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The State of the Pittsburgh Steelers Salary Cap

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/26/2020 - 9:30am
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers may not be finished either saving or spending in regards to the salary cap

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been up against the NFL salary cap since the new league year started in March. The team cut cap-clogging players such as Mark Barron and Anthony Chickillo while restructuring the contracts of multiple players to get cap compliant. The Steelers needed such moves and they still need to make more moves before the start of the season. While the team is $5.7 million under the cap, there is still a host of expenses which need to be accounted for that are not showing up on the team’s ledger at Over the Cap.

Be sure to check out the accompanying video that goes more in depth than what is in the article.

Upcoming expenses

$5.7 million: Current cap space

$1.3 million: Rookie pool. (This is an estimate by OTC that includes displacement.)

$1.2 million: 52nd and 53 players not included now because of the Rule of 51. ($610,000 minimum salary)

$1.7 million: Practice squad. (The practice squad expands to 12 players and they earn a minimum of $8,400 per week with no maximum.)

$5 million: Carryover ($4 million) and another $1 million for players who may be called up from the practice squad to fill the 55 man roster on game days (estimate).

Total: $9.2 million

All figures provided by Over the Cap.

The Steelers are not out of the woods yet as the above projections have the team about $3.5 million over the cap by the start of the season. The issue is, the $3.5 million could balloon up depending on how many minimum salary guys make the roster, or the gap could narrow with jettisoning higher salary players. Another way the Steelers can get cap relief is to extend some players who are entering the last year of their contracts.

How do you think the Steelers end up getting under the cap prior to Week 1? Please post your thoughts in the comments section.

Ben Roethlisberger and the return of the vertical passing game to the Pittsburgh offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/26/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If Big Ben is really back, the Steelers’ offense should see the return of a missing ingredient

I started to write this article four months ago, just after the Steelers’ 2019 season ended with their anemic offense unable to generate enough points down the stretch to get them into the playoffs. The article intended to highlight how the inability of Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges to push the ball downfield greatly hampered the offense and how, with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, it would be more dangerous in 2020.

Then I put the brakes on. What if there was no healthy Roethlisberger in 2020? What if he never healed properly, or could not return to something resembling his former self? What if the Steelers selected a quarterback high in the draft, or pursued a high-profile free agent like Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater? There were too many unknowns to write that article at the time, so I put it on the shelf.

As we now know, the Steelers did not pursue another quarterback. They gambled on the return of a healthy “QB7” to guide the offense in 2020. The jury is still out on just how healthy Big Ben will be when football returns, but any Steelers fan who watched the brief video Roethlisberger put out last week had to be excited at what they saw.

There’s not much to the video, really, other than some quick shots of Roethlisberger’s throwing motion and a few cut-ins of Ryan Switzer and JuJu Smith-Schuster catching balls. The excitement comes at the fact that this does not appear to be some soft-toss rehab session. Roethlisberger is ripping throws like a healthy quarterback. JuJu adds to the intrigue at the end by teasing, “He’s baaaack.” For those of us going stir-crazy for real entertainment while on COVID lock-down, this is as titillating as it gets.

The video gave me the confidence I needed to dust off my Roethlisberger piece. I still have reservations— elbow surgery is a big deal for a 38 year-old NFL quarterbac— but what I saw suggested rust may be a bigger issue for Big Ben than health. A guy still experiencing pain or worrying about re-injury doesn’t cut loose like that. If Roethlisberger has enough mental confidence in his elbow to return, he will simply need game reps to reclaim his form. Game reps are less daunting than reservations about one’s health. I am more confident now Roethlisberger can return effectively than I’ve been since he went down last September.

Roethlisberger’s return is exciting for all the obvious reasons. He is a Hall of Fame quarterback who, based on his play in 2018, still has some gas in the tank. He is an upgrade over the young quarterbacks who replaced him last season in just about every conceivable way. More specifically, a healthy Roethlisberger will restore something the Steelers missed desperately last season— the vertical passing game. That is our focus here: How and why Big Ben’s vertical passing proficiency will provide a valuable missing ingredient, and the ripple effect it will have on other aspects of the offense.

QB7: A Refresher Course

In case you’ve forgotten, Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback. He didn’t look great in the six quarters he played in 2019, but that’s a tiny sample size. If we go back to the 2018 season, we find ample evidence of his greatness, particularly when it comes to pushing the football down the field.

There’s this throw to JuJu, who is blanketed in press-man coverage by Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey. There is simply no room to fit this throw in, yet Ben somehow finds a window on the back shoulder:

There’s this throw against Atlanta where Roethlisberger expertly moves the single-high safety with his eyes to open up a window to JuJu down the opposite seam:

There’s this beauty of a touch pass off of play-action against the Ravens, with Roethlisberger dropping the ball into a tight window between the backers and the safeties:

And, of course, the home-run ball:

Back foot, pressure in his face, six yards deep in his own end zone.

No problem.

Roethlisberger might not have the canon for an arm he possessed at age 25 but he can still make just about every type of throw to every area of the field. With Roethlisberger in the lineup, the Steelers can attack the field vertically or horizontally, can build answers into their game-plan for any coverage and can throw the ball to the backs, wideouts or tight ends. Roethlisberger can be a slow starter, can throw too many interceptions, and, as we saw in those six quarters in 2019, is not always sharp. But there are no limits in the game-plan when he is behind center, which gives the Steelers a chance no matter the situation. After a 2019 season that saw the Steelers employ an offense on training wheels, this is music to the ears.

Why the vertical passing game? How does it benefit the offense?

The obvious answer is a proficient vertical passing game creates explosive plays, which are integral to the outcome of football games. It also forces defenses to loosen up, creating opportunities elsewhere in the passing game and making it easier to run the football.

Let’s look more closely at explosive plays. In the passing game, explosive plays are defined as completions of fifteen yards or more. The Steelers struggled mightily in this department last season, finishing 30th in the league with an explosive play rate of 7%. In 2016-2018, with a healthy Roethlisberger, they finished 3rd, 10th and 14th, respectively. They were especially weak generating explosive plays to their tight ends last season, where they decreased from 17 in 2018 to just two. Rudolph and Hodges could throw the occasional fade ball outside the numbers to their wide receivers, but they could not read defenses well enough to exploit the middle of the field where explosive plays to tight ends and slot receivers often occur.

In terms of explosive run plays (plays of 10+ yards), the Steelers went from 14th in 2017 to 17th in 2018 to 27th last season. It’s no secret they lacked a home-run hitter in the backfield for years. With Roethlisberger at quarterback, however, they presented enough of a vertical threat to force defenses into two-high shells, which allowed them to generate a moderate amount of explosive run plays. Last season, against a steady diet of eight and sometimes nine-man boxes, those explosive runs were almost non-existent.

Explosive plays are not the definitive barometer of an effective offense but they sure help with overall success. According to Sharp Football Statistics, the top 5 teams in the NFL last season in explosive plays went a combined 55-25. In 2018, the top 5 went 51-29 (fourth-ranked San Francisco was an outlier at 4-12; the other four teams went 47-17). Teams that make explosive plays generally win football games because of their ability to strike quickly, keep defenses from playing too aggressively, and dictate matchups.

Not all explosive plays are generated via the vertical passing game, of course. There are plenty of screen passes, catch-and-run throws and handoffs that become “explosive.” The vertical passing game helps set these other plays up by loosening (or widening) safeties, forcing linebackers to defend seam routes, and making teams less enthusiastic about playing aggressive man coverage.

Anyone who remembers the Larry Fitzgerald touchdown against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII that put Arizona ahead late— setting the stage for the Roethlisberger/Santonio Holmes heroics— may recall the Steelers were so worried about defending sideline vertical routes that they positioned safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark halfway between the hash and the numbers. Fitzgerald beat corner Ike Taylor inside on a slant and split the safeties up the gut. A ten-yard completion turned into a 64-yard touchdown because the Steelers were determined to defend the deep ball.

