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Can T.J. Watt reach the same heights as his oldest brother J.J.?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/27/2020 - 1:45pm

SB Nation contributor Alex Rollins breaks down the two Watt brothers and what T.J. needs to do to get to the same level J.J. reached several seasons ago.

It’s no surprise to any Steelers fan that T.J. Watt is one of several young superstars on Pittsburgh’s defense who is taking the league by storm. After being a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, Watt is still on his rookie contract and has a bright future ahead of him in the NFL. But does he have the tools necessary to reach the level of his older brother J.J. Watt?

In his first five seasons in the NFL, J.J. earned four Pro Bowls as well as four All-Pro selections while being Defensive Player of the Year three times. Since then, J.J. has struggled with injury and his only season where he played more than half of the games was in 2018, In said season, Watt returned to Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, so staying on the field seems to be his biggest adversary.

So other than hardware, is J.J.’s career path still superior to that of T.J., or will the youngest Watt brother surpass J.J. as he continues to explode onto the scene? These are a few of the items outlined by SB Nation writer at Niners Nation Alex Rollins. Check out his latest video feature on YouTube below.

First off, the breakdown of the skill sets each brother brings to the table is fantastic. Rollins assessment of T.J. Watt compared to J.J. seems fair, but there is one thing which seems to hold too much weight — playing anywhere on the defensive front.

As mentioned in the video, J.J. Watt holds a significant weight advantage over T.J. when looking at their current playing weight in the NFL. Part of the reason this is true is the fact they play different positions —J.J. is considered an interior defensive lineman while T.J. is classified as an edge rusher. Thinking T.J. Watt needs to play anywhere along the defensive front, including more towards the ball rather than off of the edge, is somewhat unrealistic. To think T.J. needs to have this versatility in order to compete with J.J. is a bit shortsighted. Can J.J. drop into coverage like T.J. has been asked to do? With only one regular-season interception in his nine years in the NFL, many would say otherwise. In 2019 alone, T.J. had as many interceptions as J.J. has had in his entire career. Including the playoffs, T.J. outscores his big brother in interceptions 3 to 2 in only one-third of the seasons.

When comparing the two players as pass rushers, it would be fair to say J.J. being able to play along the entire defensive front would be an advantage. But completely dismissing T.J.‘s ability to contribute to the defense in coverage actually takes away part of his versatility and the assets he brings to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As mentioned in the breakdown, the biggest asset T.J. Watt has over his brother J.J. at this point is time. With J.J. already suffering multiple injuries in his nine-year career, T.J. has the potential to continue to grow as he is only three seasons into the NFL. To compare the two players at this point isn’t exactly fair as J.J. has produced a larger body of work. But years down the road when both have moved on from the NFL, there is a very good chance that little brother will have a great case for having outplayed big bro during their respective careers.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Ulysees Gilbert

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/27/2020 - 12:00pm
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

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

We have made it to part 34 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at Steelers reserve linebacker:

Ulysees Gilbert III

Position:MLB
Height: 6’ 0”
Weight: 230 lbs
College: Akron
Draft: 6th Round 207th overall in 2019

2019 stats

7 Games Played
3 Solo Tackles
2 Assisted Tackles
5 Total Tackles
0 Defensive Snaps Played
150 Special Teams Snaps Played

Contract remaining

Expires in 2022
$706,960 salary cap number (0.35% of total cap)
$31,960 Dead money
$675,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. At the very least the Steelers just don’t have a whole lot of depth at linebacker. Outside of Devin Bush, Vince Williams, and UG3 the inside linebacker depth chart looks like:

Robert Spillane
John Houston Jr. (UDFA)
Leo Lewis (UDFA)
Antoine Brooks Jr. (Duel safety and linebacker?)

Gilbert has an amazing opportunity ahead of him in 2020, and I think it really means something that the Steelers didn't go out and add another middle backer this offseason.

2020 projection

He’s going to get the reps formerly given to Mark Barron in 2019. Gilbert will see a ton of use in sub-packages and in passing scenarios, so rocket fuel will be dumped onto his 2019 stat line. By seasons end we could even see the 2019 6th round pick supplant Vince Williams on the starting unit depending of the packages used.

Projected stats:

65 Tackles
2 Sacks
4 Tackles for Loss
1 Interception
3 Passes Defensed

Summary

Ulysees Gilbert III is one of those names to remember when training camp roles along. He’s going to receive a serious snap count raise, and it will be interesting to see what he does with it.

If things go sideways — be it injury or performance — it would be more than likely the Steelers turn to the free agent market instead of starting a 2020 UDFA.

All things considered, I expect we’re on the precipice of a giant leap for UG3 in 2020.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry

Steelers David DeCastro ranks among the top interior offensive lineman in the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/27/2020 - 10:15am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Of all the centers and guards in the NFL, DeCastro comes in sixth according to CBS Sports

With training camp scheduled to begin in about six weeks, we have entered into the season of player lists. Continuing to chronicle those presented by CBS Sports, the transition has been made to the offensive side of the ball. With the Steelers already placing players high in the defensive back category as well as landing the top spot for edge rushers, they even received kudos for Chris Boswell in the kicking department.

Looking at the interior offensive line, Tyler Sullivan has come out with a top 10 list where Steelers guard David DeCastro falls into the sixth spot.

Top 10 interior offensive linemen in the NFL
(According to @TylerSully)

1. Quenton Nelson
2. Zack Martin
3. Jason Kelce
4. Joe Thuney
5. Brandon Scherff
6. David DeCastro
7. Ryan Jensen
8. Ali Marpet
9. Joel Bitonio
10. Rodney Hudson pic.twitter.com/iI7gqprQIB

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 26, 2020

Entering his ninth season with the Steelers, DeCastro is coming off five straight Pro Bowl seasons with two All-Pro selections sprinkled in for 2015 and 2017. Starting all 16 games in 2019, DeCastro has continually been regarded as one of the best offensive guards in the league.

The only other representative on the list from the AFC North is Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio. With the retirement of Ravens All-Pro Marshal Yanda, the honor of best guard in the AFC North will be up for grabs in 2020.

One interesting player of note on the list is Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson who nabbed the top spot in the rankings. While Nelson is regarded as the top guard in the league, his ranking should have factored in more when it came to the defensive line as Cameron Heyward was placed in the seventh position. In the Steelers Week 9 matchup against the Colts at Heinz Field, Heyward made Nelson look less than stellar as he physically dominated him at various points in the game. On one play of note, Heyward drove Nelson back into quarterback Jacoby Brissett causing him to leave the game with an injury.

As for DeCastro, 2020 could be a pivotal season for both him and the entire Steelers offensive line. Having what was considered a down year in 2019, the return of Ben Roethlisberger has long been believed to help the entire offense improve from last season. Simply because they do not touch the ball does not mean the offensive line would not benefit from the future Hall of Famer‘s return.

So is CBS Sports accurate in placing DeCastro at number six on their list? Remember, it was not based off of 2019 production but the projection of play for 2020. Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Could the Steelers have the NFL’s best defense in 2020?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/27/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Could the 2020 Steelers’ defense become the best in the league this season? Let’s look at all the variables in play and see if they have the makings of the next legendary Steeler defense.

If you’re familiar at all with the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty, the words ‘defense’ and ’Steelers’ probably go hand-in-hand. Even after members of the famed Steel Curtain hung up their cleats, Pittsburgh had many exceptional defensive years, most notably through the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Once Ben Roethlisberger became established as one of the league’s best quarterbacks, the Steelers made the transition from a defensive team to an offensive one. These teams were successful and fun to watch, but the term ‘offense wins games but defense wins championships’ rang true. Roethlisberger’s early years with an elite defense brought him two Super Bowl victories, but even though he was part of many talented offenses later on, he wasn’t able to win any more rings.

Despite a disappointing season in 2019, the Steelers had managed to put together an elite defense after success in the draft, free agency, and trades. Acquiring safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins was the final puzzle piece, and pairing him with stars such as T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Joe Haden brought out the best in all of their games.

But there’s a chance they can become even better this season.

Pittsburgh’s poor offense without Ben Roethlisberger sunk the 2019 Steelers, but the defense kept the team afloat for longer than anyone expected. An improved offense in 2020 should turn the ball over less and help the Steelers defense play from ahead more often, which could take an already excellent defense to new heights.

Roethlisberger isn't exactly known for a ball-control offense, which would benefit the Steelers defense the most, but whatever offense he and offensive coordinator Randy Fichter run should be better than the Mason Rudolph/Devlin Hodges show fans had to watch last year.

With Roethlisberger coming back from a season-ending elbow injury for the 2020 season, the Steelers have all of the pieces to be a contender come January. Their defense has already proven themselves as an exceptional unit, but they don’t seem to be planning on stopping there. Could they become the top defense in the entire league?

