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Podcast: Rudolph or Duck? Can either beat the Chargers in Week 6?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/11/2019 - 5:30am

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

The 2019 season is upon us!! With the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the regular season, it is time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Around the Horn Segment
  • Steelers Stat Geek
  • Preview of Steelers vs. Chargers
  • Keys to victory
  • Fantasy Focus
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: The Steelers return game is dreadful, but who is to blame?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/11/2019 - 4:36am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 6 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Los Angeles Chargers we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the next game starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the Steelers’ return game, both kickoff and punt teams, are absolutely dreadful to watch. But who is to blame?

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers return team is so bad Mike Tomlin elected to NOT take the football to start overtime. Think about that...

Tim Benz: Steelers are dealing with many unhappy returns

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin’s hunch about his dreadful kick return team was so bleak, the Steelers’ head coach felt the need to give up possession of the football after winning the overtime coin toss last Sunday.

That was an overreaction from Tomlin. And it was the wrong move.

Yes, I say that regardless of the fact Baltimore ended up punting and regardless of what defenders of Tomlin’s choice may say.

But that’s a story for another column.

Oh, wait. It was already written? Who knew?

Irrespective of your opinion on that decision — whether your opinion is right like mine or wrong like Tomlin’s and that of all the people in my Twitter timeline — the fact remains that there is some logic as to why he made the call.

Stretched though that logic may be, I see where the coach was coming from because his kick return unit was THAT bad Sunday. And, let’s be honest, Baltimore’s kickoff team was THAT good.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers will need to make a roster move soon to allow Trey Edmunds to be promoted to the 53-man roster, and he is ready for his opportunity.

Trey Edmunds eager to seize likely 53-man roster spot, increased role with Steelers

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With Jaylen Samuels down, the proverbial next man up onto the Pittsburgh Steelers’ active roster figures to be Trey Edmunds.

Edmunds has spent most of the past year-plus on the Steelers practice squad, though he did appear in four late-season 2018 games. When this summer’s training camp shook out, Edmunds was No. 4 on the Steelers’ running backs depth chart behind James Conner, Samuels and rookie Benny Snell.

Snell figures to be in line for a promotion to a bigger role, with Edmunds likely earning the promotion to the 53-man roster to backfill.

“I have been preparing since OTAs, so I absolutely will be ready,” said Edmunds, the older brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds. “There’s always things to learn, but I have definitely been in it and definitely prepared and preparing as if I am ready.”

Edmunds arguably outperformed Snell during camp but as a fourth-round pick with impressive college credentials Snell was all but guaranteed a roster spot. Coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday praised Snell’s work over five games, particularly his special teams play.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Is Devlin Hodges ready for his crash course on the Steelers’ playbook?

Devlin Hodges getting crash course in Steelers offense

By: Darrin Gant, ProFootballTalk

This week has been different for Devlin Hodges. Primarily, because he’s throwing passes.

The Steelers backup quarterback, who could be pressed into service depending on the condition of Mason Rudolph, is getting all the first team reps in practice this week, after not really throwing at all last week. He wasn’t on the roster at all to start the season, but the trade for Joshua Dobbs and the season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger made him necessary.

Hodges was on the roster, but didn’t even get scout team reps last week, since the Steelers brought in mobile quarterback Taryn Christion to the practice squad so he could mimic Lamar Jackson in practice. That left Hodges just a few 7-on-7 throws.

“Honestly, I got no reps with the team, with the ones,” Hodges said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I didn’t even get any reps on the scout team because we brought in a guy to be Lamar Jackson. . . .

“Having a chance to prepare with the ones and being in the huddle, it’s confidence. I’m comfortable being in the huddle with a group of guys and potentially being in there Sunday. . . . It helps a lot. You’re talking about getting throws in that you normally don’t get as the backup or the No. 3 guy. You’re not getting a lot of throws in, so as far as getting the timing down with the receivers and being in the huddle is a confidence booster.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Devlin Hodges Media Availability

.@DevlinHodges10 addresses the media about stepping up when his number is called, preparing for Sunday's game against the Chargers, and more. pic.twitter.com/KHSPAy2m8Y

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 9, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

#SteelersNation, meet Nike React Element 55. Now available for purchase!

SHOP: https://t.co/fDyBMAZbUV pic.twitter.com/oOLhMydoRx

— Steelers Pro Shop (@SteelersShop) October 10, 2019

.@BobLabriola & @DVEMike discuss who to start at quarterback this weekend if Mason Rudolph is cleared to play and what record will win the AFC North.

FULL : https://t.co/jEO9cdRwCG pic.twitter.com/wCBm6b6tLA

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 10, 2019

How to watch Steelers vs. Chargers: Time, TV Schedule, and game information

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/11/2019 - 4:00am
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

All the information needed to watch or listen to the Steelers road game this Sunday night in Los Angeles

It’s been a rough start to the 2019 season. Week 6 brings another trip west as the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Los Angeles on Sunday night to take on Philip Rivers, Joey Bosa, and the rest of the Los Angeles Chargers. Sitting at 1-4, the Steelers could really use a win going into the bye week.

Although the Steelers are still non-committal about who will be their starting quarterback, they have a host of other injuries coming into Week 6. Players such as Jaylen Samuels, James Washington, Roosevelt Nix, Mark Barron, and Vance McDonald are either out or in question for Sunday’s game. But the Chargers have plenty of their own injuries with 11 players currently on injured reserve.

With the Chargers sitting 2-3 and two games back in the AFC West, both teams need a win in a bad way on Sunday. Can either one of the Steelers’ young quarterbacks get the job done depending on who gets the call? Can the Steelers defense keep generating takeaways and sacks? Or will Philip Rivers find some magic and pull off the win over the Steelers similar to 2018?

This Sunday will answer all of these questions as one of these two teams will take a step in getting back into their respective divisional races. Get all the information you need below so you can enjoy the Week 6 showdown:

Week 6:

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs, Los Angeles Chargers

Date: Sunday, October 13th

Kickoff: 8:20 P.M. ET

Venue: ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA

Weather: Live weather update

TV Channel: Broadcast nationally on NBC Sunday Night Football with Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth as commentators and Michelle Tafoya as the sideline reporter. Check the national broadcast map to see if the game is on in your area.

Online: NFL Game Pass offers live games for international viewers and replays of every game during upon conclusion with a paid subscription. NFL Game Center will update the action on a play-by-play basis. The NBC Sports mobile app on Apple or Andriod will carry the game live for anyone who is subscribed to the NBC Sports channel. A login through your TV provider may be required. The game is also scheduled to stream live in some areas on the Yahoo! Sports app.

Radio: Steeler Nation Radio with Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, and Craig Wolfley. The broadcast will be live on WDVE 102.5 FM and WBGG 970 AM in the Pittsburgh area or check the list of Steelers Radio Affiliates. Viewers can listen anywhere in the world online via Steelers.com, but the Steelers Official Mobile App does have geographical restrictions.

You can also follow Behind the Steel Curtain on Twitter or in the game thread article to catch all of the highlights. Be sure to check back with BTSC after the game for our post-match roundup, and subscribe to BTSC Steelers Radio on YouTube to catch The Steelers Post Game Show with Jeff Hartman and Lance Williams.

Steelers Injury Report: Mason Rudolph continues his workouts on Thursday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 4:31pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers are not ready to commit to which quarterback will be starting on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished up their practice of the week in preparation for the Los Angeles Chargers. According to the Steelers PR Department, six players sat out I’d practice on Thursday.

Quarterback Mason Rudolph was able to continue in a limited capacity at practice today as he continues to work his way through the NFL’s concussion protocol. As with most players, Friday will be the key as offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has been noncommittal on who will start for the Steelers at quarterback on Sunday.

Steelers OC Randy Fichtner said he’s not sure who the starting QB will be Sunday. Rudolph is still working through the concussion protocol.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 10, 2019

Although there was hope that he could return this week, Roosevelt Nix did not participate in practice again on Thursday. Nix has been out since leaving the Steeler’s Week 1 game with a knee injury and it appears he will be out yet again in Week 6. James Washington and Jaylen Samuels did not participate in practice as Samuels has already been ruled out for the week. It has been reported that Washington will miss several weeks, but nothing officially from the Steelers has been reported. Most likely Washington would be ruled out after Friday’s practice.

Anthony Chickillo returned to practice in a limited role Wednesday and progressed to a full participant on Thursday. Barring a setback, Chickillo should be available for the first time since Week 2. Steven Nelson was another player limited on Wednesday with his groin injury, and was limited again on Thursday.

Other players on the injury list included Vance McDonald with his shoulder who was unable to participate again on Thursday. Much like last week, McDonald’s status will depend on Friday’s practice. Mark Barron is another player who has yet to practice this week, so his availability is highly questionable.

A player new to the injury list is Mike Hilton who was limited in practice with a foot. Ramon Foster was also given a veterans day off as a coaches decision. Both Maurkice Pouncey and Justin Layne returned to practice on Thursday.

As for the Chargers injury report, it can be seen below courtesy of Steelers.com.