(Initially, I posted a GIF of this play but after watching it a few times I decided not to inflict it upon you. You’re welcome).

The bottom line is this: Few explosive plays happen when a defense has no fear of an offense’s ability to push the ball down the field. The Steelers are a far more explosive offense with Ben Roethlisberger on the field because of this vertical passing ability. Given the addition on offense of players like Eric Ebron, Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland, all of whom can threaten a defense with their size and/or speed, it’s possible the Steelers will have more explosive-play candidates in 2020 than they have had in years.

Why couldn’t Rudolph and Hodges execute these types of throws?

I won’t spend a lot of time rehashing the shortcomings of our young quarterbacks. They were thrust into situations for which they were not yet prepared and were often judged harshly for it. Flip Fisher and Geoffrey Benedict did a great job breaking them both down this past winter. I will simply refer readers who would like to hear more about Rudolph and Hodges to this piece. And to this one.

The one thing I will address concerns their inability to read a defense, particularly in the middle of the field. These are the hardest reads for a quarterback to make, for several reasons. First, as you can imagine, there is a lot of clutter in the middle of an NFL football field. Incredibly large human beings clashing violently. Individuals with world-class speed moving in every possible direction. Three seconds max to diagnose, decide and deliver before an angry man smashes you to the turf. The middle of the field can look like chaos to even the most trained eye in live action. Analysts have the ability to play a film back again and again in order to decipher what’s happening. Quarterbacks don’t have the luxury.

Under Roethlisberger, the Steelers have historically run a host of passing concepts that attack the middle of the field both vertically and horizontally. Two examples include Mesh and Shallow Cross, which have been staples of their passing game for years (both concepts are broken down here). Each begins with a quick read of a vertical route (with mesh it’s a corner or post from the Z-receiver; with shallow cross it’s a nine-route from the X). If the QB likes the look, they will throw that first read immediately. If not, they will come down to a second or even third read where they must find receivers crossing the field. To make things more complicated, each route has multiple variations that can change which receivers run which routes (depending on formation) and on how those routes are run (on mesh, crossers are to keep running versus man coverage but settle into open areas versus zone). So, to make these concepts work, pre-snap and post-snap reads of a defense are necessary by both the quarterback and his receivers.

If a quarterback is indecisive on his first read, the vertical route to the outside, he will inevitably be late reading the crossers. Late reads in the middle of the field lead to sacks, interceptions or receivers getting hammered. To avoid this, experienced quarterbacks often make a pre-snap decision on the first read. Roethlisberger is an expert at allowing a play clock to tick down to its last second before snapping the ball so he knows exactly what look he’s getting from a defense. This speeds up his decision-making and allows him to get to second and even third reads in a progression. Rudolph and Hodges were simply unable to do such things.

After watching the young QBs struggle with these reads, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner started to simplify the progressions and to eliminate the more advanced passing concepts from the playbook. This “training wheels” approach was necessary but it limited the capability of the offense and, inevitably, doomed the Steelers down the stretch.

How might the Steelers integrate the vertical passing game in 2020?

I would expect the more aggressive passing schemes Roethlisberger prefers to return to the playbook. The Steelers have vertical threats all over the field. Claypool was selected with his deep-ball capability in mind. Ebron is one of the best field-stretching tight ends in the game. James Washington has shown an ability to win down the field in one-on-one situations. Diontae Johnson is a budding star at receiver. And, if you didn’t notice, every GIF I played of Roethlisberger above involved a throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster. This was not a coincidence. I sought out those plays to remind readers of the chemistry that Big Ben and JuJu enjoyed for two seasons. I would expect that chemistry to return, especially now that Smith-Schuster is surrounded by receiving talent all over the field.

Speaking of JuJu, some of his best work with Roethlisberger occurred when he aligned in the slot. Now that players like Washington, Claypool and Ebron can man the outside roles or present vertical threats to a defense, JuJu is free to again operate out of the slot where his size, speed, and toughness make him a difficult matchup for nickel corners, linebackers, and safeties:

I’ve always thought the question of whether Smith-Schuster was a “#1” receiver was misguided. The question shouldn’t be “Is he a #1?” but “How is he most effective?” Teams like the Patriots and Eagles have shown a so-called #1 receiver or running back is not imperative so long as they have a variety of players who can master the roles necessary to make the offense effective. With JuJu free to operate more from the slot this season, and Claypool poised to assume some of his reps on the outside, and Ebron an accomplished field-stretcher from the tight end position, and, of course, QB7 back behind center, the Steelers have filled these roles. The result should be a more explosive and dynamic offense in 2020.

Film Room: The game which got Minkah Fitzpatrick kicked off a top 100 list

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/26/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Pete Prisco cited the Week 6 game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers as proof Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn’t a top 100 player.

If you haven’t read about Pete Prisco leaving Minkah Fitzpatrick off his top 100 NFL players list, or Minkah Fitzpatrick’s response to it, then good for you. If you want to read about the saga, this page is a good place to start, and it has links to earlier articles. When I heard Prisco defend snubbing Fitzpatrick by daring anyone to go watch the Chargers game and judge if Minkah Fitzpatrick was an elite safety with how he played in that game, I couldn’t resist.

The Week 6 Steelers vs. Chargers matchup is easily my pick for the most fascinating game of the season. Devlin Hodges gets his first start, the Steelers end up with both starting cornerbacks out, yet the Chargers struggled to get their wide receivers going, and in a game where the running backs accounted for more than two-thirds of the team passing yards, Donte Moncrief ends up with the longest pass to a WR on the day, and for goodness sake, the Steelers won a game on the West Coast. This game was important scheme-wise on both offense and defense, it was a great game to study.

It was also easily Minkah Fitzpatrick’s worst game as a member of the Steelers.

Pro Football Reference advanced stats have Minkah Fitzpatrick allowing 13 receptions for 163 yards last season, incredibly good numbers. Against the Chargers they credit him with 4 of those receptions, for 66 yards, almost double his second worst total of the season.

I have gone off about advanced stats before, because too often they are recorded sloppily and on many plays the reception is charged to whatever defender was closest to the catch. This causes Fitzpatrick to get the blame for plays like this one I’ve showed before:

Top of the screen, watch the CBs.

With Steven Nelson out, Artie Burns is on the left side of the defense, putting Joe Haden and Mike Hilton on the same side of the defense for a game. They both jump at the screen, leaving Fitzpatrick tasked with running down an easy completion.

Minkah Fitzpatrick in on the Chargers logo at midfield.

This is Minkah Fitzpatrick getting burned. But look at the linebackers. This play, like the one above, came from a drive late in the first half when Devin Bush was out. With Mark Barron also out, both Tyler Matakevich and Vince Williams are on the field.

With Matakevich taking Williams’ normal spot as the biggest liability, Vince Williams is forced into coverage, and you can see when he gets burned and alerts Joe Haden to the player breaking open. As Haden steps up to help out, Philip Rivers throws to the receiver Haden is leaving. Fitzpatrick got beat here, but there’s a reason for it.

This is one of my favorite images from that game.

Artie Burns is off the screen to the left, Kam Kelly is the dime back, Matakevich is the only inside linebacker in the play. Look where T.J. Watt is— he’s dropping into coverage because the situation was that bad. You can’t expect a lot of success when you have 8 players dropping into coverage, and T.J. Watt isn’t among the worst three.

No free safety in the world is going to have a good day under these conditions. Late in the game with Cameron Sutton in for Joe Haden, the Chargers were running route combos at Minkah Fitzpatrick, and whichever way he went Rivers just threw the other way. A team just can’t cover for that many players every single play, and when defenders get burned, the players behind them have to mop it up.

In Week 6, Fitzpatrick recorded 5 solo tackles, the second most of the season. He had 6 the previous week when the team had almost twice the tackles as this game. Like many analysts, Prisco’s ignores the difficulty of the assignment and looks at the results.

Don’t get me wrong, Week 6 was Minkah Fitzpatrick’s worst game of the season. He even dropped an interception.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety to start the play.

