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Steelers Injury Report: Steelers are nearly at full strength for Sunday’s game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 2:55pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Only Carlos Davis and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who still remains on the roster at this time, are out for Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished their preparation to take on Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night and look to have just about every player they expected to be available. In the final injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, two players have been ruled out for Sunday while no others carry an injury status.

Steelers PR Department

A name that is still on the Steelers injury list because he has yet to be placed on Injured Reserve is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Until he officially gets put on the Reserved/Injured List, which is likely to occur when the Steelers have a specific player they want to put on the roster, Smith-Schuster will continue to appear on the injury report and has threrefore been designated as out for Sunday’s game.

The other player who is out on Sunday due to injury is defensive tackle Carlos Davis. After missing four-straight games, Davis was able to practice in a limited capacity with his knee injury each day this week. Even though he has been back on the practice field, Davis has been ruled out Sunday night.

While some thought it was news that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday, it was merely his scheduled day off. As expected, Roethlisberger returned as a full participant while being listed as having a pectoral/hip injury and carries no injury status for Sunday.

Devin Bush left Sunday’s game with a groin injury. It was not reported if it was a really aggravation of his previous injury or a new issue. Regardless, the good news is Bush was a full participant in practice every day this week and has no injury status for Week 6.

Two key players who missed Sunday’s game due to injury were James Washington and Cam Sutton both with groin injuries. Hoping to get back on the field this Sunday, Sutton was a full participant in practice all week while Washington was limited the first two days while being full on Friday. Neither player has an injury designation for Sunday.

What may have been a little bit of a surprise was Chase Claypool being limited to start the week on both Tednesday and Thursday with his hamstring injury. Fortunately, Claypool was a full participant on Friday and is good to go on Sunday.

Much like last week, Cameron Heyward showed up on the injury report as a limited participant with a neck injury. Much like Melvin Ingram IIII and Trai Turner, who were given the day off on Wednesday, they all returned to practice as a full participant on Thursday. With all players being fine on Friday, none of them have an injury status for Sunday.

A new player added to the injury list on Thursday was Ahkillo Witherspoon who was listed as not practicing due to a coach’s decision. By having this designation rather than “not injury related” could mean that Witherspoon had some sort of absence excused by the team. Regardless of the reason, Witherspoon was back on Friday and has no designation for Sunday’s game, although whether or not he gets a helmet on game day remains to be seen.

As for the Seahawks’ injury report, you can see the names below when available.

Podcast: Seattle has three losses, but the Steelers need to ignore that

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 2:00pm

BTSC’s Jeff Hartman, Bryan Anthony Davis, and Dave Schofield talk news of the day and everything surrounding the Steelers. All of this while mixing in fun and frivolity like only they do.

Seattle enters Week 6 with a nice rest after playing last Thursday Night. But the 2-3 Seahawks they needed the break after losing Russell Wilson to a broken thumb and with Chris Carson and D.K. Metcalf banged up. The Steelers just can’t afford to look past this team. This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold and there you have the topic for the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview with Jeff Hartman, Bryan Anthony Davis, and Dave Schofield. Join the triumphant trio as they combine the down all things Steelers and with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the week
  • Is the Steelers’ season already on life support?
  • Over/Under
  • Trivia

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


Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

NFL Odds and Predictions: Picking all the Week 6 games against the spread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Several of the BTSC staff pick all the NFL games both against the spread and over/under point totals

The 2021 NFL season is moving along as teams are having their first bye weeks of the year. Five weeks into the season, only one team remain undefeated while two enter the week looking for their first victory. With it seeming like almost any team could find victory or defeat each week, it makes picking games even more difficult.

For the 2021 NFL season, our “Excellent 8” of BTSC staff will be picking every game against the spread and the over/under point totals. We are keeping up with the changes we made last year and including the Thursday games. Please remember we are not experts on betting or any kind of sports gamblers, and if you need to be reminded of this simple look at our records. We are just a group of Steelers’ fans saying who we think will come through each week.

We are using the same program as last year called Tallysight It allows us to show picks in a much more “friendly to the eye” manner. To understand how it works, the default tab is for our picks against the spread. To see the over/under picks, click the “O/U” tab in the upper left. Also, make sure you scroll on the graphic to see all the picks.

Last week, I completely destroyed in the picks against the spread going 13-3 for the week and putting me back in the middle of the pack for the season. Jeff also have a great week going 11-5, and everybody picked at least seven games correct. Bryan leads the way for the season at 43-36 one game ahead of Michael and are the only ones over .500 at this point. Matty has had quite the fall from grace as he and Geoffrey are tied for last at 33-46.

In the over/under, it was Bryan who was in the top spot this week at 10-6 one game ahead of Jeff and Mark. After crushing it against the spread, I really tanked in the over/under at 4-12 this week. For this reason, I lost my overall lead to Bryan and Jeff at 41-39 and are the only ones over .500 on the season.

So here are the picks for the games for Week 6 of the NFL season. Please feel free to list your choices in the comment section below and play along!

Keith Butler assesses the play of Joe Schobert in the early stages of his Steelers tenure

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Joe Schobert is still getting acclimated to the Steelers’ defense, and Keith Butler is hoping the veteran linebacker starts making big plays for Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been wheeling and dealing this year when it comes to acquiring players. The team made several trades prior to the 2021 regular season, and the most notable was the trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for inside linebacker Joe Schobert.

Schobert came to Pittsburgh and was inserted into the starting lineup almost immediately. Has he hit the ground running? That might be a bit generous, but Schobert has had his ups and downs in the black and gold.

On Thursday defensive coordinator Keith Butler met with media, and was asked about Schobert’s overall play in his short tenure with the Steelers. Butler remains optimistic, and understands Schobert is still getting acclimated to Pittsburgh’s system.

“I think he’s done a good job for us in terms of what we ask him to do and how long he’s been here.” Butler said. “He hasn’t been here very long. He’s hasn’t played within the framework of the defense a lot. The things that we do and the calls that we make on the field, we’ve got to all be on the same page. We weren’t in certain situations and some of them involved him, but it doesn’t mean he was wrong. To say that he hasn’t been what we thought he’d be or something like that wouldn’t be fair to him.”

One writer specifically asked about Schobert being beat when he is on the field, and Butler wanted to make something very clear...some of the mistakes aren’t always on him.

“Some of that is him and some of it ain’t him.”

What about the deep pass to Courtland Sutton in Week 5 vs. the Denver Broncos? Was that on Schobert, or James Pierre?

“I’m not gonna name names but there are things that we’ve got shore up on and make sure we’re on the same page about.” Butler said.

With the Seattle Seahawks coming to Heinz Field Sunday night, Butler was specifically asked about how opposing teams will try to force the Steelers into putting a linebacker on a wide receiver. Who can forget Jon Bostic trying to cover Keenan Allen vs. the Chargers?

Butler realizes what offenses are trying to do, and is hoping to adjust in-game, if necessary.

“I’m sure they’ll try.” Butler replied. “They always do that. They’re gonna try to always get us matched up linebacker on wide receiver. In terms of what we try to do and our blitzing package and stuff like that, they’re running different motions—what we call jet motions where people run across and stuff like that—they try to get people out, make the corner [in four?] sometimes. They do a lot of things. They watch our film and try to see where they can needle away at us a little bit. We expect that, and hopefully we can adjust in-game if we have to.”

The hope is Schobert’s period of acclimation isn’t much longer. The Steelers really need both Schobert and Devin Bush to be on the field, together, and starting to develop the kind of rapport which is necessary to dominate the middle of the field vs. the opposition.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Seahawks this Sunday night in prime time at Heinz Field.

Podcast: Butt-Padded Positive Land

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 11:00am

Join BTSC’s newest podcast, What Yinz Talkin ‘Bout for a fun look at the Steelers in the sea of social media.