Los Angeles Chargers Participation/Injury Report, Week 6

Thursday, October 10

S Nasir Adderley (Hamstring) - DNP

K Michael Badgley (Right Groin) - DNP

DE Melvin Ingram (Hamstring) - DNP

RB Justin Jackson (Calf) - DNP

WR Andre Patton (Quad) - DNP

CB Casey Hayward (Back) - Limited

TE Hunter Henry (Knee) - Limited

P/K Ty Long (Left Foot) - Full

LB Denzel Perryman (Ankle) - Full

Steelers Think Tank: How would Ben Roethlisberger’s contract tie into Mike Tomlin’s future?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 1:39pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Would the Steelers consider getting a new coach with Ben Roethlisberger still under contract for two more seasons?

Welcome to the BTSC Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Think Tank’. Here is where there will be a general question asked, and the answer will be hashed out in the comment section below the article. Unlike in the Friday Night Six Pack, and other articles which are banking on fan responses, this is just one topic to discuss.

Today’s think tank question revolves around Mike Tomlin’s future with the organization, and how Ben Roethlisberger’s future are intertwined.

Everyone heard this week about the rumors of the Washington Redskins supposedly courting Tomlin to become their next coach in 2020. This caused a lot of speculation regarding a potential trade to the Redskins, a la the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trading for Jon Gruden back in 2002. That was the high-stakes trade that included Tampa Bay’s 2002 and 2003 first-round draft picks, 2002 and 2004 second-round draft picks, and $8 million in cash.

I am pretty sure at this juncture if someone said the Redskins would offer the Steelers even half of the above draft pick stock for Tomlin, they would take it and not look back. But that isn’t the discussion here. The discussion is whether Ben Roethlisberger’s remaining years on his current contract will impact how the team handles Tomlin’s future with the organization.

This is in no way, shape or form a call to action to fire/trade Tomlin. No, it is just a discussion on whether you feel Roethlisberger being in the waning years of his career would have the Steelers stick with Tomlin, at least until Roethlisberger’s time in Pittsburgh is officially up.

Why would this even matter? Is it highly doubtful Roethlisberger wants to be a part of a team with a new head coach. After all, he has only had two head coaches since being drafted in 2004, and he has it pretty good right now. Tomlin takes care of Roethlisberger both physically with days off and through the media avoiding harsh criticism of his quarterback. Roethlisberger returns the favor by never throwing his head coach under the bus, not suggesting he doesn’t throw other coaches (Todd Haley) and players (Antonio Brown, James Washington, etc.) under that bus, but never Tomlin.

The two have a pretty strong working relationship, and you have to wonder if Art Rooney would keep the two together until No. 7 decides he is done.

So, with that said, what do you think of the thought the Steelers won’t do anything with Tomlin until Roethlisberger calls it quits? Let us know in the Steelers Think Tank, or as we like to call it the comment section below.

Steelers defense expanding to new sub packages in an effort to make plays, and it’s working

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 12:20pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is changing, and in a good way.

For anyone who might be reading this and still thinking the Pittsburgh Steelers are still a 3-4 defense, you might to come to the realization this just isn’t the case anymore. The Steelers do still call their 3-4 defense their ‘base’ defense, but they run sub packages the vast majority of the game, only relying on their base defense in specific situations.

In 2019, with an up-and-coming defense, the team hasn’t just been focusing on their ‘nickel’ and ‘dime’ sub packages, rather they have been expanding and putting in new wrinkles for specific opponents, and to keep the offense on their toes at all times.

“Before, it was just (nickel and ‘base’ defenses),” Tyler Matakevich told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, referring to the Steelers’ scheme of just a couple of years ago. “Now, it’s all different. We have (different, new) packages.”

These new wrinkles/packages were on full display vs. the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Heinz Field in Week 5. You saw situations where Mark Barron, Vince Williams and Devin Bush were all on the field together at the same time. When Barron left with a hamstring injury it was Matakevich who took over in that specific defensive package.

The inside linebacker position wasn’t the only position which saw some fresh ideas pop up. The other was at safety when Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kam Kelly were all on the field at the same time too. This package was used when Fitzpatrick broke up a pass which was intercepted by Kelly.

When the Steelers wanted to defend against the pass they did something they haven’t done since the start of 2018 — they took Edmunds off the field. Edmunds’ die hard streak of consecutive snaps played was snapped when Mike Hilton came in and had Edmunds come off the field. Hilton has shown the ability to flex to a safety if necessary, and this wrinkle certainly was one which caught people’s eye.

“Yeah, I did replace him; I do remember that, OK,” Hilton told Mark Kaboly of the Athletic. “Wow! That was a long time ago. The thing is, I don’t think it is too much for him. He is a second-year guy; he is very intelligent, and he is very coachable.”

“You don’t think about it,” Edmunds said. “I just want to stay on the field to help out and try to win. Regardless if I am playing 100 snaps per game or 70 snaps a game, as long as I get a win is all that matters to me.”

Similar to the Steelers’ offense, who has shown the ability to try anything on a weekly basis to win, the defense seems to be following suit. Is this team developing into a game-by-game, week-by-week team? Or are they a team who is just trying to find what works and stick with it?

Either way, the defense is tied for the most takeaways in the NFL with 12, and is currently third in the league with 19 sacks. They are a bright spot during a very dismal 1-4 start to the 2019 season.

With another loss Steelers fan confidence shows expectations are at an all-time low

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 10:47am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-4, and while fan confidence remains low, a win heading into the bye could be a cure for what ails the fan base.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a bad place right now, and their fans might be in a worse place. Fans of the black-and-gold aren’t used to enduring seasons which begin with a 1-4 record, yet here we are.

After their 26-23 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the SB Nation FanPulse of the Steelers shows a trend which isn’t heading in the right direction, but why should it? The Steelers have yet to prove not only they can defeat a quality opponent, but also to prove they are able to make the plays necessary to beat anyone who has a win on their overall record.

The latest FanPulse results certainly paint a pretty accurate photo of how fans truly feel:

After the Steelers beat the Bengals in Week 4, the FanPulse data showed the confidence percentage go from 28% to 31%. After the gut-wrenching loss to Baltimore the confidence marks dipped back to 28%.

Not a huge dip in confidence, but this is the current state of the Steelers. Dealing with such a poor start to the season definitely changes how fans view the team and the upcoming stretch of games.

With that said, a win over a team like the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6, a place the Steelers have struggled under Mike Tomlin, before the bye week could certainly boost these numbers. If, and that is a huge if, they can beat the Chargers and defeat the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football in Week 8, the then 3-4 Steelers would have some momentum and fan confidence should improve tremendously.

But is all starts with beating the Chargers on Sunday Night Football.

Buckle up fans, this game Sunday game will be a big one!

Do you want to be a part of the BTSC Steelers FanPulse? It is easy to sign up for, and takes mere minutes a week. Simply click HERE and fill out the appropriate information!

Film Room: Mason Rudolph vs. the Ravens showed some progress, but issues remain

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 9:40am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers second year quarterback took some strides in Week 5 before getting injured, but work still remains.

Quarterback Mason Rudolph made another start against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Unfortunately, the start ended up being 26-23 overtime loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rudolph had his difficulties again en route to completing 13 of 20 passes and a touchdown. How would the day have panned out if Rudolph had not been knocked out by safety Earl Thomas? We will never know.

One notable aspect that Rudolph portrayed during the game was looking comfortable in the pocket. He did not look as anxious in the pocket as he did in previous games. While Rudolph still locked in on receivers or a certain side of the field, he did a better job overall with progression. These can be seen in the video below.

With the good comes the bad. When I first watched the game I was pleased with Rudolph. Sure he had his issues but he also did not hurt the team. Watching the All-22 gave me more perspective and my thoughts changed. Rudolph has continued to struggle with touch on deep passes and progressions. The pocket presence was a mixed bag, especially when moving out of the pocket. He flowed out of the pocket well but made poor decisions afterward. Rudolph has to be more aware of the pocket and not take devastating sacks ensuring no touchdown.

Rudolph has been gifted great field position game after game this season only to have the drive stall. While it is great to come away with points, the team is not winning the close games because of settling for field goals. The Steelers had two drives which started on the Baltimore 25 or closer. On those two drives, Pittsburgh moved from the 16 back to the 23, while the other started at the 25 and moved to the 11. Fifteen yards were picked up because of Ravens penalties.

It is unclear if Rudolph will beat the clock on passing the concussion protocol for Sunday’s tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers but with the Steelers heading into a bye week after, expect Devlin “Duck” Hodges get the nod Sunday.

The Steelers ‘Bonehead’ and ‘Genius’ decisions of the week, Ravens Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 8:31am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

A new feature on BTSC gives fans an arena to let their displeasure be known about one specific facet of the game that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their share of ‘bonehead’ decisions throughout their 1-4 start to the 2019 season. Every game, even games where the Steelers pull out the ‘W’, have their moments where fans are scratching their heads regarding a specific decision. There have also been some very genius moves made, of which should be noted too.

The overall crux of this article was built around the fact of giving fans a chance to have a space where they can put their collective heads together and try and figure out what went wrong, what went right, and why the outcome went down the way it did.

After last week’s article, it was recommended along with the bad decision of the week, which some viewed as too negative, we add in a positive decision. So, this feature has turned into the bonehead and genius decisions of the week.