The Steelers starting defensive lineup this season is a formidable group. Their front seven is a quarterback’s worst nightmare, with an extremely talented pass-rushing trio of outside linebackers T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and defensive end/tackle Cameron Heyward. Watt has ascended into the upper echelon of NFL edge players, while Heyward has long been an underrated stalwart in the trenches. Bud Dupree finally had his breakout year in 2019, and looks to continue his success under the franchise tag this season.

Heyward’s defensive line teammate Stephon Tuitt is an intriguing player, as he is a disruptive force who has simply struggled to stay healthy. If Tuitt can remain on the field in 2020, the duo of him and Heyward should rank among the league’s best. In between Watt and Dupree, inside linebackers Devin Bush and Vince Williams are a great pair as well. Bush is a freak athlete who looks to be on track to become the next great Steelers linebacker, while Williams is a run-stuffing veteran with some blitzing ability.

After many poor years of secondary play, the Steelers found something special in their 2019 squad and look to continue their success into 2020. Cornerback Joe Haden isn’t getting any younger, but he turned in a Pro Bowl season last year and still has some good years left. On the other side, Steve Nelson shattered expectations as a free agent addition, providing lockdown coverage all year long as one of the NFL’s most underrated players. The Steelers managed to fit their scheme to slot defender Mike Hilton’s strengths which resulted in a good year for him, and Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne provided nice depth backing up the inside and outside positions.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers’ big trade addition last year, is an All-Pro free safety who could improve even more in 2020 after his first full offseason with the team. Terrell Edmunds manned the strong safety spot, and even though opposing offenses exposed some of his weaknesses, he proved to be a solid member of Pittsburgh’s talented secondary. He’s very athletic and a strong tackler, even landing second on the team in that area in 2019.

Pittsburgh has great pieces to go up against both the pass and run. Their strong secondary and pass-rushing core have allowed them to put up great turnover and sack numbers, while Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, and newcomer Chris Wormley are all excellent defenders against the run.

Pittsburgh has very few weaknesses along their defense, and is a consensus top-10 unit to most NFL analysts. The team has many individual defensive stars, but they’ve shown great ability to gel together and succeed as a unit. Their talent and on-the-field success is apparent, but how does it compare to the rest of the NFL?

The Steelers may not even have the best defense in their division to some, as the Baltimore Ravens have put together an impressive collection of talent for 2020. The Steelers have an eerily similar defense to Baltimore, with similar strengths and weaknesses at each positional group. The Steelers seem to be slightly better in most areas, but the Ravens are still a formidable defense that many rank higher than Pittsburgh’s entering 2020. The two AFC North heavyweights will have to battle it out this season, for not only the best defense in the division, but quite possibly the entire NFL.

Earlier this year, I attempted to objectively rank AFC North defenses by positional group. Even though there was some warranted criticism of a few of my rankings, the article still puts all four defenses side by side and really shows how neck-and-neck the Steelers and Ravens are. You can read the full breakdown here.

The 49ers, led by an insanely stacked defensive line and linebacker corps, as well as the Bills, who have an elite secondary and a strong front seven, are considered to be among the NFL’s best defenses. The Patriots, led by DPOY cornerback Stephon Gilmore, are often considered better than Pittsburgh’s as well. The Saints, Bears, and Chargers are also in contention for the top spot.

The Steelers are on par with all of the teams mentioned, and not one defense seems to stand a head and shoulders above Pittsburgh. In an offensively dominated league, true elite defenses are few and far between, but Pittsburgh is among those few and will definitely challenge for the top spot come 2020.

Pittsburgh has a chance for the first time in years to become the gold standard for defenses in the NFL. The Steelers have built an offense strong enough to be a solid compliment to their defense, and they match up well to the rest of the units in the NFL.

Not only would having the league’s best defense greatly improve Pittsburgh’s chances at a Super Bowl victory, but it would give the team’s defense a chance at finding a spot among the greatest in Steelers history.

Predictions for what will happen next season are purely speculation, but with the talent and opportunity the 2020 Steelers’ defense has, there’s a possibility we could be looking at the best defense in the NFL, or even the next ‘Steel Curtain’ or ‘Blitzburgh’.

There’s a chance another decade of great Steelers defense may be right around the corner.

Podcast ‘Yeah, I said it’: The Steelers Super Bowl window is bigger than you think

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/27/2020 - 6:00am

In the latest episode of ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With Ben Roethlisberger nearing the twilight of his fantastic career, there have been talks regarding the Steelers Super Bowl “window” closing with his departure. It has been described as a “win now” situation. However, the Steelers are a franchise that has seemingly always been playing for the present, without sacrificing the future. With the Steelers brain trust being what it is, the window isn’t closing as soon as some think.

This is where the BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Homer and the Hater Show’, Lance Williams, is back analyzing the Steelers Lombardi chances way into the future. 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!

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

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

Black and Gold Links: Several Steelers volunteer to bring hope to their community

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/27/2020 - 5:00am
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Unable to attend most player pro days and participating in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the Steelers keep pushing forward toward a return to football activities. Just because the Steelers are unable to hold their typical OTA’s and the NFL has cancelled the 2020 Hall of Fame Game 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 two Steelers and their spouses stepping up to help others in a time of need.

Let’s get to the news:

Delivering hope to those who need it

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

With the Pittsburgh region re-opened for the most part following closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the perception among many is that things are returning to normal and those who lost their jobs during this tough time are back to work.

But, as we all know, perception is a far cry from reality.

While some things have come back, and some jobs that were lost have returned, there are many people still suffering financially due to the pandemic, with many jobs sadly never returning.

Families have suffered, individuals have suffered, and the region in general has suffered. And when there is suffering in the Pittsburgh area, the community steps up.

That is exactly what the Steelers organization has done throughout the last few months, and that continued this week when the Steelers teamed with Convoy of Hope to provide basic necessities for families in Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland County.

Ben Roethlisberger and his wife, Ashley, and Vance McDonald and his wife, Kendi, worked with the Steelers organization to spearhead a distribution through Convoy of Hope, a faith-based organization that’s main passion is to feed the world through ‘children’s feeding initiatives, community outreach and disaster response.’ The organization worked directly with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, who are distributing the items to agencies they work with throughout the region.

“There has always been a need to reach out and help,” said Ashley Roethlisberger. “There have always been people who are struggling and in need of food and especially during these times, people who have normally been okay have found themselves in difficult situations. It was a blessing that the people in Pittsburgh have focused on what the needs in the city are and how we can meet them. We’re thankful for Convoy of Hope because that is their mission, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We’re just happy to be able to partner with them to feed families in need, the people who wouldn’t normally go to food banks or have those same connections can still go to these distributions and be fed through alternative ways. We are just happy to be able to help do that.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Steelers 2020 Breakdown: Week 14, Bills

By: Jeff Hartman, DK Pittsburgh Sports

In 2019, the Steelers had a golden opportunity to put a dent in the Bills’ playoff chances and, in turn, boost their own odds to make the postseason. The game was flexed to prime time and color-rush uniforms were worn, but it affect change the outcome. Will the Steelers get revenge in 2020? Time to break down the matchup.

MATCHUP

Opponent: Bills
2019 Record: 10-6
Overall History (W/L): 16-10 for Steelers
Last 4 Games: 3-1, for Steelers
Opening Line: Bills (-2.5)
Date: Sunday, Dec. 13
Time: 8:20 p.m.
Location: Buffalo

OUTGOING PLAYERS/ FREE-AGENT LOSSES

RB Frank Gore (Signed by the Jets; one-year deal)
RB Senorise Perry (Signed by the Titans; one-year deal)
DE Shaq Lawson (Signed by the Dolphins; three-year deal)
DT Jordan Phillips (Signed by the Cardinals; three-year deal)
CB Kevin Johnson (Signed by the Browns; one-year deal)

RETIREMENTS

LB Lorenzo Alexander

FREE-AGENT ADDITIONS

CB Josh Norman (One-year deal)
DE Mario Addison (Three-year deal)
LB A.J. Klein (Three-year deal)
LB Tyler Matakevich (Two-year deal)
DL Quinton Jefferson (Two-year deal)
DT Vernon Butler (Two-year deal)
RB Taiwan Jones (One-year deal)
CB E.J. Gaines (One-year deal)
OL Daryl Williams (One-year deal)
OL Evan Boehm (One-year deal)
OL Garrett McGhin (One-year deal)
LB Mike Bell (Three-year rookie deal)
DE Bryan Cox, Jr. (One-year deal)

PLAYERS VIA TRADE

WR Stefon Diggs

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Two draft picks are part of a matching set

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

(This article first appeared in the most recent issue of Steelers Digest)

Its name on a map is Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans who remember the early 1990s it’s sometimes referred to as Blitzburgh. And now, in the Steelers locker room, the city we call home can be known as ‘Twins-burgh.’

