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Heinz Field Report: Getting an in stadium account of a much-needed Steelers win

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 12:47pm

Fans at the stadium were given a reason to cheer both early and often.

For those Steeler fans out there who have had the great privilege of attending a game at Heinz Field, you know the experience of the game is much different than viewing it on television. Between the constant replays and commentary, it is not always easy to notice everything that is broken down. But sometimes the in-person experience can bring things that may or may not be noticed by the cameras. Most importantly, feel for the game in stadium and how momentum is shifting for or against the Steelers cannot be replicated on a screen.

First off, it was a very strange experience heading to Heinz Field Sunday. For the first time I can recall, I did not hear a single “here we go” chant before the game. Not on the Gateway Clipper. Not on Art Rooney Avenue. Not in the Great Hall, and not in the Ford Fan Zone. Maybe I just missed them, but usually fans are chanting like crazy, even at preseason games. But not this past Sunday.

Confidence in this team was low coming in, but the first drive of the game started building some energy. It began with the Steelers finally getting a first down on their first drive of the game in 2018. Then it was marching the ball down the field with a balanced running and passing game. Next was the touchdown which really wasn’t. But there was a feeling that it didn’t matter – the Steelers were going to get into the end zone. And then the stadium erupted with the touchdown. The energy was back.

The missed PAT gave the fans a little bit of a reality check. It was a very subtle reminder of the woes the Steelers have faced thus far in 2018. It was also a reminder of the defense yet to prove itself which was about to take the field. But after a couple first downs, the defense dug in and forced a punt. With the ensuing touchdown drive, it felt as if the Steelers may have turned a corner.

There were some bumps along the road. In the second quarter even before the interception, it was obvious Ben Roethlisberger was forcing the ball to Antonio Brown. It seemed every time AB was the target, the throw was off-line. Then the poor decision to force the ball in Brown’s direction rather than throw it away squandered a great scoring opportunity. Having the halftime lead was nice, but leaving at least three points on the field was troubling. Fans still weren’t sure what to expect for the second half.

The defense changed the worrisome tone right away. After giving up one first down, they forced yet another punt. The response was a drive that ended with the first Ben-Brown touchdown. It seemed like the momentum was finally rolling in the Steelers’ direction.

The defense responded again, forcing a three and out. Then the play which sealed it for the fans in the stadium was the blocked punt which gave the Steelers the short field. It was that play which allowed the stadium to watch the game with confidence in a team who was not going to be denied on this day.

There were several aspects of the Steelers win that were apparent during the commentary-free in-stadium experience:

  • Joe Haden was the man. He followed Julio Jones wherever he went and kept him from even recording a catch in the first half. Jones was not a factor in the game until it was already out of reach.
  • The run game matters! Not playing from behind and being able to establish both the run and the short passing game to the running back is key to allowing things such as the play-action pass to be effective.
  • L.J. Fort was having a great day, even before the TD. Not only did he bring pressure on the blitz, his tackling was solid.
  • Terrell Edmunds is improving. He made a nice tackle on third down to force a punt. But the play that really stood out to me was late in the game when he missed a tackle. After not making the play initially, Edmunds got back up and came back into the play to help get the receiver to the ground. Not giving up is exactly what you want to see out of a young player.
  • It was nice to see a defense that was bringing pressure from various places. After the Artie Burns almost interception (which would’ve been a very nice catch if he had made it), it was great to see the Steelers come back with a blitz, even though they did give up the first down. Even then, the Steelers continued to bring pressure which led to the strip-sack and touchdown.
  • There were some different personnel packages deployed on offense. My personal favorite was a “13 personnel” package with three tight ends, Antonio Brown, and James Conner. With the defense going with a run-heavy response, the Steelers bunched all three tight ends to the right while splitting James Conner out wide with AB to the left in order to pass. Additionally, a 47-yard touchdown coming on play action mad the offense seem to at least have some new wrinkles.

...

I’m hoping the NFL network replays the game at some point this week so I can try to break it down from the TV perspective. But even if I don’t get to see the game in its entirety, I was like many Steeler fans that slept well after a great in-stadium experience.

L.J. Fort and Terrell Edmunds become the latest names added to the Steelers injury list

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 11:52am

The Steelers may have two new injury concerns to worry about this week that could significantly impact the game on Sunday.

At first glance, it had appeared the Pittsburgh Steelers escaped their matchup with the Atlanta Falcons without any key injures, but it turns out the game was not completely incident free for every player. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin highlighted new injury concerns for L.J. Fort and Terrell Edmunds as the Steelers prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6.

“L.J. Fort has got an ankle injury, we’ll see what that does to his availability in the early portions of the week and kind of let that be our guide. Edmunds has got a calf, in a similar way. Potentially scheduled to return to practice and then that participation being our guide in terms of game day availability are some guys that missed the last game. Vince Williams with his hamstring, Hey-Bey with his ankle and Morgan Burnett with his groin, all three guys ran at least in a straight line on land in some capacity last week, we’ll see what they are able to do in terms of playing football and let that be our guide in terms of availability.”

It should be pointed out that I have no idea what Tomlin means when he said “all three guys ran at least in a straight line on land in some capacity last week”, but I’m assuming that is meant to be encouraging in some way.

If neither Fort of Vince Williams can play against the Bengals, Pittsburgh would be down to just Tyler Matakevich and Matthew Thomas to lineup alongside Jon Bostic, a worrying proposition. Similarly, the potential loss of both Edmunds and Burnett for the same game would leave the Steelers looking at Jordan Dangerfield or Marcus Allen to fill the void, an extremely alarming possibility to say the least.

NFL Power Rankings: Steelers climb, but still on the outside looking in at the Top 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 10:45am

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a unanimous Top 5 team heading into the regular season, but not anymore. These days, they’re just trying to stay near the Top 10.

The only consistent aspect of the Pittsburgh Steelers are their inconsistencies.

After an opening week tie with the Cleveland Browns, followed by a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers had shown it all — amazing offense, head-scratching play calling and shoddy defense, among others.

Needless to say, the Steelers experienced a precipitous drop in the weekly NFL Power Rankings because of their poor play which resulted in a 0-1-1 record heading into Week 3. However, a 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football had the Steelers on the rise. After their 26-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, the Pittsburgh roller coaster is again on the decline.

Have no fear Steelers fans, a dominant performance on Sunday vs. the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 has the team moving back up the rankings.

Inconsistent is the theme here with this team.

In reality, these rankings mean nothing, but they’re great for conversation and debate. This week, the Steelers saw themselves claw their way back near the Top 10, but still on the outside looking in.

With a Week 6 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals looming, the Steelers will be looking for their first back-to-back wins of the season and they need to put up a good performance if they aim to resurrect their rankings status.

Check out the rankings, and let us know what you think in the comment section below!

ESPN

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New England Patritos
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
6. Cincinnati Bengals
7. Chicago Bears
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Philadelphia Eagles
10. Baltimore Ravens
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Rest-of-season SOS ranking: 4th. The Steelers’ toughest remaining game is Week 9 at the Ravens, where they have a 38 percent chance to win, according to FPI. The Steelers lost by 12 points to the Ravens in Week 4 this season, and have been swept in the season series three times by Baltimore, most recently in 2015.”

USA Today

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New Orleans Saints
4. New England Patriots
5. Los Angeles Chargers
6. Carolina Panthers
7. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
9. Chicago Bears
10. Baltimore Ravens
...
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Through five games last season, Le’Veon Bell had 515 yards from scrimmage. Through five games this year, James Conner has 581.”