When it comes to bonehead decisions, for me it was how the first half ended. Not much has been written about the time management in that situation, but it drove me up a wall. With just under 30 seconds left, Mike Hilton intercepted a Lamar Jackson pass, giving the Steelers the ball in the red-zone.

They had one timeout remaining. A completion to Jaylen Samuels, two incompletions and a roughing the passer call later, the team headed into halftime adding a Chris Boswell field goal and the timeout still remaining on the scoreboard. How in the world can anyone justify not calling a timeout when Samuels was tackled in bounds with just over 20 seconds left on the clock? This amount of time would give you more options than scrambling to the line and having less than 10 seconds when all was said and done.

Just horrible clock management, and just think if the Steelers had scored a touchdown in that situation with more time, it could have completely altered the outcome of the game.

I decided to reach out to Dave Schofield and BTSC podcaster Lance Williams regarding their bonehead decisions and/or genius decisions of Week 5. See what they had to say:

Dave Schofield — Bonehead Move — Only running the ball 19 times

The Steelers averaged over 4 yards per carry, while the Ravens were under 3.5 yards. With such a decisive amount per play, it would make more sense for the Steelers to run the ball 40 times like the Ravens did. But they did not. Even 25-30 plays would have been sufficient. It would have also helped with the time of possession and keeping the defense off the field. Many people have been wanting the Steelers to run the ball more, but they have not been effective enough with the running. They were against Baltimore. So there was no reason to not run more.

Dave Schofield — Genius Move — Kicking the ball away to start overtime

I didn’t like it in the moment, but the decision was really thought out. What’s usually a great strategy going into a game? Taking away the other team’s best player. And the Ravens’ best player is Justin Tucker. Allowing him to pin you deep on the kickoff and possibly start with good field position with him having such a range for a game-winning field goal could have been a dangerous move. This strategy kept their best player off the field the entire time as the defense got the stop and handed good field position to the offense. This decision came down to taking field position over possession. It worked exactly as planned, until the fumble.

Lance Williams — Bonehead Move — Running the Wildcat again and having Samuels throw the football

The Pittsburgh Steelers caught the Cincinnati Bengals off guard when they decided to run the Wildcat offense with Jaylen Samuels and focus on jet-sweep plays to help their ball carriers to the edge and work on the Bengals’ poor linebackers. But did the Steelers really think they could dip their toes into that water again and see the same result? Clearly they did, and the Ravens were ready for it. So much so it got Jaylen Samuels out of wack and he threw an ill-advised pass to James Washington that ended up in the lap of a Ravens defender. Second offensive possession, trailing 3-0, the Steelers gift the Ravens a possession in their own red-zone. Before you knew it, it was 10-0 Baltimore.

It is here where you, the reader, gets to voice your concern/anger/pleasure with something the Steelers did, or didn’t do, from the week that was! Let us know your bonehead and/or genius decisions of the week in the comment section below!

5 plays that show how the Steelers’ youth and inexperience cost them in Week 5

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 7:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mason Rudolph and a young defense leave a few to many plays unmade.

The Pittsburgh Steelers showed their youth and inexperience in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. The Steelers now have 3 losses by a combined 9 points, and again there are numerous plays that can be pointed to as opportunities missed.

In today’s 5 play film session, I’m going to look at plays that show the flaws of inexperience, but also a few that show that there is hope for improvement.

For Steelers QBs, it’s all a matter of timing

3rd and 6, James Washington is at the bottom of the screen.

This play gets James Washington underneath, covered only by the Earl Thomas III coming from a deep zone. On first glance this looks like a play where Alejandro Villanueva and Ramon Foster getting split by Pernell McPhee caused the play to fail. It’s clear that Foster and Villanueva need to do better here, but Rudolph had a window to throw in. Let’s look at a different angle in slow motion.

You see the moment James Washington is open, and if you watch, when Rudolph puts his weight on his back foot to start the clip is the moment he should have started to throw the ball. Instead he takes a hop, looks and then has to protect the ball before he gets hit. Even if the pressure hadn’t come, Rudolph has missed the team’s best chance of converting this third down, because Earl Thomas would be there to tackle Washington right after the catch. Rudolph is slow to commit to the throw, waiting until James is clearly open, and he doesn’t have that much time. Instead of James Washington having time to turn and try to beat Thomas to get the ~4 remaining yards for a first down, the Steelers lose 11 yards and settle for a longer FG.

But that’s one play, and it has a DE crashing his pocket. So let’s look at another good example, this time from shortly before Rudolph would leave the game.

1st and 10, Washington is closest to the bottom of the screen.

You can see Washington is wide open the entire time he is crossing between the hash marks. Rudolph hits him almost at the numbers, and the DB is there to make a play.

Here’s the point where Rudolph’s arm starts to come back to make the throw.

Washington is already open, and Rudolph is starting to pull his arm back to throw. It’s already too late. Even if he is going to make this throw at this point, he needs to put it on the hash mark to his left (closer to the top of the screen), and let James stop and catch it in open space. Rudolph tries to lead him, but puts the ball right where the defenders can get to it.

Here’s when Rudolph should have started throwing the ball.

At this point James is about to make his cut, the defender he has just run past is committing to the TE underneath and a ball thrown straight down the middle of the field will hit James when he is wide open and able to gain yards after the catch.

Rudolph is almost half a second late on the throw, and yes, half a second isn’t much time, but that’s the difference in the NFL. This is a hard adjustment to make for a QB that was very successful in the Big 12, where he could throw to WRs after they were open, but that is a habit he is going to have to break if he’s going to start in the NFL. He needs to be able to anticipate the WR getting open and throw it before they are past the defenders.

For contrast, here’s Devlin Hodges’ first throw of the game. James Washington is again the WR to the bottom of the screen.

This play results in a pass interference call as Brandon Carr steps up and knees James Washington off his route. But look at when Devlin Hodges starts to throw the football:

That’s how you throw a WR open. That’s how you make life hard on a CB, because as the WR makes their cut the ball is already on its way, and the defense gets far less time to recover. Instead of having a chance to undercut the route and play the ball, Carr has to try and go through James Washington, and he gets flagged for it.

Mason Rudolph is a more physically gifted Quarterback than Devlin Hodges. That was visible in the short time Hodges was on the field, but Hodges anticipated the play better than Rudolph has this season. It will be interesting to see if Hodges can have more success with downfield passes against San Diego with his inferior arm but better timing.

Devin Bush is getting closer to greatness

Devin Bush starts the play in-between the hashes.

Early this season Devin Bush had two big weaknesses, biting on play action and having his height taken advantage of in coverage. He showed a lot of improvement in play action last week, and again this week. I’ve been on the record saying teams are going to keep getting tall TE’s on Bush and going over top of him until he makes them pay for it. And he finally did. Here’s a good view of the break-up in slow motion.

Lamar Jackson has Bush on Nick Boyle and puts it up high for Boyle to get. This kind of pass is in every game this season, Bush in tight coverage, QB throws the ball over his head and the TE jumps to make the catch. This time Bush is able to get his hands inside Boyle’s hands and break up the catch. Whether you think Bush secured the interception or not, he finally took away this play that has been haunting him all season. He’s given teams something to think about before they draw up this play against him.

But he’s not there yet. . .

For the last play let’s look at a missed opportunity that could have been the play we all remember as the moment the defense got the Steelers a big win.

3rd and 10, Bush is again right in the middle of the field to start the play.

Right before the gif restarts you can see the moment Orlando Brown Jr. pulls Gus Edwards out of the endzone to avoid the safety. Look where Devin Bush is at that point. Bush, like most of the defenders and people watching, thought the Steelers had secured the safety and started to celebrate. Bush has a clear chance to go join the push and stop the ball from crossing the line, and he doesn’t. If he makes that play we’d have a legitimate hero on our defense, instead we have a young LB approaching greatness and a fourth loss. In a game that the defense lived up to the hype I’ve been heaping on them, this is one big play that they failed to finish.

It stands out to me that Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kameron Kelly, Devin Bush and Terrell Edmunds are all celebrating while you can see Joe Haden coming in to try and help at the end. All the young guys stopped, while the old veteran was playing to the whistle.

Hopefully this is a lesson they only need to learn once.

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

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 6:30am
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are several NFL games this week which can be used as a measuring stick for teams the Steelers take on later in 2019

It goes without saying that the most important game of the week for the Pittsburgh Steelers is when they face off on Sunday Night Football against the Los Angeles Chargers. Or at least I thought it was. Apparently it was not spelled out clearly enough for some last week that while taking care of business on the field is most important, if you’re a fan of the NFL and care to watch other games they may also give some indication as to how the Steelers may match up against other teams in the future. For example, the Cleveland Browns getting run over by the San Francisco 49ers was a very telling game. And according to the majority of fans last week, they knew it would be going in to Monday night.

As for Week 6, here are the three games which could give the most perspective on what the Steelers can expect with future opponents:

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Sunday at 4:05 PM on FOX

The Steelers’ game with the San Francisco 49ers was a troubling one. Even though they had to travel out west for Mason Rudolph’s first start, the Steelers still were in a position where they could have (and possibly should have) won the game. Since facing the Steelers, the 49ers had their bye week before taking down the Cleveland Browns 31-3.

