a few days prior, but the usual time the week before the NFL draft seems to be in question

As the NFL continues to push on with their offseason schedule of events, there’s been some minor adjustments to a few things already. First, due to vote on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the time where teams had to designate a franchise chat tag was adjusted. But even with that minor change, the NFL pushed forward with the start of their league year.

Next, in the face of a worldwide pandemic due to the coronavirus outbreak, professional sports in the United States and around the world have basically come to a standstill. Being the offseason, the NFL pushed forward with their timeline as they continue to hold the NFL draft on the original date although the location and procedures have been changed. The league has shut down team facilities in order to help keep social distancing, and player pro days and interviews have been transitioned to teleconference gatherings.

Before the draft, fans are usually given the complete NFL schedule for the upcoming season. Not making a major announcement as to when it will be released, the NFL usually gives a couple days notice before releasing the schedule to the public. But with everything going on in the world and the uncertainty as to when we can gather together collectively to cheer on our favorite teams, can the NFL push forward with the schedule at this time?

As I was writing this piece, a report surfaced where the release of the schedule will not happen when typically done before the draft. Instead, the NFL is targeting a date early in May according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

NFL schedule release likely to be around May 9. Not corona-related. That apparently was the plan anyway.

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 31, 2020

The claim by the NFL is our current social distancing practices and the shutdown of nonessential operations in most cities is not a factor in the delay of the scheduled release. While fear of not being able to hold the NFL season come September may not be the reason for when the schedule will be made public, other factors involved could very well be why the schedule will not come out until early May or evenly get pushed later.

Although the NFL hopes to hold their games in September, scheduling around other professional sports it’s going to be much more difficult. In many cities, the game day facilities for things such as parking and public transportation are utilized by multiple professional teams in a close proximity. The NFL has generally scheduled around events by Major League Baseball, with a prime example being the Baltimore Ravens having to open their season on the road as Super Bowl champions in 2013 due to the Baltimore Orioles hosting a game the same night. But can they trust the baseball schedule at this point? It is obviously going to be changed as they are already missing the beginning of their season. Should the NFL take into consideration the changes in MLB schdule, or should they merely just schedule around what they know at this time? It’s just one other factor which could complicate things.

Another issue in the developing a schedule is the NFL office and their employees during this time. If the majority of those working on the schedule are forced to work remotely, it could affect how they work their process of coming up with the best schedule. Although a computer comes up with several different scenarios, things also get adjusted by actual human beings from a base schedule the league feels is the best starting point. Not being able to gather all the parties working on the schedule in the one room and “pound it out” is one reality which could slow down the process.

While teams are going to be missing out on various offseason training activities over the next few weeks, it is doubtful these cancellations/postponements will affect the start of the NFL season if our society is back to normal by the end of the summer. If the player lock out of 2011 taught us anything, it is the NFL will condense whatever they need to do in order to start their season.

As many people across the country are looking for a sense of normalcy, the NFL holding their draft and releasing a schedule fans is welcomed as we can look forward to a time where we can once again gather together in support of our teams. If the NFL has no plans of altering their schedule at this time, the closer it is released to when it is normally given out will help us all to feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If nothing more, it gives us something else we can talk about during these difficult times.

Steelers Playbook: Revisiting 2018 might reveal how the Steelers will “go big” on offense in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/01/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers will need an injection of offense in 2020, and a look back at 2018 might be just what the doctor ordered.

The recent free agent signings of fullback Derek Watt and tight end Eric Ebron have me brainstorming ideas on how the Steelers might use them in the offense. Last week, I wrote about the various ways in which Ebron will make the Steelers harder to defend. Watt’s role is hazier given the near non-existence of a fullback in the game-plan in recent seasons. It stands to reason, however, that the offensive staff is at least entertaining thoughts of using Watt more than his predecessor, Rosie Nix. Watt is an excellent special teams player but his three year, $9.75 million contract hints at a bigger role.

With Ben Roethlisberger returning, the Steelers will remain a base 11 personnel team on offense, featuring one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. But they will likely use more 12 personnel sets to get Ebron and fellow tight end Vance McDonald on the field together. Ebron and McDonald could be the best tight end duo the Steelers have had since Randy Grossman and Bennie Cunningham. It would stand to reason the staff will look for ways to pair them on the field.

What about Watt? How much 21 personnel will we see with Watt as a traditional fullback? What about 22 personnel with Watt and both tight ends? After a 2019 season that saw injuries at fullback and tight end limit the Steelers to using a one-dimensional “big” package with tackle Zach Banner reporting as a sixth lineman, the team is now in position to employ a variety of such looks with the ability to run and throw from each.

To get a feel for what offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has done with 21 and 22 personnel, I used my quarantine time last week to study the 2018 offense. Why 2018? Because 2019 is probably useless as a gauge for what the Steelers will do with Roethlisberger back. Like Roethlisberger, Nix missed most of 2019 with injuries but he was healthy in 2018, playing in all 16 games. He was on the field for just 110 snaps, however, or roughly 10% of the team’s total offensive plays. He touched the ball just five times (four receptions, one rush). However, one series in the 52-21 drubbing of Carolina that season stands out for the manner in which Fichtner incorporated his “bigs.” I’m not suggesting this one series is a template for what to expect in 2020. But it may provide some insight into how Fichtner intends to use the new pieces the offense has acquired, particularly when he wants to go heavy.