The reason is simple. After the 2020 NFL Draft the Steelers now have three players on the roster who are one of a set of twins. Everyone knows about Maurkice Pouncey and his twin brother, Mike Pouncey. But he now is joined by two rookies who have twin brothers, fourth-round pick Kevin Dotson and seventh-round pick Carlos Davis, whose twin brother, Khalil Davis, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

You don’t have to ask Kevin Dotson to identify his best friend. It’s a given. It’s his twin brother, Kenny Dotson.

“That’s the thing about it,” said Dotson. “Having a twin, you are born with a best friend already. You have a head start on everybody else. Having that close bond, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. He is the person I am closest to. Everything we have done we have done together.

“I think the most fun thing is knowing you have someone to do something with any time of the day. When we were younger you didn’t have to have a cell phone or any type of social media to say, let’s go to the park. That is guaranteed time right there to have someone to hang out with.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

BTSC’s exclusive interview with Zach Banner

Chris Boswell enters the 2020 season as one of the NFL’s best kickers

Steelers secondary film room: Looking to 2020

NFL training camps are expected to begin on schedule

Will TE Zach Gentry find a role with the 2020 Steelers?

  • Social Media Madness

.@minkfitz_21 reflects on our win over the Dolphins in 2019, breaks down some tape and more!

WATCH: https://t.co/KlhvWpZaBU

Watch the full episode now on https://t.co/dORjgL5zu7 and on @nflnetwork on Saturday at 8 pm! pic.twitter.com/zhA7FEILpp

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 26, 2020

Dreams demand hustle.
: @steelers pic.twitter.com/GUbFRmbdEr

— Jerome Bettis (@JeromeBettis36) June 26, 2020

Anthony McFarland Jr. getting some work in the sand. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/vCQrK91YxH

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) June 26, 2020

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Offseason, Vol. 25

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 5:45pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There is always something to talk about when it comes to the black-and-gold!

After about a month of taking over the responsibilities at Behind the Steel Curtain, I have begun to look forward to coming up with questions for the Friday Nigh Six Pack. While I have kept my responses to myself, I have read every comment the last several weeks and have really enjoyed getting to know members of our community even better. I hope I can keep coming up with engaging questions each week, so if you have any suggestions feel free to click on my name under the title to grab my email and send them my way.

The rules are still the same...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

  • I’ll ask at least four questions strictly related to the Steelers.
  • The rest of the questions could be about anything.
  • Be respectful.
  • Have fun talking about the Black-and-gold.

So here we go! With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to jump on in. Hopefully this party is exactly what you’re looking for on a Friday night. Here goes:

  1. Being able to interview Zach Banner today, I can say he has an infectious personality. Who is your favorite Steelers “personality” of all time?
  2. With BTSC highlighting some lists of “Top 10 players...” do you like to see Steelers players be given their due respect, or would you rather see them slighted in these lists in order for them to enter the season with a ‘prove it’ attitude?
  3. My anniversary is this weekend, but I was unable to surprise my wife with any kind of trip due to the timing of everything. If you could take a weekend trip anywhere with your ‘significant other,’ where would it be? (Yes, I’m looking for ideas for next year.)
  4. Which situation do you have more confidence with the Steelers to succeed this coming season (please ignore 2019), being on offense with a 3rd & 8 or on defense against a 3rd & 8?
  5. You have a deadline (for work or whatever fits your situation best). Do you stay up late to finish it or do you wake up early the next morning to get it done?
  6. This week Head Coach Mike Tomlin said to begin training camp Matt Feiler will take the first snaps at left guard with Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor battling for the right tackle position. If you had to make the decision right now, would it be Chucks or Banner, or would you like to see Feiler stay at tackle with either Stefen Wisniewski or rookie Kevin Dotson taking over at guard?

Stay safe out there, and hopefully you can use BTSC as a break from the craziness of life.

And it wouldn’t be a Friday night unless we said...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Podcast: Exclusive interview with Steelers Offensive Tackle Zach Banner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 3:25pm

In an exclusive interview, BTSC talks to Steelers OT Zach Banner

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a great array of personalities on the roster. There’s hardly any bigger, literally and figuratively, than offensive tackle Zach Banner. Banner became a Steelers sensation last year on the field as an “eligible receiver” and off with his fun loving antics in and around the community.

Join BTSC as they talk to Banner about his time in Pittsburgh, playing on a veteran-laden offensive line, being an eligible receiver, “Flashdance” and much more.

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

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.

Are you excited to see Ben Roethlisberger play this preseason?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Bleacher Report chooses Ben Roethlisberger as the player we should be most excited to see.

Ben Roethlisberger’s absence in 2019 loomed even larger than his 6’5” frame that earned him the nickname Big Ben. Steelers fans across the world are certainly excited for a healthy Ben Roethlisberger to return to the field. Fans are also nervous that he might not be the same Ben Roethlisberger who has led the Steelers offense for more than a decade.

But does this make him the player you are most excited to see in the preseason?

Bleacher Report went through all 32 NFL teams and selected one player fans should be most excited to see in the preseason. For the Pittsburgh Steelers they chose Ben Roethlisberger.

They had this to say about the return of the 2-time Super Bowl winning QB:

The Pittsburgh Steelers are banking on Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to lift an offense that ranked 30th in yards and 27th in points last season. While a healthy Big Ben should improve those numbers, we are talking about a 38-year-old quarterback coming off elbow surgery.
So far, things appear positive for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
“He’s comfortable and pleased with where he is. Some of the people that have had an opportunity to work out with him have been impressed and are pleased with where he is,” head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters.
While Roethlisberger may look good in private offseason workouts, Pittsburgh can’t know how he’ll fare against live competition until the preseason.

While most of thier assessment I can’t argue with, that last sentence doesn’t quite fit. Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 31 passes in the last two preseasons combined. His passer rating for the preseason was 99.2 in 2019, it was slightly lower in 2018, at 97.9.

In the 2018 regular season Roethlisberger led the NFL in pass attempts, completions and yards, and in 2019 he struggled to throw by Week 2 and shut down his season to fix his elbow. I don’t think we’ll see Ben Roethlisberger much in the preseason, and I put very little stock in his preseason performance.

What do you think?

Does Ben Roethlisberger need to throw a significant amount of passes this preseason? Or should the Steelers continue to play Roethlisberger as little as possible when the games don’t count? What players are you most excited to see this preseason?

The entire Bleacher Report article with their choices for all 32 NFL teams can be seen HERE.

Numero Uni: Of the 25 most prolific Steelers jersey numbers of all time, which is ranked 16th?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

The Steelers have had a plethora of great players representing one number over the years. Find out which one number is ranked 14th.

BTSC continues to rank the best numbers in team history on a standpoint of thriving over time throughout multiple players. It seems there are a few numbers which are always represented with quality play in Steelers lore. One BTSC author has wondered aloud “what is the most accomplished number in Steelers history?” Through player and jersey value rankings found in Pro Football Reference, we have ranked the most successful numbers in Steelers history worn by multiple players. You won’t see numbers like 12, 58, 75, 32, 52, 59, 36, 63 and 47 as it would be basically ranking an individual player over the other and not the cumulative effort. In today’s submission, we take a look at those ranked 14th. Enjoy.

14) No. 98

Most Notable: Casey Hampton 2001-2012, Oliver Gibson 1995-1998, Gerald Williams 1986-1994 (pictured below)

Current Wearer: Vince Williams 2013- Present

Photo by Allen Dean Steele /Allsport/Getty Images

The Steelers were and still are represented well by the No. 98 by stellar defenders. Most notable would be Casey Hampton. The mammoth Hampton was the Steelers’ first-round selection in the 2001 draft out of the University of Texas. Known as “Big Snack” for always draining (Defensive Line Coach) John Mitchell’s snack basket as a rookie, Casey was a meal that offensive lines couldn’t swallow. No. 98 clogged up the middle for over a decade and dominated on the defensive line until retiring in 2012 after 12 years and two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. Hampton came up big with a sack in Super Bowl XL and is regarded as the best nose tackle ever to squeeze into the black-and-gold jersey. Casey was selected co-team MVP with Hines Ward in 2005, went to the Pro Bowl five times and was named to the Steelers’ All-Time Team on a defensive line alongside legends Ernie Stautner, Joe Greene, Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood.

Oliver Gibson was a fifth-round pick from Notre Dame in 1995. Gibson played with the Steelers four seasons from 1995-1998 and amassed 5.5 sacks although he never started in Pittsburgh. Landing with the Bengals in 1999, Gibson started 57 of 73 contests and had 12 sacks. But he considers his time in a Pittsburgh very special. Gibson once told Steelers.com, “The way the city of Pittsburgh rallied around the team. That created a special atmosphere. You get a sack in Pittsburgh they talk about you at the Giant Eagle the next week.”