SB Nation

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Cincinnati Bengals
5. Carolina Panthers
6. New England Patriots
7. Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Chicago Bears
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Minnesota Vikings
...
16. Pittsburgh Steelers

NBC Sports

1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New England Patriots
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Cincinnati Bengals
7. Tennessee Titans
8. Green Bay Packers
9. Philadelphia Eagles
10. Chicago Bears
...
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
“A 41-17 win always helps people relax. Their next 3 are all against AFC North foes, so we’ll know a lot more about that division in a month.”

Odds of trading Le’Veon Bell to the Eagles dramatically improved on Monday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 9:45am

While a trade is still very unlikely, recent changes in Philadelphia could actually make a deal with Pittsburgh possible.

While the chances of the Pittsburgh Steelers trading Le’Veon Bell before the October 30 deadline always seemed unlikely, circumstances may have changed enough over the past 48 hours or so to make that dream a reality in 2018. With Le’Veon Bell suggesting he would return to Pittsburgh in Week 7, there is a possibility a window will open to get a deal done in time and a trade partner might be starting to emerge who could be crazy enough to agree to it.

Hours after it had been announced that the Philadelphia Eagles had placed running back Jay Ajayi on injured reserve with an ACL injury, it was also reported that they had restructured the contract of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Having created an additional $6.5 million in salary cap space with this move, the Eagles are now in a position to absorb Bell’s remaining contract when this figure is added to the $4 million in cap room they already had available.

However, for those of you already packaging Bell up to send on his way, Adam Schefter of ESPN suggests you slow your roll.

Eagles restructured contract of Pro-Bowl DT Fletcher Cox on Friday, creating $6.5 million more of cap space this season and $11.7 million more next season, sources tell @mortreport and me. But Eagles have not pursued a trade for Le’Veon Bell and have no plans to, per sources.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 8, 2018

That being said, this report runs contrary to several from Jason La Canfora of CBS, who has written a number of articles in the past few weeks suggesting significant interest from Philadelphia in Bell.

Eagles, who as I have reported, had their eye on Le'Veon Bell for quite some time, have placed Jay Ajayi on IR. Hmm.

— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 8, 2018

Should the Steelers’ star running back return at some point in Week 7, he would first need to sign his franchise tag, a move that would fix one of the stumbling block of facilitating a trade. Bell would still need to agree to being traded, but an incentive would be the possibility to earn an extra paycheck in 2018 and play in one less game, with the Eagles set to have a their bye in Week 9. A prospect that would surely be appealing to him.

At first, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network was the one pushing the speculative rumors about Pittsburgh’s interest in trading Bell, but it is interesting to note he has cooled somewhat on the idea as of late. Rapoport’s latest “update” on Sunday morning implied the Steelers’ absentee back had no interest in being traded after all, even if he didn't strictly rule it out.

From @NFLGameDay: #Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell’s focus is on playing in Pittsburgh and putting up numbers, I’m told. He’s not inclined to accept a trade at this point. That makes it even more difficult. pic.twitter.com/KIZY7vT7n2

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 7, 2018

After sending a fourth round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for Ajayi in 2017, a player who is out of contract at the end of this season, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Eagles could decide to do a similar thing this year. An indifferent start to the season for the defending Super Bowl champions, thanks in part to a struggling rushing attack, could make Bell seem like an obvious short term fix. For an organization that appears to have little regard for the value of draft picks, burning another one on an elite running back might not be the worst decision they have ever made either.

When Bell is still on the Steelers’ roster come November, the lesson to be learned here will be to never listen to wild rumors from the national media that you always thought sounded ridiculous, even if you did secretly hope they would turn out to be true.

Steelers Stock Report: See whose stock is rising after the big win over the Falcons

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 8:53am

Time to check the stock report after the Steelers’ big win over the Falcons in Week 5.

Leave it to the Steelers to eschew ineptitude in favor of handily defeating what on paper appears to be a very talented opponent, thereby (temporarily) fettering our cynical and increasingly defeatist takes about the state of the team. The rushing attack and the pass defense, two entities that have both absorbed their fair share of valid criticism this season, looked good, and Antonio Brown had his best game of the season, catching two touchdowns and posting his first 100-yard game since Pittsburgh’s loss to Jacksonville in the AFC Playoffs last season. All told, the Steelers stomped the Falcons 41-17, looking every bit the Super Bowl contender they were assumed to be at the beginning of the season. Time will tell if the Steelers have truly coalesced into a veritable championship frontrunner or if Sunday’s win will be a season-long highpoint (or it could be neither and they could finish the season, like, 8-7-1, I don’t know), but for now it feels pretty awesome to luxuriate in the spoils of a much-needed win.

Stock up: Offensive and defensive coaching!

It always feels a little ridiculous to point the finger at the coaching staff when competent adult people on the field fail to execute basic and fundamental tasks that underpin the entirety of their profession. Keith Butler didn’t miss that tackle or get run over by that back or get bodied by that receiver or commit that penalty or blow that assignment, you know? It feels even more ridiculous for me, who is not a Football Knower by any stretch of the imagination, to criticize the philosophies or schematics of any of the number of highly intelligent football men milling about Pittsburgh’s sidelines. If anyone’s an idiot, it’s me, because unlike Mike Tomlin, I did not find a job that allows me to wear sweatpants to work.

That’s kind of where we’ve found ourselves the past couple of weeks, assuming that the issues befalling the Steelers were systemic in nature and that the coaching staff was patient zero. And there was actually some veracity to these assumptions, it seems! A week after they fell behind 14-0 to Baltimore—which was aided in large part to a pair of disastrous offensive drives to begin the proceedings—and abandoned the run game, the Steelers featured James Conner heavily against Atlanta, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two drives. Defensively, the Steelers sent wave after wave of pressure after Matt Ryan, forcing six sacks, causing a scoop-and-score fumble (it was more like a Bud Dupree apparently lacks the concept of object permanence and thus picking up a loose football was beyond his capabilities, so someone else had to dive on top of it-and-score), and preventing Atlanta from gaining any traction near the red-zone, where the Falcons made only two trips all afternoon.

The Falcons are 1-4 at the moment, but this is a team that’s stockpiled as much offensive firepower as you’ll find east of Los Angeles. Devonte Freeman (eight rushes for 32 yards; two catches for nine yards) and Tevin Coleman (seven rushes for 15 yards; two catches for 15 yards) comprise one of the league’s most volcanic position groups, and the same can be said of the receiving corps, which is led by Julio Jones (five catches for 62 yards; nearly every yard he gained was accrued in garbage time) and supplemented by the dynamic Mohamed Sanu (four catches for 73 yards) and quickly-ascending Calvin Ridley (four catches for 38 yards). And the Steelers more or less held this group in check. Atlanta’s leading receiver, Austin Hooper, snagged eight passes in the first half but was a ghost in the second, catching just a single ball. Anyone with even a fleeting interest in the NFL this season could’ve told you the Falcons offense vs. the Steelers defense was a hilarious mismatch on paper, and I fully expected the Falcons to score over a million points. That the Steelers held this group to 17 points is a commendable achievement, and that they managed to accomplish this feat despite Atlanta having scored at least 30 points in each of its past three games makes it all the more impressive. The players certainly deserve praise for their role in this rebound, but the importance of the coaching staff’s efforts should not be understated.

Stock up: Offensive line

James Conner (whose monstrous performance is self-evident and therefore does not require an explicit stock up explanation) ate well Sunday, scoring a pair of touchdowns and gaining north of 180 all-purpose yards on 25 touches. Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, was not sacked. The line’s performance is probably largely attributable to the fact that a) the average Falcon defender weighs like 130 pounds and b) Atlanta’s pass rushers, Tak McKinley and Vic Beasley are absurdly aggressive in rushing the passer, which often puts them out of position to make any kind of tangible impact in the running game, but it’s a nice confidence-booster and proved just how effective the Steelers can be with a functional rushing attack.