What Yinz Talkin’ Bout is the conversation about the Steelers social media conversation. This week, JuJu Smith-Schuster reminds us to stay in positive land, but not all fans are following his advice. Is Ben back or still a bum? Is James Pierre a hero or also a bum? Plus, a look at how the other side tweets after a Pittsburgh win, and everyone else Steelers nation has a bone to pick with (see: everyone). Join hosts Kyle Chrise (@KyleChrise) & Greg Benevent (@GregBenevent) and they serve up the hottest and coldest takes on the internet and take a deep dive into the world of Steelers social media from a yinzer perspective. Kyle and Greg give their black-and-gold breakdown of everything “Stillers” on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and so much more.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • This week with the Steelers and social media
  • and MUCH MORE!

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Denying DK Metcalf is the Steelers key of the week

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Shutting down the Seahawks massive receiver would crush whatever is left of Seattle’s offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a prime opportunity to knock off the Seattle Seahawks this weekend. Without Russell Wilson in the line up the Steelers need to take advantage of Geno Smith, who will be receiving first team practice reps for the first time in a couple years. Without the perennial MVP candidate in the line up the Seahawks find themselves in a very difficult position on offense. Despite Smith’s inefficiencies he still has a great weapon in his back pocket. That weapon is throwing the ball up to a 6’4” 235 pound receiver that looks like he’s carved out of granite and one of the freakiest athletes in the world.


(via @NFL)

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 8, 2021

That player is none other than DK Metcalf. The 2020 Pro Bowler and 2nd team All-Pro wide out has been dominating defenses from the moment he stepped into the league. He runs past defensive backs, he jumps over safeties, and he bullies everyone when he comes down on crack blocks. Metcalf is a bad man that can absolutely take over games. With Geno Smith at the helm of the offense I would anticipate the Seahawks’ offense to be far more limited than usual. With that being said, I would expect Smith to simply just throw up 50/50 balls to Metcalf on a somewhat regular basis. If literally any of us had to play quarterback for the Seahawks this week, I guarantee you would be looking for No. 14 and just throwing prayers in his direction. And, since he’s so good, I still bet you he would have a pretty good game.

The Steelers will need a big day from about five guys to shut down Metcalf. Especially when he lines up on the outside, both Joe Haden and Cam Sutton need to run with him. Sticking tight on him may make Geno Smith less likely to throw up a prayer in his direction. Also, having safety help bracketing Metcalf is a major key. Terrell Edmunds has been in the best stretch of his career and having the bigger safety hunting Metcalf over the top could limit him after catching the ball. The last two guys that need a big day are Joe Schobert, and Devin Bush. The Steelers will inevitably place their inside linebackers on a big play receiver in the slot like they do every week. Thankfully these two guys are some of the best coverage linebackers in football.

DK Metcalf beats Jalen Ramsey for a touchdown

— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) October 8, 2021

If the Steelers can stop DK Metcalf, the Seahawks offense becomes an injured Chris Carson who might not even play, and Tyler Lockett. Without Russell Wilson on the field that matchup feels incredibly easy for the Steelers defense to dominate. It should be noted Metcalf was limited with a foot injury on Wednesday of this week, and downgraded to not practicing on Thursday with the same injury. Who knows if Metcalf does play Sunday night, how healthy will he be? Check out the latest injury report below:

But what do you think? Will the Steelers be able to stuff or even limit DK Metcalf? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

Expert Picks: Steelers predicted to win two in a row heading into the bye

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 9:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Time to check in and see who the experts like in Steelers vs. Seahawks this Sunday in Week 6.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks are slated to face off in Week 6 of the 2021 regular season, and there are a lot of narratives between these two teams. For the Seahawks, they are wondering if Geno Smith can get the job done in lieu of the injured Russell Wilson, while the Steelers are a team who are trying to forge a new identity as they look to right and gain some momentum after their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

At this point, it is time to check in and see who the pundits who call themselves experts like in this showdown at Heinz Field this Sunday night.

For those new to this article, there are two types of experts, when it comes to NFL picks. There are those who just pick the overall winner, and those who expound on their picks and give a reason for their prediction.

As for the former of the above types of experts, even without Russell Wilson being in the lineup some experts still like Seattle to win the game. Both the experts at Yahoo! and ESPN have more than one expert who think the Seahawks can pull off the upset at Heinz Field Sunday night.

As for the experts who actually put some thoughts, and explanation behind their picks, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports tells his readers why he likes the Steelers to beat the Seahawks and win two in a row heading into their Week 7 bye week.

This will be Geno Smith for the Seahawks in place of the injured Russell Wilson. It’s a tough way to start on the road against the Steelers defense. The Steelers seemed to find some life on offense against Denver, while the Seahawks defense is awful. Look for the Steelers to easily win this game without Wilson.

Pick: Steelers 27, Seahawks 13

The folks at The Sporting News also like the Steelers to win, and with a similar score. Here is what they think about the Super Bowl XL rematch.

Geno Smith takes over at starter for the Seahawks, and it’s a tough assignment to face a Pittsburgh defense that has turned up the pass rush the last two weeks with the return of T.J. Watt. The Steelers get back to .500 with another efficient performance from Ben Roethlisberger.

Pick: Steelers 26, Seahawks 18

You know things are upside down when those at also like the Steelers. Nonetheless, they like the Steelers to beat Seattle, but with a closer score than others are predicting.

I am the world’s biggest Geno Smith fan, and I still can’t believe the Seahawks started as only four-point underdogs on the road. Russell Wilson was propping up a team that excelled at having Russell Wilson and virtually nothing else. Orchestrating a few fun drives against a sluggish Rams defense is not the same as playing in Pittsburgh for four quarters with T.J. Watt back in full bloom. Asking any backup quarterback, even Geno, to carry a struggling defense and offensive line is asking for too much.

Pick: Steelers 27, Seahawks 20

These are just a few sites who make weekly NFL picks. When you think about all those sites not listed above, this is when we turn to our friends at NFL Pick Watch, a site dedicated to tracking NFL expert picks by the week. They take all expert picks and put them into an easy-to-read graph for fans to enjoy. When it comes to the Steelers vs. Seahawks game, 83% of NFL experts like the Steelers to hold serve at home Sunday.

What do you think about the upcoming game? Will the experts have it right? Or are they way off? 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 black and gold as they prepare for the Seahawks in Week 6.

Scouting Report: The Seahawks present a great opportunity for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 8:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a chance to go into the bye week with back-to-back wins, and the Seattle Seahawks could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) host the Seattle Seahawks (2-3) this week on Sunday Night Football. Here’s a preview to get you ready for the contest.

Last Week

The Steelers broke a three-game losing streak with a 27-19 win over the Denver Broncos. Rookie running back Najee Harris eclipsed the century mark for the first time in his career, totaling 122 yards on 23 carries, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was an efficient 15-25 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Seattle played last Thursday, where they lost 26-17 to the Rams. While the defeat was discouraging for Seahawks fans, the loss of star quarterback Russell Wilson to a fractured finger on his throwing hand was devastating. Wilson will miss 4-6 weeks, which means journeyman Geno Smith will pilot Seattle’s offense against the Steelers.

The Not-So-Odd Front

As I touched on in my film room from earlier this week, Pittsburgh’s success on offense against Denver began with their steadily-improving line. The line paved the way for Harris’ best day as a pro and largely kept Roethlisberger clean. Roethlisberger was sacked just once and hit only twice. The veteran quarterback showed that, while he is no longer the player he once was, he can still get the job done when given time in the pocket.