Gerald Williams was thrilled to be picked second by the Steelers in the 1986 draft out of Auburn, because he was a Steelers fan in his youth. The defensive lineman grew up idolizing Joe Greene and got to play for the Steelers legend when Mean Joe became his position coach in 1988. With the Steelers, Williams had a great joy for playing the game. He also knew how to get to the quarterback by racking up 24.5 sacks in his nine year career. After the 1994 season, Williams left Pittsburgh for the expansion Carolina Panthers. He concluded his career in 1997 with the Green Bay Packers. Because of a four-year wait for a kidney in North Carolina, Williams came back to Pittsburgh in 2017 with 9% kidney function to receive a transplant. His wife, Suzanne had surgery that day to donate hers to a young girl as well. Williams recalled his love for Pittsburgh with WTAE in an interview by saying, “When we come back, it’s like open arms and accept you like you never left,” said Williams. “It always will be family to us.”

Check back soon for the 13th best jersey in BTSC’s countdown of the most prolific jersey number stables in Steelers history. But first, a recap of the countdown so far.

Honorable Mention: No. 51, No. 93, No. 27 and No. 33
25) No. 24
24) No. 43
23) No. 83
22) No. 67
21) No. 53
20) No. 10
19) No. 20
18) No. 63
17) No. 50
16) No. 34
15) No. 78

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Zach Gentry

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:00am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

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

We chugging along to part 33 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at Steelers third tight-end:

Zach Gentry

Position: TE
Height: 6’ 8”
Weight: 265 lbs
College: Michigan
Draft: 5th Round 141st overall in 2019

2019 stats

4 Games Played
1 Target
1 Reception
4 Yards
49 Total Snaps Played

Contract remaining

Expires in 2022
$761,115 salary cap number (0.38% of total cap)
$86,115 Dead money
$765,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

It will be close, but Gentry should still be on the Steelers roster in 2020.

Even though Eric Ebron, and Vance McDonald are virtual locks for the top spots on the depth chart, the Steelers like to carry three tight ends. His competition for that third spot is 2019 training camp cut Kevin Rader, and NFL international pathway program player Christian Scotland-Williamson who hasn't played an NFL regular-season snap to this point. Gentry has the inside track.

2020 projection

I believe Gentry will again make this team but have a very similar production output to his 2019 season. Their are just too many other options ahead of the tight end to realistically expect he gets the ball thrown his way more then a handful of times.

On the flip side, if Gentry can improve his blocking he could earn more reps as a primary blocking tight-end.

Projected stats:

5 Games Played
3 Target
2 Reception
16 Yards

Summary

Zach Gentry has found himself in a pickle. It’s virtually impossible for him to move up the depth chart in 2020, but in 2021 theirs a chance he’s the only tight-end on the roster. He has to show growth this season if he wants a shot back with the club for a third season. Improving without getting a lot of reps will be the name of the game for Gentry unless someone ahead of him gets injured. He’s an interesting name to look out for a year from now.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick

Chris Boswell ranked among the top kickers entering the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In yet another set of positional rankings from CBS Sports, Boswell comes in sixth on the list.

Pressing on through the NFL offseason, CBS Sports is continuing to give their top 10 players at given positions going into the 2020 season. With the Steelers already having cornererback Joe Haden and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick towards the top of the lists for defensive backs as well as T.J. Watt grabbing the top spot for edge rusher‘s with Cam Heyward being recognized for interior lineman, the Steelers have managed to put a player on every list released so far. And while Chris Boswell has found himself on the list of the best kickers entering the 2020 season, the Steelers finally were shut out in another area.

As for Boswell and his ranking, he placed sixth according to John Breach of CBS Sports.

Top 10 Kickers in the NFL
(According to @johnbreech)

1. Justin Tucker
2. Harrison Butker
3. Josh Lambo
4. Robbie Gould
5. Wil Lutz
6. Chris Boswell
7. Dan Bailey
8. Matt Prater
9. Mason Crosby
10. Jake Elliott pic.twitter.com/NLv5FnKeSG

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 25, 2020

Coming off a horrid performance in 2018, Boswell grabbed ahold of the place kicking position early in training camp and never let up. Boswell was one of nine kickers in the NFL who did not miss an extra point on the season, and one of only three who appeared in 16 games and did not have a miss. As for field goals, Boswell was 29 of 31 with a 93.5% accuracy in 2019 which placed him forth among the players with at least 10 attempts.

Since the NFL moved the point after try from the 2 yard line to the 15 yard line in 2015, Boswell became only the fifth kicker who had a 100% accuracy in PAT’s and over a 90% field-goal kicking rate.

While the improvements in 2019 are welcomed, Boswell was not put in the same pressure situations in which he excelled in 2017 and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. In fact, the only field goal Boswell attempted in the final two minutes of a game in 2019 was a 25-yard kick to increase the Steelers lead from 3 to 6 against the Arizona Cardinals with 1:46 remaining in their Week 14 game.

Boswell is the last of four kickers from the AFC on the list behind the RavensJustin Tucker (first), the ChiefsHarrison Butker (second), and of the JaguarsJosh Lambo (third).

To no one’s surprise, Steelers punter Jordan Barry was left off of the list of the top 10 punters in the NFL.

Top 10 Punters in the NFL
(According to @johnbreech)

1. Thomas Morstead
2. Johnny Hekker
3. Tress Way
4. Andy Lee
5. Brett Kern
6. Bryan Anger
7. Logan Cooke
8. Cameron Johnston
9. Michael Dickson
10. Kevin Huber pic.twitter.com/ttpLzOXSSM

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 25, 2020

Believe it or not, Jordan Berry started the 2019 season quite strong for the Steelers. It was over the last quarter of the season when Berry had lost two fumbles and struggled tremendously with this consistency which defined his 2019 campaign. In fact, Berry is not guaranteed his spot on the roster with the Steelers in 2020. Berry’s average of 45.5 yards per punt had him ranked 18th in the NFL in 2019.

With these lists basically being a good talking point at this point of the year, it’s nice to see the Steelers being included in so many. So what do you think about Boswell’s placement going into 2020? Was the 2018 season merely an aberration? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Film Room: The evolution of the 2019 Steelers secondary, Part 5: Closing out 2019 and looking forward to 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The end of the 2019 season gives a lot of hope for the defense in 2020, and also what needs to improve.

This is the final installment of this film series looking back at the 2019 Steelers secondary and how the schemes evolved throughout the season to fit the personnel. This final installment will look at the end of the season when things fell apart for the Steelers. We’ll see how the defense tried to carry the team to victory, we’ll also look at some things I wasn’t able to fit into other film rooms, and I’ll give you my thoughts on what direction I think the Steelers are likely to take this defense in the future.

Before diving into the final four games of 2019, I want to point out this film series covers 70 of the 1084 defensive plays from this past season. I tried to use plays which showed trends and gave an over-arcing view of the defense, but at best this film series is just a small portion of the story. I hope it has been informative and enjoyable. I know I’ve enjoyed making it.

Run defense from the nickle and safety spots.

For the most part, this film series has ignored run support entirely, but it is an important part of every defensive back’s job. All of the Steelers defensive backs are important in the run game, but the nickle back and safeties are the most important.

Week 14, 1st quarter, 4:07. To the right side of the screen, watch Bud Dupree (#48), Terrell Edmunds (#34) and Mike Hilton (#28), in that order.

Bud Dupree is his usual dominant self on this run play, driving the guard back, keeping his outside arm free, and using it to close off the first run lane. As the runner looks to follow his lead blocker there is still no opening, but Edmunds is able to meet the blocker in the hole and easily close it off. Edmunds gains outside position on the blocker and initiates the contact to keep himself in the run lane. He won the block so there’s nowhere for the runner to go but outside.

This brings us to Mike Hilton. The Cardinals get their left tackle on Mike Hilton, an 8 inch height and over 100 lb. weight difference. Hilton is able to keep in the play, he absorbs a lot of the lineman’s momentum, but is able to hold the outside and force the runner into the sideline where Terrell Edmunds pushes him out of bounds for no gain.

That’s two offensive lineman and a RB against Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Terrell Edmunds, and the Steelers won all three match-ups.

One of the reasons Mike Hilton is the Steelers nickle back is because of how good he is blitzing and playing the run. Those are enormous parts of the nickle DB’s job in the Steelers defense. He’s not the best cover guy in the secondary, but Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Cameron Sutton, even Minkah Fitzpatrick would be hard-pressed to make this particular play, and that’s why Mike Hilton is the Steelers nickle back.