Stock down: Football memes

Vance McDonald was not afforded any opportunities to eviscerate one of Atlanta’s many tiny defenders, as he spent most of his day blocking and acting as a decoy. Here’s hoping his blows up Twitter next week by stuffing Dre Kirkpatrick into a suitcase, or something.

Stock up: T.J. Watt

I know I didn’t create a section for Conner because Conner’s performance was obviously very good and didn’t require any further commentary, but if we’re rating various football happenings based on rarity and majesty, I’m going punt return touchdown > kickoff return touchdown > fumble return/pick-six (move this up to no. 1 if the scorer weighs 290 or more pounds) > three sack game > 100-yard rushing performance > 100-yard receiving performance > 300-yard passing performance. Watt is now tied for the NFL lead in sacks with his brother J.J. and Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins with six and honestly it’s pretty easy to envision a scenario in which Watt (either, really, but T.J. for this exercise) finishes the season with top-five sack numbers. He’s gotta be more of a consistent every-down presence (all of his sacks were amassed in two games; he was held sackless (he he) in Pittsburgh’s other three games), but it isn’t a stretch to say that the Steelers may have found themselves a franchise pass rusher.

Stock down: Penalties

The Steelers, the most penalized team in the NFL, drew seven penalties, including a 15-yard personal foul against Jon Bostic for engaging in some unnecessary horseplay with Matt Ryan. Now, forgive the despicable Steelers homerism, but it seemed to me that, on this particular play, Bostic’s facemask was entangled with Ryan’s, causing Bostic to jerk his head forward. Or I could be wrong. I literally do not know what does and what does not constitute a penalty anymore.

Stock up: Backups

Ugh, here’s a cursed lede: Tyler Matakevich had a solid game, as did L.J. Fort, who is by default probably the closest thing the Steelers have to a Ryan Shazier proxy on the roster. I think it was important for Fort to log some meaningful snaps and make a handful of significant contributions to the overall defensive effort because it gives him a solid foundation upon which to build. Fort’s the type of player the Steelers could use in the middle of their defense, so anything that maybe fast-tracks his development a little bit will benefit the Steelers.

[Checks notes]

Scratch that, actually. Did you know that L.J. Fort is 28 years-old? That’s INSANE. L.J. Fort, to me, is a perpetually 23-year-old project linebacker who appears to be this untapped font of unlimited potential but in reality is nothing more than a sub-replacement-level depth linebacker. Still, the Steelers will take it.

Stock up: Third-down offense

The Steelers converted nine of their 12 third-down conversions, which is a stunning, borderline miraculous turnaround when you consider how ineffective they were against Baltimore last week, particularly in the second half. A 75 percent conversion rate obviously is not sustainable and Pittsburgh will soon regress to a more contemporary mean, but, like most things in the Atlanta game, it’s been encouraging to see how unstoppable the Steelers offense can be.

Stock up: Joe Haden

Let me be clear: Joe Haden is great, maybe the great defensive back in NFL history, and no amount of proprietary metrics [narrows eyes at Pro Football Focus] will convince me otherwise. Haden was partially responsible for holding receiving demigod Julio Jones catch-less and yards-less for the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, which is a sentence I never thought I’d be writing in the aftermath of this game. If an asteroid were barreling down on this planet, ready to wipe Earth’s slate clean of the scourge of humankind, our only hope for survival would be commissioning a space shuttle and sending Joe Haden to orbit to swat the daggum thing back into the vastest expanses of the galaxy.

Postseason hopes: Up!

The Steelers are 2-2-1 and still tied for last in their division, but by defeating Atlanta so soundly, so utterly convincingly, they’ve demonstrated that the Super Bowl aspirations were not rooted in hype and conjecture and that they’re a team that belongs in that conversation. They have an enormous game coming up this Sunday against the Bengals, a victory from which would put them back on solid footing in the AFC and further legitimize their status as contenders. If the Steelers look anything like they did against Atlanta, they’ll be tough to beat.

Steelers Film Room: James Conner proves he was never the problem

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 7:44am

After having three quiet weeks, James Conner proved he was more than merely a backup against the Falcons

James Conner didn't do much on the ground in Weeks 2 through 4, and he was being blamed for the majority of it.

Really?

People thought Conner was the issue?

He wasn't the issue -- one of the issues was play-calling. The Steelers ran far too many plays to the inside which didn't always suit Conner’s strengths, and now that they're getting him outside in space, he can use his balance and burst to do much more than just running between the tackles every play. The other issue was simply offensive-line play. Marcus Gilbert and David DeCastro each missing games was no help to Conner at all. The Steelers overall have been among the league’s lower half of run-blocking teams according to PFF, and it's clear to see. Conner was hit behind the line too many times over the past three weeks.

Finally, with a fully healthy line for the first time since Week 1, James Conner found more success than he has at anytime this season, and you can tell he's a starting-caliber running back. This guy is 100% a starter. He has all the aspects you want in a RB. First, vision and burst, Exhibit A:

He's got vision folks. That slight tuck inside on the zone allowed him to burst straight through there for a huge gain. Great running. pic.twitter.com/9p4HsNQTKE

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 8, 2018

Beautiful tuck inside by Conner on this play as he reads that hole opening up at the last second. If he doesn’t read that, it's a decent gain but nowhere near the run he gets. I love how once he gets to the second level you see that next-level burst from him. He absolutely can be a big- play threat, and that shows differentiation from Le’Veon Bell as a whole. Not everyone is born with vision, but Conner has it and it's only improved as the season has gone on.

But where Conner has really improved is in the receiving game. He has 22 catches for 239 yards receiving. Compare that to last year when he could barely catch, but now he's motioning out wide and catching passes for first downs. His evolution from just a pure runner to a lean, receiving back has been a fun transition to watch as this season has progressed.

Motion him outside and he has soft hands and then grinds out an extra 2-3 yards at the end. This is stuff Le'Veon Bell would do. pic.twitter.com/slxu9k6X0a

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 8, 2018

The Steelers love to run plays like this with Le’Veon Bell out of the slot. It's a simple bunch-set with an inside trailing route as the two receivers on the right side are “screening” for Conner to take this quick catch and get the first down. The best part, aside from the easy catch Conner makes away from his body, is the extra yards he fights for at the end of the play. A high level of effort plus a high level of talent will get you places.

But that's not even the best part of Conner’s game. By far, it's his balance through contact. The balance he shows is at an elite level, no matter how you slice it. He has some incredible strength and power to go with that strong center of gravity. It's not always easy to find players with balance like this.

Vision by cutting it up inside once he hits the LOS and then incredible balance through contact on that spin. Guy then just will not be taken down. Conner runs so hard man. pic.twitter.com/nzYG0BFZWb

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 8, 2018

They ran this pitch-play with much success on Sunday. I don't necessarily like the play, but it gets Conner in space and allows him to take advantage of his incredible balance and burst. You can see it all on display on this particular play, and he just keeps powering through.

Conner was truly impressive vs. the Falcons in Week 5. But there was a play combining all of his talents into one, and it was an absolute beauty to watch. This one might make top-5 RB plays of the year folks.

Balance. Power. Speed. Vision. This screen has it all. Great balance through contact and he just pounds through about 8 Falcons defenders. This is one of the most impressive contact balance plays you will see this season. Whew James Conner. pic.twitter.com/tjHIpUh7tD

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 8, 2018

Hello James Conner. He runs straight over people, cuts it up to get the best lane to the first down and then powers through others to get even more yardage. Backup RBs simply don't do things like this. I'm not saying James Conner will be a star, but he's absolutely a starting RB, and certainly isn't the problem with the Steelers’ running game.