Pittsburgh’s improvement up front is largely a factor of better technique and more aggressive play. But they have benefited from the scheme-fit of their recent opponents as well. The Steelers have seen 3-4 odd fronts the past two weeks. In an odd front, defenders line up in the gaps between offensive linemen. This differs from an even front, where they align head-up. “Even” and “odd” refer to how alignment techniques are labeled, not to the number of defenders along the line of scrimmage.

“Odd” fronts can be simpler to block at times because, with defenders in gaps, offensive linemen have good angles on them. Odd fronts allow more one-on-one blocks, too, which the Steelers were particularly good at winning against the Broncos.

A typical 3-4 “Odd” front

“Even” fronts are often trickier. With the head-up alignment, defenders can slant to one gap or another. This requires communication among offensive linemen to determine blocking responsibilities, particularly on zone schemes. Defenders in even fronts also tend to be bigger since they are often asked to control two gaps. It makes sense then, given their youth and inexperience up front, that the Steelers struggled to block the even fronts they saw earlier this season against Las Vegas and Cincinnati.

The head-up 2-techniques over the guards make this “Even” look tricky to block because of the possible slants and stunts the front can run

Pittsburgh will see another odd look this week. While the Seahawks play a variety of fronts — 3-4, 4-3, 4-2-5, a “Bear” look — they are almost exclusively a single-gap defense. Scheme-wise, it’s a good match-up for Pittsburgh’s developing line.

The Steelers should also benefit from the fact that Seattle simply isn’t very good on defense right now. The Seahawks are surrendering 450 yards per game, which is dead last in the league. They are 31st against the run, 30th against the pass, 24th in creating turnovers and 22nd in points allowed. Their best ranking is in quarterback pressures, where they are 13th.

Their front, which mixes Poona Ford, Robert Nkemdiche and Al Woods at the tackle spots and Kerry Hyder Jr, Carlos Dunlap and Rasheem Green at the ends, lacks impact players. Dunlap is a big name but is far removed from his prime in Cincinnati. Woods, the former Steeler, is 34 years old and at the tail end of his career. Hyder had a good year in San Francisco in 2020 but is on his fourth team in four years. Green is a decent pass rusher but struggles against the run.

At linebacker, Bobby Wagner remains a force in the middle. Wagner racked up 20 tackles in Seattle’s 33-30 overtime loss to Tennessee in September. He has 58 tackles for the season, second-best in the NFL. Wagner needs help, though. Jordyn Brooks, a 2020 1st round pick, has struggled with coverage duties on the weak side. And Darrell Taylor, a converted defensive end, is still learning on the strong side.

In the secondary, Seattle has given up a host of big plays, many of which have been the product of blown coverages. Take this one, where the Seahawks turned 49ers’ slot receiver Deebo Samuel loose on a simple post-wheel combination for a 76 yard touchdown:

You can see safety Jamal Adams (33), who is rolled up on Samuel prior to the snap, pointing behind him as Samuel turns up the field. Adams is indicating that the corner should take him. The corner is gone, however, having chased the post. This puts the corner and the safety inside, Adams in the flat and no one on the wheel.

Last week, against the Rams, Seattle could not cover the middle of the field. In the link I’ve inserted below, Ted Nguyen of The Athletic documented how Los Angeles continually beat Seattle with different versions of the same route, which featured a low cross, a middle dig and a high post. L.A. did a great job exploiting the shortcomings of Seattle’s linebackers in coverage:

Couldn't confirm without the film but the Rams really kept calling the same play over and over again last night and SEA could not stop it. I don't recall ever seeing a pass play called this many times in a NFL game.

— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) October 8, 2021

When asked about the busted coverages, head coach Pete Carroll said, “They’re not busts, they’re execution.” Carroll can play the semantics game if he chooses. The bottom line is this: when a receiver is running wide open, or when the same route concept works over and over, the defense has a problem.

Geno to the Rescue?

Offensively, the Seahawks will have to rely on Smith at quarterback. While that proposition sounds dicey for Seahawks’ fans, Smith did not look terrible in relief of Wilson last Thursday night. He directed a 10 play, 98-yard touchdown drive and an 11 play, 46-yard drive that ended in a field goal to keep the score competitive. Smith had a chance to rally the Seahawks to victory when Seattle took possession with 2:09 to play down 23-17. But he was intercepted when receiver Tyler Lockett stumbled and his throw went straight to a Rams’ defender.

Smith, for those who don’t remember, was a 2nd Round pick by the Jets out of West Virginia in 2013. He had a stellar college career as a read-option quarterback but flamed out after two seasons as the starter in New York, where he struggled with pro-style concepts. As a backup, he’s thrown 118 passes over the past six seasons for four different teams. He has career numbers of 30 touchdowns against 37 interceptions and a completion percentage of 58.8. None of this suggests a high level of competence.

That said, Steelers fans should be (painfully) reminded of the team’s struggles against backup quarterbacks. In the past decade, Pittsburgh has lost to Matt Cassel, Mike Glennon, Mike Glennon again, Ryan Mallett, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Finley and Timothy Richard Tebow, who, although he was technically a starter at the time, resembled a backup in every possible way.

A loss to Smith, then, would hardly be shocking, especially when you consider some of the weapons at his disposal. Lockett is a solid professional receiver. Teammate D.K. Metcalf is a walking mismatch. Tight end Will Dissly is athletic and has good hands. And running back Chris Carson has a couple of 1,000 yard seasons on his resume. Seattle is averaging a respectable 24 points per game and has enough veterans on offense to find ways to move the football, with or without Wilson. Taking the Seahawks lightly would be a huge mistake for a Pittsburgh team looking to build on last week’s success.

What’s the plan?

The Steelers should continue to build their offense around the formula that worked last week and, to a lesser degree, the week before in Green Bay. They should attack Seattle’s odd front by pounding Harris on inside zone and gap runs, which the line has improved upon, and forget the more complicated outside zone schemes that failed miserably in September. They should use more 12 personnel sets that get their tight ends, who have done a nice job as blockers in recent weeks, onto the field. Especially since JuJu Smith-Schuster is sidelined. They should use their RPOs, which have been effective lately, especially if they get heavy doses of zone coverage. They should continue to implement more of Matt Canada’s signature shifts, motions and trades in an attempt to either outflank or confuse a Seattle defense that has, as previously mentioned, not been immune to busted coverages or misalignments. And they should take shots down the field when they get good looks to do so, particularly early in the game. Roethlisberger has thrown long touchdown passes on Pittsburgh’s last two opening drives. An aggressive opening scheme would again be a smart decision.

Defensively, the Steelers must defend against the deep ball and prevent Seattle from hitting home runs. Metcalf and Lockett both average over 15 yards a catch and thrive in downfield one-on-one situations. I’d favor a less-aggressive safety scheme from the Steelers so they can help their corners over the top. While this may open up some underneath throws for Smith, making the journeyman QB prove he can be patient, disciplined and accurate enough to dink-and-dunk his way down the field is a wiser course than letting him toss up jump balls to Metcalf. The Steelers should also supplement their coverages with a host of disguises. Given the fact that reading defenses has never been Smith’s strength, coordinator Keith Butler should author a game-plan that reads like Faulkner.


I’m not saying this game will define the rest of their season, but Sunday night represents a huge opportunity for the Steelers. With a win, they can get to 3-3, climb back into the playoff conversation and head into the bye week feeling good about themselves. That’s a far better prospect than 2-4 with extra time to absorb a prime-time home loss to Geno Smith. I don’t think it will be easy, it never is against backup QBs, but I think they’ll find a way.

Pittsburgh 28, Seattle 20

Start’ em and Sit ‘em: Who to play in Steelers vs. Seahawks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 7:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6, here is who you should start, or sit, in the upcoming matchup.