Week 14, 2nd quarter, 12:47. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety in the middle of the field.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a film room junkie who takes the knowledge and applies it to the game at an elite level. He reads the run right off the bat, and starts moving to take away the outside run. With both Mark Barron and Terrell Edmunds crashing inside, Kyler Murray keeps the ball, expecting only Steven Nelson will be between him and a touchdown. Instead he loses yards as Minkah Fitzpatrick has put himself in position to make an easy stop.

This may give you flashbacks to Troy Polamalu, and how he would see what was going to happen and get to the right spot to blow up the play. Minkah Fitzpatrick has the same feel.

Week 16, 3rd quarter, 1:12. Terrell Edmunds (#34) is on the left side of the screen, just inside Bud Dupree (#48).

Edmunds takes on the Jets right guard on this inside run. He holds his ground pretty well, giving up 2 yards to the much bigger blocker. But he stays in the lane, keeping Devin Bush clean so Bush can make the tackle.

Now I want you to watch Javon Hargrave, the Steelers nose tackle, who is next to Edmunds at the snap. Hargrave also gets driven back 2 yards. I think Edmunds did pretty well here.

Late in the season, teams committed more and more to the run game when facing the Steelers. They realized the Steelers offense was unlikely to win a field position game, and turnovers from interceptions and strip sacks were driving the Steelers scoring.

During those weeks the Steelers were one of the best run defenses in the NFL, going small to pull Vince Williams off the field in favor of Mike Hilton didn’t help. While the Steelers pass rush and surge in interceptions are the big story of the Steelers 2019 defense, toward the end of the season, they were a really difficult team to run on as well.

Cam Sutton and Steven Nelson

Earlier in this series I showed Steven Nelson’s vulnerability to in-cutting routes and his slowness breaking on the ball. I haven’t shown much of his good play, and I haven’t shown much of Cameron Sutton at all.

Week 17, 1st quarter, 2:47. Steven Nelson is the CB to the bottom of the screen

The Ravens isolate Nelson on Jaleel Scott, a 6’5” 210 lb. wide receiver. Nelson has no help at all, but he is able to hold his own physically against a much bigger player and prevent the catch, stay right in his chest, and prevent the catch.

This is how you start 15 games without giving up a single touchdown.

Week 15, 1st quarter, 1:55. Steven Nelson is the slot DB to the bottom of the screen.

The Bills get Nelson inside in man coverage. He plays with heavy outside leverage, but John Brown cuts right through him and is wide open for a 10 yard gain. This play was on 4th and 6th. Nelson doesn’t change directions well here, and he doesn’t do a good job of denying Brown an outside release even with his outside leverage.

Week 15, 2nd quarter, 10:11. Steven Nelson is the CB to the top of the screen.

Here Nelson shows something he hadn’t for most of the season, breaking on the ball and tackling the catch. I hope to see more of this in 2020. If Steven Nelson does better defending these underneath cuts, he could be a truly great corner.

Week 14, 1st quarter, 12:34. Cameron Sutton is the slot DB to the top of the screen, starting on the hash marks.

Sutton is matched up against Larry Fitzgerald here, and the Cardinals go after the mismatch of a #4 corner on a future Hall of Fame receiver. Even though Sutton turns to run with Fitzgerald and has his back to the quarterback, he stops on a dime, turns, and is able to get a hand in to mess up the play.

Sutton gets his hand on the receiver’s arm, pushing it down and eliminating any chance of Fitzgerald keeping the ball off the turf.

Week 14, 2nd quarter, 5:33, Cameron Sutton is the slot DB to the bottom of the screen.

Cameron Sutton showing he can come up and make a tackle as well.

Cameron Sutton was good in coverage, but he added to his value by joining Terrell Edmunds as the two players who moved the most at the snap to disguise the defense.

Week 17, 1st quarter, 8:43. Cameron Sutton starts 4th from the bottom, up near the line of scrimmage.

The Steelers show an overload blitz to the offenses’ left (bottom of screen). There are 4 defenders and 2 receivers, with 3 defenders and 3 receivers to the offenses’ right (top of screen). But this isn’t what happens at the snap. Cameron Sutton comes across the formation to guard the tight end, and the blitz comes from the offensive right.

The result is an offensive line and quarter back who don’t know what is going on.

Mike Hilton gets a free run to the quarterback while three lineman block Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward. Cam Sutton crossing the field to cover the tight end was key to this play. Of course, T.J. Watt destroying the right guard on a stunt didn’t hurt either. Notice Dupree and Heyward filling gaps to seal the QB in the pocket and you get a real sense of just how well this play was designed.

Watching this season in film, I kept thinking Steven Nelson and Cameron Sutton are very similar players. Both stay with receivers very well and can play the ball. Both are also not as physical as Joe Haden or Mike Hilton. They may line up at different positions, but the Steelers use them in similar ways, and when Nelson and Haden were both out late in Week 6, Sutton played Nelson’s side of the field and acquitted himself well.

Terrell Edmunds at deep safety

I’ve used a lot of plays to show Terrell Edmunds’ strengths and value to the Steelers defense. Late in the season, teams had figured out his weakness in deep zone and exploited it more. When the Steelers went with 2 deep safeties, Edmunds’ side of the field was the one they targeted more.

Week 14, 3rd quarter, 8:13. Joe Haden is the CB to the top of the screen, Terrell Edmunds is the safety to the same side.

The Cardinals have Vince Williams in coverage, and run an out route his way to take advantage. Joe Haden reported he told Edmunds if they ran an out he was jumping it before the play, and you can see Edmunds pick up Haden’s man as soon as Haden breaks on the ball. Joe Haden was able to gamble on plays like this because of the safeties behind him. But it didn’t always work out.

Week 14, 4th quarter, 6:49. Joe Haden is the corner to the bottom of the screen, Terrell Edmunds is the safety to his side.

This is the play everyone thinks of when they think Terrell Edmunds, the image of him going for the interception only for the ball to go over his hands and drop in for a touchdown. I don’t think I need to go over Edmunds’ part of the play, it stands out all on its own. He has to make this play; he fails and gives up a touchdown.

Let’s look at Joe Haden.

Joe Haden doesn’t defend this route well at all. Look at his lean and his back arm, he’s waiting for contact from David Johnson, but it doesn’t come, Johnson just runs outside and past Haden where he is wide open. Edmunds and Haden both react when the quarterback throws the ball, Haden is too far away to do anything, Edmunds fails to make a play on the ball.

Go back up to the full play and look to the top of the screen at Steven Nelson. Nelson carries his target deep and is right with him until the quarterback throws the ball. You will find a theme in this section of players not carrying receivers deep, giving the opposing offense a shot at Terrell Edmunds in his weakest area.

Week 15, 3rd quarter, 9:46. Steven Nelson is the CB to the top of the screen, Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety to his side (Cameron Sutton starts in the deep middle but moves up, that’s not Edmunds).

This is one of John Brown’s many catches of Week 15. The Steelers disguise this play really well, ending up in an old-school cover-2 look. There are five defenders right around the first down line with Joe Haden and Edmunds deep. Steven Nelson and Mark Barron both watch the underneath route and neither carry John Brown at all, letting him run free for a first down well in front of Terrell Edmunds. Steven Nelson has Barron near him, he cannot cheat up on that underneath route and let John Brown have an easy out route for a first down.

Week 15, 4th quarter, 6:49. Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety to the top of the screen. Joe Haden is the outside corner, Mark Barron is inside Haden.

This time it is Mark Barron who starts to cover the route, before ditching the tight end, coming back toward the underneath route. Terrell Edmunds is too far behind the tight end to pick him up and it is an easy touchdown. With Haden following the underneath route and the other side of the field carrying the deep receiver instead of passing them off to the safety, I put more of the blame for this one on Mark Barron.

No matter who is to blame, it is clear that teams started attacking Terrrell Edmunds by getting the players in front of him to cheat up and exposing Edmunds’ weakness in deep zone. Terrell Edmunds is a good strong safety and a great compliment to Minkah Fitzpatrick, but in the future the Steelers have to either shift Edmunds out of these deep zone coverages or make sure the other defenders carry receivers farther when they are on Edmunds’ side.

Revitalizing cover-1

The Steelers played a lot of cover-1 in 2019, blitzing Mike Hilton and Mark Barron a lot on those plays. By the end of the season it was getting predictable, and teams knew they could attack Steven Nelson on in-cutting routes and exploit the Steelers blitzes with quick slants from the slot.

The Steelers adapted by switching zone and man responsibilities in the play.

Week 16, 1st quarter, 5:45. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety.