Part of it was how the Steelers fell down early in most of the games when Conner was ineffective but, in reality, Conner always grinded out as many yards as he could. He's never been, and never will be, the problem.

This guy is not only a great story, but a great football player too.

Steelers’ strut some serious potential in 41-17 win over Atlanta

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 6:34am

Finally, the Black-and-gold maintained their edge throughout an entire game, putting 28 points on the board in the second half, while the defense largely kept Matt Ryan’s offense in check.

It was the kind of dominant win that tantalizes Steelers Nation with hints of the complete team this 2018 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers might become. After taking a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Steelers’ offense seemed to retreat into its shell in the second quarter, squandering two excellent scoring opportunities — an overthrown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown on a crossing route which looked like it might have been one of his trademark catch-and-run TDs — plus an ill-advised, up-for-grabs pass by Roethlisberger on a 1st-and-goal play from the Falcons’ 7-yard line which was intercepted in the end zone for a touchback.

At halftime, the Steelers led by the slim margin of 13-10, and many of the Steelers Nation faithful were heard muttering “here we go again” under their breaths. But when the Steelers returned to the field following the intermission, they were all business. The defense promptly halted a Falcons’ drive, after which the offense resumed running the ball effectively with James Conner, just as they’d done in the opening quarter.

On a key 3rd-and-13 play, Ben hit Conner on a screen pass and No. 30 rambled for a 23-yard gain, breaking tackles along the way. Then, on a 3rd-and-5 play from the Falcon’s 9-yard line, Ben timed his throw perfectly on an out-route to Brown in the front corner of the end zone for the TD that increased the lead to 20-10.

With a little under three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Steelers’ defense once again stepped up to thwart the Falcons and force a punt. Roosevelt Nix broke through the line and made a diving block of Matt Bosher’s punt, and Bosher recovered the ball but was stopped by Tyler Matakevich on the Falcons’ 18-yard line. The Steelers promptly scored another TD on a 3-yard Conner dive over the goal line which broke the game open at 27-10.

While Atlanta scored one TD in the fourth quarter, they never challenged again as the Steelers added two more TDs — the first on a picture-perfect, 47-yard pass from Ben to Brown, and the second on a strip-sack by T.J. Watt as he ran down Matt Ryan from behind and the loose ball was recovered in the end zone by L.J. Fort.

As impressive a win as this 41-17 thumping might be, the score doesn’t begin to represent the Steelers’ level of dominance over the Falcons. Without those two screw-ups by No. 7 in the second quarter, we easily could have been looking at a total of 50-some points — and this in a game where Ben didn’t even post one of his better passing efforts (19/29 for 250 yards). Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there was the Steelers’ much-maligned defense holding down its end of the bargain while allowing only 17 points — a total which would have been still smaller if the Steelers’ defenders hadn’t taken so many costly, defensive penalties that enabled Atlanta to sustain its scoring drives. Equally surprising were the two splash-plays by Nix and Watt that led directly to 14 points for the Black-and-gold. This is something we haven’t seen nearly enough of in recent weeks.

Reading the tea leaves

Nobody can deny the magnitude of this win, especially for a Steelers team that came into the game winless at home. We also have to appreciate the fact that, coming into the game at 1-3, Atlanta needed a win just as badly as Pittsburgh. But make no mistake, the Steelers weren’t exactly facing the cream of the 2018 NFL crop in this matchup. While Matt Ryan certainly has his defenders, he’s not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. As surprising as the Steelers’ defensive performance might have been, you still had the feeling this game might have been much more competitive if the Steelers had been facing a premier quarterback. So while there’s much to like in this win, the Falcons’ infamous choke in Super Bowl 51 apparently signaled the beginning of an extended decline for the team which nowadays doesn’t look anything like a serious contender.

On the other hand, as recently as Week 4, Atlanta had the Cincinnati Bengals on the ropes before a late TD pass from Dalton to A.J. Green pulled out the win for Cincy. With Pittsburgh traveling to Paul Brown Stadium next weekend, perhaps it’s a good sign that the same Atlanta team which played the Bengals so evenly in Week 4 was no match for the Steelers the following week. But then you look at the Baltimore Ravens’ lackluster effort in losing 12-9 to the Cleveland Browns, and it seems pretty difficult to make comparisons based on the teams’ showings against common opponents.

Some definite positives on offense, however, were the play of Conner (21 carries, 110 yards, plus 4 receptions for 75 yards, 2 TDs) and Antonio Brown (6 receptions, 101 yards, 2 TDs). On defense, the play of T.J. Watt (team tackling leader with eight, plus the strip-sack) and the marked improvement shown by 2018 first-round pick, Terrell Edmunds (second in tackles with seven) were quite promising. Overall, the defense appears to be improving — albeit slowly — and that’s certainly a welcome sign. Special teams were generally solid during the game, including the aforementioned, blocked punt by Nix. As for the kicking game, Jordan Berry had a very respectable game on punts, while Boswell still managed to leave us with some lingering doubt by missing his first point-after kick.

The one factor that keeps emerging in characterizing this win is consistency. Except for the Steelers’ second-quarter foibles and the bad kick by Boswell, the Black-and-gold were remarkably consistent throughout the game. And somewhat atypically for this team in recent years, they made this victory look ridiculously easy, as it might have been even a bigger rout. This tends to reassure the fan base that, when the Steelers come out well prepared for a game — and when their defense, kickers and special teams play at least well enough not to be conspicuous liabilities — they can make short work of opponents like Atlanta and also can be competitive with the better teams in the league.

When we look back later in the season, this win might be viewed as a turning point for the 2018 Steelers. After the previous four regular-season games — all of which seemed very much like an extension of the preseason in terms of being unprepared and out of sync —perhaps this is the game that shows the team finally has turned the corner and is ready to start performing up to its capabilities.

Next Sunday’s face-off on the road against the Bengals will be an excellent opportunity to test the theory that the Steelers have truly righted their ship. In the past, Pittsburgh has been able to beat Andy Dalton mainly by pressuring him into any number of serious mistakes. So if the Black-and-gold defense truly is beginning to come together, there’s no doubt that Big Ben and company bring more than enough firepower to the fray to secure the win and move Pittsburgh’s record to 3-2-1, while dropping Cincinnati to 4-2.

But because of the Steelers’ relatively slow start, getting the win in this first of two matchups against the Bengals will be every bit as crucial as the victory over the Falcons. A loss would drop Pittsburgh two full games behind Cincinnati with 10 games remaining — not a very desirable position for the defending AFC North champions.

So the arrow definitely is pointing upwards for the Steelers in the wake of this impressive win. If their improvement extends into the weeks ahead, we might even see the end of calls for Mike Tomlin’s head and a wholesale reconfiguration of the entire Steelers' organization. Well ... a guy can dream anyway.

Podcast: Are the Steelers standing in line for the elevator or the roller coaster?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 5:20am

After the Steelers turned in a ‘team win’ on Sunday against Atlanta, BTSC’s Anthony Defeo and Bryan Anthony Davis recap the game and wonder if stability is around the corner or if ineptitude will keep rearing its ugly head.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2018 roller coaster ride got a whole lot less bumpier with the impressive win over Atlanta on Sunday. But with their bipolar 2018 season five weeks old, one must wonder if the ride smooths out going forward or if it will remain as Pothole City. BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and Anthony Defeo took a day to recover from their joy and asked your opinion of the terrain ahead in the latest edition of “Steelers Hangover."

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the call-in extravaganza. On this show, the fellas discussed the good, the bad, the ugly and going forward.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Reactions
  • Grades: Valedictorians, Honor Roll and Detention Dwellers
  • Are the Steelers standing in line for the elevator or the roller coaster?
  • Calls
  • Closing Time/Last Call and thoughts on the Bengals
  • and MUCH MORE!