That’s not something that we saw a lot from Fitzpatrick last season. He had a chance to seal the game for his seriously depleted defense and he literally dropped the ball.

Also notice the Steelers dropping 2 defensive backs deep while Minkah Fitzpatrick stays right near his starting area. This is the first game this showed up, but later in the season it would show up more in a much more refined (read actually practiced and not just thrown together on the fly) form.

Fortunately for Minkah the receiver in the second clip dropped the ball, and his team ended up winning the game after he dropped the interception. Minkah Fitzpatrick had a bad game by his standard, but in a game that Artie Burns played every snap and Kameron Kelly played the most snaps outside of the Week 1 disaster, the Steelers held Philip Rivers’ top two wide receivers to 105 yards on 16 combined targets. Minkah Fitzpatrick was a big part of that.

So while Minkah Fitzpatrick certainly had a bad day against the Chargers, It would be an overstatement at the least to discredit his impact on the team because of this one game, especially when his impact on the team’s defensive numbers is so incredible, his stats and film from the rest of the season show his individual excellence, and he was clearly seen as one of the top safeties, and top defenders overall, by just about everyone.

Podcast: Are the Steelers set for 2020 or is Kevin Colbert still shopping?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/26/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Q&A” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo analyze Ben Roethlisberger’s proclamation of readiness.

The Steelers and the rest of the NFL are hoping to get down to real business in the very near future. Typically, teams sign veterans after June 1. With a lot of talent still looking for jobs, will the Steelers move things around to bring in one more piece of the puzzle? That is the question we will hope to answer on our latest podcast, along with many more.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Q&A Show. On this show Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • At what point should will we deem Ben Roethlisberger “back”?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Bryan Davis and Tony Defeo, of BTSC, walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: Leadership is key to success for the 2020 Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/26/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. 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 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 the leaders in the Steelers locker room and their focus on winning.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Leadership in the locker room will make or break the 2020 Steelers

Mark Madden: Steelers locker room leaders need to prioritize winning mindset

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In 2013, as a rookie, Le’Veon Bell rushed for 860 yards. That season was Antonio Brown’s fourth. He had his best year to date with 110 catches. These were two rare talents. It seemed inevitable the Pittsburgh Steelers would return to the Super Bowl.

But, not long after, I proclaimed on my radio show the Steelers had zero chance to win with Bell and Brown. The Toxic Twins were too selfish and had too much baggage. It permeated the locker room, sabotaged leadership and made it impossible to jell.

Despite those two rare talents, a nailed-on Hall-of-Fame quarterback, a coach with a ring and plenty of other assets, the best the Steelers did in the Bell/Brown era was a 19-point loss to New England in the 2016 season’s AFC championship game.

In the Toxic Twins’ five years together, the Steelers made the playoffs four times and had a 3-4 postseason record. Much better was possible, except it really wasn’t.

Now it’s easy to wonder if the Steelers’ culture has been changed permanently, made more superficial, and has it rubbed off on the fans?

Mindset used to be one of the Steelers’ biggest strengths. The team had big egos before, like Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward. But when push came to shove, those two (and everybody else) focused on winning.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • What Memorial Day means to Steelers legend Rocky Bleier

What this day really means

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

It’s a day that has become known as the unofficial start of summer. A day to kick off what will hopefully be a summer filled with sunshine.

For Rocky Bleier and many others, Memorial Day means much, much more.

Memorial Day is a day to honor and remember those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. A day to appreciate and respect that they made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of their country and those who continue to benefit from the freedoms they fought for.

“The biggest thing about this day is sometimes we lose sight of the meaning behind Memorial Day. It becomes a holiday. We have celebrated it in the past,” said Bleier. “At times we have lost the sense of what it really stands for. That is to honor not necessarily those who served the country, but those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave up their lives in serving their country.

“It has become more prevalent over the period of time recently that sometimes we lose the meaning because we thank our veterans all of the time for their service. On this day, it is those who made the ultimate sacrifice that need to be remembered. Remembering them reminds us of our responsibilities to those who served and gave all and a thankfulness of a nation to those who gave their lives. We just need to put it back into perspective of what that day is all about.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • What to look for during the Steelers non-traditional OTAs

5 (virtual) things to (virtually) watch for at (virtual) Steelers OTAs

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

If the Pittsburgh Steelers conduct organized team activities, but the players are not together in performing any activities, did they really conduct the OTA’s?

It is not a question for a philosophy doctoral candidate, nor is it a dystopian future of virtual-reality football. Instead, it is the reality of the 2020 NFL. Concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic have led to a ban of teams gathering in person, but the offseason charges onward.

For the next three weeks, NFL coaches will turn to whatever video-messaging software they choose to work with players and begin the players’ preparations for a 2020 season that — for now — remains on course to be played.

That doesn’t mean some nuggets of useful information won’t emerge during the 10 virtual OTAs and three virtual mandatory minicamp sessions over the next four weeks. With that in mind, here are five things to watch for during Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 virtual OTAs that begin Tuesday:

1. Elbow room

Information about the condition of Ben Roethlisberger’s surgically repaired throwing elbow or the status of his rehabilitation and throwing program has been scant.

That changed, in part, last week by way of a 38-second video of Big Ben throwing to teammates on a local high school field. Odds are, one way or another, a greater peek into the condition of Roethlisberger’s elbow will emerge from OTAs.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

The NFL is one step closer to holding practices

Player Preview: Ola Adeniyi

If others can do it, the Steelers can play without fans

Announcing the staff changes at BTSC

  • Social Media Madness

“I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. It truly was the best decision that I ever made in my life.”@steelers offensive tackle and U.S. Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva shares his story in a salute to all those who serve. #MemorialDay pic.twitter.com/R0PtYVxPUu

— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) May 25, 2020

Start your week with 67 seconds of Diontae Johnson making defenders misspic.twitter.com/a9Od2pPdPf

— PFF (@PFF) May 25, 2020

We remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. #MemorialDay pic.twitter.com/UEXHe68dW8

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2020

From the Deputy Editor: Covering the Steelers is a dream come true

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 1:50pm
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a new deputy editor in town... eh?

Back in 2017 I began my journey with Behind The Steel Curtain. After an angry rant about the Steelers playoff loss to the Jaguars caught the attention of our outgoing editor, Jeff Hartman’s eyes, we chatted for a bit. I started creating some content for the site, but having to focus so much of my time on completing my journalism diploma, I had to take a step back.

Fast forward to January of this year and I shot Jeff an email about a possible return. In the following days I again got the opportunity to write for the website. It wasn’t until day two of this year’s NFL draft where my role with the site got attached to a rocket.

As many of you already know, Chase Claypool is from Canada, as am I. In true stereotypical Canadian fashion, I do know Chase, from Canada.

Watching Chase grow up from BC high school football all the way to getting drafted to my childhood favorite team was an exciting moment. But getting a text from our mutual football trainer to come interview Chase took this feeling to the next level.

An exclusive interview with the Steelers top pick gave me enough exposure to host a podcast with BTSC called ‘The Live Mike’. The podcast, in turn got me on new editor, Dave Schofield’s show ‘Steelers Stat Geek’ and on a segment of 93.7 The Fan’s Paul Zeise’s show.

And now, here I am before you as your new deputy editor. In the following weeks you'll see a ton of new and exciting content from myself on both the writing and podcasting sides, I may even be involved with BTSC social media in some capacity when the season rolls around.

My two biggest goals is to, firstly, continue to run with the baton that Dave has carried so well in his time holding this position. Secondly, I want to create amazing content for you the fan. I have a ton of exciting ideas to churn out and I can't wait to hear your feedback— the good and the bad— on all of it.

Let’s get to work!

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Ola Adeniyi

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 12:00pm
Ola Adeniyi should make a bigger impact in 2020 | Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

The first of our 90-part series— yes, 90 parts, assuming the roster does not change before we are complete— 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.

Kicking things off at the top of the roll-call is the Steelers fourth outside linebacker in 2019.

Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

Position: OLB
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 248 lbs
College: Toledo
Draft: Undrafted in 2018

2019 stats

16 Games played
8 Tackles
2 Forced fumbles
0 Sacks

Contract remaining

Expires in 2020

$755,000 salary cap number (0.4% of total cap)
$5,000 dead money
$750,000 cap savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. Adeniyi has shown improvement between each of his two professional seasons and I expect that to grow with more opportunities in 2020. Even with the selection of Alex Highsmith in the 3rd round, this roster will likely carry 5 outside linebackers.

2020 projection

Adeniyi will be a contributor on special teams and will see some more use on defensive snaps. Anthony Chickillo departure leaves a hole at the reserve outside linebacker position, and while Highsmith is destined to hold that spot by seasons end, it’s still Adeniyi’s spot to lose.

Projected stats:

1 Sack
15 Tackles
1 Forced fumble
2 TFLs

Summary

Adeniyi should continue to make strides in 2020. While it isn't a lock he will receive another contract with the club, I would expect some sort of lower level Restricted Free Agent tender to keep him in the Steel City at least through 2021.

A Letter From the Editor: Familiar names, new responsibilities

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 10:10am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Announcing new roles at Behind The Steel Curtain moving forward

First and foremost, I cannot write a letter on Memorial Day without acknowledging those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in order for our country to enjoy the freedoms which have been established for almost 250 years. For any of you who have lost a loved one in service of our country, our thoughts are with you as a part of you has also been lost for our benefit. On this Memorial Day, it is important we all take the time to show our appreciation in some manner to those who have given their lives for our freedom.

Although it is a holiday weekend, it also marks the beginning of a week which may look slightly different to some here at Behind The Steel Curtain. Although editor Jeff Hartman is still with us till the end of the month, he has taken on more of an advisory role to help with the transition as we move from one editor to another. Once again, I am grateful for everything Jeff has done for me as a writer, an editor, a podcaster, and a friend.

As with so many things in life, the show must go on. We here at BTSC are dedicated to bringing you quality content in regards to our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.

In case someone is stumbling upon the news for the first time, Jeff Hartman is moving on to a fantastic opportunity at DK Pittsburgh Sports and I will be stepping into the editor duties. In vacating the role of deputy editor, the responsibilities previously covered by both Jeff and myself will need to be tackled in one way or another. Rather than simply ask one person to do the job duties covered by their predecessor, I’ve decided to split up some various responsibilities moving forward. Every staff member here at BTSC has different time constraints due to their other obligations in life. With this in mind, it became necessary to split different duties in various ways.

One example which was previously announced is Bryan Anthony Davis will be stepping up to coordinate all the podcast responsibilities with the website. While this job was something previously covered by the editor, Bryan has an expertise with a broadcasting background which will be very useful. So for those of you who visit the podcast articles, you will soon see a transition merely in the name of the author as Bryan hopes to continue on with the great precedent set forward before him.

Another writer had BTSC which readers could see in a different role moving forward is Geoffrey Benedict. Known for his fantastic film breakdown, Geoffrey will also be helping to cover various news stories throughout the week. Please note, these news stories will be in addition to, and not in place of, the great articles Geoffrey already brings to the site. So if any of you were wondering if we were going to lose his film breakdown sessions, do not fear.

As for the role of deputy editor, it will be filled by someone who has been producing quality content for the site for several months. I am pleased to announce Michael Beck will be fulfilling the deputy editor responsibilities. Already contributing to the site as well as bringing his audio podcast ‘The Live Mike” to our forum, Michael is excited to bring added content to the site, as well as joining more of our podcasts. For more on Michael, stay tuned as he will be introducing himself later today as well as a news series going through the Steelers current roster player-by-player.

I feel like it’s something I’ve done so much people may be growing tired of it, but I must thank Jeff Hartman one last time. Jeff has done a wonderful job here at Behind The Steel Curtain and we all wish him the best of luck in all he does. As for you all, the readers and the ultimate heart and soul of BTSC, we hope our staff can continue to live up to the expectations established by those who have come before us.

Thank you all for making Behind The Steel Curtain the wonderful community we can all enjoy. And, as always, go Steelers!

If the WWE can have wrestling shows without fans, so can the Steelers and the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 8:15am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Do you need fans in the stands to enjoy a Steelers game? While it’s preferable, no, no you don’t.

When I first heard about it, I couldn’t believe it.

What’s that? The WWE, a wrestling promotion (maybe you’ve heard of it), holding live events without fans in the arena.

I was appalled, but not necessarily because of any sort of risk the wrestlers were taking by performing head-locks and suplexes amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. No, my main bone of contention was the WWE having wrestling shows without anyone watching live. Not that I wanted fans to be put in harm’s way for the sake of a wrestling show, you see. It’s just that, well, how can you have a wrestling show without fans cheering the faces and jeering the heels? Isn’t that sort of like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his or her hat without anyone else in the room?

Not only do the wrestlers point to invisible people and flex their biceps in the direction of no one in particular, they do live promos right in the middle of the ring—no word on whether or not they tell invisible fat boys in the audience to shut up (copyright Ric Flair).

Wrestling fans are part of the show. Without the fans in the stands, who can the heel tick off by threatening to slap them with the back of his hand? Without fans in the stands, who can the good guy feed off of for his or her inevitable comeback?

It’s like having a live sitcom without a live studio audience. Speaking of which, SNL cast members have figured out a way to do skits from the comfort of their own homes.

What the...?

Anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying that if the WWE can have live shows without any fans in attendance, if SNL cast members can do skits in-front of their computer screens, if magicians can pull rabbits out of their hats without anyone around (not sure if that’s ever happened), then sports can resume without fans in the stands.

I’m perfectly fine with it.

Unlike Razor Ramon, T.J. Watt doesn’t need to draw the ire of the fans in attendance in order to be the bad guy—he just has to sack the quarterback. And while Razor needed the fans to truly hate him before he slapped on the Razor’s Edge, Bud Dupree doesn’t need any help from the fans in order to set the edge on a running play—although, I’m sure that’s always appreciated.

How about the officials? As you know, some of them are truly evil people—including former WWE referee Dangerous Davis, and worse, current NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron.

That no good son of...

According to the 2011 book, Scorecasting, officiating bias may be the number one factor in the huge advantage home teams generally have. Why? Crowd influence. And while I’m not talking about quite the same influence the crowd had on Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, the enthusiasm of real-life home crowds is apparently enough to sway calls in favor of the home team—especially in high-leverage situations.

What does that all mean for sports in empty stadiums/arenas/ballparks? Perhaps a more level playing field for all involved.

Yes, I realize the NFL may pipe in crowd noise to support the home teams, but I doubt artificial cheers will have quite the same effect on an official as a stadium full of fans chanting "bullspit!"

Will it seem weird watching football without fans in the stands? Yes, but not as weird as an entire NFL season without football to watch.

Finally, unlike WWE shows, where those in attendance are most prone to agitation, Steelers players can still make people watching at home angry by engaging in cocky touchdown celebrations.

It’ll be just like being there.

New York Governor rolls out plan moving NFL closer to opening facilities

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 6:30am
Steelers OTAs and rookie camps have been suspended due to the Covid-19 Pandemic | Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Cuomo made the announcement Sunday in regards to professional sports teams

On Sunday, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has given teams the go-ahead to resume training at team facilities as long as they adhere to public health guidelines.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces effective today that all professional sports teams in the state can begin training camps while following the appropriate health protocols.

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) May 24, 2020

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena.” Cuomo said

The NHL and NBA seasons remain on pause with some questions as to whether they will even complete their respected seasons. Today’s announcement brings the likelihood of a return to sports one step closer. It also signifies the NFL is a little closer to holding activities with players at their facilities, a key component to starting the season on time.