Learning how to balance college life and fantasy football is more difficult than what it appears to be, as I am now 0-5 in my dynasty league, 1-4 in the BTSC league, and 2-3 in the league with some of my friends. I just wanted to set your mind at ease and let you know that you have nothing to worry about when you trust the advice I give you on starts and sits. Having said that, this is by far the worst start I have ever done in fantasy football, and I have made some impressive comebacks in fantasy in past years thanks to trading. Hopefully the same strategy will work for me this year. But I digress. Let’s get to the matter at hand.

Each week during the NFL season, I, Andrew Wilbar, and BTSC podcast personality Jeremy Betz will co-author a Steelers ‘start and sit’ article. It will include only players from the Steelers and from the team the Steelers are facing that week. This week, Jeremy will be breaking down the starts and sits and running back, tight end, and defense, while I will cover the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and kickers. We will alternate who covers those positions every week.

If you have thoughts on which players are worth starting in the Steelers vs. Seahawks matchup, let us know who they are in the comment section below. But without further adieu, here are your Steelers and Seahawks starts and sits for Week 6.

Start RB: Najee Harris, PIT

Jeremy: I don’t know about Andrew, but this is the easiest call for me to make by far every week I do RBs. Not since peak Le’Veon Bell has a Steelers RB been such a weekly slam dunk. Harris brings RB1 volume and ability every week and is a matchup-proof play. A top 5 Fantasy back for the remainder of the season, roll him out with confidence vs. the porous Seattle run defense (3rd most points allowed to opposing RBs).

WR: D.K. Metcalf, SEA

Andrew: This one may seem obvious, but in case you were not aware, the Steelers give up the third most fantasy points to opposing receivers. I realize that Russell Wilson is out, but there is no cornerback on the Steelers’ roster that has either the size or the athleticism of Metcalf. He could be a serious mismatch for Pittsburgh’s secondary.

WR: Chase Claypool, PIT

Andrew: The Steelers were finally able to protect Ben Roethlisberger and give him time to throw the ball downfield last week, and if that can carry over into Week 6’s matchup, Chase Claypool could have a monster game. Claypool had a breakout performance this past week, recording 130 receiving yards and a touchdown. This week’s matchup against Seattle is a favorable one, as the Seahawks have allowed the 6th most fantasy points to receivers this season.

WR: Diontae Johnson, PIT

Andrew: While I expect James Washington and Chase Claypool to soak up most of the third-down targets that JuJu Smith-Schuster had previously absorbed, I still expect Johnson to get a lot of volume underneath. In non-PPR formats, you really need him to find the end zone, but I expect Johnson to be a solid WR2 option in PPR and half-PPR scoring this week.

K: Jason Myers, SEA

Andrew: Myers is coming off a couple rough games when it comes to converting on field goals, but this week’s outlook is much brighter, as the Steelers have given up the 7th most fantasy points to opposing kickers this season. He is not a guy I would prioritize if you have a more consistent option already, but I do believe there is some upside here if you are in dire need of a kicker.

D/ST: Steelers

Jeremy: It’s by no means a lock, but the loss of Russell Wilson means the Steelers will be facing a backup QB (Geno Smith) at home on Sunday Night Football. I like the chances for takeaways and sacks, which should feed a solid stat line and fantasy point total for the Steel Curtain. Start ‘em.

Sits RB: Chris Carson/Alex Collins, SEA

Jeremy: As of this writing, it is not clear whether Chris Carson will be back healthy for this game, but even if he is, the Steelers are giving up the 4th fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs and have yet to give up a TD to the position. If Carson sits, Alex Collins takes over, but neither RB option is a good play this week. Sit any/all Seattle RBs if you can.

TE: All of Them

Jeremy: ‘Nuff said, right? Please tell me you have a better TE option than Pat Friermuth (PIT), Eric Ebron (PIT), Will Dissly (SEA), or Gerald Everett (SEA). If not, Friermuth is the only one of this group even worth a streaming look, and even that’s only if you’re, say, a George Kittle owner during SF’s bye week in a very deep league. Side note: Gerald Everett could have some appeal when Russell Wilson returns. Put him on you “Watch Lists.”

If you haven’t listened already, make sure you check out Jeremy’s weekly podcast, The Steelers Fantasy Football Fix, which is available each and every Wednesday. You can listen to his latest episode in the player below.

Which players do you see as good starting options in the Steelers/Seahawks matchup? Do you have any start and sit questions for me or Jeremy? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section down below!

You have to feel bad for JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season-ending shoulder injury

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It remains unclear if the shoulder injury that receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered on Sunday will end his Steelers career. If it did, it’s a shame all around.

“Anyone who is reveling in JuJu’s injury can unfollow me, now, please.”

Do you know how many times I’ve seen a Tweet like that in my timeline since the moment Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against the Broncos at Heinz Field on Sunday?

Enough times to make me truly sad for society.

More on that later.

You really have to feel terrible for Smith-Schuster and his plight. After his first two seasons that were extraordinary and productive, he seemed destined to keep climbing the ladder until he was one of the best receivers in the NFL.

It was easy to question whether or not Smith-Schuster’s success was the byproduct of having Antonio Brown as a teammate and his final two seasons of a historic six-year run as an NFL receiver.

Following Brown’s infamous divorce from the Steelers’ organization that spring, Smith-Schuster, a 2017 second-round pick out of USC, entered the 2019 season hoping to prove that he could be the top dog in Pittsburgh’s receiving corps.

But, of course, the offense was quickly hindered by the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had just led the NFL in passing in 2018, and the limitations of both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.

The 2020 offense was hampered by many things, including a returning-from-major-surgery veteran quarterback, a declining offensive line, and a stale offensive coordinator.

As for the current Steelers offense, it has been compromised by a 39-year old quarterback, who may or may not be washed, a young and unproven offensive line, and a new offensive coordinator.

In other words, the past two-plus seasons have been less than ideal for Smith-Schuster and proving his worth as a top-notch NFL receiver worthy of praise, accolades, and a mega-contract.

Now, the mega-injury that has effectively ended his season and possibly his tenure as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Smith-Schuster is actually a number one receiver. I’m just saying it’s a shame he’s never gotten a true chance to prove it in Pittsburgh. Some might say Smith-Schuster is a less talented receiver than his own teammates, including Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. I say those guys have played their roles over the past two seasons, while Smith-Schuster played his before the injury, which was as a short-yardage specialist who specialized in bulldozing defenders after making tough catches in traffic.

Does his most recent role suggest Smith-Schuster can’t play outside as a receiver and make big plays in the process? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. We’re talking about a man who had no problem going 90-plus yards multiple times over his first two seasons. I doubt he suddenly lost the ability to do that after 2018.

It likely means that Smith-Schuster was better-suited for the role he played the past two years than were his receiving cohorts.

I’m not saying Smith-Schuster was/is more explosive than Claypool and/or Johnson. I’m just saying he’s already shown us that he can be a big-play receiver in his own right.

But I could argue this all day, and we’re never going to know. Why? All of the reasons I just mentioned about the past two-plus seasons. For his sake, let’s hope Smith-Schuster goes on to have the career he’s always wanted, if not in Pittsburgh, then somewhere else.

Dare I say, maybe somewhere where he’ll be more appreciated?

That’s right, the 2017 or 2018 me would have never guessed that I’d one day be writing about how polarizing Smith-Schuster would be by 2021.

But here I am.

It’s almost as if Steelers fans need a receiver to dump and dunk on at all times. And if he doesn’t give them actual reasons to do so—driving 100 mph down McKnight Road and no-showing practices would be good examples in Browns’ case—they have to invent things—TikTok, having fun away from the field, logo dancing and giving to charity with cameras present would be good examples in Smith-Schuster’s case.