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: Improved third down success equates in big win over Falcons

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 4:35am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in winner’s row after a solid performance vs. the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field in Week 5. With the Cincinnati Bengals looming ahead in Week 6, the Steelers will hope to “stack wins” for the first time this year and improve on their 2-2-1 record.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-Gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet, and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about how the Steelers’ have slowly improved on third downs this season. It hasn’t always been glamorous, but both the offense and defense are trending in the right direction regarding third down success.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers improve play on third downs offensively and defensively

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

During the previous week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ poor play on third downs that made a large portion of the difference.

Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, the Steelers flipped the third-down script. It helped win them a game.

The Steelers’ offense followed a 2-for-12 performance in a 26-14 defeat to Baltimore by going 9-for-12 in Sunday’s 41-17 victory against Atlanta. The defense was also better, holding the Falcons to six third-down conversions in 14 tries after the Ravens had gone 8-for-17.

“We call that the money down,” linebacker L.J. Fort said of third downs, “so you’ve got to get off the field, got to make a play, make a turnover. And I think we did a good job with that today.”

Facing a team that was one of the best offenses in the NFL over the season’s first month (29 points and 411 yards per game coming in), the Steelers held the Falcons to season lows in points and yards. They forced Matt Ryan into three three-and-outs and held Atlanta to 2-for-7 on third downs in the second half.

“I think we just wanted to stop the run early and it made them have longer down and distances to try to get especially on third down,” linebacker T.J. Watt said.

Offensively, the Steelers matched or exceeded their third-down conversions from each of the past three games by the end of the first quarter Sunday. The Steelers had as many third-down conversions over the game’s first 4 ½ minutes as it had all of the previous week’s game.

Included in the Steelers’ success were four conversions in five tries on third-and-1 – all James Conner runs – as well as conversions on third down with 10 and 13 yards to go.

Three of the offense’s four touchdowns came on third downs.

Steelers’ L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich excel in Vince Williams’ absence

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Vince Williams grimaced in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room late Sunday afternoon.

The inside linebacker described being forced to watch from the sidelines because of injury for the first time in his six-year NFL career as “pretty terrible.”

But then Williams smiled.

“But you know what? The win makes it better. I’ll take it like this every time if we get the win, and I am just so proud of them boys,” he said.

Sunday, “them boys” were the two men who combined to take Williams’ spot at right inside linebacker.

With Williams out because of a hamstring injury, the Steelers’ struggling defense turned to a a pair of players with a combined 10 seasons on NFL rosters but who had combined to start one game.

But Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort helped anchor the middle of the Steelers’ defense during a 41-17 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Heinz Field.

“Tyler and L.J. played so well,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We have so much confidence in them that we don’t have any wavering opinion whether they are in the game or not.

“They just go do a great job of going about their business as if they are the starter each and every week, and it shows. When they go out there, we don’t miss a beat.”

Fort started his NFL debut for Cleveland as an undrafted rookie out of Northern Iowa on Sept. 9, 2012. He had a sack and an interception that day, but he didn’t start another game.

That streak stayed alive Sunday because Matakevich (three seasons, 36 career games) earned his first NFL start when he took the field for the first defensive snap.

Matakevich played most first and second downs and obvious run situations, with Fort typically coming in on passing downs, third downs and in the dime subpackage.

“It was a good rotation that was successful for us today,” Fort said.

How the Steelers defense woke up from its deep sleep

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Cam Heyward entered the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs room last Monday to deliver what corner Mike Hilton called “a fun little spiel.”

Well, not that fun.

“It woke us up a little bit,” Hilton said.

Teammates say Heyward, a defensive end and team captain, stressed that the Steelers can’t be a defense that gives up 400-plus yards a game, and only supreme focus would change things, so no one will be above criticism.

Something had to give. The Steelers’ 1,682 yards and 12 passing touchdowns allowed were franchise worsts through four games.

After holding the high-powered Atlanta Falcons to 324 yards and 17 points Sunday, Heyward downplayed any special meetings or pep talks during the week, simply conceding the level of detail had to be better.

”And it was,” said Heyward, who finished the game with 1.5 sacks. “You didn’t see 12 men or 10 men on the field. It was communication from a whole lot of people. It’s not one person. Everyone had to execute.”

Tim Benz: Feeding James Conner makes Steelers well-balanced

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

As the Pittsburgh Steelers approached their game against the Falcons, the public debated the Steelers’ running game: “Were the Steelers avoiding using James Conner because he was ineffective? Or was Conner ineffective because he wasn’t being used often enough?”

It was really a chicken-or-the-egg argument.

I still don’t know the answer. But after seeing Conner run Sunday against Atlanta, I suddenly have a craving for an extra large omelette.

Conner was exceptional against the Falcons, rushing for 110 yards. He also had 75 yards receiving.

“It’s not a relief,” Conner said. “We just feel like we are back on track. We were playing Steelers football.”

As we outlined in advance of the Steelers’ 41-17 victory over the Falcons, the most troubling aspect of the Steelers’ approach to running the football in their two home defeats against Baltimore and Kansas City is that they either got away from the run or didn’t bother trying to establish it during contests that were highly competitive into the third quarter.

At times, that was easy to understand, given the inconsistent nature of Conner’s running and the blocking in front of him. During other stretches, the question needed to be asked: “Why not run when the offense was becoming so one-dimensional through the air?”

Entering this week’s NFL games, the Steelers ranked 27th in yards per rushing attempt and 28th in total rushing attempts.

So they were unenthusiastic about trying to run, and they were bad when they actually tried.

Sunday against Atlanta, they were excellent in both categories. They ran as many times as they passed — 29 apiece. And when they did run, it was effective, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Conner averaged 5.2.

“He did a hell of a job,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said of Conner. “We just kept our composure. We believed in ourselves. We had efficient downs.”

Podcast: ‘Steelers Hangover’ returns tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 7:57pm

BTSC recaps the Steelers Week 5 41-17 victory over the team from the ATL and opens the phones to you, the listener, to join in.

Join Bryan Davis and Anthony Defeo from BTSC for the day after extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”. There is, once again, much rejoicing in Steelerville, after their team’s 41-17 victory over Atlanta. With a day to digest it, SH will break down all of the highs, and lows, from the game.

Check out a rundown of the show:

- Reactions

- Calls

- Grades: Valedictorian, Honor Roll and Detention

- Looking ahead to Cincinnati

- and MUCH MORE!

You can listen to the show live by logging onto our BlogTalkRadio page at 9:30 p.m. EST but WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! What did you think about the game, the upcoming regular season or whatever you want to talk about Steelers related. Simply dial (347) 850-8581 anytime during the show to make your voice heard!

AFC North Roundup: Steelers can climb back into division race with Week-6 win

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 1:48pm

Taking a look around the AFC North heading into Week 6.

With Week 5 of the NFL schedule officially in the books, at least for the AFC North, it’s time to take a look back at those teams who call the AFC North home to see how they fared and what the standings look like after this week’s action.

The first goal for each team in the NFL is to win its division. Doing so guarantees both a playoff spot and a home playoff game, so even these early-season games are important when it comes to divisional rankings.

Let’s take a spin around the AFC North to check on the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Week 5 Results

Cleveland Browns - 12
Baltimore Ravens - 9 (OT)

Yes, you read the above score correctly. The Browns, at home, made just enough plays and somehow were able to get out of their own way to beat the Ravens. The win was their second of the season, but also muddies the waters in the AFC North divisional race. Talk about a letdown loss for Baltimore after their big win over Pittsburgh in Week 4.