New York state has been one of the hardest hit areas in the country with over 360,000 confirmed cases and 23,000 deaths, so the announcement to open training camp is significant.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months. https://t.co/b4lX8WVvn0

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 24, 2020

The Steelers announced on June 12 of last year their training camp dates in 2019. While fans will have to wait to see if the same announcement comes out around a similar date this year, the ability to hold training camps from one of the most hard-hit states has definitely set things in the right direction.

The NFL has held firm that the NFL season will go ahead as scheduled but the Steelers are taking a cautious approach by only selling half of their individual game tickets this past week.

While we all want to attended sporting events in person, actually getting to watch sports on television would be a much better outcome than no sports being available to anyone. As sports fans, I think we can all agree the return to some level of professional sports activity in New York is good news for all of us.

Podcast: A Thank you for your sacrifice and service

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “Home and Hater” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over, and the Steelers lost their final game by losing to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17, ending their record at 8-8.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Home and Hater Show. On this show Jeff Hartman and Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Is the Rooney Rule still relevant in the NFL today?
  • Week in Review
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold links: Mike Tomlin not ready to evaluate rookies until the pads are on

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/25/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/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 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 the expectations of the 2020 Steelers rookies at this point of the offseason.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Mike Tomlin is still in the teaching and instruction phase with the Steelers rookies

Steelers rookies not necessarily falling behind yet... but the clock is ticking for Mike Tomlin

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The players’ names change, but Mike Tomlin gets asked the same sort of question every year during May. June and late July and early August, too. The Pittsburgh Steelers coach has little appetite or incentive to answer it, no matter how it’s phrased.

Tomlin’s longstanding policy about evaluating new players before the pads come on or any sort of game action has stood throughout his 14-season tenure as Steelers coach.

“We’re not in the evaluating stage yet,” was Tomlin’s answer when asked about how he is evaluating his rookies during the virtual rookie minicamp earlier this month.

“We’re in a teaching and instruction stage right now.”

The coronavirus pandemic-inspired unique nature of this year’s offseason only emphasizes and requires Tomlin’s outlook even more. With players not in the building for any of the stages of the NFL’s offseason program nor for rookie minicamp — and not even for organized team activities that begin this week — it is prudent to avoid making judgments about a player based on what he’s showing over FaceTime and Zoom.

“We will be in that (teaching-but-not-evaluating mode) until we get into a football environment in a training camp-like setting, and we’re playing the game,” Tomlin said. “All the things that we’re doing for them right now is preparing them for that, and so there is very little evaluating in these circumstances and that would be the same if we were working together.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Cam Heyward talks bout playing on Thanksgiving

Thanks for the memories

By: Mike Prisuta, Steelers.com

The Steelers will be home for at the holidays this season and for that defensive tackle and defensive captain Cam Heyward is truly thankful.

“I like that we have a Thanksgiving home game,” Heyward acknowledged recently. “That should be fun.”

That the schedule commences on the road again is by now an all-too-familiar refrain, perhaps to everyone except Willie Nelson.

“One thing I don’t like, we haven’t had a season opener at home in a while,” Heyward continued. “I know they say this is made by a computer and everything but you would think your chances are a little bit better of having a home game with a computer after six years.”

The Steelers haven’t opened at home since they defeated Cleveland, 30-27, to begin the 2014 season. Since then they’ve been at New England (2015), at Washington (2016), at Cleveland (2017), at Cleveland (2018) and at New England (2019) to kick things off.

They haven’t played on Thanksgiving since they beat the Colts, 28-7, in 2016 in Indianapolis.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

A healthy Ben Roethlisberger puts Steelers in AFC contention

By: Alexis Mansanarez, The Draft Network

Ben Roethlisberger is returning to form, which is welcomed news for the Steelers and their hopes of getting back into AFC contention.

Roethlisberger, who was sporting a quarantine beard that rivaled only Ryan Fitzpatrick and vowed not to cut it or his hair until he could “throw a legit NFL pass,” recently made headlines after he gathered teammates for drills at a local high school miles away from Heinz Field. There, Ryan Switzer, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner participated in a throwing session.

While Roethlisberger had been throwing for the past three months, this was the first time he tossed his version of an NFL-caliber pass. The results, albeit from his peers, were extremely positive.

“Man, he let it rip,” Switzer told The Athletic last week. “There was no restraint, no hesitancy, he was just out there. He has been throwing like that for a while and, in my opinion at least, getting out there on that field for the first time and throwing full-speed routes was refreshing. The control factor was taken out of it. He was out there and he was throwing. Did some off-schedule stuff. No restraints. He threw everything — across his body. Everything.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

Will Juju Smith-Schuster still be in black and gold next season?

James Conner celebrates an important anniversary

Having NFL football this fall is looking more likely

Adding an extra wildcard to the NFL playoffs makes it possible for an entire division to move into the postseason

  • Social Media Madness

Untouched and into the end zone!@francoharrishof puts us up 10-7 in the second quarter!

Watch live: https://t.co/JvtNknbMk5 pic.twitter.com/BMiA3VhtBr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 24, 2020

Programs! Get your programs!

on Facebook: https://t.co/LQBaaQZ1Av
on YouTube: https://t.co/JvtNknbMk5 pic.twitter.com/BuzRSXYupM

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 24, 2020

That pass
That catch

Bradshaw connects with @Lynn88Swann on a 47-yard touchdown! We lead 17-13 in the third quarter!

Watch live: https://t.co/JvtNkntnbD pic.twitter.com/S1HvmAqhSc

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 24, 2020

SEVENTY. THREE. YARDS.

BRADSHAW. TO. STALLWORTH.

We lead 24-19 with a little under 12 minutes left in Super Bowl XIV!

Watch live: https://t.co/JvtNkntnbD pic.twitter.com/P8n4FbqEp5

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 24, 2020

I believe that belongs to Mr. Lambert!

We take over at our own 30 leading 24-19 with 5:24 left in Super Bowl XIV!

Watch live: https://t.co/JvtNkntnbD pic.twitter.com/X6EkFxNZbd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2020

ANOTHER ONE!@francoharrishof powers in for his second touchdown of the game! We lead 31-19 with 1:49 left in Super Bowl XIV!

Watch us win our fourth Super Bowl: https://t.co/JvtNkntnbD pic.twitter.com/5Fqngv1TUw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2020

SUPER BOWL XIV CHAMPIONS!

pic.twitter.com/aNOYrKrRMB

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2020

Noll: 'I accept this trophy on behalf of the best football team in the nation, the best coaching staff and the best organization!'

We are presented with our fourth and hear from Chuck Noll, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene and @francoharrishof following our Super Bowl XIV win! pic.twitter.com/313RpVmzwp

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2020

Will Juju Smith-Schuster be on the Steelers’ roster in 2021?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Entering the last year of his rookie contract, will 2020 Smith-Schuster’s last in the Steel City?

JuJu Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene as a second-round pick in 2017 with an unforgettable rookie season. From his bike being stolen, to his 97-yard touchdown reception, to his kickoff return, JuJu became an instant rock star in Pittsburgh. He followed his rookie campaign with an even more impressive 2018 season, eclipsing 100 catches and 1,000 yards receiving along with a second 97-yard touchdown. He was voted team MVP in 2018, something which could be argued began the downward spiral for former teammate Antonio Brown which landed him out of town and the NFL altogether.

However, 2019 was a season to forget for Smith-Schuster. He battled injuries throughout the year, including a concussion coupled with a knee injury which caused him to miss multiple games. He had career lows in catches, yards and touchdowns. Not all of his 2019 woes were his fault as the Steelers were playing with a quarterback carousel after Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2. Now, he is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and potentially his last season as a member of the Steelers.

Local Pittsburgh media seem to be torn on the future of No. 19 with the Steelers. On the outside, it seems as if there are more reporters who believe JuJu will not be with the Steelers after the 2020 season.

Throughout his career, JuJu has developed a large following which is not solely based on his on-field performance. Smith-Schuster is sponsored by companies like Pizza Hut, Adidas, Hyper X gaming headphones to name a few. His YouTube channel has nearly one million subscribers. A lot has been made about his social media presence and a percieved lack of focus for his actual job of playing football. The reality is we are in a different era when it comes to professional athletes and self-branding. Many seem to understandably be concerned with the optics of his activity, but a lot of the criticism of JuJu is unnecessary.