Let’s look at that drive and offer some thoughts on what it might mean for 2020.

The Steelers were off to a hot start, leading 21-7 early in the second quarter, when a Carolina punt pinned them back at their own eight yard line.

To open the drive, they aligned in a jumbo formation with Nix, tight end Xavier Grimble and a sixth lineman joining James Conner and Antonio Brown on the field. They ran a simple zone lead play that Conner wound to the backside and captured the edge. It was a nice job by Conner of making something out of nothing and it got the Steelers out of the shadow of their own end zone. Conceptually, however, it was pretty vanilla stuff:

On the next play, things got interesting.

The Steelers swapped out the extra lineman for a second tight end (#81, Jesse James). They were now in 22 personnel, but rather than line up in a power set with both tight ends attached and Nix in a three-point stance behind Roethlisberger, the Steelers went empty. Yes, you heard that right. An empty set from 22 personnel, ladies and gentlemen, dialed up by one Randall Fichtner. I’ll pause for a moment while you view the photo and get yourself together after having your mind blown.

That’s Grimble split wide to the bottom of the screen, Conner in the right slot and James as the tight end to the trips. To the left of the formation, Antonio Brown is split wide and Nix (yes, Rosie Nix!) is in the tight slot.

Why did Fichtner go empty here? Because he had a great matchup against which to spread the field. Carolina countered Pittsburgh’s 22 grouping with their base 4-3 defense. This put three linebackers in coverage against all of those receivers, a matchup the Steelers jumped at.

Fichtner ran a Y-Stick concept to the Trips side and sent Brown on a post to the weak side. Nix, meanwhile, ran a condensed tunnel screen by pushing out to widen the alley player and then coming back inside, where guard Ramon Foster climbed to kick the alley. It was a nice play design by Fichtner with three options for Roethlisberger: throw the Stick if Carolina did not push their coverage to the trips (they did); throw the post to Brown if it was man coverage (it was not); or throw the tunnel to Nix if the first two looks were no good. Roethlisberger chose this option and it yielded an easy first down:

The Steelers stayed with this personnel group on the following play and ran another zone lead play, with Nix inserting to the weak side. It was a utilitarian call, designed to produce three or four yards, and it would have done just that had Carolina’s nose tackle not split the double team by Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey. The run by Stevan Ridley gained two yards, bringing up 2nd and 8:

(Side note: there’s a reason certain players can’t stay on the field, and we see one from Xavier Grimble right here. Grimble motions across the formation and is supposed to kick out the defender pressing the edge. But he brings his motion too wide, disappearing from the screen, and allows the defender to slip inside of him. Had Ridley cut to the left, Grimble’s defender would have likely made the play. Grimble should have settled down just outside the left tackle where he could maintain inside leverage. This is poor attention to detail, just like it was when Grimble failed to protect the football as he was approaching the goal line in the game at Denver later that season. Mistakes like these can determine the fate of a fringe player. In Grimble’s case, they very well may have).

On 2nd and 8 from their own 36, the Steelers went back to an empty set from their 22 personnel grouping. This time, they put all the big dudes on the right side of the formation, with Nix split wide, Grimble in the slot and James in the tight end spot. On the other side, Brown worked the slot while Conner was split wide:

Carolina stayed in their base cover-2. Having seen the two-high look against the previous empty set, Fichtner dialed up a “Smash” route, which is a traditional cover-2 beater. He sent Grimble and Brown on corner routes (the corner is the toughest area of the field for a cover-2 safety to defend) while Conner and Nix ran hitches (“run” is a bit generous; they pretty much stood at the line to occupy the cornerback so he couldn’t help on the route from the slot). James finished the concept with an OTB (over-the-ball) route to provide spacing:

Roethlisberger wanted to hit Brown here but the alley defender did a nice job forcing him wide on his release. There was not enough room to fit the throw into the boundary. So, seeing the soft pre-snap look on Nix, he checked the ball down to his fullback for a gain of six yards.

It was now 3rd and 2 and the Steelers swapped out of 22 personnel into their base 11 group. They emptied the backfield again, splitting running back Jaylen Samuels wide to the top of the screen with tight end Vance McDonald and three receivers. Carolina showed blitz so Roethlisberger checked at the line to keep McDonald in to protect. The Panthers masked cover-2 and dropped linemen into coverage to disrupt the underneath routes. But with the middle of the field open, Roethlisberger knew exactly where he was going with the football. He threw the post to Brown for a big gain:

The drive effectively ended there when, on the next play, right tackle Matt Feiler got beat for a sack. The offense could not recover, and Chris Boswell came on and hit a 50 yard field goal to push the advantage to 24-7 en route to the lopsided win.