Yes, the guy I—and even Alejandro Villanueva—once described as a breath of fresh air during his rookie season had morphed into AB Jr. in the eyes of many by the time he suffered his unfortunate injury on Sunday. Yet, there has never been any bad press written about Smith-Schuster. You’ve never heard about him being disrespectful to his teammates, his coaches or the fans. In a previous era, Smith-Schuster would have been applauded for logo dances and milk crate challenges and not scrutinized like he had sold secrets to the enemy.

Let’s talk about those logo dances of 2020. This may be impossible to wrap your head around, but Vonn Bell was destined to blow Smith-Schuster up in that game against the Bengals last year, and not because of a bulletin board pre-game dance but because of the hospital pass his quarterback threw him on the play.

And when it comes to walking on milk crates, I think Sunday showed us that football is actually more dangerous and far more likely to end your regular season.

If JuJu Smith-Schuster has played his last game as a Pittsburgh Steeler, his legacy can be defined in many ways. He was fun. He was tough. He was different. He could have even been the number one receiver and a perennial Pro Bowler if circumstances were different.

And, finally, he made me realize that the fans are just as responsible for the NFL’s “No Fun League” label as anyone or anything else.

Podcast: What the Steelers need to do to defeat the Seahawks on Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman leads the way with his AM studio show on the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers look to even their record at 3-3 on Sunday Night with a win over Seattle. Just what do they need to do to beat the visiting Seahawks? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC senior editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Buccaneers vs. Eagles: Thursday Night Football Open Thread 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 7:10pm
The Inside Linebacker we should have traded up for | Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Join in on the conversation as we wait patiently for Sunday Night.

I’m holding down the fort, so to speak, until SNW gets back from wherever the heck he is this time. Neither of the two teams tonight have any significance to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season. So, it should be a free and easy night...unless you root against Tom Brady...then I suggest you watch the college game tonight. I guess there is the fantasy football aspect involved in tonight’s game as well.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)

No surprise Tampa is leading their respective division while the Eagles are in a similar situation as the Steelers, trying to get back to .500 football. Currently tied with WFT for second place in the NFC East.

As a college football fan I would be neglecting my duties if I didn’t mention the two games on schedule tonight.

Georgia Southern Eagles at South Alabama Jaguars ESPNU at 7:30pm

Jalen Tolbert #8 WR 6’3” 190lbs

South Alabama has an interesting WR in Jalen Tolbert. Good athlete with great height, not blazing speed but enough long speed to separate down field. Solid in and out of breaks and has RAC ability. Nice variation of moves to gain space and he will attack the middle of the field. Solid player all around with the production and upside to boot. Keep an eye out for him. I have him ranked currently around the middle of the third round.

Navy Midshipmen at Memphis Tigers ESPN at 7:30pm

As always Stay Safe and Go Steelers!!

Steelers Injury Report: Chase Claypool, James Washington still limited in practice Thursday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 3:21pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Other than JuJu Smith-Schuster who is expected to go on Injured Reserve, no other players completely missed practice due to injury

The Pittsburgh Steelers are continuing their preparation to take on Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. In the second injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, one new name popped up on the list as many players returned to practice.

Steelers PR Department

While some thought it was news that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday, it was merely his scheduled day off. As expected, Roethlisberger returned as a full participant while being listed as having a pectoral/hip injury.

A name that is still on the Steelers injury list because he has yet to be placed on Injured Reserve is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Until he officially gets put on the Reserved/Injured List, which is likely to occur when the Steelers have another player to put on the roster, Smith-Schuster will continue to appear on the injury report.

Devin Bush left Sunday’s game with a groin injury. It still has not been reported if it was a really aggravation of his previous injury or a new issue. Regardless, the good news is Bush was a full participant in practice on both Wednesday and Thursday. So far, Bush looks to be on track to play Sunday.

Two key players who missed Sunday’s game due to injury were James Washington and Cam Sutton both with groin injuries. Hoping to get back on the field this Sunday, Sutton was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday while Washington was limited on both days.

What may have been a little bit of a surprise was Chase Claypool being limited to start the week. Unfortunately, Claypool was limited again with his hamstring injury on Thursday. Much like James Washington, it is a good sign that Claypool is practicing, but anything is possible with his game status as the Steelers head into practice on Friday.

The other player who was out on Sunday due to injury was defensive tackle Carlos Davis. After missing four-straight games, Davis was able to practice in a limited capacity with his knee injury so far this week.

Much like last week, Cameron Heyward showed up on the injury report as a limited participant with a neck injury. Much Like Melvin Ingram IIII and Trai Turner, who were given the day off on Wednesday, they all returned to practice as a full participant on Thursday.

The new player to the list on Thursday was Ahkillo Witherspoon who was listed as not practicing due to a coach’s decision. By having this designation rather than “not injury related” could mean that Witherspoon had some sort of absence excused by the team.

As for the Seahawks’ injury report, you can see the names below when available.

Podcast: Getting acquainted with the Steelers’ Week 6 enemy, the Seattle Seahawks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 2:00pm

Learn about the Steelers upcoming opponent with the return of BTSC’s Know Your Enemy. Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Seattle Seahawks.

It’s time once again to become a scout for the Steelers before their latest game. This time around, we get to know more about the Seahawks of Seattle in the latest edition of Know Your Enemy. It’s the show where Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict break down the upcoming opponent for the Black-and-Gold. This week, Mike and Geoff welcome Seahawks analyst Brett Davern of Bleav in Seahawks. These questions and more will be pondered on the latest episode of the BTSC family of podcasts. As always, it is a good time to talk everything Steelers.

  • News and Notes
  • A look at Week 6 opponent, the Seattle Seahawks
  • Guest: Seahawks analyst Brett Davern of Bleav in Seahawks

Michael and Geoffrey 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
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

3 games to watch in Week 6 which give perspective on the Steelers’ future opponents

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

There are several NFL games this week which will help get a better understanding of teams the Steelers face later in 2021

With the Pittsburgh Steelers continuing their season on Sunday night, there will still be a multitude of games going on which fans can catch. When the smoke clears and Steelers Nation looks to see what else has gone on around the NFL in Week 6, there are a few matchups between two teams the Steelers will face later in the season or their next opponent. First off, lets check out how the three games from last week ended up. This week, two of the three games were decided by more than a touchdown.

Los Angeles Rams (26) at Seattle Seahawks (17)

The absolute biggest take away from this game was the injury to Russell Wilson. Not only did the Seahawks fall to the Rams, they lost their quarterback for several weeks. This is a good reason why Steelers fans pay attention to games involving the team they play the next week. The only downside is there is very little about the Seahawks offense that can be garnered from this matchup.

Cleveland Browns (42) at Los Angeles Chargers (47)

I’m struggling to figure out Cleveland. They won a defensive battle against Minnesota, and then get out scored with both teams in the 40s the following week. Are they a good defense or are they not? I guess we’ll have to keep watching.

Buffalo Bills (38) at Kansas City Chiefs (20)

I put this game in the mix simply because it was such a big-time matchup. I thought it was disappointing. If anything, the fact the Chiefs have more losses than wins on the season kind of cheapens the fact that the Ravens squeaked one out against them where the Chiefs coughed up the ball late. But then again, the Ravens winning games they should have lost against average opponents has been their calling card in 2021. Based on this game Sunday night, it appears that the Chiefs, at least at this point of the season, are just an average opponent.

For Week 6, here are the three games which could give the most perspective on what the Steelers can expect with some of their future opponents:

Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Sunday at 1:00 PM on FOX

There weren’t a lot of matchups this week against two teams the Steelers still have to play. Yes, the Steelers have already played the Bengals once but they will get them again just after Thanksgiving. Before then, the Steelers also have to take on the Lions. Already seeing the fight Detroit gave Baltimore, it may put the quality of the Bengals more in context when looking at how they perform in this game.