Smith-Schuster is still only 23 years old heading into his fourth NFL season and won’t turn 24 until November. Many question whether he can be a true number one receiver. With 2019 being the first season JuJu played without Antonio Brown coupled with injuries and spotty quarterback play, it is unfair to judge him based on 2019 alone. The Steelers fully expect Ben Roethlisberger to return for Week 1 and possibly be an even better version of himself post-elbow surgery. This will surely help No. 19 regain his 2107-2018 form along with some of the offensive pieces added in the offseason.

To me, the answer to Smith-Schuster’s future in Pittsburgh is a no-brainer. JuJu should be back in 2021 and for many years to come. I can see the Steelers wanting to play this season out before making a decision, but I am a big believer he is much closer to the player we saw his first two seasons rather than last year. I fully expect the former second-round pick to have a major bounce-back season. It is very hard to believe the Steelers would let a player who is entering his fourth season and has yet to fully hit his prime simply walk away. Time will tell whether or not Smith-Schuster will be with the Steelers long term. If I were a betting man, I would say JuJu will be back in the black and gold in 2021 and beyond.

It is looking more likely there will be an NFL season in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 12:00pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There might not be fans, but it’s reasonable to expect football to return this fall

Throughout all of the NFL news coverage since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an underlying concern that all of the hype would be for nothing. The fate of the season itself was in doubt.

It was a taboo topic, as not many sports fans and writers wanted to bring it up while sharing their predictions for the upcoming season. When the NFL draft rolled around, there was a nice break from the drama of everyday life. But at the back of all of our minds was one question: Would the newcomers even get a chance to play this year?

Coronavirus has already affected each rookie’s entrance into the league, and it will surely impact their readiness to play once the season actually starts. At the very least there is a growing chance that there will be season, to some extent, this year.

One of the most telling signs that there will be a season are the actions of the NFL and its owners, who have been preparing for a season long before it seemed reasonable to expect one. They conducted the draft as usual, released the schedule on time, and even included a full slate of preseason games. The Hall of Fame game between the Steelers and Cowboys is tentatively planned, but the fact that it is even on the schedule in the first place shows the optimism there is a chance of it actually happening.

The NFL also went ahead with starting to open up their facilities again on May 19th. Even though it was only minimal capacity, it was still a step towards opening in full.

Some of the state governors most behind the coronavirus lockdowns, such as California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have seemingly changed their minds in regards to the virus, with Newsom stating that professional sports could return to his state in June. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent member of the federal government’s coronavirus response team, has also begun to support reopening states. Even though it was obvious that states such as Florida would be more than supportive of football returning this fall, the nationally spread-out nature of the NFL would need states with more stringent lockdown orders, such as California, to reopen. If so, this could allow the league to return across the board.

With the MLB, NBA, and NHL all considering returning at some point this year, the NFL will be far from the only sports league attempting to play in 2020. Even though they will need to start up training camps sooner than later if they want to start on time, the NFL will be able to watch how the other leagues succeed and fail ahead of them to properly plan their upcoming season. The NCAA is beginning to allow teams to practice, while both the UFC and WWE have recently returned without fans.

The Steelers began selling individual tickets on May 22nd, but only at 50% of the available seats. This understandably points to a season, but with minimal to no fans.

But what could hinder the league opening on time this year?

A resurgence in the virus would definitely give every state and corporation second thoughts about reopening, as would an excessive amount of positive tests among the athletes and team personnel. Federal and state policies are continuing to trend towards allowing sports back this year, but opinions still could change.

Even though the NFL season starts in September, teams need time to practice and solidify their roster long before Week 1. If voluntary workouts, training camp, or the preseason are pushed back too far, it could have negative implications for the regular season starting on time, if at all.

Each day we are trudging closer to sports being back, but the actual timeframe is still very much in question.

This article is not to debate whether the NFL should or shouldn’t reopen, but rather if they will or won’t. Coronavirus concerns aside, the league is a money-making business, and their decisions will be influenced by the bottom line. Owners are bracing to lose millions of dollars if fans can’t attend games, which would worsen by a lot if the season is flat-out cancelled. They will do whatever they can to make sure their teams play this year.

The stands may be empty this year, but the field certainly won’t. There’s every reason to expect an NFL season in 2020.

With an expanded playoff format in 2020, could an entire division qualify for the postseason?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 10:15am
Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Now that there are three wildcard spots up for grabs in each conference, could one division hoard them all?

I was recently asked on a podcast about the probability of a single division having every team make the postseason now that the NFL has expanded their playoffs to seven teams per conference. It was such an intriguing question, we waited a week in order to dedicate part of a show to the answer. After diving into the numbers, the answer is simply “possible, but not probable.”

To determine the likelihood of the last place team in a division still being able to grab a wild-card spot, it comes down to three questions. What record would be required to earn the final playoff spot? How often does the last place team in a division meet this record? Looking back at previous seasons, would this have already happened?

In order to get to the conclusion, let’s look at these questions individually. First, it was in 2002 when the NFL went to four divisions of four teams in each conference. Since this is the case, we will only be looking back through the 2002 season.

What record would be required to earn the final playoff spot?

Although we can simply look at the final playoff position in each conference over the last 18 seasons, it would be much more beneficial to look at the teams who would have earned the final playoff position had there been three wild cards available. We know the Steelers would have been the final team in the playoffs in 2019 with an 8-8 record under the new rules. With no team ever possibly earning the wildcard with a losing record during this time period, 8-8 is the lowest record which would have made the playoffs over the last 18 years.

Although the mark of eight 8-8 is the floor for making the playoffs, even expanding to an extra team per division, it would have happened almost 25% of the time. Of the 36 teams who would have made the playoffs had they’ve been expanded to seven in 2002, eight of those teams would have held a record of .500 on the season. For reference sake, the Steelers would have been three of those eight teams who would have made the playoffs at 8-8 in 2019, 2013, and 2012. The other five instances all came from the NFC.

How often does the last place team in a division meet this record?

So now that the standard of a .500 record has been established to reasonably make the playoffs as a number seven seed, are there any cases where a team finished last in their division with a record of 8-8? With 10 games for each team being out of the division, it’s possible for a team to lose every divisional game and still go .500 on the season. Although this is possible, what is more likely is the division is split very evenly with not much difference between the first place and last place finisher.

Going back to 2002, The team finishing the last in the division yet having an 8-8 record has happened five times. What is extremely interesting about these instances is, first, it has not happened in over 10 years. The last team to go 8-8 and finished in last place in their division was the 2008 Washington Redskins. The other interesting fact about teams finishing 8–8 and coming in last place in their division is the four remaining times happened in years where it occurred twice. In 2007, the Houston Texans finished 8-8 in the AFC South yet came in fourth place in the division while the Philadelphia Eagles did the same in the NFC East. The other two cases came in 2002 both in the AFC as Buffalo and Kansas City each finished .500 and yet finished in last place in the AFC East and AFC West respectively.

Looking back at previous seasons, would this have already happened?

Although I could have answered this question first, all of the other interesting information would have been an afterthought. So, cutting right to the chase—no, none of the teams since 2002 who finished last place in their division would have made the playoffs had they been using the new format for 2020.

Of the five teams highlighted who came in last in their division with an 8-8 record, none would have made the playoffs although one came extremely close. First of all, the 2008 Redskins along with the 2002 Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs were all .500 in last place in their divisions. None of these teams were even close as the third place finisher in their division did not make the playoffs either. As for the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles in 2007, this was a very interesting year when it came to the playoffs.

In order for all four teams to make the playoffs from a division, it would first have to be a year in which both wildcard positions went to the same division. This has happened seven times since 2002. The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs in 2014 and 2011. Most recently, it was the NFC South who was represented with both wildcard spots in 2017. But in 2007, which happens to be a year two last-place finishers of a division finished 8-8, both of their divisions sent three teams to the postseason. The Houston Texans were two games out of grabbing the seventh seed as the Cleveland Browns finished the season 10-6 and yet did not make the playoffs.