What can we take away from this series and Fichtner’s use of his “big” personnel, and how might it provide a glimpse of what’s ahead? Here are some bullet points:

  • There are several reasons the empty sets from “big” personnel were effective against Carolina. One was the fact that Fichtner’s unusual deployment of this grouping forced the Panthers to play a fairly vanilla look. This benefits Roethlisberger tremendously because, when given an opportunity to get a good pre-snap look at a defense, he is often able to pick it apart. If Fichtner can keep defenses on their heels by deploying his personnel groupings in creative fashion, he can provide the luxury of simplicity for Roethlisberger.
  • In order to be creative in this fashion, Fichtner needs versatile players. For example, the Smash route he called that resulted in the check-down throw to Nix required an athletic “big” who could run a corner route. Fichtner used Grimble to do it in 2018. In 2020, he will have a more capable, more athletic “big” in Ebron to man that role. If you look at the GIFs from the piece I wrote last week, you will see Indianapolis having great success hitting Ebron on corner routes. Ebron covers ground quickly and his combination of size (6’5-250) and leaping ability creates mismatches against safeties on throws to the boundary where Ebron can shield the defender from the football with his body.
  • In that same vein, Watt is a more athletic player and a better receiver than Nix. He is capable of handling a broader range of routes (against Carolina, Nix ran a screen and a hitch where he was essentially standing in place; the route tree doesn’t get more remedial than that). So, if Fichtner wants to expand the empty package with his “bigs,” he can get more creative with how he uses the fullback.
  • With regard to Watt in general, it stands to reason he will see the field, and perhaps the football, more than Nix did. I don’t anticipate Fichtner will use him the way San Francisco employs All-Pro fullback Kyle Juszczyk (1,052 snaps, 61 touches in 28 games the past two seasons). As I said before, the Steelers are likely to remain a base 11 personnel offense. But, given his contract, his durability (Watt has never missed a game in his four-year career) and his position flexibility (Watt can be used as a fullback, H-back and blocking tight end), a larger role for him seems likely.
  • It stands to reason Fichtner will still use some sets with a sixth lineman (likely Zach Banner again). The Steelers used that set fairly often in 2018 as well as 2019, indicating it is a look Fichtner favors. Now, however, he can mix and match personnel with it, putting some combination of McDonald, Ebron and Watt on the field with a running back and a receiver. This opens up the playbook so that the six-lineman look doesn’t automatically suggest a run play, as it did last season.
  • The thing that was most noticeably absent from the package Fichtner ran against Carolina was play-action. We saw four plays out of the big grouping, two of which were zone runs with the fullback as a lead blocker and two that were pocket throws from empty sets. Steelers fans have been clamoring for more play-action in the game-plan for ages, and with McDonald, Ebron and Watt on the field together in the 22 package, the play-action possibilities are limitless.

I’m not holding my breath on it, however. This is just a personal theory and I have no specific knowledge that backs it up, but I’ve long believed the reason the Steelers aren’t a big play-action team with Roethlisberger is because he doesn’t like to turn his back on the defense or take his eyes off of coverage to make the fake. Early in his career, when the Steelers were a run-first team with Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker in the backfield, they integrated single-receiver play-action throws where Big Ben faked and then threw a pre-determined route (often to Hines Ward or Heath Miller). Once the Steelers evolved into an 11 personnel team, the play-action was phased out. My guess is because, with three receivers on the field, Roethlisberger preferred to see the coverage so he could diagnose where to go with the football rather than throwing the prescribed routes. Also, with him in the shotgun so often, and with play-action out of the shotgun less effective than when the quarterback is under center, the Steelers just don’t work on it that much.

Maybe this will change with Matt Canada as the new QB coach and with the new weapons the Steelers have on offense. Consider me pleasantly surprised if it does.

Regardless, with Watt and Ebron in the fold, the Steelers have a chance to be far more diverse than they’ve been in recent seasons. One thing to look for as 2020 unfolds is how they’ll deploy their “bigs” together. If the 2018 contest versus Carolina is any indicator, Fichtner and Company should have fun scheming creative ways to get it done.

The Steelers 2020 NFL Draft hats have dropped!

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/01/2020 - 7:05am
Fanatics

The NFL Draft is going off as planned, which means the new draft hat is out!

With the current status of the sports world, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether the 2020 NFL Draft will be going off on time, or if the COVID-19 pandemic would push the date back.

Come to find out, the draft will be going off as scheduled, and that means NFL teams, and their fan bases, are getting amped up for the big event at the end of the month.

But there is one more aspect of the NFL Draft which gets many fans excited, and that is when the latest NFL Draft hats are finally released!

With that said, Pittsburgh Steelers fans will be excited to get a glimpse at the latest draft hat. While fans won’t see the players walk across the stage and give Roger Goodell a big hug, they will certainly see the new players donning the hat from their respective locations!

Check out the latest Steelers hat, and order yours today!! The are absolutely awesome!

Fanatics Steelers Low Profile 59FIFTY Draft Hat for $40 Fanatics Steelers 59FIFTY Draft Hat for $40

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