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens Sunday at 1:00 PM on CBS

With the Steelers not playing until Sunday night, I have a feeling a lot of fans will be paying attention to this game. The Steelers travel to L.A. in November and have two matchups remaining against the Ravens. If this one is half as crazy as the game was last week between the Chargers and the Browns, get your popcorn ready.

Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns Sunday at 4:05 PM on FOX

This seems like a weird inclusion, but the Cleveland Browns are the Steelers next opponent. Yes, it will come after the Steelers bye week as the Browns have another game next Thursday. Ultimately, seeing how Cleveland fares going up in a game where they are favored at home against the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL will show if this Cleveland team is different or if “The Browns is the Browns.”

So there are the three main matchups which can give Steelers fans an indication as to the quality of upcoming opponents in 2021. As team get more games under their belt, it’s a little easier to establish expectations.

Obviously the Steelers game itself will tell fans the most about the season. But which of these other games will be the most telling as it pertains to the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers? Make sure you vote in the poll and give your thoughts in the comments below.

Deciphering what Zach Banner’s return to the lineup could mean for the Steelers’ line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 11:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers could use a boost on the offensive line, but will that boost come from Zach Banner returning off IR?

Believe it or not, but the Pittsburgh Steelers might actually be getting some injury help coming their way in the coming weeks. As most fans know by now, both Zach Banner (knee) and Anthony McFarland (unknown) are working their way back off Injured Reserve (IR) and are capable of being placed on the 53-man active roster at any point.

In Banner’s case, his return, and insertion in the starting lineup, isn’t as simple as once thought.

When the offensive line was struggling in the early stages of the regular season, Banner’s return was viewed as an elixir which could cure the team’s woes along the offensive line. But after the Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos, one where the line played well and dominated the Denver defensive front, many are wondering what to do with Banner when he returns.

The Steelers have an easy job moving either Banner or McFarland to the active roster due to the season-ending shoulder injury to JuJu Smith-Schuster, but that doesn’t mean either player will be guaranteed to be promoted prior to the Week 6 game vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football.

Head coach Mike Tomlin had this to say about both Banner and McFarland Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

“Some of the IR guys that have been working, guys like Zach Banner, guys like Anthony McFarland, it’s good to have them back out there. We’re still within that 21-day window on those guys, so we’ll evaluate the quality of their play and make a determination whether or not they can be positive contributors to our effort if it’s appropriate.

“If there’s an opportunity there, then we’ll study those possibilities when we get into the week. But as we sit here right now, we’re really just focused on putting together a good plan, seeing who’s available for work tomorrow, and making sure that we position ourselves for good play on Sunday night by having a good practice tomorrow.”

Doesn’t really sound like the Steelers are in a rush to get either player back on the active roster. The Steelers have until next Tuesday before Banner’s 21-day window closes, so if the team decides to wait until the bye week until they activate Banner, they could.

Fans might be confused, considering Banner met with the media prior to the Denver game and deemed himself “ready” to play. Mike Tomlin doesn’t necessarily view that as the team ready to put him out there.

“Ready is not a problem.” Tomlin said Tuesday. “I’m not gonna make a negative out of him perceiving that he’s ready or him being ready. There’s nothing wrong with having more than five capable, ready men. Those are the type of problems that you want to have, and I look forward to the day that we’re managing that.”

But what about continuity on the line? Might the Steelers want to ride their current wave as long as it lasts? Waiting until Banner can logically come into the lineup and make a positive difference? Again, Tomlin wasn’t about to draw a line in the sand on the topic.

“There’s no cookie cutter answer to the question that you asked.” Tomlin said. “I’m not gonna make it a negative to have more than five capable men who are ready and capable of playing winning football for us. It’s not a negative. It’s just not. We’ll manage it. It’ll be a pleasure to manage, to be quite honest with you. I’d rather have six than to have four. We’re excited about getting him back in the fold and having that be a viable option for us, whatever that may mean in terms of management of the group individually and collectively.”

Wednesday Ben Roethlisberger was asked about Banner’s potential return to the lineup, and what it could mean for the collective group. He spoke highly of Banner’s overall game, and what he could bring to a line which could still use some help.

“He’s a guy that’s been here for a while. He’s a guy that has a lot of heart and a lot of fire, passion. Sometimes that’s required when things aren’t going as well.” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve always had that guy that’s got that fire and that passion. I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen in terms of who’s gonna be out there, but having the ability to have a guy out there like that, it’s better to have someone be ready to go than not.”

Banner and McFarland’s returns are imminent, but when they exactly re-join their teammates on the field is anything but certain. It makes sense to have your best five offensive linemen on the field to help your team win, but the other side of the coin is to keep the cohesion which has slowly developed over the course of five games with the current group of linemen.

Maybe waiting until the bye week, when the team can get some extra practices in together, would be the perfect answer to this question. Otherwise, if the offensive line continues to develop a solid rapport with one another, there will never be an easy time to insert Banner into the mix. That is, if he is considered an upgrade over the current crop of linemen the team deploys on a weekly basis.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Seahawks this Sunday night in Week 6 at Heinz Field.

Podcast: Are the Steelers ready for launch or just flying high? 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 11:00am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room.

The Pittsburgh Steelers finally got back on the winning side of the ledger last week by beating the Denver Broncos. Can they keep it going or was last week an anomaly? As always, BTSC’s Matt Peverell will attempt to discuss what hasn’t been discussed yet on BTSC. Join Matty P. for his solo show as he looks at possible future Steelers and examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the BTSC’s Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matty in The Steelers War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • 5th edition of the ‘Rookie Report’ for Steelers War Room, covering the performance of the Steelers Rookies
  • Preview of what to look out for from the Seahawks’ Rookies, and their potential output versus the Steelers’ rookies.
  • A look at the leading Wide Receivers in college football

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Ben Roethlisberger makes it clear replacing JuJu Smith-Schuster won’t be easy

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 10:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is having to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster, and it won’t be an easy fix.

The injury issues surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers are well documented. Whether it is the rash of groin injuries throughout the lineup, or season ending injuries, the Steelers have been dealing with the health of their roster since Week 1.

They aren’t alone in this regard, but the most recent loss has been to a beloved member of the wide receiving corps. Of course, this is in reference to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s shoulder injury which required surgery, which was successful, and will end his 2021 season.

Wednesday Ben Roethlisberger met with media and was asked about the loss of Smith-Schuster. Not just in terms of on-field production, but in general for the team.

“I’m hurt because I miss that guy, what he brings to this team, his energy, his excitement, the leadership. It sucks. It really does.” Roethlisberger said. “And I’m not even the one hurt. I spoke to him on Sunday night, and I felt his pain through the phone. Spoke to his mom as well. Sometimes things aren’t fair, and we don’t know why they happen. A guy that has given so much and a guy that means so much to this team to me, specifically...It’s just not fair.”

Smith-Schuster’s injury could equate to him playing his last game in a black and gold jersey considering he will be a free agent, again, this upcoming offseason. One thing Roethlisberger knows is how replacing Smith-Schuster won’t be easy. For starters, replacing Smith-Schuster’s toughness as a receiver isn’t a simple task.

“JuJu’s one of those guys that isn’t afraid of contact.” Roethlisberger added. “But you’ve got to be built for it too, and he is. Always was a guy that was physical and kind of set the tempo, so hopefully other guys will just carry that on.”

Replacing Smith-Schuster won’t be easy, but it is necessary. So, who is likely to step up? Who is likely to fill that role? Who will take Smith-Schuster’s touches on a weekly basis?

Some might think it is easy, but Roethlisberger understands it will take more than one receiver to fill that void.

“Well, it’s a big opportunity for Ray-Ray [McCloud], for James, Cody [White]’s gonna get his shot, I’m sure. It seems like every week one of the guys has been down for something.” Roethlisberger said. “Moving forward now without JuJu, we’re gonna need everyone to be healthy as much as they can be every week. I think James is excited for the opportunity, I think Ray-Ray is as well. We’re gonna have to utilize a lot of people at their positions too.”