I showed in Part 4 how Cleveland attacked Minkah Fitzpatrick by running a route underneath him, baiting him forward and throwing the deep route behind him. This time, when Joe Haden’s man cuts inside, Fitzpatrick jumps the route, and Sam Darnold throws the deep route, expecting a one on one with Steven Nelson trying to catch up from his outside leverage. Instead the wide receiver has to break up an interception for Joe Haden. When Fitzpatrick jumps the inside route, he takes over defending the receiver and Haden takes over the deep zone for Minkah Fitzpatrick. A great scheme for the Steelers to utilize, they have outside corners who are great in deep zone and a free safety who is deadly attacking those routes through he middle.

Week 16, 3rd quarter, 7:14. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

This time Fitzpatrick takes over a drag route and Steven Nelson drops into deep zone from outside corner. Sam Darnold has no where to throw the ball, and takes a sack.

Conclusion

The Steelers defense evolved throughout the 2019 season, adding wrinkles and increasing the complexity of the defense to counter opposing teams’ strategies. The Steelers have two top-notch outside corners, which is a perfect fit for their nickle defensive back in Mike Hilton, and Minkah Fitzpatrick coming off an All-Pro season. They also have Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Sutton, who are flexible and athletic enough to allow the Steelers to aggressively disguise their coverage.

Looking forward to 2020, I expect to see a lot more of those cover-1 swaps and more ways to get corners into deep zone to free up Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick to play to their strengths. This Steelers defense has been carried by the pass rush since Keith Butler took over in 2015, but the group of defensive backs on this roster heading into 2020 could very well be the best secondary in the NFL. They have the talent, and they are finding creative and effective ways to use that talent. When you add in the pass rushers up front and Devin Bush heading into his second season, it’s a recipe for greatness.

The NFL has informed teams that training camps are expected to start on schedule

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

COVID-19 has already cancelled the 2020 Hall of Fame Game, but the league announced training camps are still on.

With news Thursday morning of the Hall of Fame Game cancellation, hope that the 2020 NFL season would go ahead as scheduled seemed low. However, by the end of the day ESPN’s Adam Schefter would report that NFL executives informed teams that training camp is still expected to run on time.

NFL EVP Jeff Pash said teams have been advised that training camps are expected to open "on the normal schedule."

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 25, 2020

While training camp is still going to go ahead, the Steelers won't be going to Latrobe. The NFL ruled each of its teams must conduct training camp at team facilities which means the Steelers were originally expected to hold their camp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Subsequently, the Steelers have confirmed they will be holding the majority of training camp activities at Heinz Field since the four locker rooms at the stadium will allow the team to better implement the NFL’s restrictions on social distancing.

By staying in Pittsburgh, it will be the first time in over 50 years Steelers training camp won't be held on the campus of St Vincent college.

At this time, players will report for the first day of training camp on July 28. Before the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game, both the Steelers and the Cowboys had an arrival date of June 22 in order to give ample time to prepare for the game. Instead, both teams are now on the same schedule with the majority on NFL teams. Pittsburgh is also currently scheduled to host two preseason games on August 14th against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and August 23rd against the New Orleans Saints.

According to Dale Lolley of DKPittsburghSports.com the NFL is in talks with its player association to potentially reduce the number of preseason games for the 2020 season.

[NFL executive vice president Jeff] Pash told reporters the league is in “active discussions” with the NFL Players Association regarding a potential reduction in the number of preseason games each team will play this season in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Lolley’s full article can be viewed HERE.

Should the NFL reduce the 2020 preseason to only two games, it will take some adjustment to the schedule. With both of the Steelers home games being in the first two weeks, if they were simply to be eliminated the Steelers would need to have one of their remaining games at home.

So even though the NFL has informed teams training camp is still on schedule, there are many things which the league is still trying to figure out in regards to the 2020 NFL season. As these developments occur, make sure you are checking back to Behind The Steel Curtain for all the latest updates.

Podcast: How will no Hall of Fame game affect the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 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 in Steeler Nation.

The 2020 season promises to be an exciting one for Steelers Nation and the preseason was to be as well with Bill Cowher, Donnie Shell, and Troy Polamalu tabbed to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fans will now have to wait to see the Steelers trio get enshrined. They will also miss out on watching the Steelers and Cowboys open the exhibition schedule in Canton now with that game being cancelled. But how will that affect the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers? Join BTSC’s Dave Schofield, Bryan Anthony Davis and Michael Beck as they discuss this burning topic and more.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Dave, Michael and BAD break down all things Steelers.

  • News and Notes
  • How will no Hall of Fame game affect the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • Steelets Trivia
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

The After Party podcast will be published in audio platform after 3:00 p.m. ET, and the audio can be found below:

Black and Gold Links: NFL free agents still available for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/26/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. Unable to attend most player pro days and participating in the NFL’s first virtual draft, the Steelers keep pushing forward toward a return to football activities. Just because the Steelers are unable to hold their typical OTA’s and the NFL has cancelled the 2020 Hall of Fame Game 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 a list of available free agents the Steelers could consider as the get closer to the 2020 season.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Should the need arise, here are the most notable free agents available by position

Best of what’s left: Available NFL free agents

By: Jeff Hartman, DK Pittsburgh Sports

As the calendar prepares to turn from June to July, NFL teams start to prepare for training camps at the end of the month. With these preparations in place, every team has holes on their current roster. Some are more glaring than others, but holes nonetheless.

With the main free agency period long gone, and the 2020 NFL Draft completed, it only leaves one option for teams who are still looking to add to their roster prior to the start of the new season. That option is to find free agents who are on the open market.

Consider it a best of what’s left list.

Could the Steelers add a player or two before the start of the regular season? Absolutely, especially at specific positions. Below is a list of players who are still available, broken down by position. I have put their age next to their name in parentheses, and a brief synopsis of why the Steelers will, or won’t, be looking to add a player at that specific position.

It should be noted the Steelers don’t have enough salary cap space currently to sign any player, but with a few moves they could create space necessary to make one, or more, additions to their 2020 roster.

Quarterback

There are some fans who still aren’t confident in the Steelers’ current depth chart at the quarterback position. After Ben Roethlisberger is a list of players who don’t have a lot of experience under their belt. The organization has made it clear they are confident in their quarterbacks, so it seems unlikely, barring injury, they add a quarterback anytime soon.

Cam Newton (31)
Drew Stanton (36)
Matt Moore (36)
Blake Bortles (28)
DeShone Kizer (24)

Running Back

If there is one position the Steelers don’t need more players it would be at running back. James Conner has been injury prone, but the Steelers’ drafting Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. in consecutive years makes any addition of a running back unlikely.

Devonta Freeman (28)
Theo Riddick (29)
Lamar Miller (29)
Spencer Ware (28)
Wide Receiver

Like running back, the Steelers’ receiver depth chart doesn’t need much adjusting. After taking Chase Claypool with their top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it bolstered the young receiving corps even more. Barring injury, the group headlined by JuJu Smith-Schuster is here to stay.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Leaping to victory

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The Steelers and the NFL continue to bring a solution to sports starved fans.

The NFL has opened the vault of past Steelers games, and those classic games are featured in ‘Game Rewinds’ on the team’s digital and social media channels.

The Steelers ‘Game Rewinds’ began with Super Bowls XIV, XIII, and XL, but this week things are switching up. Steelers Nation Unite members were given the opportunity to vote through the team’s official App on a game they would like to see re-aired from 2012 on. And the drumroll please…the winner was the Steelers victory over the New England Patriots on Dec. 16, 2018.

On Sunday, June 28, Steelers fans can tune in to watch a condensed version of the game on their desktop or mobile device. The game will kick off at 4:25 p.m. on Steelers social media channels.

The win, a 17-10 victory, snapped a five-game regular season losing streak to the Patriots, with the last win dating back to 2011. The Steelers never trailed in the game but didn’t exhale until the final seconds ticked off the clock.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The NFL has some ideas to make up any lost revenue if capacity is limited for the 2020 season

First Call: Two huge developments on topic of NFL seating in the fall

By: Tim Bentz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

For Thursday’s “First Call,” we take a look at two major developments when it comes to the prospect of having fans at NFL games in the fall.

I know what you’ve been thinking during this pandemic.

How … how, dear Lord above … will we be able to emerge from these historically unstable economic times with NFL owners as far in the black as possible? That’s all that matters!

Yeah. It’s been worrying me as well.

Assuming covid-19 restrictions last throughout the year — and that’s what I’m assuming at this point — league owners are going to lose beaucoup bucks compared to what projections were pre-coronavirus.

Preseason games may be shaved off the schedule. And, along with them, associated broadcast income. Merchandise sales from open training camps are gone. Let alone ticket sales from games in stadiums that are either empty — or limited — during the pre-season.