Cincinnati Bengals - 27
Miami Dolphins - 17

The Dolphins at one point held a huge lead in this game — only for them to remember they were the Dolphins and to squander the lead. Give credit to the Bengals for making the necessary plays to win, but the Week-6 game matching the Steelers and Bengals will be gigantic.

Pittsburgh Steelers - 41
Atlanta Falcons - 17

The first complete win of the 2018 regular season for the Steelers. It was a pleasure to watch offense, defense and special teams work in unison for once. I don’t want to hear about the Falcons’ defense because their offense is considered one of the best in the league — and they scored just 17 points.

Week 6 Schedules:

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals - Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Cleveland Browns - Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans - Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

AFC North Standings

Cincinnati Bengals - 4-1
Baltimore Ravens - 3-2
Cleveland Browns - 2-2-1
Pittsburgh Steelers - 2-2-1

Let us know what you think about the division after Week 5 in the comment section below. Do you see this being a powerhouse division? Which teams are contenders and which ones are nothing more than pretenders?

Steelers open as 3-point underdogs versus Bengals in Week 6

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 12:19pm

Pittsburgh looks set to be underdogs for the first time this year after the opening line for their Week-6 game with the Cincinnati Bengals gave them a 3-point deficit.

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be coming off of their most convincing win of 2018, but that is still not enough to prevent them from being underdogs for the first time this season in their matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6, according to Las Vegas.

While an opening line of 3-points has made the Bengals marginal favorites for the game, the line began to fall almost the second it was posted, with most bookmakers currently offering no higher than 2.5-points. Given the Steelers’ recent record in Cincinnati and their overall dominance of the series as of late, it should be expected that this line will continue to drop.

Pittsburgh has won its last six in a row against the Bengals and nine of their last 10, with their last defeat coming in 2015. The Steelers also are 10-2 versus Cincinnati in Paul Brown Stadium since Mike Tomlin took charge of the team in 2007, their home away from home.

An initial totals position of 54.5 is still widely available at the time of this writing, and there shouldn’t be too much movement in the coming days. Pittsburgh scoring 41 points on Sunday seems to have done little to convince gamblers that the under is a good bet.

The early moneyline price of +106 to -125 has already seen some action on the Bengals, and the best price currently on offer is +120 to -140. One to watch as it gets closer to game day, but possibly some real value for those looking to back the Steelers this weekend.

Pittsburgh is 2-3 against the spread so far this year and 3-1-1 versus the over.

Report Card: Grading the Steelers Week 5 victory over the Falcons

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 10:58am

BTSC breaks out the red pen and assigns grades to the Steelers after their 41-17 win over Atlanta.

You know the story. I’m not a football coach, or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. I wasn’t looking forward to the Steelers Week-5 pairing with the Falcons, but they turned me into Michael Corleone and pulled me back in with an inspired effort.

Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what count the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well.

So let’s take a look at BTSC’s early perceptions:

Offense Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line gave Benjamin Todd more time to throw, but he looked extremely off in the early going. No. 7 was forcing the ball to Antonio Brown, overthrowing dudes and the interception to close the half was inexcusable. But he pulled it all together in the second half with three TDs and going 19-for-29 with 250 yards in the air.

James Conner looked like a complete back with 110 yards rushing on 21 carries and two scores. No. 30 added 75 more on four receptions. He carried the team when Ben looked sub-par early on.

Antonio Brown looked spectacular with six catches for 101 yards and two scores. The seven targets to him that didn’t result in completions were the result of poor throws. JuJu was money as well, with four catches (on four targets), 34 yards and a touchdown. The ensuing celebration was corny at best.

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports Overall Offense Grade: B+ Defense

With the exception of Bud Dupree’s multiple hands-to-face flags, this was a more disciplined defense with much better scheming against a high-powered offense. T.J. Watt’s three sacks, Cam Heyward’s 1.5 and L.J. Fort channeling his inner “Olsavsky” gave the defense a huge lift. Blitzing is huge. Everybody played better. While there were some defensive lapses that made one think, “here we go again,” the entire unit played better. Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton came up big against Julio Jones, Mo Sanu and Calvin Ridley. I’m still pinching myself on this performance.

Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images Overall Defense Grade: A- Special Teams:

Still not happy with the service at the B&B (Boswell and Berry), but Danny Smith’s unit rose to the top against Atlanta. Without DHB, the coverage was great against a good return unit. Brian Allen was superb. It was awesome to see a punt block. Gotta love Rosie Nix.

Overall Special Teams Grade: A- Overall Team Grade: A-

Co-Valedictorians: James Conner and T.J. Watt

Honor Roll: Brian Allen, Roosevelt Nix, The Offensive Line, Joe Haden, Antonio Brown, L.J. Fort, Cam Heyward, Artie Burns, Mike Hilton, The Offensive Line, 2nd Half Ben Roethlisberger

Detention: Chris Boswell, Bud Dupree’s lack of discipline and 1st Half Ben Roethlisb

It wasn’t the perfect win, but it came at the perfect time. Sure, the quarterback needs to tighten things up a good bit and the defense has some cleaning up to do as well. But great strides were made against a high-powered attack. Going on a run the next three contests. could definitely right this ship and this victory might be the kick-starter for a turnaround.

Winners and Losers after the Steelers’ huge win over Atlanta in Week 5

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 9:46am

After a game, we take note of certain players who performed well and others who didn’t. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons took part in a huge game at Heinz Field on Sunday, and the Steelers presented their loyal fan base with their first home win of the regular season. The 41-17 victory was the most complete performance by the team to date, and there were some good, and bad, performances worthy of recognition.

During the game, some perform well, while others fall short of the standard. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in. After the game, when the dust settles, we decipher who falls into which category.

As always, feel free to comment on the list in the comment section below. Be part of the conversation!

Winners

James Conner
Stat Line: 21 carries, 110, 2 TDs / 4 receptions, 75 yards, 4 targets

What else is there to say about James Conner’s day which hasn’t already been said? I haven’t seen a running back so hard to bring down since Jerome Bettis roamed the backfield for the Steelers. Conner, when given the opportunity, has proven he is up for the task at hand. Kudos to Conner for taking advantage of a game plan which had him as the focal point.

Antonio Brown
Stat Line: 6 receptions, 101 yards, 2 TDs

It wasn’t always pretty, and it started off rough, but the Ben to Brown connection caught fire at the right time. While essentially shut out in the first half, Brown exploded in the second for his first 100 yard receiving performance of the season. Hopefully this connection is just starting to heat up at just the right time.

Ben Roethlisberger
Stat Line: 19/29, 250 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 112.7 Passer Rating

Roethlisberger’s stat line is what Steelers fans should want to see. Nothing crazy, but efficient football. Take away his idiotic interception, more on that later, and Roethlisberger played a very good game. He took what the defense was giving him, and the Steelers offense dominated. 9 of 12 on 3rd downs was a very nice change in the right direction, and largely because of the play of No. 7.

Roosevelt Nix
Stat Line: Blocked punt, dominating lead blocking

When the Steelers gave Roosevelt Nix a new contract this offseason, some wondered why they would do that when they rarely use a fullback in the offense. Probably because he does so much more than lead blocking on this team. Nix’s special teams play has been phenomenal, and he proved this again when he blocked the Falcons’ punt in the later portion of the game. Throw in some great lead blocking and Nix deserves to be in the winner column today.

T.J. Watt
Stat Line: 8 tackles, 6 solo, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 QB hits

Everyone has said it, “When will T.J. Watt be showing up?” It seemed as if the second year linebacker’s only good performances came against the lowly Browns, but he changed this narrative with a dominating performance against the Falcons. Matt Ryan had been sacked 10 times coming into Week 5, and Watt added 3 more to that total by himself. Watt looked dynamic as ever, and the hope is he can continue this, and sustain it, for a full season.