As for the Los Angeles Rams, they will be visiting Heinz Field on November 10 for a 4:25 PM game. The Rams are also 3-2 after starting the season with three straight wins over the Panthers, Saints, and Browns. In the last two weeks,the Rams have fallen at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in Seattle last Thursday night.

The matchup on Sunday in the late afternoon time slot could be an indication as to the quality of the opponent the Steelers will be facing in Week 10. If the 49ers can take down the Rams on the road, It will show they are the team to beat in the NFC West. As for the Steelers, they are the only team in 2019 who kept the game within 14 points with San Francisco and had a legitimate (if not probable) shot to take down the 49ers.

Seattle Seahawks at Cleveland Browns Sunday at 1:00 PM on FOX

The Seahawks are coming off their “mini bye” after defeating the Los Angeles Rams 30-29 last Thursday. Other than the Steelers, the Seahawks have also defeated the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals to bring their record to 4–1 with their only loss being to the New Orleans Saints.

As for the Browns, they have staggered their wins against the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens with their losses to the Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco 49ers. Coming back east humbled by their 31-3 defeat, the Browns look to keep their up-and-down pattern of play going against a tough Seahawks team.

This game is one of those key matchups where the Steelers need their division opponents to lose to the same teams with which they have already lost. While Seattle has shown they are a formidable opponent, they still must travel east for another 1 PM start against an AFC North team. Should the Browns prevail, it will give them a win on a common opponent of the Steelers which will help in their overall record for the season.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Sunday 1:00 PM on CBS

While the Steelers have already played both of these teams, they still have one more matchup remaining with each of them on the schedule. Additionally, seeing how the Ravens can handle Cincinnati will be very interesting to watch. Of course, with Baltimore leading the division, the Bengals getting into the win column would be a very welcomed site.

So there are the three main matchups which can give Steeler fans an indication as to the quality of upcoming opponents in 2019. While each week is a different game and upsets due to certain matchups are bound to happen, the greater the body of work each team puts on the field can help to draw better conclusions.

So which of these games other than their own will be the most telling as it pertains to the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers? Make sure you vote in the poll and give your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: Will the Steelers be able to overcome key injuries and beat the Chargers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 5:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially underway, and the news is really starting to heat up. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Breakdown of the upcoming game vs. the Chargers
  • Predictions
  • 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: Whether it is Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges at QB, the Steelers need to let it fly

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/10/2019 - 4:35am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 6 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Los Angeles Chargers we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the next game starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how regardless of who is at quarterback in Week 6, the Steelers need to let their quarterback fly and throw the ball downfield.

Let’s get to the news:

  • It is fitting how right when Mason Rudolph was starting to get comfortable and driving the ball downfield, he gets knocked out of the game in Week 5. As the Steelers prepare for the Chargers, they need to let their QB sling it, regardless of who may be under center.

Tim Benz: If Devlin ‘Duck Dynasty’ Hodges starts for the Steelers, just let him fly

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

My expectations weren’t high. But I allowed myself to be pleasantly surprised.

Hey, I can do that. I witnessed the Pirates win three whole playoff games back in 2013, you know.

With my own eyes!

I had a micro-level response like that on Sunday. That’s when Devlin “Duck Dynasty” Hodges took over at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens.

When Mason Rudolph was knocked out with a concussion, my thought was, “Uh oh. Here comes the undersized, undrafted guy from Samford. He looked great winging the ball and running around against fourth-stringers in preseason games and training camp. What’s he going to look like in a real game against starters, though?”

The answer was, well, pretty darned good, actually.

No, Hodges couldn’t lead the team to victory Sunday. The Ravens won 26-23 in overtime. But he was 7-of-9 for 68 yards. He also scrambled for 20 yards and helped finish off the team’s lone touchdown drive of the second half.

Yes, he threw a pick that got called back via penalty. But the quarterback who wears No. 7 on that team has had that happen to him once or twice, too.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers let a golden opportunity slip away on Sunday, but it was far from their first misstep within the AFC North division race.

Mark Madden: Steelers have wasted golden opportunity in AFC North

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It took a little over 24 hours to truly sink in.

But once Johnny Manziel Jr. stunk out the joint in Cleveland’s 31-3 loss at San Francisco Monday night, the Steelers found themselves staring straight down the barrel of wasted opportunity.

The AFC North really does reek. The Steelers could be leading it (with a bevy of rotten foes in their future) if JuJu Smith-Schuster hadn’t fumbled, or if offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner hadn’t outsmarted himself by using the wildcat at his own 12-yard-line, or if the Steelers hadn’t converted three takeaways into just nine points.

Or if Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t hurt. Third-stringer Devlin Hodges vs. future Hall-of-Famer Philip Rivers at Los Angeles Sunday isn’t the kind of quarterback matchup that has gamblers rushing to the betting window to wager on that “Duck” guy.

What’s done is done. Which is to say, the Steelers are, barring some fantastic series of events that includes the Steelers actually winning some games.

Those bad teams the Steelers can’t wait to play? They can’t wait to play the Steelers. Miami is afraid the Steelers will disrupt their tanking process. Good thing they own the Steelers’ first-round pick next year. Minkah Fitzpatrick finagled his way to exactly one more win.

Miami, Cincinnati, Arizona and the New York Jets are future Steelers opponents. They have one victory between them. If you expect the Steelers to sweep those games, consider: Toss the Steelers into that group, and the teams have two victories between then.

The uphill climb isn’t getting any easier.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds has been an iron man for the defense since his career started. But that iron man streak was snapped, in a unique way.

Terrell Edmunds saw streak of 542 consecutive snaps end

By: Charean Williams, ProFootballTalk

Steelers strong safety Terrell Edmunds left the field after the first two plays Sunday, replaced by Vince Williams. It ended a streak of 542 consecutive snaps for Edmunds.

Say what?” Edmunds said Monday when told of the now-defunct streak, via Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com. “Wow! That’s crazy. I didn’t know anything about it. I was just out there playing, but that’s crazy now that you said it. That’s a big stat though, a crazy stat. I didn’t know that. Thank you for telling me.”

Edmunds played every snap the previous eight games.

In fact, Edmunds had a streak of 607 of 608 defensive snaps, leaving the game on the final drive of a Week 13 game against the Chargers as a rookie. Mike Hilton replaced Edmunds for the one play.

“Yeah, I did replace him; I do remember that, OK,” Hilton said. “Wow! That was a long time ago. The thing is, I don’t think it is too much for him. He is a second-year guy; he is very intelligent, and he is very coachable.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Maurkice Pouncey talks about Devlin Hodges, snapping to three different QBs, the Chargers’ defense & more. pic.twitter.com/B41LpXK4Vi

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 9, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

.@missi_matthews provides today's practice report, breaks down what Devlin Hodges and Maurkice Pouncey said in their media sessions, and more. #SteelersLive pic.twitter.com/bCYpDktAAO

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 9, 2019

Talking some defense with @DOCnation_7 this week. Our full 1-on-1 comes out on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/t8KjVtBqTT

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) October 9, 2019

See all of the sights & sounds from Sunday's game against the Ravens.#SightsNSounds pic.twitter.com/3bAYfZFUUR

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 9, 2019

AFC Ranks (Sacks):

T-9. @_TJWatt, @CamHeyward, @DOCnation_7 (3️⃣.5️⃣)
T-12. @Bud_Dupree (3️⃣.0️⃣) pic.twitter.com/XBJixXDQmP

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 9, 2019

Steelers Injury Report: Mason Rudolph practices on Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 4:24pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In all, three injured players were able to practice in a limited fashion

The Pittsburgh Steelers got their practice underway for the week as they are preparing for their last trip to the Pacific timezone of the 2019 season against the Los Angeles Chargers before heading into their bye. According to the Steelers PR Department, seven players sat out the first practice on Wednesday.

Quarterback Mason Rudolph was able to take some reps at practice today as he continues to work his way through the NFL’s concussion protocol. Although participating in practice is a great sign, it will be late in the week before his status can be known for sure. He was officially listed as limited.

Devin Hodges confirmed Mason Rudolph was able to take some practice reps today #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) October 9, 2019

Although there was hope that he could return this week, Roosevelt Nix did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Nix has been out since leaving the Steeler’s Week 1 game with a knee injury. James Washington and Jaylen Samuels did not participate in practice as Samuels has already been ruled out for the week. It has been reported that Washington will miss several weeks, but nothing official from the Steelers has a confirmed this report.

Anthony Chickillo returned to practice in a limited role with his foot injury after missing the last three games. Steven Nelson was another player limited on Wednesday with his groin injury, but him being able to participate at all is a good sign if he responds well to the workout.

Other players on the injury list included Vance McDonald with his shoulder and Justin Layne due to an illness. Hopefully both of these players will find themselves back in some capacity tomorrow.

In his usual Wednesday spot, Maurkice Pouncey was given the day off as a coaches decision. Mark Barron had been joining him on this day, but he was technically out due to his hamstring injury.

As for the Chargers injury report, it can be seen here when made available. As reported by ESPN’s Eric Williams, the Chargers already have seven starters out due to injury.