What about Chase Claypool? Could he move into the slot and succeed? After all, Claypool’s touchdown vs. the Denver Broncos in Week 5 came when he lined up in the slot. According to Roethlisberger, playing the slot full-time is not for everyone.

“Playing the slot position in the NFL is different than playing outside. It’s just a different animal. I think we have a lot of guys that can do it but it’s a feel thing. You don’t want to take a big body outside that’s got special skills. I think you’ll see probably some more utilization of the tight ends and running backs in there and different guys.”

As expected, it will take more than one player to fill JuJu Smith-Schuster’s role on the offense, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the offense will struggle. Despite the injury being tough, Smith-Schuster’s numbers throughout the first 5 games were rather pedestrian.

Games: 5
Receptions: 15
Yards: 129
TD (Passing): 0
TD (Rushing): 1

If anything, the loss of Smith-Schuster could create a tremendous opportunity for other play-making pass catchers. As Roethlisberger cited himself, it could equate to more targets for rookie Pat Freiermuth, Eric Ebron and even Najee Harris, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Sure, the injury is awful, but the Steelers will have to find a way to make ends meet without Smith-Schuster for the duration of the regular season. Whether they can do this will be found out on Sunday Night Football in Week 6 vs. the Seattle Seahawks.

So, stay tuned, and get your popcorn ready!

Steelers Vertex: Are the Steelers inside linebackers starting to mesh?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

In the fifth game of the 2021 season, the Steelers ILBs were putting some good film out there for all to see.

The Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker room is not what was expected during the 2021 offseason. With the retirement of Vince Williams, the trade for Joe Schobert, and uncertainty with Devin Bush returning from injury, expectations for the group range all over the place. But are those players who are seeing the field starting to come together? That is the topic for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

By a lot of metrics, the Steelers were not getting the most quality play from their inside linebackers so far in 2021. With Joe Schobert coming in mid training camp and Devin Bush coming off of a serious injury which cost of most of the 2020 season, it was taking these players some time to mesh together. But in Week 5, things really started to come together.

If looking at metrics such as the scores by Pro Football Focus, Joe Schobert was below average for his first three games with the Steelers but then saw a marked improvement in both Week 4 and again in Week 5. As for Devin Bush, his PFF scores were very low through Week 4, especially in Weeks 3 & 4 his overall score was in the 40s. But in Week 5 against Denver, Bush’s score shot up to an 80.1 before he left the game due to injury.

So what changed so much for these players to have their scores increase? It wasn’t that they’re tackling numbers made a big jump as actually they were less than the week before for both Bush and Schobert. Ultimately, both players did a nice job of stopping the run.

Additionally, the usage of the Steelers inside linebackers was different in Week 5 as they were sent more frequently on a blitz. According to Pro Football reference, Joe Schobert blitzed four times against the Broncos when he had only blitzed four times in the previous four games. Devin Bush was sent on the blitz on five occasions against Denver with only blitzing six times in his previous three games played. Since he was utilized in Week 5, it would only be appropriate to also mention Robert Spillane, who blitzed three times in Week 5 as well as three times and his only other action on defense in Week 2. So on the season, the Steelers have sent their inside linebackers on a blitz a total of 25 times, but almost half of those, 12 blitzes, occurred in Week 5.

So was it merely the blitzing that made for improved play at the inside linebacker position? We’ll have to check the film to see what it shows.

The Film Line:

Let’s get right into it...

Steelers v Broncos, 2nd quarter, 10:04
Joe Schobert is the linebacker on the hashmarks to the bottom of the screen.

This is the best I’ve seen Joe Schobert playing the run so far this season. He reads the play quickly, engages the lineman, then sheds the block to stop the runner’s forward progress, making it easy for Terrell Edmunds to finish the play.

Joe Schobert started the season looking slow. I think a lot of that was caused by the transition from being a 4-3 MLB to a 3-4 ILB. It’s not a big change, but he didn’t have any offseason to prepare either. He seems to be much more comfortable in the role now.

3rd quarter, 11:27
Joe Schobert is the linebacker to the bottom of the screen.

Schobert isn’t a high end athlete, and it shows here. Steelers fans saw Devin Bush outrun a lot of backs heading outside in 2019 and early 2020. Injuries have slowed Bush so far this season, and while Schobert navigates a blocker and keeps pace with the runner, he’s behind the play the entire time. Nothing wrong with Schobert’s play here, just showing his limitations.

Also notice Derrek Tuszca (#48, edge to the bottom) and Henry Mondeaux (#99, just inside Tuszca) putting in good work here. The Broncos see bottom of the depth chart guys and run at them, it gets 1 yard.

2nd quarter, 7:22
Devin Bush is the linebacker approaching the line at the snap. Joe Schobert is on the top hashmarks right near the goal line.

Let’s start with Schobert. The Steelers to the top of the screen are in a variety of matching here, Joe Haden takes the deep route, Terrell Edmunds underneath, but there’s no one on #83. It looks like Schobert is heading out to him before the collision with Edmunds, at which point he stops, reads the QB’s eyes, and #83 is wide open.

Bridgewater looks off that route, and from the positioning, I think it was T.J. Watt being in that passing lane that dissuades a throw. Devin Bush doesn’t give him time to reconsider and it’s a sack. The offense doubles Watt on this play, which is understandable, but also something Bush set up. Bush throws a subtle fake like he’s going to change direction to follow #83, and the RB buys it, and hurries to help block Watt.

Beautiful blitz by Bush, who hasn’t been the best blitzer in the past, but seems to have put a lot of work into it. The Steelers defense is great when the errors in coverage are negated by the pass rush, and Bush has stepped up to fill the void Vince Williams left in ILB blitzing.

3rd quarter, 2:41
Joe Schobert is the linebacker to the top of the screen, moving to the line at the snap

Joe Schobert, on the other hand, is not a good blitzer. Schobert runs right into the guard and is stopped. He gets zero penetration and is far enough back that he’s no threat to bat the ball when it is thrown. There are other Joe Schobert blitzes in this game, and none are any better than this one. At the same time I had a lot of great run-stuffing plays to choose from for this film room, and a lot of really good coverage snaps I could have shown as well. The Joe Schobert addition is starting to pay real dividends, just not when he blitzes.

2nd quarter, 2:00
Robert Spillane is the linebacker to the bottom of the screen.

Robert Spillane didn’t just come in when Devin Bush went down in Week 5. He was already getting snaps, taking the primary snaps in dime. You can see here that Spillane is just a bit too limited in range to be a dynamic playmaker, but his reading of the offense and reaction time are still top notch. The Steelers were working him into a rotation before Bush left the game. The Steelers like Spillane’s blitzing and coverage, and that would come into play the entire fourth quarter as the Steelers had a solid lead and the Broncos were throwing the ball.

4th quarter, 12:22
Joe Schobert is the linebacker to the top of the screen, in the slot.

First off notice Robert Spillane blitzing right up the middle here. If Spillane has to fill in for Bush for a game or more, he can take over the blitzing work from Devin Bush and be better at it than Schobert. Spillane looks healthy again, and if he’s back to full strength, he won’t be a huge drop off from where Devin Bush has been so far this season.

I also wanted to show this play because, while Joe Schobert is a really good coverage LB, you see him involved in a good number of coverage busts. Here you see a corner/out combo the Broncos run well, and you may remember this being run against the Steelers in 2020, with a very similar result. It messes with their pattern matching rules that have the corner jump a “fast out” but cover the outside receiver in most other situations. The Broncos attack that with the timing of the out cut, holding the linebacker just enough to let the receiver get upfield where the linebacker will be too far behind to cover them.