Well, fret not. These small-time, plucky NFL entrepreneurs have come up with a plan to buffer losses from the 2020 bottom line.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

A few forgotten Steelers players from the 1980s

JuJu Smith-Schuster is entering a key season in his NFL career

Can Minkah Fitzpatrick bring the same splash to the Steelers defense as Troy Polamalu?

T.J. Watt is projected to be the NFL’s top edge rusher in 2020

2020 game predictions for the AFC North

  • Social Media Madness

.@sackmaster91 was a baaaad man! #tbt pic.twitter.com/VuPXVmfwvM

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 25, 2020

4️⃣8️⃣@Bud_Dupree pic.twitter.com/ntfy4HscWL

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 25, 2020

That’s a lot of food and supplies already!

When all are completed, the packages of food and supplies will be picked up and distributed to agencies who serve those in need on Friday!@unitedwaySWPA pic.twitter.com/OM9DynoQkS

— Steelers Community Relations (@SteelersCR) June 25, 2020

Will JuJu Smith-Schuster have a breakout or flameout season in 2020?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/25/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In a recent article by Bleacher Report highlighting seven young players who are facing a critical season, JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the players selected.

I know at times I’ve been critical of some national sports media outlets for not really being in tune with what’s going on with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although missing the mark at times, Bleacher Report nailed this particular topic perfectly in terms of the black and gold. In an article naming 7 Young NFL players in Danger Flaming out in 2020, JuJu Smith-Schuster was highlighted as a player who could be in danger of falling off the map altogether if he does not have a strong 2020 season.

Some other NFL players highlighted by Bleacher Report were wide receiver John Ross III of the Cincinnati Bengals, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas of the San Francisco 49ers, and linebacker Haason Reddick of the Arizona Cardinals. After breaking down each player, author Chris Rowling gave his thoughts on whether the player would “breakout” or “flameout” in 2020.

Here is the assessment of Smith-Schuster:

JuJu Smith-Schuster enters 2020 in a contract year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it feels like there has been zero traction toward an extension.

It’s not hard to see why after his flop last year in which he caught 42 of 70 targets for 552 yards and three touchdowns. He picked up just 23 first downs compared to 67 the year prior, and his drop percentage jumped 6.9 percent on 96 fewer targets.

And yet, those targets tell part of the story for the 2017 second-round pick, as JSS endured most of last season without Ben Roethlisberger under center. If Big Ben is back and additions like Eric Ebron help a spread-it-around attack, he shouldn’t have a problem stabilizing.

Granted, JSS probably isn’t going to hit 166 targets again and won’t benefit from playing alongside a top-five talent like Antonio Brown as he did in a Pro Bowl 2018 campaign. But he’s not going to flame out unless things turn disastrous around him again and he’s tasked with carrying the entire passing game by himself.

Verdict: Breakout

While it is true Smith-Schuster does not have a top-five receiver lined up alongside him for the 2020 season, the Steelers have multiple weapons who can help take some of the focus off of JuJu. With many believing second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson has the potential to explode onto the scene even more in 2020, one of the two receivers should benefit by the presence of the other. Factor in the addition of tight end Eric Ebron as well as some potential contributions with by the Steelers top draft pick of wide receiver Chase Claypool, the Steelers have many options in the passing game which could help open things up more for Smith-Schuster in 2020.

Other players not to be forgotten are tight end Vance McDonald and wide receiver James Washington who had solid contributions to the black and gold over the last season or more.

In all, the Steelers have five players entering 2020 who have had seasons of 600 receiving yards or more. Obviously, rookie Chase Claypool is not one of these receivers as of yet. Even without Claypool in the mix, the Steelers have a lot of quality options in the passing game without even factoring in the running backs.

With the potential to have so many solid contributions across-the-board, JuJu Smith-Schuster may continue to be the player who draws the majority of the attention in the passing game. Even so, with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Smith-Schuster hopefully not dealing with multiple injuries, an improvement over 2019 is not even the floor for JuJu on the season. Whether or not he can return to his 2018 Pro Bowl form will be a question better answered once we are well underway in 2020. But according to Bleacher Report, and to the delight of Steelers Nation, Smith-Schuster should be getting back toward putting up the numbers he showed he was capable of two season ago.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/25/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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

We are moving along to part 32 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

It’s time to take a look at the compensation for the Steelers 2020 first round pick.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Position: FS
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 207 lbs
College: Alabama
Draft: 1st Round 11th overall in 2018 (Dolphins)

2019 stats

5 Interceptions
2 Touchdowns
2 Forced Fumbles
3 Fumble Recoveries
69 Tackles

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021 (2022 5th year option —I think they’re going to pick this one up)
$1,975,252 salary cap number (0.98% of total cap)
$4,698,130 Dead money
-$2,722,878 Savings if cut (Yes that's a negative)

Likelihood of making the roster

Going to go out on a limb here and say Fitzpatrick Is a lock.

He’s one of the games best safeties and he’s on an unbelievable contract thanks to that Dolphins trade. Minkah isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

2020 projection

I think Minkah Fitzpatrick is destined for an even greater 2nd season in Pittsburgh. He’s going to have a training camp under his belt, a full year in the system, and is willing to move around the defense. Either his stats are going to blow up or teams will be so scared of him that they will never throw the ball in his direction. Minkah is so cerebral it wouldn't be possible. His stats will be mind-bending.

Projected stats:

7 Interceptions
1 Touchdown
2 Forced Fumbles
3 Fumble Recoveries
73 Tackles

Summary

Minkah Fitzpatrick is on a trajectory that would see him placed in Troy Polamalu territory when all things are said and done. He’s the type of player who will sniff around NFL Defensive Player of the Year every season he’s on the field. Fitzpatrick is one of the best players on the roster, and is the centerpiece on one of the best secondaries in franchise history. The 2020 season is a huge year for him and his team.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler

2020 NFL Game-by-Game Record Predictions: AFC North

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:00am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Can the Steelers challenge the Ravens for supremacy? Will the Browns end their playoff drought? One BTSC writer offers his prediction for each team in the AFC North.

The 2020 NFL offseason has undoubtedly been a wild one, both due to league transactions and ancillary events.

In terms of football itself, there appear to be lots of big names still on the trade market, including the JetsJamal Adams and the JaguarsYannick Ngakoue, both of whom are seeking hefty paydays at 25 years old or younger. Further, the 2020 free agency period has had some straggler veterans who would still be splash landings for any team as outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive end Everson Griffen are still unsigned.

The other major realm which will definitively shape the 2020 season is the COVID-19 pandemic. Only in recent weeks have coaches and front offices returned to their teams’ headquarters. Players have even been advised by NFLPA Medical Director Dr. Thom Mayer to pump the brakes on group workouts after athletes on multiple squads have tested positive for the virus.

Roger Goodell and his staff still have a plethora of logistics and plans to sort out in advance of September 10th—the league’s inaugural regular season game—but for now, it seems as if an NFL season can and will occur under the guidelines of society’s “new normal.”

As the majority of depth charts have been finalized subsequent to the NFL Draft, I’ll be taking a spin around all 8 divisions in a 9-part series and predicting all teams’ records before the year begins, going game-by-game for all 256 contests and even for postseason play.

These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.

Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!

Without further ado, the first stop on the itinerary will be the formidable AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

Week 1: Cleveland Browns (W, 1-0)
Week 2: at Houston Texans (W, 2-0)
Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs (W, 3-0)
Week 4: at Washington Redskins (W, 4-0)
Week 5: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 5-0)
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 5-1)
Week 7: Pittsburgh Steelers (W, 6-1)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Indianapolis Colts (W, 7-1)
Week 10: at New England Patriots (W, 8-1)
Week 11: Tennessee Titans (W, 9-1)
Week 12: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 9-2)
Week 13: Dallas Cowboys (W, 10-2)
Week 14: at Cleveland Browns (L, 10-3)
Week 15: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 11-3)
Week 16: New York Giants (W, 12-3)
Week 17: at Cincinnati Bengals (W, 13-3)

The Ravens have the easiest schedule in terms of their opponents’ 2019 win percentage which will certainly help John Harbaugh’s team, though they definitely don’t need any extra assistance. This unit is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball and should be viewed as a bonafide AFC contender.

The Ravens have one of the top offenses in the NFL with reigning MVP Lamar Jackson under center in spite of their poor receiving corps, but I expect a big year from Marquise Brown. Expect more of the Ravens’ rushing prowess to continue in 2020. Lamar Jackson’s 1,206 rushing yards paired with Mark Ingram’s 1,018 ground yards helped Baltimore eclipse the all-time single-season team rushing record.

On defense, Baltimore boasts, in my view, the best corner duo in the NFL via Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, not to mention a revamped defensive line after trading for 5-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell.