Chargers now have seven projected starters out due to injury: S Derwin James (foot), OT Russell Okung (pulmonary embolism), S Adrian Phillips (broken forearm), K Michael Badgley (right groin), TE Hunter Henry (knee), DE Melvin Ingram (hamstring), C Mike Pouncey (neck).

— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) October 9, 2019

BTSC Bookie: Betting the over/under for the NFL Week 6 games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 1:30pm
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the BTSC community to show they could cash in betting on NFL football games, this time deciding if teams will combine for a certain total score

It is time for the Week 6 installment of BTSC Bookie! This is a chance for the BTSC community to collectively choose games in which to place an imaginary wager of “BTSC Bucks.” Each week I will remind everyone of the rules and explain an aspect of betting in order to further educate those interested about the process.

Before I get into the procedure of things, I want to remind everyone that gambling addiction is a serous problem numerous people face. Like many things in life, gambling can be a fun and safe exercise if done in moderation, while obsessive gambling can have destructive and life-altering consequences. If you or anyone you know is suffering from a gambling addiction, help is available HERE.

The Process
  • We will start with $500 in BTSC Bucks for the season. If we bust, we may borrow from the BTSC Bookie, but will have to pay 20% interest each week it isn’t paid. It’s a steep price, but there are consequences to failure.
  • All games this week will be betting the over/under point total.
  • There will be 12 betting lines for users to place a vote. The values are as of Tuesday evening and they are locked in throughout the voting. The polls will run until Saturday night at 11:59 PM and the top three results will have wagers placed: $100 for the top choice, $50 for the second choice, and $25 for the third.
  • A write-in campaign can be staged for voting. If any comment in the weekly article brings up a different game in the comments to make the wager and can receive enough recommendations to place it in the top three vote-wise, it will be calculated accordingly. I know it’s highly unlikely for a comment to receive that many recommendations, but if it does it will count.
  • Thursday games will not be included due to obvious time constraints.
  • All games may have the two opposing lines as an option. If so, only the higher vote-getter will be eligible for the wager. For example, if betting on the Steelers-Chargers game, if the over receives the most votes but the under receives the second most, he under will be ignored.
  • Betting both for and against the Steelers will always be an option.
Last Week’s Wager

For Week 5, the majority of the users voted for the Steelers to beat the Ravens straight up since it was a nice payout if they could pull off the upset. The voting was very close between betting straight up versus against the spread. It was a tricky spread to bet against at 3.5 points. While betting the spread with $100 would have yeilded $90.91 in profit, the moneyline was $160 profit. Unfortunately, with a 3-point loss, it was the case where betting the spread would have paid off but instead the $100 was ripped from us much like the victory was ripped from the Steelers.

As for the other two games, the $50 wager was a great payout which was on Arizona to defeat Cleveland at +155 which came in second place in the voting. Since the Cardinals won the game, we earned $77.50 in profit as well as gaining back out original $50.

The Green Bay Packers vs. the Dallas Cowboys had a $25 wager on the Packers to keep the game within 3.5 points at the -110 payout. The Packers won the game straight up and we earned a payout of $22.73 above our original investment. If the bet against the spread and on the moneyline had been switched between the Packers and Steelers, we would have earned about $110 more. Instead, we lost the $100 in the Steelers game. So the more than $200 swing burns almost much like knowing the Steelers would be in the division lead if they had won on Sunday. In all, we earned a $100.23 profit on the second two games. Taking into account the loss in the first game, we just broke even with a $0.23 profit.

Week 3 Balance: $755.55 Week 4 Net Gain/Loss: +$0.23 Week 4 Total: $755.78 Betting the Over/Under

One other thing to consider while placing a bet is the option of betting on the total number of points scored by the two teams combined. To better understand, here is a rundown on betting the over/under according to Odsshark.com.

What does OVER/UNDER Mean in Betting?

OVER/UNDER betting is also called a totals bet. The total in any given sporting event is a combined score of both teams. The total for these games is an amount that is set by oddsmakers based on how they envision a game will unfold from a scoring perspective. As a bettor, you would need to select if the total number of points scored by both teams will be OVER or UNDER the set total.

OVER/UNDER Explained

A sports betting OVER/UNDER is a bet where you have to correctly predict the combined score of both teams. You have to pick if the total score will be lower or higher than the number set by oddsmakers – the people at betting sites who set the lines and odds.

For example, let’s take a Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys game with the total set at 48.5 points. As a bettor, you would select if the game’s final score will be OVER 49 points or UNDER 48 points.

At the sportsbook, the odds would be laid out like this:

48.5 OVER -110

48.5 UNDER +105

If you bet $50 on the OVER and the combined score was 56, you would get a payout of $95.45 – your original $50 comes back along with your $45.45 win. Conversely, if the game ended 27-20, that would be a pooled score of 47 points, meaning the game went UNDER. That same $50 bet on the winning UNDER would get you $102.50 – your first $50 plus your winnings of $52.50. Our Odds Calculator will give you an idea of how much you’d win based on the amount wagered.

What if the Set Total is a Whole Number?

Generally, totals betting lines are numbers ending with a half-point (.5), but in rare cases oddsmakers will predict that the total combined score will be a whole number. A PUSH in sports betting is when a total is a whole number like 48 points and the combined score hits it exactly.

For instance, let’s pretend the Patriots are playing the Saints and the total is set at 48. If the final score is 28-20, that would be considered a PUSH since all points scored equal 48. The sportsbook you wagered with would refund your bet no matter if you selected UNDER or OVER in this matchup.

Some bettors may feel that there is a larger advantage with betting on totals with a solid number instead of with a .5 as it provides an extra safety net to avoid losing your wager entirely.

What if the Game Goes to Overtime?

If a game goes to OT, it doesn’t change your bet. OVER/UNDER betting is just like any other bet where you are looking at the final score, whether the game ends in regulation or multiple overtimes. Although it’s often said that NFL overtime is an UNDER bettor’s worst enemy but an OVER bettor’s best friend, it’s important to remember that both teams get the chance to touch the ball. So, if the Rams get the ball first and score, the Chargers will get their chance too.

Week 6 Options

Here are the options chosen for the Week 4 betting exercise. Make sure you cast your vote in the poll. If you want to play your own game, leave your choices in the comments below and keep track of your total throughout the season. I’ve expanded the field to 12 entries to give the over and under option for six different games.

For this week, payouts are listed in parenthesis, most of which are -110. As stated earlier, only one choice per game will have a wager. The nice thing about the over/under is the winner of the game is irrelevant, so you can be cheering either for more or less points. If you wish to vote for more than one, clear your “cookies” on your browser and vote again.

Burning Questions: Needed answers as the Steelers prepare for the Chargers in Week 6

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 12:00pm
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers are in desperation mode, and there are plenty of questions that need to be answered.

Words can’t describe how bad I felt for Mason Rudolph as we all watched the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback on the Heinz Field turf unconscious. Prayers and thoughts go out to the second year quarterback as we hope for a speedy, and thorough, recovery.

Nonetheless, there are some serious questions that need answered that are injury related, and some that involve the state of the football team. Let’s get to it...

Question 1a and 1b - With the injury to Mason Rudolph and an uncertain timeline for a return, the Steelers are left with one quarterback on the active roster. When Ben Roethlisberger went on season ending Injured Reserve, Paxton Lynch was signed to the practice squad. They also signed Taryn Christion to the practice squad to basically emulate Jackson and his style of play, but he has since been released.

While someone like Landry Jones would be a thought in my people’s minds, him being under contract with the XFL means he can’t come back to possibly help the team. Is Paxton Lynch the person the team should promote if Rudolph is out this week?

If not Lynch, who would you bring in if Rudolph is out for an extended time?

Question 2 - James Washington left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury and did not return. There is not much left in Mother Hubbard’s cupboard if he can’t play next week. Ryan Switzer has been relegated to only return duties, and that in itself is debatable. Johnny Holton has yet to get his hands on a ball and we know what the story is with Donte Moncrief.

Where do the Steelers look for help if Washington can’t go, and should they be looking anyway?

Question 3 - Despite my griping about Keith Butler and the state of the defense, it seems as if they have started to gel and come into their own. It almost feels as though they have said we have to carry this team.

Do you feel the same and what is one thing you wished would improve on defense as we move forward in the season?

Question 4 - I’ll start this by saying I am a huge fan of T.J. Watt and feel he is on his way to becoming an elite defensive player in the NFL. With that said he was given a big time stiff arm by Lamar Jackson on Sunday.

Should T.J. be ashamed that a quarterback put him on his butt?

Question 5 - In this last game I saw Ramon Foster standing around instead of getting involved and blocking, twice. Others have commented throughout the year that he is getting blown off the ball and not holding his ground.

Is it time to see what B.J. Finney can do?

Well that’s it, have at it and as always go Steelers!

The good, and the bad, of this very strange 2019 Steelers season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 10:41am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers are 1-4, but somehow not quite dead; what are we even looking at with this team?

There are really only three ways for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers to feel about the 2019 season, as the team sits at 1-4 and prepares for the Los Angeles Chargers.

You are either:

A – giving up on the lost season, and hoping Art Rooney blows the whole thing up.

B – taking a mulligan on 2019, and looking for bright spots for the future.

C – holding out hope that this thing turns around in the weak AFC North.