The Steelers solved this route combo in 2020 by having the linebacker head deep and the corner sitting on the out route every time, taking away the read Denver was exploiting. Joe Schobert wasn’t here in 2020 and spent all offseason in Carolina. There are important nuances to this defense he is learning on the fly.

4th quarter, 10:27
Joe Schobert is just inside T.J. Watt (#90) to the bottom of the screen, Robert Spillane is the linebacker behind him.

If the Steelers are without Devin Bush for a bit, their coverage ability is going to be fine. Robert Spillane plays this beautifully, the back thinks he’s open but Spillane is there waiting to jump and throw the entire time. Meanwhile Joe Schobert gets enough depth to force any deeper throw to have touch on it before coming up to shut off any chance of running for the TD.

Joe Schobert is getting more acclimated to the Steelers defense, Devin Bush is becoming a dangerous blitzer, and from the Denver game, it looks like Robert Spillane is back to full strength again.

The Point:

Much like the Steelers young offensive line, there are certain position groups where players need to be comfortable and confident in the player lined up beside them. Devin Bush and Joe Schobert now have four games together (since Bush missed Week 2) and seem to have a growing comfort level with what the other is doing. Although that is important, both players also seemed to be more comfortable with themselves and what they have been asked to do within the Steelers defense, or at least that was the case up until Devin Bush left the game. Hopefully Bush will be good to play in Week 6 since he was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, and the inside linebackers can continue improve individually and collectively to be called on to do even more in the Steelers defense.

2021 Steelers Rookie Review: Week 5 Denver Broncos Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/14/2021 - 8:00am
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

A weekly review of the 2021 Steelers rookies performances each week, based on personal observations.

What is the secret of success in the NFL? There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. There are no substitutes or shortcuts at the highest level of professional football. Talent definitely is important, but everybody is talented in the NFL. You get back what you put in, and that is revealed on the field, where there is no place to hide.

For example, Diontae Johnson lead the league in dropped passes last season by a rather large margin. It was so bad at one point around midseason he was actually benched, during a portion of the schedule when the offense was really struggling and his abilities were desperately needed. He eventually worked his way back onto the field, with a renewed focus resulting in substantially more reliable hands.

There were multiple reports during the off season about Johnson's workout regime, focusing specifically on improving his hand eye coordination. He put in alot of hard work and dedication to improving at his craft, and the results speak for themselves. Last I checked he had the most targets in the NFL for any player without a single dropped pass. Hard work requires time, patience, and persistence. No substitutes.

The 2021 Steelers rookie class have been working hard to adjust and improve at the NFL level, and the results are beginning to show on the field. Let's see how each young man performed on Sunday against the Denver Broncos in a much needed home victory for the good guys in Black and Gold.

RB Najee Harris

Hard work is it's own reward, and it is starting to pay off big time for Harris. He finally started to reap the fruits of his labor on Sunday, taking out four games worth of pent up frustrations from a glaring lack of support by his teammates on the Broncos defense, who were a top 10 unit against the run coming into the contest. It was easily the best performance of his young career, especially in the running game, and he would have definitely padded his already career high total if he wasn't forced from the game late in the fourth quarter with what was later reported as severe leg cramps.

The speed of the NFL game is obviously slowing down for the extremely talented young runner, as he continues to display improvement in patiently setting up his blockers before identifying and exploding to daylight, breaking tackles and dragging defenders along the way. His renowned work ethic recalls pleasant memories of past Steelers legends, as he takes his place as the focal point of the Steelers offense.

TE Pat Freiermuth

Freiermuth had a strong performance against the Broncos, although you could hardly tell it based on the stat sheet. He ended the game with 2 receptions for a grand total of 7 yards. However, both where diving or sliding hands catches with a high degree of difficulty, and both resulted in key first downs to keep those drives alive. The importance of each successful conversion shouldn't be overlooked.

He contributed greatly to the Steelers breakout performance running the football with his blocking, and he did a solid job in pass protection as well when called upon. The season ending shoulder injury sustained by JuJu Smith-Schuster comes at a very inopportune time for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, just when they were finally starting to successfully attack the middle of the field. That positive trend must continue, and Freiermuth seems like a perfect candidate to soak up increased opportunities.

C Kendrick Green

Green was granted another tough on the job training seminar from the stout Broncos defensive line, lead by crafty veteran Shelby Harris. Yes, the same Shelby Harris that intercepted a late fourth quarter pass from Ben Roethlisberger to seal the victory for the Broncos in 2018. Times best forgotten. Thankfully, Ben didn't throw him the ball again, while Green and company kept his contributions to a minimum.

You can see Green improving by the week as he gains a better understanding on how to play the position, and how to carry out his responsibilities. On one particularly impressive play, he quickly disengaged from a combo block to easily reach the middle linebacker, whom he proceeded to bulldog down the field through the whistle. The frustrated defender at no point had a chance at impacting the successful running play.

Those reoccurring instances displaying his athleticism, explosion, and tenacity are a beauty to behold. The converted defensive lineman/offensive guard still has plenty to learn, but his improvement each week suggest he is doing just that.

LT Dan Moore Jr.

Moore has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2021 Steelers season for this appreciative fan. He has been an even bigger revelation than last season's unexpected diamond in the rough, Kevin Dotson.

Moore was forced into duty far earlier than expected due to injuries to his more experienced colleagues, probably before he was honestly anywhere close to being ready for such a promotion. The young man has held his own, despite some inevitable struggles, through shear will and a fighting spirit, something he first displayed at training camp. Consider me impressed.

Playing LT in the NFL means often being left one on one against some of the best athletes walking the planet. The same could be said about young cornerbacks like James Pierre. The difference is Pierre misses on an assignment and the worst thing that could happen is the opponent scores a TD. Moore misses on his responsibilities, and your season could potentially go down the tubes, along with your franchise QB.

Moore has done an excellent job thus far, based on all the aforementioned parameters. He continues to show steady improvement by the week.

ILB Buddy Johnson

Another healthy scratch for the youngster. Expect that trend to continue barring unforeseen events force otherwise.

DE Isaiahh Loudermilk

Loudermilk only saw 9 snaps on defense, where he failed to crack the stat sheet. He did his job by tying up blockers, and even helped collapse the pocket on a couple of occasions. He actually made a nice play on Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater which was negated by penalty.

He continues to perform as both advertised and expected. He may assume a spot on the inactive list once Carlos Davis returns soon from his injury. Especially with Henry Mondeaux looking impressive against the Broncos, earning more minutes moving forward.

DB Tre Norwood

Arthur Maulet has been seeing the lion's share of the minutes, but that isn't a reflection on Norwood's performance those far this season. He has settled nicely into the rotation, and has been reliable when called upon. Maulet's usage has increased recently due to the weekly matchups.

The Steelers actually only utilized 4 CBs against the Broncos; Haden, Pierre, Maulet, and Norwood. That was mainly due to the Broncos heavy run personnel and their limited healthy options at receiver due to injuries.

If the Steelers can play with a lead more often moving forward, I expect Norwood to have an even bigger impact. As Tomlin said in Tuesday's press conference, the moment never seems too big for Norwood. Quite the compliment from a coach not known for hyperbole.

P Pressley Harvin lll

One common area where most rookies struggle is with consistency. Harvin hasn't been the exception to the rule sadly. The difference between Jordan Berry and Harvin is the fact that Berry is a veteran who struggles with consistency, suggesting that he is who he is, and that wasn't going to change.

Harvin is a talented rookie who has struggled somewhat in the early going, but bounce back performances like Harvin's against the Broncos suggest that the future is incredibly bright for the youngster.

He was only called on to punt twice, but they were skyrockets in flight, much to Jeff Hartman's delight. Consistency will come, but the kid definitely has a powerful leg.


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