There are only a handful of games I can see the Ravens losing, one of which is their clash with the Steelers on Thanksgiving night. This game certainly is reminiscent of the “Immaculate Extension” on Christmas of 2016, and I think the outcome will be the same some 4 years later.

Baltimore should, once again, finish near the top of the AFC and coast through its schedule. The biggest question, however, will be if Jackson can finally garner his first career playoff win.

The Ravens are my 1 seed in the AFC. They’ll be the only team in their conference with a first-round bye under the CBA’s new guidelines.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 1: at New York Giants (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Denver Broncos (W, 2-0)
Week 3: Houston Texans (W, 3-0)
Week 4: at Tennessee Titans (L, 3-1)
Week 5: Philadelphia Eagles (L, 3-2)
Week 6: Cleveland Browns (W, 4-2)
Week 7: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 4-3)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Dallas Cowboys (W, 5-3)
Week 10: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 6-3)
Week 11: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 7-3)
Week 12: Baltimore Ravens (W, 8-3)
Week 13: Washington Redskins (W, 9-3)
Week 14: at Buffalo Bills (L, 9-4)
Week 15: at Cincinnati Bengals (W, 10-4)
Week 16: Indianapolis Colts (W, 11-4)
Week 17: at Cleveland Browns (L, 11-5)

I personally believe Ben Roethlisberger will come close to his 2018 form, though a large portion of his season depends upon his ability to develop chemistry with young receivers James Washington and Diontae Johnson. Even if Roethlisberger plays below average, which seems unlikely, it will still certainly be an upgrade over the tandem of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. Plus, Roethlisberger’s overall experience and improvisation ability should help revolutionize Pittsburgh’s offense from one of the worst in the league to around the top 20 mark.

Moreover, it’s hard to envisage JuJu Smith-Schuster continuing his 2019 woes. I think he’ll easily have a better season due to both missing fewer games because of injuries and not having to carry nearly as much weight due to the prominence of Washington and Johnson. However, I worry about James Conner’s durability, though the Steelers have depth at running back.

Turning to the other side of the ball, this is very possibly the number one defense in the NFL. It’s loaded at every single level with Defensive Player of the Year candidates in T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick alongside stars Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree, Devin Bush, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson.

Some may be surprised I have the Steelers losing to the Eagles at home. This game very much reminds me of when the Cowboys came into Heinz Field and won a thriller, as the Eagles and Steelers are very even in multiple areas. Pittsburgh very well may end up prevailing in this one, but for realism purposes, I’ll chalk it up as a loss to the Steelers.

The same could easily be said about the Steelers’ Week 17 clash in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium. Consider, though, that Pittsburgh is 0-1-1 in its last 2 dates with the Dawg Pound on the road.

In a conference which only has 2 true leviathans in Kansas City and Baltimore, Mike Tomlin’s team should be viewed as a legitimate threat to reach the AFC Championship game. I have the Steelers as my first Wild Card team and the 5th seed in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns

Week 1: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 0-1)
Week 2: Cincinnati Bengals (W, 1-1)
Week 3: Washington Redskins (W, 2-1)
Week 4: at Dallas Cowboys (L, 2-2)
Week 5: Indianapolis Colts (W, 3-2)
Week 6: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 3-3)
Week 7: at Cincinnati Bengals (L, 3-4)
Week 8: Oakland Raiders (W, 4-4)
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: Houston Texans (L, 4-5)
Week 11: Philadelphia Eagles (L, 4-6)
Week 12: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 5-6)
Week 13: at Tennessee Titans (L, 5-7)
Week 14: Baltimore Ravens (W, 6-7)
Week 15: at New York Giants (W, 7-7)
Week 16: at New York Jets (L, 7-8)
Week 17: Pittsburgh Steelers (W, 8-8)

There is no doubt the Browns are truly stacked on offense with elite players like Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham, Jr., Jarvis Landry and the nascent Austin Hooper. Baker Mayfield, likewise, should rebound from his sophomore slump after the Browns added offensive tackles in draftee Jedrick Wills and free agent acquisition Jack Conklin.

At the same time, new head coach Kevin Stefanski may be challenged by a subpar linebacker group that witnessed the departure of standout Joe Schobert.

Schedule-wise, the Browns have a tough road slate, but they should fare well at home. I anticipate Beckham to flourish in his return to MetLife Stadium against the Giants, but I have a feeling the Jets will get redemption after getting demolished by Cleveland on “Monday Night Football” last year.

The Browns had an outstanding offseason once again, especially after former LSU safety Grant Delpit fell into their lap in the second round of the draft, but I continue to doubt how Stefanski will manage a multitude of intense, explosive personalities during a year which will presumably be topsy-turvy. In the end, I think the Browns will just miss the postseason.

Cincinnati Bengals

Week 1: Los Angeles Chargers (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at Cleveland Browns (L, 0-2)
Week 3: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 0-3)
Week 4: Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 1-3)
Week 5: at Baltimore Ravens (L, 1-4)
Week 6: at Indianapolis Colts (W, 2-4)
Week 7: Cleveland Browns (W, 3-4)
Week 8: Tennessee Titans (W, 4-4)
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: at Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 4-5)
Week 11: at Washington Redskins (L, 4-6)
Week 12: New York Giants (W, 5-6)
Week 13: at Miami Dolphins (L, 5-7)
Week 14: Dallas Cowboys (L, 5-8)
Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers (L, 5-9)
Week 16: at Houston Texans (L, 5-10)
Week 17: Baltimore Ravens (L, 5-11)

The Bengals, like their in-state rival Browns, had a phenomenal offseason.

It certainly would have been hard to pass up on 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, and the selection of Tee Higgins could prove to be A.J. Green’s replacement in several years.

For the first time in what seemed like an eon, owner and general manager Mike Brown opened his pocketbooks and splurged on the defensive side of the ball by signing defensive tackle D.J. Reader as well as cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes.

The Bengals have a great young nucleus, albeit one which could be tainted if stellar running back Joe Mixon elects to hold out.

A key cog in the group is offensive tackle Jonah Williams, who will see his first moments of NFL action after tearing his labrum in minicamp in 2019. Williams should help to ameliorate an offensive line that permitted a whopping 48 sacks, which tied for 24th in the league.

The Bengals are capable of knocking off solid squads like the Colts, Browns and Titans, as I have them doing in Weeks 6-8, but they likely will earn yet another top 10 pick in next year’s NFL Draft due to playing at least 8 games against teams which are presumable playoff picks.

Two Steelers testing positive for COVID-19 wasn’t big news, and that’s a good thing

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/25/2020 - 9:30am
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It was revealed on Tuesday two Steelers players tested positive for the Coronavirus back in the spring. The fact it wasn’t major news is actually encouraging.

While talking to the media in a virtual setting on Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced two Steelers players tested positive for COVID-19 back in the spring.

Who was it? He didn’t say. He did say they are recovered and doing well.

It’s unfortunate the Steelers couldn’t escape this pandemic totally unscathed, but at least the two players are okay. Even better, while Tomlin’s admission of these positive tests made news, the news didn’t seem as dramatic as it may have been had the public actually found out about it in the spring, or back when we were still in the early stages of all-things COVID-19-related.

And this is where the NFL being given the gift of time has again come in handy with regards to its reactions to things like its players testing positive for the Coronavirus. Back in March, when Rudy Gobert, a Utah Jazz basketball player, tested positive, it proved to be one of the catalysts for quickly shutting down all professional and collegiate sports.

Since March, however, many professional and collegiate athletes have tested positive for the virus, and they’ve all recovered 100 percent and with no long-term effects to their health. As far as the public at large is concerned, the virus is and will always be a huge deal. As for big-time professional athletes? Maybe not so much.

This doesn’t mean they can just carelessly go about their business as if they’re not a threat to themselves and others, but at least we now have a baseline for what happens to young and healthy athletes when they do test positive. With this knowledge, along with the protocols all sports leagues and organizations have developed and put into place, teams now realize they can go about their business of preparing for their seasons even after one of their players/coaches/trainers contracts this virus.

Obviously, there’s still much more to learn. For example, what happens once hockey, basketball and baseball players start practicing for real and playing actual games? What happens once NFL training camps open and players start scrimmaging? What happens when two or three players contract the virus during the season? It’s one thing to quietly deal with a couple of football players contracting it in the spring. It’s quite another if Sidney Crosby gets it in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs or Cameron Heyward tests positive in Week 2 of the regular season.

This could be a whole other issue. But I’m guessing teams and leagues are already preparing for such scenarios. How could they not be?

If and when players start to test positive for COVID-19 once the bullets begin flying for real, it is my hope the protocols which have been developed will be enough to handle the situation and allow the games to continue.

It may be a while before we’re totally free and clear of the Coronavirus, but players are now testing positive without it completely shutting down the sports world.

It’s a good start.

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