Mike Hilton
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1 solo, 2 QB hits

Sometimes you don’t appreciate someone until they are gone. This was the case with Mike Hilton when the cornerback missed the Week 4 game vs. the Baltimore Ravens with an elbow injury. With Hilton back in the mix on Sunday vs. Atlanta, the defense had a completely different feel. Hilton was a presence on the edge blitzing from the slot, and when they had to account for him it left more one-on-one matchups for the defensive linemen — and the Steelers were winning those matchups. Hilton is a much more valuable piece to the Steelers’ puzzle than most probably think.

Joe Haden
Stat Line: 5 tackles, 5 solo, held Julio Jones to 5 rec. and 62 yards

During the game I wondered if the Steelers would have Haden follow Julio Jones, and it didn’t take long for the beat writers to say he was during the game. I became more and more impressed as the game went on and Jones was without a catch. In fact, it wasn’t until the second half when Jones recorded his first reception, and Haden is one of the main reasons why. Haden doesn’t just bring solid play to the field, but also is the glue which keeps the defense together. Haden might just be the defense’s MVP so far this season.

The Coaching Staff
Stat Line: Huge bounce back performance in a must-win game

I’ve always believed coaches get too much blame when they lose, and not enough credit when they win. Everyone loves to bash Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Randy Fichtner when the team struggles, but what about when the team puts together a tremendous win in all phases of the game? Time to give the coaching staff some love. With their backs against the wall, desperate for a win, the team delivered.

Offensive Line
Stat Line: 0 Sacks allowed / 131 rushing yards at 4.5 ypc

Talk about a dominant performance. When the Steelers were taking a balanced approach to the offense, the big guys up front did more than enough for Randy Fichtner’s plan to work to perfection. Not allowing a sack, and dominating in the run game is a huge lift for this veteran group.

Losers

Chris Boswell
Stat Line: 5/6 XP

On a day when he wasn’t called on to kick a field goal, missing an extra point is unacceptable. This points being left on the field are killers, just as the Green Bay Packers and Mason Crosby.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Horrid INT
Stat Line: That was awful

I know Roethlisberger was also a winner, but he falls in the loser category for just one play. His interception at the end of the half was more than horrendous. It was atrocious. It was any other adjective you want to use, I have to keep it clean here on the site, but it was bad. Those are the types of plays which can lose you a football game. I am left wondering how many points the Steelers could have scored if not for Roethlisberger’s bone-headed play.

Ben Roethlisberger thinks James Conner’s big day came from being ‘tired of hearing about Le’Veon so much’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 8:43am

He may not be with his teammates on game day, but Le’Veon Bell is still motivating them in his own way.

Even if Le’Veon Bell is not with the team, he may still be helping the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the aftermath of another impressive performance from James Conner, Ben Roethlisberger suggested the team’s absentee running might have been a part of the inspiration for his replacements big day against the Atlanta Falcons.

Ben: "It starts with the O-line." pic.twitter.com/qIFDVH66JA

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 7, 2018

After crediting his offensive line for their efforts in Week 5, Big Ben remarked that he believed the guys up front and his young running back were uniquely motivated for game.

“It always starts we them [the offensive line], I thought they had such a phenomenal game. I think they were tired of hearing of all the what's going on? cant run it, and James was tired of hearing about Le’Veon so much, so, he put on a heck of a performance today.”

Acknowledging the Steelers’ had faced a favorable matchups with the Falcons’ defense when it came to running the ball, Big Ben was still quick to point out how well Conner had played against Atlanta.

“Ran hard, ran people over, spun around people, and I told him, there are even times when I though he made a move when he could’ve lowered the boom. He’s a very powerful back, I don't think people give him as much credit as he probably should get, but, like I said, he performed exceptionally today.”

When it came Conner’s turn to speak, he was far more humble about his efforts on the day, deflecting much of the praise to the rest of his teammates.

#LIVE: James Conner recaps his big day vs. the Falcons. https://t.co/d9GZR8V8hH

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 7, 2018

Conner currently ranks fifth in the NFL with 342-yards rushing through five games and is tied for the league led with five touchdowns on the ground. The former Pitt Panther ended the game against the Falcons with 110-yards and two touchdowns from 21 carries and 75-yards from 4 receptions.

Mike Tomlin is ‘pissed’ about penalties ‘costing people games and jobs’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 7:21am

The Steelers head coach did not hold back when discussing the issues of questionable penalties being called around the NFL in 2018.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been heavily penalized in 2018, it would be fair to say that not all the calls made against them have actually warranted a flag. Just like in every NFL game this season, questionable decisions by referees have been impacting results on a weekly basis and the Steelers have seen more than enough penalties incorrectly called against them through the first five weeks.

As a member of the competition committee, Mike Tomlin has appeared reluctant to be drawn into the debate surrounding the standard of referring and recent changes in emphasis regarding certain rules, but that all seemed to change in the wake of his team’s win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5.

When speaking to the media after the game, Tomlin was clearly unhappy with the way the game had been officiated. While he had no issue with either of the hands to the face penalties called against Bud Dupree, the same could not be said about some of the other flags thrown during the contest.

“Those looked like legitimate calls, we’ve gotta be better there, but some of the other stuff, man, is a joke. We’ve gotta get better as a National Football League. Man, these penalties are costing people games and jobs. We,ve gotta get them correct. So I’m pissed about it, to be quite honest with you, but that’s all I’m gonna say on it.”

Presumably upset by the call against T.J. Watt for roughing the passer, or the one against Jon Bostic for the same perceived infraction, there can be little doubt that his complaints will fall on deaf ears, but interesting to note that he finally said something.

Watt was equally confused about what he was supposed to do when he was obviously trying to avoid Matt Ryan and barely made contact with the quarterback.

T.J. Watt said he attempted to move off Matt Ryan on his roughing the passer call, wasn’t sure what else to do. pic.twitter.com/I5guG8mDDT

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) October 7, 2018

Even though he knows he could have done nothing different on the play, the young defender is still preparing himself for a fine, as reported by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

“I understand the rules. I’m not a dirty player. I tried to pull off him at the end. Whether the ref saw it or not, I understand why they call it. It was a low hit. But I tried to pull my arms off. We’ll see if I get a check in the mail or not. ... It puts us in a bind because I don’t know what else I can do. I couldn’t have rolled off, then I risk hitting someone in the knees or hurting myself.”

Big brother J.J. was also left trying to understand what his younger sibling was meant to do.

Would love to hear the explanation on how this was “roughing the passer” pic.twitter.com/Fv7reMBH84

— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) October 7, 2018

When it came to the penalty called on Bostic, not even the referees could help explain to the middle linebacker what he had done wrong on the play.

Jon Bostic, on why he was given a personal foul flag after his sack of Matt Ryan:

"To be honest, I don’t know. I tried to ask the ref, he said he didn’t know. So..."

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) October 7, 2018

Considering some of the calls made in a number of contest just this weekend alone, it is highly unlikely the penalties called against the Steelers will garner much attention from the league office. The NFL’s problems extend far beyond some bogus roughing the passer penalties in Pittsburgh, with incorrect decisions once again directly impacting the outcomes of some close games in Week 5.

Steelers were ‘Conner Strong’ in huge victory over Falcons at Heinz Field

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 6:19am

The Steelers’ offensive attack flowed through second-year running back James Conner in Pittsburgh’s 41-17 victory over the Falcons on Sunday. In tallying 185 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, Conner showed that he’s capable of being a really good running back in the NFL.

“Conner Strong” has been a phrase associated with Steelers second-year running back James Conner ever since he was diagnosed with and ultimately defeated cancer as a collegiate football star for the University of Pittsburgh.