Call me stubborn, but I’m not constitutionally inclined to blow the whole thing up. So this won’t be that kind of article. If that sounds like you, feel free to click away to something else now — you’ll probably just be annoyed.

But for the rest of us, it’s hard to tell whether to shrug our shoulders and root for the future, or dig in our heals and think about Hail Marys and Immaculate Receptions and other improbable finishes. Stuck straddling that line, I thought it might be a good time to take stock of the good and the bad of the 2019 Steelers. This is far from exhaustive; feel free to add entries in the comments.

The Good: The Steelers have been in position to win the last four games right up to the final gun

The last three losses—to Seattle, San Francisco, and Baltimore—have come by a combined 9 points. Last second drives have been the difference in each, and all three games could be boiled down to a play or two (often involving ball security issues or botched calls on big 3rd downs). That speaks to a team that is this close to having a very different season.

Moreover, those losses have come against teams with a combined record of 11-3. The Seahawks and 49ers, in particular, are proving to be impressive squads, both of whom took down much more hyped opponents this week (with the Seahawks edging the Rams and Niners humbling the Cleveland Browns). The Steelers played both NFC opponents straight-up and were in position to win in the final minutes, coming up just short in each. Meanwhile, for as dynamic and impressive as the Ravens and Lamar Jackson were supposed to be, I thought the Steelers (with their third string rookie quarterback, and their gutsy overtime kick gamble, which amazingly seemed to work) deserved a victory on Sunday.

Too many people pass off Bill Parcells’ famous one-liner, “you are what your record says you are,” as wisdom. But the truth is that not every loss is the equal. The Ravens beat both Pittsburgh and Miami this year, but the overtime heart breaker on Sunday and the 59-10 trouncing on the Dolphins’ opening day, couldn’t have been more different. Not all 1-4 teams are equal, and the Steelers are proving that the difference between 1-4 and 4-1 can be razor-thin.

The Bad: 1-4 is still a hard record to swallow

The Steelers haven’t been 1-4 since 2013 (when the last few championship defenders aged out, and rookie Le’Veon Bell missed the first three weeks). That is, they don’t have a lot of experience losing. Dropping a tight game doesn’t destroy a season when you’re otherwise in the thick of it. But this team is digging a hole that’s going to be hard to control.

The locker room appears to have a real bond (now that a certain wide receiver is out of the league). I loved Cam Heyward’s comment, that if anyone pointed a finger he’d break it off, but losing creates resentment; it’s hard to avoid. An early-season losing streak can cause a locker room to crumble.

That 2013 team didn’t come apart. They finished on an 8-4 run despite having lost most of their vocal veteran leaders (which suggests that Mike Tomlin has control of his team better than most Steeler fans are willing to admit). But these kinds of years are hard to contain. We’ll have to see what shakes down this season.

The Good: Amazingly, the Steelers aren’t out of the division race

Honestly. I almost can’t believe I’m typing this. There are two reasons for it:

First: the division leading Ravens are not as good as advertised. Baltimore was exposed by both the Browns and Steelers in successive weeks, with a blowout loss to Cleveland and an overtime scare against a Steelers team one awkward hit away from snapping the ball to no one.

Meanwhile, those Browns have talent, but appear lacking in leadership, and are simply not as good as the hype suggested. The Steelers are still only two games behind Baltimore and one behind Cleveland, with eleven to play—including the revenge match against Baltimore, and a chance to sweep the Browns. Cleveland’s win over Baltimore also creates a really interesting tie-breaker scenario if the Steelers run the division table.

Second: The Steelers’ schedule is not devastating going forward. Sunday against the 2-3 Chargers will be tough but winnable. If they survive that, they get rewarded with a bye and then the terrible Miami Dolphins (a second bye?). The two weeks that follow Miami might be the toughest, but even they are against the mercurial Colts (world-beaters at Arrowhead; losers at home to the Raiders), and the inconsistent Rams (whose defense has been gouged, and who haven’t looked like themselves all year). The ensuing three games feature tough-to-predict Cleveland twice, with awful Cincinnati in the middle. Then a closing stretch against the Cardinals (1-4), Bills (4-1 but anemic on offense), Jets (0-4), and the grudge match against the Ravens.

9-7 could easily win this division; 8-8 might even do it. The Steelers may wind up 5-11 for all I can predict. But would it really be a huge surprise to see this team finish 9-7 or 8-8?

The Bad: If this season is lost, will some of the veterans start to decline?

Most of the Steelers’ most exciting players are remarkably young. Meanwhile the oldest Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger, plays a well-protected position. If he heals well, he could easily have a couple more high-end years.

However, not all Steeler stars are as lucky. Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward, and Maurkice Pouncey (two of their best defensive players and the pro bowl anchor of their O-line) will all be 31 on opening day 2020. 31 is not the end of the line for any of them, but a man loses a step in his 30s and injuries get slower to heal. I’d hate to see all three of these guys playing excellent football this year in a lost season, then declining next year, when Ben is back on the field and the playoff hopes are higher.

The Good: Devlin Hodges looked great on Sunday

The Duck threw with confidence; he scrambled well; and he rallied the team. He looked unafraid, even in his short overtime possession, and didn’t get gun-shy even after throwing a (called-back) interception in the 4th quarter. Mason Rudolph looked good against Baltimore as well, but I was very impressed with Hodges, who looked looser and more decisive despite the incredible pressure he stepped into. Neither are going to unseat Ben Roethlisberger, but at this point in the season, both appear capable of playing NFL-level football. And honestly, Hodges may be the more exciting of the two.

And for those concerned about the Steelers’ lack of 2020 draft picks, getting both Rudolph and Hodges playing time this year may allow the team to trade one for a decent pick next year, while still retaining the other as a solid backup for Big Ben.

The Bad: The Steelers running game appears dead in the water

I hate to write this, but I fear that James Conner is being exposed—that his success last year was a function of the Steelers dialing up 650 passes with a Hall of Fame quarterback, giving Conner empty boxes all game long. With Ben in a cast, defenses know the Steelers are going to run, and Conner appears stuck in park.

The offensive line has taken heat for not opening holes this year too (perhaps rightfully so), but I never feel confident in Conner anymore. This year, to me, he’s had the look of a third-down back who could start a few games in a pinch (or possibly in a committee backfield), but certainly not a bell-cow, like a Pro Bowler should look.

(On that note, I found myself thinking repeatedly on Sunday, what a shame it is that Le’Veon Bell’s greed got the best of him. While Bell wastes away his career on an absolutely terrible Jets offense, the Steelers’ backup quarterbacks could really use a superstar back to take the heat off. Even if Bell is only worth a bump of 30 or 40 scrimmage yards per game, that could easily translate to a handful of third down conversions and a bunch of eight-man boxes, to thin out the secondary for the greenhorn QBs. And that could easily be the difference between 1-4 and 4-1. This is not a criticism of Steelers management, who offered Bell a fortune that he should have accepted. It’s just a heavy sigh.)

The Good: The defense is improving dramatically

The defense I saw against Baltimore still had some aggravating moments (the two-minute drive they gave up to tie the game was painful). But that’s becoming more the exception than the rule. They put up a brick wall after pinning the Ravens at their own 1 yard line in the 4th quarter. And Mike Tomlin’s overtime gamble (kicking and then betting on his defense to hold) amazingly worked—that should have resulted in a win.

Picking up Minkah Fitzpatrick and Steve Nelson and drafting Devin Bush appear to have been excellent roster moves. Meanwhile since Keith Butler took over the OLB coaching, Bud Dupree has turned into a playmaker (including a big-time overtime sack of Jackson on Sunday). (P.S. Is it time to admit Joey Porter may have been holding Dupree back?) All this alongside legit stars like T.J. Watt and the entire defensive line, and the extremely solid contributors who keep making plays, like Mike Hilton or Vince Williams (welcome back!). This is a promising unit.

Perhaps the best place to see this is in splash plays: the Steelers D has been the best sacking squad in football for the last several years, but they’d been inexplicably allergic to takeaways for some time. That appears to be over. We could credit the 49ers with dropping the football over and over in week 3, but Lamar Jackson looked overmatched by this defense. He’s thrown eight interceptions in his entire career; three of them came on Sunday.

What a crime that the defense looks so good right when the offense implodes.

The Bad: The Steelers’ most reliable offensive players are proving unreliable

My faith in James Conner has sunk this season already (see above), but even if he was running well, we have to admit that he has built a bad record of losing the ball in big moments. He fumbled in terrible moment, while bleeding the clock against Cleveland, in last year’s opener; and then again late in the loss against Denver down the stretch. And he dropped a key 4th down pass last year against Jacksonville that nearly cost the team a win. Now this year, rather than sledgehammer the 49ers three weeks ago, or even just bleed the clock for a few minutes and allow a field-flipping punt, he fumbled in Steeler territory in the final minutes. It’s come to the point that I cringe at every 4th quarter carry he logs.

Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is truly is capable of being an all-star WR1, and who caught every pass thrown his way on Sunday, was stripped of the ball in overtime against Baltimore, essentially handing the game to the Ravens. After his late-game fumble against the New Orleans Saints last year, is it reasonable to be worried about JuJu in crunch time as well?