The closest an NFL team has ever come to finishing last in their division and placing seventh in the conference was the 2007 Philadelphia Eagles. At 8-8, they were in a three-way tie with the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals when it came to the seventh seed. After applying all the tiebreakers, the Vikings finished just ahead of the Eagles due to their conference winning percentage tiebreaker.

So is it possible for a division to have every team make the playoffs with the new format? Absolutely. Is it very likely this will occur? Not at all. In fact, it would be another statistic which has yet to happen had the playoffs been expanded in this form in 2002. But much like the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl in 2005 as a sixth seed, it has never happened until somebody does it.

Although this is an interesting talking point, Steelers’ Nation should have a little to fear. The Steelers have not finished in last place in their division since 1988. So, if a team is fighting for the postseason while at the bottom of their division, hopefully it is not the Steelers who are in the conversation.

Steelers’ running back James Conner celebrates four years of being cancer free

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 8:30am
Conner celebrating a touchdown in a 2018 game vs the Chargers | Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers Pro-Bowl running back celebrated the milestone on twitter Saturday

On May 23rd, 2016 the then Pittsburgh Panthers star got the news he had been waiting to finally hear— he was cancer free. Fast forward four years and the now-Steelers running back remains free of the disease.

Thank you God 4 years cancer free today... Having cancer doesn’t define you, your mindset does. Keep fighting keep positive.. Saying a prayer for those who are still fighting during these times.. “ it started with hope” ...

— James Conner (@JamesConner_) May 23, 2020

While recovering from a torn MCL in 2015, Conner began feeling symptoms of what ultimately ended up being stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Tests would discover tumors in both his head and chest as he was diagnosed with the disease on Thanksgiving Day 2015. A very difficult 182 days later he defeated the life-threatening illness.

Not only did Conner beat cancer but, as many of us have witnessed, he has become a Pro-Bowl running back for his home-town team. On top of being named to the Pro Bowl, Conner has a plethora of achievements since beating cancer including being named 1st team All-ACC, 2,300+ total NFL yards, 20 total NFL touchdowns, twice named AFC offensive player of the week (once in 2018, once in 2019) and was the AFC offensive player of the month for October 2018.

Conner has recently written an autobiography titled “Fear is a Choice” set to come out on June 16th. In the book, the Steelers star goes into detail about his battle with cancer, and his comeback to the game he loves.

Cancer, or any sort of hardship. This is the mindset to have. It's crazy what the mind can do along with faith. Stay hopeful in whatever fight you're in. https://t.co/gAz98PbKJV

— Josh Barlog (@JoshBUSN) May 23, 2020

While no where near the struggle that overcoming cancer was, Conner will look to come back from an adverse 2019 season which saw him battle injuries the duration of the season. His perseverance and determination are clear; Conner can rally back from anything and 2020 could be a big year for the bruising back.

Being more than the game of football, May 23rd will be a date Conner and his family can celebrate forever.

#ConnerStrong

Podcast: Big Ben Roethlisberger throwing legit passes is a big deal

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 6:00am

There is plenty to discuss on the latest episode of the Steelers Brunch w/ Tony podcast.

When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 hope, it falls on the shoulders of Ben Roethlisberger. With him, legitimate Super Bowl contender. Without? Pretender. Yeah, him throwing passes was a big deal.

This is going to be the talking point in the latest podcast featuring BTSC’s own Tony Defeo. Welcome to Steelers Brunch with Tony!

Check out the show below, and be sure to comment what you think in the comment section below!

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

Black and Gold Links: Improving the tight end production in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/24/2020 - 5:00am
Photo by Jim McIsaac/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 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 the tight end position and changes which will hopefully lead to more production next season.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers saw a falloff in production at the tight end position in 2019, something they specifically addressed this offseason.

Steelers determined to improve on last season’s puny tight end production

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When Vance McDonald and Jesse James concluded a two-year collaboration at tight end in 2018, they reached a rare milestone for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With McDonald accumulating 610 receiving yards and James adding 423 more, it marked just the second time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that the Steelers had a tight end tandem combine for at least 1,000 receiving yards.

The first instance came 25 years earlier when Eric Green set a single-season record for a Steelers tight end with 942 yards and backup Adrian Cooper contributed 112.

It’s illustrative that even when the Steelers employed Heath Miller for 13 years or had the sure-handed duo of Bennie Cunningham and Randy Grossman in the late 1970s, they were unable to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.

After witnessing a significant drop-off in tight end production last season, the Steelers prioritized the position as one needing an upgrade, and they signed free agent Eric Ebron from the Indianapolis Colts with that goal in mind.

Ebron is two years removed from a Pro Bowl season and will be teamed with McDonald to give the Steelers a 1-2 tight-end punch that was lacking last season following James’ departure to the Detroit Lions.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The nose tackle position has drastically changed in the NFL in recent years

Adjusting the point of attack

By: Matt Williamson, Steelers.com

Last week, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin joined an “SNU Huddle” audio call and answered fans questions about the draft, the current roster, the upcoming schedule and more.

One caller from Louisville, Kentucky shared that one of his all-time favorites was nose tackle Casey Hampton and then asked Tomlin if there might be a player coming up through the ranks that could fill the position like Hampton did.

I listened to Tomlin’s answer: Hampton was a great player and served the team well for many years. But the game of football has changed - and so too has what is often needed from the position.

I agree with Tomlin’s assessment.

Hampton and Joel Steed were tremendous football players. Both nose tackles anchored great Steelers run defenses. Steed from 1992 until 1999 and more recently, Hampton from 2001 until 2010.

These players routinely demanded center/guard double teams in the run game. Their presence in this capacity allowed Pittsburgh’s active linebackers to flow more freely to the football and make play after play. Hampton and Steed often controlled more than one gap in the run game and clearly made those around them better. But in Hampton’s 173 games played in a Steelers jersey, he sacked the quarterback just nine times and Steed recorded nine and a half sacks over his 115 games.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers have some uncertainties with their young wide receivers

Once a strength, plenty of questions for Steelers WR group in 2020

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

For myriad reasons, it seems like a lifetime ago. But it was only 17 months ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had what seemed to be the envy of the NFL in regards to wide receivers corps.

A 1-2 punch that would combine for 215 catches, 2,723 yards and 22 touchdowns that season was unmatched in the league. Toss in a promising recent second-round pick who, although he had struggled as a rookie, was a big-play machine in college. Plus, a pair of savvy, reliable slot receivers who fit perfectly within their niche in the offense.

In December 2018, the Steelers appeared on top of the WR world with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer. None of that group was past his prime; three were 24 or younger.

Brown was on his way to being a surefire Hall of Famer, and Smith-Schuster had an 111-catch, 1,426-yard season during a year in which he turned 22 on Thanksgiving.

But things for the Steelers’ receivers position room began to go downhill starting the day after Christmas 2018, when Brown got into a practice spat with Ben Roethlisberger. The infamous sequence of events that followed ultimately resulted in a trade to the Oakland Raiders.

As things sit now, midway through this unique NFL offseason, Brown is out of the league. Rogers, too. Smith-Schuster is coming off a highly disappointing and injury-riddled season. The same could be said about Switzer. Washington has just 60 catches and four touchdowns through two NFL seasons.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

If the NFL had done a better job, they wouldn’t have needed to tweak the Rooney Rule

The return of Fact or Fiction

Many players on the Steelers’ offense are looking for a bounce-back season

Get your very own Steelers face covering!

  • Social Media Madness

#DoItTuitt #HappyBirthday, @DOCnation_7! pic.twitter.com/tWBpAeF8jZ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 24, 2020

Our 9️⃣0️⃣-man roster...

...in photos ⤵️

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 23, 2020

Motivational advice from one Steelers DB to another:

"Go ahead and photo copy a picture of Pete Prisco's face and put it in your locker." @BMac_SportsTalk to @minkfitz_21 after he was left off @PriscoCBS's #NFLTop100 list.