While Conner’s story of perseverance and courage has been inspirational, he’s been pretty adamant these days about wanting to be known not just as a cancer survivor, but as a really good running back in the National Football League.

On Sunday, mere days after it was reported that holdout running back Le’Veon Bell may return in-time to be ready for the post-bye portion of the 2018 regular season, Conner did his best impression of No. 26 and took one step closer to changing the focus of the story from his medical triumphs to his football triumphs.

In an impressive 41-17 victory over the Falcons at Heinz Field, Conner was the main focus of Pittsburgh’s offense, tallying a combined 185 yards from scrimmage, including 110 rushing and 75 receiving.

On the Steelers’ first offensive series, an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, Conner was responsible for 72 yards—including a short pass that he turned into a 29-yard catch-and-run to the Atlanta 38, followed immediately by a 30-yard scamper down to the eight.

Three plays later, Conner did his best Walter Payton impression, by leaping over the Falcons’ defense for a one-yard score.

On Pittsburgh’s next possession, Conner contributed 30 yards to 97-yard drive that ended when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a pretty 18-yard touchdown pass to make it 13-0.

I’ll spare you the rest of the play-by-play, but Conner did add another touchdown to give him two on the day to go along with his impressive yardage total.

Conner looked fast. Conner looked quick. Conner looked athletic. And, most importantly, Conner looked strong, as he picked up many of his yards on second-effort runs.

Sunday’s game for Conner was everything his performance against the Browns’ in Week 1 offered, save for a critical fumble that turned the tide and led to a comeback by the opponent.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence Conner looked as good as he has since that Week 1 game in Cleveland, because that was the last time the Steelers actually controlled the majority of a football game and dictated the action to their opponent.

The Steelers’ three games after Cleveland and before Atlanta were mostly disjointed, chaotic affairs. And in two of those games—home losses to the Chiefs and Ravens—Pittsburgh quickly found itself down by scores of 21-0 and 14-0, respectively.

It’s hard to stick to your game-plan and establish your running-attack under such circumstances, and Conner’s numbers looked rather pedestrian.

The Steelers got up by two scores on Atlanta early and never trailed. They got to impose their will on offense—and even defense—and this afforded Randy Fichtner and Roethlisberger the opportunity to utilize all facets of their playbook, which made for a much more efficient showing.

Roethlisberger passed just 29 times and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. Furthermore, he enjoyed superb protection all afternoon and wasn’t sacked once.

The Steelers’ offense looked like it had so many times in the recent past when it flowed through Bell.

Only Bell wasn’t on the field (or in the stadium) on Sunday. James Conner was, and James Conner was strong.

Steelers players take to social media to talk about their huge win over the Falcons

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:25am

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers take to social media after their 41-17 win over the Falcons in Week 5.

Finally!

I think I can speak for everyone when I say the Pittsburgh Steelers team who took the field on Sunday at Heinz Field vs. the Atlanta Falcons was the team most of us expected heading into the 2018 regular season

Whether this is just a blip on the team’s inconsistent radar, or the sign of things to come has yet to be determined, but for the most part the Steelers fan base should be happy — at least for a week.

Following the Steelers’ 41-17 win players took to social media to celebrate their first home victory of the season.

Take a look at what was said on different platforms following the game! I also added in some interesting video which I felt fans might enjoy.

(Editor’s Note: This article may be updated as more players take to social media to talk about the team’s victory.)

This is why it means so much to me #family pic.twitter.com/n3KQnOveIg

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) October 7, 2018

ON everything this will always be SQUAD @ Heinz Field https://t.co/tQ5mzxsPmF

— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) October 7, 2018

Yessssir!! Got the W!!!

— Joe Haden (@joehaden23) October 7, 2018

pic.twitter.com/WADpcJUzLt

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) October 7, 2018

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

— Vince Williams (@VinnyVidiVici98) October 7, 2018

Great team win!!!!! Oline and Dline controlling the game. #doittuitt https://t.co/9OCCBopFlF

— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) October 7, 2018

Felt great being back out there in front of the best fans in the world! Great team win! Let’s stack em up!! #SteelerNation

— Mike Hilton (@MikeHilton_28) October 7, 2018

Great team win!! Let’s keep this thing rolling!! #SteelersNation

— Tyler Matakevich (@44_Matakevich) October 7, 2018

— Javon hargrave (@Jay_MostWanted) October 7, 2018

Great win and even better feeling seeing my fellow Tacoma King @DesmondTrufant after. Stay killing it bro

#253

— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) October 7, 2018

Congratulations @steelers. A nice 3 phase victory. Keep the #hotcakes coming.

— Brett Keisel (@bkeisel99) October 7, 2018

my mentions are constantly filled with ppl tellin me Im an inspiration & such... Im sittin here just thankful to the max to be able to motivate y’all and to be able to play the game still, it’s all gods work..

— James Conner (@JamesConner_) October 8, 2018

Podcast: Breaking down the Steelers dominating win over Atlanta

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 4:33am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are finally playing games that actually count! With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Post-Game Show. On this show Jeff Hartman and co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers from the game that was!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Injuries
  • Most complete win of the season
  • What does this tell us about the Steelers?
  • Talking what’s ahead
  • 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
Android Users: CLICK HERE

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

Do the Steelers really need Le’Veon Bell for the offense to succeed?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 5:53pm

After James Conner’s big performance vs. the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, you have to wonder if the Steelers truly need Le’Veon Bell for the offense to be successful.

Some might say the Pittsburgh Steelers have a good problem on their hands. The team has plenty of problems, but one which might be construed as positive is the fact it looks like the Steelers have the potential to have two very capable running backs, sort of.

After the break out performance James Conner had against the Atlanta Falcons, you have to ask the question whether the Pittsburgh offense really needs Le’Veon Bell, who continues his holdout into Week 6.

Before you immediately click away from this article and claim blasphemy, understand the true question.

Does the Steelers’ offense need Bell to succeed?

There will be many who point to basic statistics to verify the fact the Steelers would be much better with Bell, than without, but one aspect of the debate which needs to be discussed is whether or not the team actually committed to the run when deciphering Conner’s worth.

Of the 5 games played so far this year, only two of those games saw Conner receive more than 20 carries in a game.

Week 1 vs. the Browns: 31 carries, 135 yards
Week 5 vs. the Falcons: 21 carries, 110 yards

It seems as if when the team commits to running the football, they are successful in doing so. When they get away from the run, as they did in the other weeks this season, his numbers have been very pedestrian, at best.

Conner has always been a capable runner, but the other facets of Bell’s game is where most found the difference between the two backs. Bell’s pass protection has always been considered one of the best in the league, and Conner has done a tremendous job in a small sample size in this regard as the starter.

Bell has been considered one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league, and Conner has flashed his hands on more than one occasion. For the season, Bell has 18 receptions for 164 yards. His current statistics through the air have him on pace to catch just under 60 passes on the season. Not a bad season in this department.

Ultimately, can the Steelers’ offense be successful without Bell? They have proven they can. Are they as dynamic with Conner and not Bell? This is likely where the debate lies, but Conner has his own unique dynamic style which makes the two backs different in their own regard.

After watching Conner’s body of work early this season, it is clear to me the offense would be just fine if Conner was the man for the duration of the 2018 regular season. With Conner, the Steelers are averaging 28.6 points per game this season, and if the first 5 games of the season have proven anything it is how Conner is a capable running back, and the Steelers’ future at position seems in good hands with No. 30.

We talked about this at length in our most recent podcast, and you can find the podcast in the player above, as well as in the below links where you can subscribe to our BTSC podcast platform.

What do you think? Will the Steelers be okay without Le’Veon Bell? Let us know in the poll below, as well as in the comment section!

Subscribe to our podcasts by following the following links:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Android Users: CLICK HERE

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