Everyone fumbles once in a while. Even Jerome Bettis did in the famous 2005 divisional playoff game, which nearly cost the team its fifth Super Bowl title. But the remarkable thing about Bettis’s fumble was that it happened at all—the Bus NEVER fumbled, and certainly not in the clutch. It wasn’t his first career turnover, but he was a closer; he’d been unshakable in moments that mattered most. Just like we don’t have stories about Hines Ward fumbling in crunch time and costing the team a victory. Or Bell, or Antonio Brown, or Heath Miller.

With everything on the line, you want to put the ball in the hands of your best players. They may not always steal a win, but you know they’re not going to give one away either. If Conner and JuJu can’t be counted on in the clutch, then who do you go to when it matters?

I’m not sure what this all adds up to, but maybe that’s the point. This team is a mystery. If they lose to the Chargers, it might be time to hoist the white flag. But until then, I guess we’ll have to keep watching.

Go Steelers!

Report: James Washington’s shoulder injury to have him out of the lineup for “weeks”

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 9:35am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver could be out of commission for a few weeks with an injured shoulder.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have issues on the injury front, and they don’t all surround the quarterback position. While the team isn’t sure who will be their starter in Week 6 when the team travels to play the Los Angeles Chargers, there is a good chance they will be short-handed at the wide receiver position too.

With JuJu Smith-Schuster nursing a toe injury, it looks as if James Washington will be out at least a few “weeks” with a shoulder injury suffered during the team’s Week 5 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

This per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network:

#Steelers WR James Washington is expected to miss a few weeks with a shoulder injury suffered on Sunday, source said. Another challenge for either Mason Rudolph or Devlin Hodges this week.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 9, 2019

The bad news is this means Washington is most likely out this Sunday for the prime time game, but there is a silver lining here is the team has their bye week in Week 7 before hosting the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football in Week 8.

If Washington’s injury isn’t that severe, there is a good chance he could return for the Dolphins game, or in Week 9, but it still leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the meantime.

The team has held onto Donte Moncrief for a reason, and he might get a shot to prove his worth on Sunday with the team likely short-handed at the receiver position. Other internal options would be to see more of Johnny Holton or Ryan Switzer on the field as receivers.

Not really a comforting thought for Steelers fans who are hoping to see their team shock the NFL world and beat the Chargers to get some good mojo working as the team heads into their bye week.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for another west coast trip in Week 6.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is mastering the ABC(D)s of Safety for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 8:36am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Showing how Minkah Fitzpatrick is not just learning the Steelers’ system, but mastering it.

It’s been three weeks since the Steelers traded their first round pick in the 2020 draft to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The price tag for acquiring the talented 22 year-old was steep, as are expectations that Fitzpatrick will solidify the back end of a Steelers defense that hasn’t had a top-notch free safety since Ryan Clark departed in 2014. A three game sample size isn’t enough to draw definitive conclusions on whether Fitzpatrick has met expectations or, as pundits love to do, declare a “winner” of the trade. But it is big enough to examine the impact he’s made in his brief time as a Steeler. Let’s take a look.

THE NUMBERS

Statistics aren’t always the best indicator of success or failure but they can be useful when attempting to draw broad conclusions. Here are some numbers that show the performance of the Steelers defense in the first two games of the season before Fitzpatrick arrived and in the three games since:

Of those numbers, two are particularly telling. First, the number of explosive receptions (plays of 20+ yards) has been cut in half. The defense surrendered nine pass plays of 20 or more yards in the first two weeks and has given up just seven in the three games since. Explosive plays are sometimes the result of a great schematic design or a superior receiver beating a defensive back in coverage. Often, however, they result from poor fundamentals by the safeties. This seemed to be the norm in Pittsburgh the past few seasons, as the Mike Mitchell/Sean Davis and Davis/Terrell Edmunds pairings struggled with their basic responsibilities.

The second number that jumps out is the turnover rate. Granted, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, the quarterbacks the Steelers faced in weeks one and two, are historically far more careful with the football than Jimmy Garoppolo, Andy Dalton and Lamar Jackson, their opponents in weeks three through five. Still, the Steelers created just two turnovers in those first two games combined. Couple that with the 2018 defense, which produced 15 turnovers all season, and the Steelers generated 17 turnovers in the 18 games prior to Fitzpatrick’s arrival. That stretch included failing to create any turnovers in games quarterbacked by Dalton, Jeff Driskell, Joe Flacco and Case Keenum and just one against the likes of Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr.

By contrast, with Fitzpatrick in the lineup, the current defense has already produced ten turnovers in three games. This cannot be attributed to inferior quarterback play or random coincidence. Something Fitzpatrick is doing is making the defense more effective. To better understand that something, let’s examine some of the fundamentals of the safety position where Fitzpatrick has already provided an upgrade.

“A-B-C-D”

For safeties, one of the primary coaching points hammered home at all levels of football is “A-B-C-D.” A-B-C-D is an acronym for “Align-Backpedal-Communicate-Drive.” These are the four things safeties must do consistently to be effective.

Alignment is the most fundamental of these duties. It is imperative that the safeties, the free safety in particular, get secondary personnel lined up properly and in the right position at the snap. Poor alignment creates gaps in a defense that well-coached offenses will exploit. If a player cannot line up correctly, it diminishes the effectiveness of the entire defense.

Take the example shown in the photos below. In the 2nd quarter of the season opener at New England, the Patriots aligned in a compressed 3x1 set to the field with a single receiver on the backside. The Steelers, in 4-2-5 personnel, lined up in cover-2. Terrell Edmunds (circled below) was at free safety with Kam Kelly the strong safety to the boundary.

Kelly’s alignment allowed him to bracket the single receiver to his side of the field but Edmunds, for some reason, lined up inside the hash to his own. He may have recognized he had help from the far corner on anything to the sideline and that slot corner Mike Hilton would carry any route up the seam. Edmunds, therefore, aligned to protect against a route to the post.

Edmunds aligns two steps inside the hash. It is a slight misalignment but enough to put him out of position.

But Edmunds is too tight here. He should be on the hash, where he can react to either of the two inside receivers to the trips should they go vertical. Two steps inside might not seem like much of a misalignment but, as we shall see, it’s just enough to put Edmunds out of position.

At the snap, Edmunds compounded his alignment issue by allowing Tom Brady to move him with his eyes. Brady initially looked left to the slant from his single receiver. With Kelly and Steven Nelson bracketing the slant, Edmunds had no business moving that way. He should have backpedaled and gotten depth (the second commandment in “A-B-C-D”) instead of shuffling laterally. These false steps, coupled with his poor alignment, put him in bad position to help with the post coming from the other side of the field.

You can see in the photo below that Hilton had outside leverage on Phillip Dorsett, which indicates he was likely anticipating help from the inside. Dorsett did a nice job keeping his post “skinny,” meaning not running it towards the middle of the field into the safety. As the third photo shows, Edmunds was too far off the hash to recover and Brady threw a strike to Dorsett for the touchdown. The failure of Edmunds to defend the post was compounded by his false steps. But it began with his alignment.

Kelly, by the way, wound up in bad position too. Notice how he and Nelson are stacking each other in the third frame. Both players are over top of the slant, giving Brady an easy throw. Ideally, depending on the call, either Kelly should have come underneath to “rob” the route or Jackson should have been in a trail position on the receiver’s hip. This is a communication issue, which I will address momentarily. All things considered, the failure of the secondary to get its ABC’s (align-backpedal-communicate) down on this play resulted in a touchdown for the Patriots.

Now let’s look at the ABC’s of the secondary with Fitzpatrick on the field. Here is a 3rd down play from the 27-3 win against the Bengals two weeks ago. Cincinnati is in a 3x1 set to the field and the Steelers align to it in a two-high shell. The Bengals will run a deep hitch route to the single receiver side. To the trips, the tight end will run a shorter hitch while the slot and flanker execute a curl-wheel combo:

The safeties are aligned at about 13 yards and are each just outside the hash (the hash situation is confusing because the college hash marks from that weekend’s Pitt game, which are wider than those used in the pros, are still visible on the field). This looks like traditional cover-2 but at the snap Edmunds, the safety to the bottom of the screen, rolls down to the hook-curl area while Nelson, the corner to his side, drops to a deep third. It’s actually cover-3, whereby three deep defenders split the field in thirds and four underneath players man the flat and hook-curl zones. You can see how well the Steelers space their rotation in the image below:

Haden, Fitzpatrick and Nelson are the deep third players while the circled defenders man the underneath zones. The spacing here is excellent.

Edmunds is deeper than the other underneath defenders because both receivers to his side are still pushing vertical. He will wind up driving under the curl once it breaks inside. Haden and Bud Dupree bracket the receiver to the top of the screen while Nelson and Fitzpatrick keep everything in front of them. Fitzpatrick has good depth and can protect the post. The drops of the underneath players make throwing the ball over their heads nearly impossible. Should Andy Dalton check down to his tight end, the Steelers are in good position to rally to the ball and make a tackle. This is textbook cover-3, and with the rush closing in, Dalton throws incomplete to the hitch at the top of the screen.

Good communication allows Nelson to take the post/wheel and Hilton to trade the hook off to Edmunds. Dupree gets under the Hitch to the top and Haden drives on it to break it up.