"I might do that!" pic.twitter.com/zyOJrCfsXL

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) May 23, 2020

2020 will be a pivotal season for the members of the Steelers’ 2017 draft class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 1:15pm
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

T.J. Watt is a superstar, but can his fellow draftees live up to their potential?

By the end of the 2018 season, the Steelers were reaping the benefits of one of their better draft classes in recent memory: 2017. Three of their top four selections from that year, T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner were enjoying Pro-Bowl seasons while Cameron Sutton, their third round pick, was impressing in limited playing time and looking like an excellent developmental project for the future.

However, after a dismal 2019 season, and with all four nearing the end of their rookie contracts, the future is in doubt for some of 2017’s star draftees.

Notably absent from this article will be first round linebacker T.J. Watt, who has become one of the best at his position and will no doubt be in Pittsburgh for a very long time. Josh Dobbs, Brian Allen, Colin Holba, and Keion Adams were all taken later in that same draft, but are not with team anymore.

Wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster was the Steelers’ Joe Green Performance Award winner for team rookie of the year following his 2017 season, and impressed even more in his sophomore campaign by putting up 1,426 yards as the #2 receiver behind Antonio Brown in 2018. Brown’s plethora of issues led to him being traded to the Raiders ahead of the 2019 season, and despite Smith-Schuster’s successful past with the Steelers, there were doubts that he could maintain his level of production without Brown’s help.

Not long into 2019, Smith-Schuster soon found himself without his starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 2. Without Brown and Roethlisberger, as well as some injuries, Smith-Schuster put up an underwhelming 552 yards. Smith-Schuster struggled with consistency, drop issues, and had a crucial fumble which all contributed to an all-time low in his NFL career.

With Roethlisberger back and an improved offense in 2020, Smith-Schuster will surely enjoy a bounce-back season yet it remains to be seen to what extent he will improve. It has always been hard to evaluate Smith-Schuster. His rookie season was very successful even though rookie seasons are hard to judge, while in his second season he was paired with the arguably best receiver in the league which definitely inflated his production. Smith-Schuster’s third year was spent in a terrible offense sans the starting quarterback. The point being, we don’t yet know what an average season from Smith-Schuster looks like.

Smith-Schuster’s 2020 season will obviously have the biggest impact in determining what his next contract will be, and we might finally get to see what the real #19 looks like. A terrible season from Smith-Schuster might result in the Steelers not bringing him back, while too much production might put him out of the team’s price range. The result of JuJu’s 2020 season will either solidify him as a Steelers fan favorite, or further his fall from one of the most popular players in the NFL.

Cornerback Cameron Sutton was the Steelers’ first of two 3rd round picks in 2017. His playing time has increased each season, but he remains a limited contributor in the Steelers’ defense. Sutton is an excellent cover corner who is simply stuck behind the Steelers’ starting trio of corners in Joe Haden, Steve Nelson, and Mike Hilton on the depth chart at this point in his career. Unless Sutton is able to leapfrog Hilton as the Steelers’ primary slot corner, he will most likely be hard to keep around as an expensive backup come next season.

Sutton is a talented player, but he has never had his chance to shine as a starter. The Steelers are most likely hoping to keep him around as a successor to their aging cornerback unit. His future in Pittsburgh is a mystery, however, his limited playing time makes him a tough prospect to evaluate. His best chance at getting a new deal in the Steel City is to find himself a starting job this year, making 2020 an important season for the 4th year corner.

James Conner’s career is wholly dependent on his health at this point. After a rookie season sitting behind Le’Veon Bell, he became the starting running back in 2018 and played at a high level. However, he suffered an ankle injury in Week 13 versus the Chargers which started a downward spiral of injuries ever since. Conner played off and on in 2019, seeing the field for ten games but often leaving early due to injury.

Conner is definitely entering a make-or-break year in 2020 as his health will be a major factor in earning another contract. The 2017 third-rounder is a Pro-Bowl talent when healthy, but his availability issues are looming over his success. A good, healthy season from Conner would be excellent for the running back, but might make his price tag not worth the risk for the Steelers. The James Conner situation will be an interesting one to monitor this season.

After a strong two years of production from the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers rookie class, it looked as if it would be a draft to remember. However, inconsistency and injury have plagued some of the great players selected, muddying their future and potential in the league.

We will get to see JuJu Smith-Schuster play an entire season as a #1 wideout with his starting quarterback, see if Cam Sutton can live up to the hype, and find out if James Conner can overcome his health issues to become a legitimate starting running back in the NFL. The success of these players, paired with the already-elite T.J. Watt, could swing Pittsburgh’s 2017 rookie class from good to great in this upcoming season.

Can Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense return to dominance?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 10:15am
Both Roethlisberger and Conner look to return to prowl form | Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Almost the entirety of the offense is looking to bounce back in 2020

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense took a step back in 2019. Not only were 2/3rds of the killer bees completely off the roster, but the depth chart was absolutely decimated by injury. The most prominent of course was Big Ben going down, which absolutely hamstrung the unit and contributed in some key contributors being left off the stat sheet.

Let’s take a look at some of the players that need to rebound from injury, poor play, or lack of opportunity from a season ago.

Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images Big Ben sporting his cast vs Baltimore Ben Roethlisberger Coming back from: Injury

If this man can stay healthy there is no doubt In my mind that the Steelers will be a playoff team in 2020. The video of him shaving is a good sign that he thinks he can throw an NFL caliber pass again but can that elbow withstand the course of an entire season? If yes, the NFL better watch out.

Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images Smith-Schuster only reeled in 2 reception this game vs the Jets JuJu Smith-Schuster Coming back from: Injury, lack of use, & poor play

You gotta feel for Juju, after exploding out of the cannon his first two years in the NFL the 23 year old smacked right into the wall in 2019. Of course not having your future hall of fame QB under center couldn't possibly help a receivers stats, but Smith-Schuster was in a season where he was drawing top matchups for the first time in his career. Juju also had to battle concussion and knee injuries throughout the year.

If I was a betting man I’d tell you Juju is going to slip back into the slot with h addition of Chase Claypool and emergence of Diontae Johnson and with a little health luck should bounce right back into being a 1,000 yard receiver.

Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images The injury bug again bit the Pittsburgh native in 2019 James Conner Coming back from: Injury (again)

In three seasons in Pittsburgh, James Conner has missed a total of 11 game (6 in 2019) this trend will have be end (or nearly end) in order for Steelers fans to stop calling for a change in the back field. Yet when he's on the field Conner is grinding out more than 4 yards per carry. However, the best ability is availability and you get 0 yards per carry on the bench. Conner will simply have to play more in 2020.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images A return to form by the former Colt would give the Steelers a matchup nightmare Eric Ebron Coming back from: Injury

Ebron is the only newcomer on the team to be featured on the list but if he plays like 2018 Eric Ebron oh boy did the Steelers nab themselves an absolute steal. The former Colt is coming back from season ending ankle surgery and like Big Ben has recently been cleared for full activity. If the Steelers can get 14 touchdowns out of Ebron then this team should quite easily cruise into the playoffs.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images Big Al seemed to struggle more as the season went on. Alejandro Villanueva Coming back from: Struggling in pass protection

The Steelers 2-time ProBowl left tackle hit a bump in the road in 2019. Big Al was often seen on the ground a season ago. It’s still not impossible that he can bounce back in 2020. With Ben back under center defences won't be able to stack the box and blitz as often against the Steelers. Also Bens pocket presence is unlike any other and Al thrived with Ben in the pocket. Not only that but he drew some premier pass rushers to line up against (Garrett x2, the Bosas, Jadeveon Clowney, & Chandler Jones among others) and has a much more favourable schedule in 2020.

Other things in need of a bounce back:

How many of the players listed above can return to old form? What if they all do, will the unit be top ten in the NFL? Let us know your thoughts down In the comments!

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