I’m not suggesting this one play proves the Steelers are sounder in their ABC’s with Fitzpatrick on the field. However, when you watch the All-22 film of the three games in which Fitzpatrick has played and you contrast it to the first two games, you see less receivers running wide open, less defenders bunched together in the same zone and fewer opportunities for offenses to make big plays. When you consider how important it is for the free safety to get everyone aligned properly and to communicate at the snap, it’s fair to say Fitzpatrick’s impact has been evident.

Why don’t we see more of it, then? Why isn’t Fitzpatrick jumping out on the TV screen the way a great pass rusher or linebacker does? It’s because, often, with free safeties, their impact is subtle.

I live on a barrier island. There’s a bridge into town that provides a spectacular view of the bay, the island and the ocean. When I’m coming over that bridge, I never stop to think of the concrete and steel holding me up. I simply focus on the view. What we see from a secondary once the ball is snapped is often “the view.” The work of a good free safety, though — in practice, in the film room, in his pre-snap communication — builds the foundation for it. Getting a young player like Edmunds to align two steps to his left, or players like Hilton and Nelson who haven’t worked much together to make switch calls when passing routes to each another, or making hand gestures to alert secondary players of coverage adjustments or disguises, are the subtle ways a free safety solidifies a defense. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how Fitzpatrick is doing these things. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Dick LeBeau was able to use Troy Polamalu in creative and unique ways because he had a free safety in Ryan Clark who could stabilize the back end and get everyone organized while Troy roamed the field like a black and gold knight. We didn’t marvel at Clark the way we did at Troy but Clark functioning like a coach on the field allowed Troy to work his magic. Fitzpatrick is doing something similar for this secondary. We don’t see or hear a ton from him but that’s the way it should be. He’s like having a good bodyguard. You know all is well when everything is quiet.

This isn’t to say Fitzpatrick hasn’t made a splash play or two in his brief time in Pittsburgh. His interception on a deflection against San Francisco was a great example of how the ‘D’ in a safety’s A-B-C-D progression is important. Driving on the football once it’s thrown is often the thing that separates good from great defensive backs or play-makers from guys who simply play the position.

In the first quarter against the 49ers, San Francisco ran a slant route on a 2nd and 11 against a Steelers blitz. The Steelers were in man coverage with Fitzpatrick as the free safety reading the eyes of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Two things are noteworthy when watching the GIF of the play. First, the angle and speed with which Fitzpatrick drives on the ball is excellent. He drives for an impact point where, should the receiver catch the football, Fitzpatrick will be in position to knock it loose or make a sound tackle. Also, his reaction time to the deflection shows high-level athleticism. Watch how instinctively he gets his hands to the ball and how quickly he converts defense into offense. This is what a “playmaker” does: he doesn’t just get into position to create opportunities; he cashes in on them.

Recent Steeler free safeties may have either buried themselves here anticipating a big hit on the receiver (Mike Mitchell) or failed to react to the route quickly enough to get into proper position (Sean Davis). Fitzpatrick, though, is disciplined, instinctive and athletic enough to make the play.

Here’s one more. In last week’s loss to the Ravens, Fitzpatrick forced an interception with a great drive on a quick throw from Lamar Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews. It was a 3rd and 11 play with Baltimore backed up deep in their own end. Fitzpatrick, aligned at the bottom right of the screen, anticipated a quick throw, read Jackson’s eyes and drove on Andrews before Jackson released the ball. He actually got to Andrews too fast and could have been called for pass interference. The refs swallowed their whistles (who knows what constitutes PI these days) and Fitzpatrick was able to deflect the ball into the air, where Kam Kelly picked it off.

PI or not, the play demonstrated how quickly Fitzpatrick can anticipate and drive on the football. His mastery of the A-B-C-Ds of playing safety are uncommon for a player as young and inexperienced (professionally) as he is. He is much further along in his development at this stage in his career than Polamalu was. This isn’t to suggest he is on Polamalu’s level - their playing styles are contrasts, which makes comparisons relatively moot - but it does show how much he understands at this extremely early stage in his career.

This, alone, makes the Fitzpatrick trade seem worth the gamble. Edmunds is not a true free safety. Mike Mitchell wasn’t, either. Sean Davis was bounced around so much he never had a chance to get good at any single position. The beauty of having Fitzpatrick is that, for the first time since Clark’s departure, the Steelers have a true quarterback on the back end of the defense. Fitzpatrick is smart, talented and shows good leadership skills. Best of all, he’s young. At 22 years old, he’s the same age as many of the players who will be available in the draft this coming spring.

Provided the Steelers land somewhere in the 10-15 range of the 1st round, acquiring Fitzpatrick will justify forfeiting that pick. 10-15 seems a reasonable place for them to land, given how close they’ve been against some pretty good teams and with some winnable games coming up on the schedule. Could there be a player available at 10-15 who might be better than Fitzpatrick? Of course. Could there be one who can immediately solidify this team’s weakest position the way Fitzpatrick has? That’s less likely.

Either way, Fitzpatrick has already proven himself to be a valuable asset in Pittsburgh. How valuable remains to be seen. If early indications hold true, few will regret the draft capital spent to acquire him.

Steelers Nation is being forced to expect the unexpected in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 7:29am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Well, it finally happened. Somebody burned down Mike Tomlin's she shed. Where do the embattled HC and perennial winning Steelers organization go from here, and how many members of Steelers Nation won't survive the journey?

After almost five decades inhabiting the planet, with the majority of those years existing as a die hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the full spectrum of Steelers seasons. Thankfully I wasn't around for the pre-Noll and Mean Joe years where the Steelers were the laughing stock of the NFL.

My earliest memories as a child revolve around the unparalleled Steel Curtain dynasty. Four titles in a six year period is unprecedented and the very definition of domination. That era of success set the bar of expectations for a large portion of the fanbase old enough to have experienced it. Some expectations are simply unrealistic.

The NFL is celebrating it's first century of existence this season. Many franchises have come and gone, each experiencing different levels of success and failures. Presently two franchises share the distinction of having won six titles during the Super Bowl era, the New England Patriots and our beloved Steelers. It has been far more feast than famine for all of us Steelers fans, if we are being honest.

This season of heart breaking losses and the catastrophic injury to the face of the franchise has tested the intestinal fortitude of the fanbase. Many individuals have had their fandom called into question. Some fans will cling to the positives while others will choose to focus on the negatives. Both groups have merit and are valued members of Steelers Nation. They simply have different mindsets and choose to focus on different aspects of the product they see each week on the field. With that being said, the time has come for Steelers Nation to learn to appreciate the journey, not just the destination.

Ben Roethlisberger has never endured a losing season. With a healthy Big Ben behind center, the Steelers had to be viewed as a playoff contender with Super Bowl aspirations. There were going to definitely be growing pains with all the new faces in new places, but the talented additions to the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, were undeniable. One elbow injury later, and the expectations for the season changed dramatically.

Suddenly you are looking down the barrel of a rebuilding season and are forced to make adjustments on the run. If I am being honest, I have been pleasantly surprised with the Steelers hierarchy new found aggressiveness and forward thinking, starting with the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers watched a potentially historically bad Miami Dolphins team throw a fire sale of any of their remaining valued assets in a unbiased attempt to tank the season for improved draft positioning, and the Steelers decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

I am in no way a draft guru, but Fitzpatrick is superior to any potential safety prospect entering next year's draft in my humble opinion. He also represents an immediate upgrade over Sean Davis, the man who held the position previously. This is also an important development seeing how Davis will almost assuredly not be returning to the team next season.

Suddenly the Steelers have one of the fastest, most athletic, young safety tandems in the league. They seem to be enjoying an instant chemistry, which is imperative to Terrell Edmunds development. Troy Polomalo would have been unable to play his instinctive, free lancing style of football without his partner in crime Ryan Clark having his back. Each man brought out the best in the other. I feel the Edmunds/Fitzpatrick union can achieve similar results. The potential to witness the evolution of this chemistry promises to be a sight to behold.

The inspired draft maneuvering to acquire ILB Devin Bush looks like a stroke of genius, as it has elevated the performance of the defense as a whole. As I mentioned in a previous article, Bush's presence on the field escalates Vince Williams strengths, while at the same time minimizing his weaknesses. Bush is still learning the professional game, but his speed and instincts are impossible to ignore. He is a leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the shrewd addition of Steven Nelson at cornerback. He has performed at a superior level, and brought much needed stability to the CB2 position. His preparation and competitiveness have been quite impressive to say the least.

My hope for the rest of this season is that each of us, as members of Steelers Nation, can faithfully cheer for our beloved team as they strive to achieve their full potential as a cohesive unit, not just for this season but for those to come. Hopefully we can support each other as we endure the peaks and valleys of a rebuilding season which so many of us are completely unaccustomed to.

We hold our team to a higher standard because of the unprecedented success of the organization. Maybe it is time each of us looked in the mirror and decided to do the same as a fanbase.

This team has portrayed a level of camaraderie and character that we can all be proud of. They have displayed a team first attitude. That hasn't always happened in the past. They deserve our steadfast support.

If Big Ben has a successful rehab from his elbow surgery, he should return next season to a team with improved experience and playoff aspirations. Sounds like a plan to me.

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